The Even Language

General Information on the Language

Self-Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group

Bibliography on the Even language

The main and most wide-spread self-ethnonym of the ethnic group is Even (эвэн). The Even of northern coast of the Okhotsk Sea call themselves Orach (орач), pl. Orachil (орачил) “reindeer people”, the Even of Nizhekolymskiy District of Yakutia call themselves Inkan Bey (илкан бэй) ‘real men’. The main ethnonym of the group spread in the Russian-speaking environment is Even (эвен) with ethnonym Oroch (ороч) which was used in daily life in Magadanskaya Province, ethnonym Lamut (ламуты) still preserved on Kamchatka and, partially, on Chukotka, and ethnonym Tungus (тунгусы) generally applied to Evenk but also meaning eastern Even has been in use up to the 1930s. Evens of Magadanskaya Province when speaking Russian call themselves Orochon (орочоны).

The Main Name of the Language

The main name of the language is Even language (obsolete name – Lamut language which was introduced into practical use in the 1930s and was used by the authorities as one of authentic and reasonable names of languages which served to substitute traditional ethnic and language names in those years).

Genetic Affiliation

Even language belongs to the northern or Siberian sub-group of Tungus branch of the Manchu-Tungus languages also includes Evenk, Negidal and Solon languages. The closest relations are found between Even and Evenk languages; according to glottochronology, Even and Evenk languages (eastern dialects of Even languages and western dialects of Evenk language, presently most geographically distanced) diverged approximately 1500 years before. Some dialects of Even and Evenk languages of Yakutia had prolonged and intensive contacts leading to grammatical interference and mutual lexical loans.

The Geographical Spread of the Language

At present Evens live in 6 administrative territorial subjects of Russian Federation: in Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) – in Abyiskiy, Allaikhovskiy, Bulunskiy, Verchnekolymskiy, Verkhoyanskiy, Kobyayskiy, Momskiy, Nizhnekolymskiy, Srednekolymskiy, Tomponskiy, Ust-Yanskiy, Eveno-Bytantayskiy districts (ulus); in Magadanskaya Province – in Olskiy, Severo-Evenskiy, Srednekkanskiy, Susumanskiy, Tenkinskiy districts and in Magadan City; in Khabarovskiy Region – in Okhotskiy, district; in Chukotskiy Autonomous District – in Anadyrskiy, Bilibinskiy districts and in Anadyr City; in Kamchatskaya Province – in Bystrinskiy District (it has the status of the national district); in Koryakskiy Autonomous District – in Olyutorskiy, Penzhinskiy and Tigilskiy districts and in Polana town.

Language Contacts

In northern and eastern areas Even language has stable contacts with Chukchi language in Chukotka and in Nizhnekolymskiy District, Yakutia (former district of Zapadnaya Tundra of Chukotskiy Autonomous District). Interaction of these languages is limited to lexical loans from Chikchi language and to Chukchi calques in Even language. On the Okhotsk Sea shore and in Kamchatka Even has had long-time contacts with Koryak language, mainly, with its north-eastern dialects resulting in a significant number of Koryak loan words found in Even language. In the west of Magadanskaya Province and in the north of Yakutia Even-Yukagir language contacts are taking place also reflected in the presence of Yukagir loans in Even language, with Even having a rather serious impact on Yukagir language, especially among Nizhnekolymskie Yukagir. Even-Evenk contacts take place only on the territory of Okhotskiy district of Khabarovskiy Region whereas in the past they were witnessed in some south-eastern districts of Yakutia. Dialects and sub-dialects of the Evens of Yakutia, except for those of Srednekolymskiy District, suffer a significant influence of Yakut language. In some Chukotka villages Evens are characterized by Even-Chukchi bilinguism or Even-Russian-Chuvan trilinguism including the command of the language of local old resident population, at present officially called Chuvan; among Evens of the Okhotsk Sea shore and Kamchatka Even-Koryak bilinguism has been wide spread up to the present day; Evens of Kolyma River valley and the territories lying between Kolyma and Indigirka rivers had a command of local Yukagir dialects in the recent past (today the knowledge of Even language is preserved in both Yukagir groups). Considerable part of Evens living in Yukutia has a command of Yakut language. Russian influence on Even language has been traced since the XVIII century. In the XX century it became quite strong, although neologisms and calques are found along with lexical loans. The influence of the Russian language on the Even language can be found on the syntactic level.

