Crossing the Borders – Means of Spatial Conceptualization in Ainu Literature

Crossing the Borders – Means of Spatial Conceptualization in Ainu Literature

Dominik Wallner - Postdoctoral Associate in East Asian Studies and Lecturer in East Asian Languages & Literatures

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Room 202, Henry R. Luce Hall See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Lunch will be served.

The traditional oral literature of the Ainu in Northern Japan has been developed almost exclusively around the background of the traditional living environment of the Ainu people. Cultural and religious elements in the stories, as well as the space in which the protagonists are acting, are based on an idealized everyday reality of the Ainu. The establishment and extension of the literary space has a high relevance in the narrations, and is represented by many linguistic structures and rhetorical figures. Many Ainu stories take place only inside those culturally and literarily established spaces, but there are also examples of stories in which the borders of the known and well-defined space are crossed. Sometimes, for instance, Ainu leave their country to negotiate with Japanese merchants, or Japanese visitors, or foreign influences enter the world of the Ainu. Interestingly enough, structural differences are apparent between the construction and establishment of the “foreign” or “alien” space and the “own” space: Lexically and syntactically, as well as in respect to their modes of description, “foreign” and “own” spaces are strictly separated from each other.

In this presentation, some of the different absolute and relative orientation systems the traditional Ainu literature uses to establish space will be introduced, after which a demonstration will follow of how this space is defined by interior criteria only, without acknowledging the existence of an “outer space;” and finally, the talk will show how “foreign” space is represented differently or not at all. 

Dominik Wallner has degrees Japanese Studies and Classical Indology. In his dissertation, The oral epic tradition of the Ainu: Heroic Epics (yukar) and God Songs (kamuy yukar), he describes two major genres of the oral literature of the Ainu in Japan, which share many characteristic features, e.g. a metric language, a particular “literary” style, special personal verb forms for the first person, or the usage of oral epic formulas and themes. Main factors of the discussion are the contents and topics of the stories presented by the two genre-specific formats, the main protagonists and distinguishing characteristics. Additionally, a focus lies on the spatial configurations established in the two genres. Dominik Wallner has studied a broad range of languages from Japanese and Ainu to Sanskrit, Ancient Tamil and different Native languages in North America. Beneath his interest in Japanese literature of the Edo and Meiji periods and in Ainu language and literature, he is also interested in Indigenous languages and literature in general and the preservation and revitalization of endangered languages.