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Osipova Marina, N.A. Nevsky's ethnolinguistic investigations among the Hokkaido ainu Печать E-mail
17.09.2012 г.
M. Osipova

Key words: N.A. Nevsky, Hokkaido Ainu, Ainu folklore recordings, folklore classification, ethnographic data

Annotation: Linguistic investigations of the prominent Russian scientist N.A. Nevsky are well-known in our country and abroad. But a lot of texts of Hokkaido Ainu folklore collected by N.A. Nevskyi aren't translated and published. This article is the attempt to introduce his scientific heritage to the audience.

The name of the prominent Russian linguist Nicolai Alexandrovich Nevsky (1892-1937) is well-known for those, who study the Tangut history and language. Despite the efforts of Russian and Japanese scientists (L.L. Gromkovskaya, E.I. Kychanov, M.V. Bankovskaya, E.S. Baksheev, M. Ikuta, D. Tsukamoto, S. Hiyama, etc.) to popularize his works about the Ainu, they are known in a lesser degree than his achievments in the Tangut scripts deciphering. Only a small part of Nevsky's heritage of the Ainu folklore recordings, stored in the archives of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg was translated from the Ainu language, and published by L.L. Gromkovskaya in 1972. That is why the main purpose of this article is to attract the attention of researchers to the study and publication of Nevsky's Ainu materials, to stimulate the interest to the study of vanishing languages and cultures as well.

After graduating from St. Petersburg University, where he studied Japanese and Chinese, in 1915 N.A. Nevsky was sent to Japan to improve his knowledge in the Japanese language. Because of the revolution and the Civil War in Russia he was forced to stay in Japan for fourteen years, where he started to teach the Russian language to Japanese students in Otaru (Hokkaido), and Kyoto [5: p.1]. At that time he was interested in Japanese beliefs, that is why he created his own program for the Japanese folklore, customs, rituals, and dances study. He managed to make a significant contribution to the formation of Japanese ethnography, folklore, and dialect studies.

N.A. Nevsky traveled to the remote and distant places of the Japanese empire with the scientific purposes. During these trips, he made the acquaintance of the Ainu, the aboriginal people of Japan.  Nevsky was impressed greatly by their unique language and folklore, and decided to study them. His friend and tutor, the well-known Japanese scientist, who was the first among the Japanese linguists, who paid attention to the Ainu folklore, Kindaichi Kyosuke (1882-1971) supported the young researcher. The study of the Ainu language by N.A. Nevsky was very successful, and in 1922 he was invited to Kyoto University to do lectures "in the Ainu language and Ryukyu dialects" [5: p.1].

Inspired by the prominent scientist N.A. Nevsky did his field work among the Ainu informants. He recorded the folklore texts of different genres. L.L. Gromkovskaya noted, that after his return to the Soviet Union, the scholar had published several articles, devoted to the questions concerning Ainu culture. Unfortunately these works are practically unknown to the scientific audience [4: 248]. Due to L.L. Gromkovskaya's efforts, only one book "The Ainu Folklore" with some Ainu texts translated by N.A. Nevsky into Russian was published. The Russian scholars, linguists and ethnographers, the researchers of Ainu traditional culture got the opportunity to get acquainted not only with the original texts, but also with the classification of Hokkaido Ainu folklore proposed by N.A. Nevsky. This classification demonstrates how thoroughly the researcher recorded the samples of Ainu legends, tales, and myths, and how deep was the analysis of these texts.

According to Nevsky's recordings the Hokkaido Ainu folklore can be divided into three main genres: a) the lyrical improvisations, which include sinotcya (with the refrain - hore-hore and yasyamanena), sakehau ("wine praising songs") and yohayotsis or yakatekara ("love songs"). N.A. Nevsky included in this group inonnoitak (daily prayers to the gods), uwerankarap (mutual greetings), and wailings over the dead, too; b) the narratives - uwepeker or kamuy-uwepeker ("divine stories"), iso-itak, syam-uwepeker, Penambe-Panambe uwepeker (stories about Penambe - someone from the upstream) and Panambe - someone from the downstream), upaskuma, and c) epic songs - kamuy-yukar ("divine or god songs"), oyna ("ancient or traditional"), menoko-yukar ("women's songs") [6: 12-27]. Nevsky identified 15 subgroups among the samples of Ainu folklore. This classification reflects the richness of the Ainu oral tradition.

The main feature of Ainu folklore recorded by Nevski in cotrast to the prose works recorded by the Rev. J. Bachelor and Professor of Philology B. H. Chamberlain, are poems, in which there are refrains, the repeating words and phrases that give the rhythm to the story, for example:
śake-haǔ ne ja / śinotća ne ja
(drunken song / merry song) [2: p.2].

It should be noted one more feature of Nevsky recordings. In his dairies stored in the archives there are the tales, told by Ainu women. Even Professor B.H. Chamberlain admitted that it was very difficult to the European male researches to talk with the Ainu women because of their shamefacedness: "...I had mine (stories- M.O.) from men only, the Aino women being much too shy of male foreigners for it to be possible to have much conversation with them" [3]. But N.A. Nevsky succeeded in talks with Ainu women, he managed to win their confidence, and they entrusted him with their secrets. To our regret the big part of these texts are still not translated from Ainu into Russian or Japanese.

The content of the folklore texts are very important not only for the linguistics, but for the ethnography as well. The folklore of every nation is the integrated system of traditional knowledge of the people created by the interaction between the human being and the environment. And Ainu folklore recorded by Nevsky is no exception. It contains the information about the most revered ritual Ainu objects as ikupasuy and inau, about the position of men and women in the Ainu society, about the methods of bringing up Ainu children, about family relationships, etc. This is the incomplete list of ethnographic topics, represented in the texts recorded by N. A. Nevsky. It is unfortunate that the majority of Ainu native speakers went out of life. That is why it becomes more difficult to recover Ainu recordings done by N.A. Nevsky. This year the Russian and Japanese scholars, who study Ainu culture, celebrate the 120th anniversary of N.A. Nevsky' birthday, and in memory of this great scientist the scholars have to try together their best to translate and to publish Nevsky's heritage, recorded in Ainu.


1.     Archive IOM RAS. Nevsky's fund "Ainu Folklore". F. 69, R.2, F.NN 34, 48, 266, etc.
2.     Archive IOM RAS. Nevsky's fund "Ainu Folklore". Texts, translations, comments. F.69. R. 2. F. 37. P.2.
3.     Chamberlain, B.H. Aino Folk-Tales. URL: ,  15.03.2003.
4.     Gromkovskay, L.L. The Great Linguist. Peterburgskoye Vostokovedenie. St. Petersburg. Iss.8. 1996. P. 239-560.
5.     Nevsky, N.A.  Autobiography. Archive IOM RAS     . F.60. R.1. P. 1.
6.     Nevsky, N.A. Ainu Folklore. M. "Nauka". 1972. 175 p.  

Osipova  Marina Viktorovna, Doctorate in History, Associate Professor; The Far Eastern State University of Humanities, Faculty of Oriental Languages

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