Number of Native Speakers

Number of Evens, according to 1989 census, equaled to 7199 people. The dynamics of the population is the following: in 1959 Evens counted 9121 people, in 1970 – 12029, in 1979 – 12529. These data might have not included around 100 Evens of Magadanskaya Province registered as Oroch and might have inadequately reflected the population of the ethnic group due to the fact that the female population spelt as Evenka (female gender) stands for female representatives of both Even and Evenk ethnic groups. Earlier statistical records on Even population provide no ground for their distinction from Evenk since both ethnic groups were similarly named “Tungus” and lived within the borders of the same administrative and territorial subjects.

According to the data of population censuses, in 1959 77.5% of Even considered Even their native language, in 1989 - 43.8%. Decreased number of people considering the language of their ethnic group native is caused the spread of Russian as a language of interethnic communication in all the areas where Even live; and also by the spread of Yakut language as a language of the title ethnic group of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) which is more prestigious and is also a means of interethnic communication in Yakutia.

Dialects and Sub-dialects

There are up to 20 dialects and sub-dialects united in three local vernaculars (eastern, middle and western; according to other terminology, eastern, western and extreme western dialectal groups) or in two local vernaculars (eastern and western) distinguished in Even language. Since sub-dialects of Evens of Verkhoyanskiy, Kobyayskiy, Eveno-Bytanayskiy and a number of other districts of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), distinguished as an independent western or extreme western dialectal group, are similar to sub-dialects of Evens of the Indigirka River Basin, there are ground for distinguishing two local vernaculars in the Even language: eastern uniting sub-dialects of Kamchatka Evens (Bystrinskiy and Olyutorskiy sub-dialects), Chukotka Even sub-dialects, the dialects of the Okhotsk Sea shore (Olskiy, Tenkinskiy, Insskoy) and the dialect of Evens of Srednekolymskiy District of Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, as well as western vernacular including all the dialects and sub-dialects of Sakha (Yakutia) Republic – Oymyakonskiy, Momskiy, Tomponskiy, Allaikhovskiy, Bulunskiy, Ust-Yanskiy, Sakkyryskiy sub-dialects including those Even sub-dialects of Sakha (Yakutia) Republic and Khabarovskiy Province which take the transitional position between eastern and western vernaculars (Verkhnekolymskiy, Arkinskiy, Ust-Mayskiy dialects).

In the classification of Even dialects a special role is played by Armanskiy dialect which in the 1940s was spoken by 10 inhabitants of Ola and Arman villages and which has disappeared by the present day moment. Detailed dialectal division and even dialectal composition of Even language have not been properly studied in spite of ambitions of those specialists who have been studying them since the 1940s; presently most of the problems arise in connection with inventory and description of sub-dialects and dialects of different territorial groups of Evens of Yakutia.

Dialects of the eastern dialectal group spread among Evens of Kamchatka, Chukotka, Magadanskaya Province and a part of Khabarovkiy Region, on the one hand, and dialects of the western dialectal group including the most of the dialects of Yakutia Evens, on the other hand, are characterized by significant phonetic and lexical differences impede the use of the native language as a means of communication between representatives of different territorial Even communities. These factors have hampered the development of the single Even written language. At the same time different Even groups revealed their interregional contacts to a minimum degree since the existing transportation routs are oriented towards district centers, quite distanced from each other, so that even the contacts of Even living in neighboring districts are characterized as sporadic.

Linguistic Description

Phonological Data

There are 18 vowels and 18 consonants in Even language (Yakutia dialects contain 17 consonants among which sibilant [c] was lost which is quite a rare phenomenon; sub-dialects of Okhotsk region contain 17 vowels).


By its morphological structure Even language is suffixal, agglutinative. In the noun sphere there are categories of the number (singular and plural), case (some sub-dialects have from 11 to 15 case forms, with 13 form in the written language) and possessiveness. The adjective has agreement categories of the number and the case, namely, in sub-dialects of the eastern dialectal group. There are ten classes of the numeral while some classes (restrictive, multiple, partitive) can posses the categorical sub-classification due to dinimutival and augmentative suffixes. Among personal pronouns there are two forms of the first person, plural number, expressing the meaning of exclusiveness/inclusiveness. Among verbs there are four tense forms (present, past, future I, II), up to 8 mood forms (some moods have their own temporal paradigms).

Semantic Grammatical Data

The Even verb has up to 27 indices expressing the character of the action in process, and also special reflexive, passive, causative indices and the forms of reciprocity and compatibility of the action. Even language counts up to 11 participial forms, diverse adverbial participles are divided into 4 categories by their morphological characteristics: 1) uninflected; 2) inflected by the number; 3) inflected by the person and the number and having both personal and impersonal forms.

Syntactic Data

Even language, as all Ural-Altaic languages and Manchu-Tungus languages, belongs to the languages of the nominative structure. The word order in the sentence is SOV, with the attribute preceding the dependent member. The function word class is characterized by extensive network of postpositions, mainly, expressing the spatial relations, underdeveloped system of conjunctions and connective words, as well as by numerous particles expressing different shades of modal meanings. Analogical to compound sentences are participial constructions and adverbial participles complex connections between the sentences are weakly developed. A specific syntactic feature of Even language is an extensive network of various constructions with predicative actants significantly varying in its volume and setting between different, often closely related sub-dialects and dialects.

Sociolinguistic Situation

Legal Status, the Present Day Situation of the Language. A legal status of the Even language – a language of a numerically small people of RF. At present Even language is not included in title language in any of the subjects, since from the 1930s Evens have not had their autonomy in any of the subjects of RF: Okhotsko-Evenskiy Autonomous District in Khabarovskiy Region was abolished back in the 1930s. Even has a status of the official language of Yakutia which, however, can legitimize its support only in the sphere of culture and education.

Writing and Orthography

Writing for Even was created in the beginning of the 1940s of the XIX century when Tauysk priest, later Okhotsk archpriest Stephan (Popov) translated the Evangel of St. Matthew into Even and compiled the first ABC book and a dictionary. In 1932-36 The alphabet based on Latin graphics (a variant of the Single Northern Alphabet) was officially adopted for the Even language, however, the alphabet based on Russian graphics was used for local publications. In 1937 Even Latin-based alphabet was substituted with Cyrillic alphabet, however, Latin was used in local publications until 1939. Following the introduction of the Cyrillic Even graphics and alphabet have suffered numerous reforms (in 1937, 1938, 1941, 1954, 1958) which led to some changed written forms; in 1958 three additional letters - «н» “with a tail”, crossed “o” and crossed “o” with dots (this letter is applied in over 20 root morphemes) were introduced to Even alphabet. Since the 1960s an original variant of Even graphics (with ligature sign нг instead of letter «н» with a tail) has been used in Yakutia; in the 1970s Even poet and linguist V.D. Lebedev suggested a project of new graphics which proposed the application of graphics and rules of the Yakut language to the Even language. This project has not been officially supported although Yakut alphabet is being used by some Evens in personal records. The introduction of the new Yakut-based alphabet to Even is unreasonable due to the fact that this alphabet would be totally incomprehensible for Evens living in other regions and not knowing either Yakut language or Yakut writing. Immoderate ambitions of supporters of the introduction of Yakut language and Yakut graphics to Even are determined by their motivation for legitimating the consequences of Even-Yakut language interference in the sphere of Even written language. In present day Yakutia, Chukotka and Kamchatka different variants of Even graphics, partially, preserving features of graphic systems of Even language used in the 1950s, and, partially, being a result of Even-Yakut, Even-Chukchi and Even-Koryak graphic interference are used in local publications; till the late 1980s the use of local graphic versions was conditioned by technical factors.

Back in the 1930s so called Ola sub-dialect of Even language (the language of Evens of Magadan City suburbs also widely spread along the whole Okhotsk Sea shore, in the upper and the middle reaches of Kolyma River, in Chukotka and in Srednekolymskiy District (ulus) of Yakutia) was laid in the basis of the Even written language with signs of the established literary language (dialectal words and grammatical forms are not used in the written language in spite of their use in the basic dialect). Presently this standardized written language is a language of educational literature, local mass media (newspapers), translated fiction and redacted samples of traditional folklore; samples of authentic literature are represented, mainly, by detective stories. The written language of Evens of Yakutia established in the 60-70s under the influence of literary work of Even writers (P. Lamutskiy,V.D. Lebedev, V.S. Keymetinov, A.V. Krivoshapkin, etc.) is oriented at local Even dialects and had no single forms and norms. The written language of Evens of Kamchatka was formed independently in the 1980s on the basis of local sub-dialects, for which the graphics of Even language used in 1940-53 was adapted. Both regional variants of the written language based on Even dialects are used only in fiction and local periodicals, they are not used in teaching of Even in school – textbooks for elementary and high school are compiled with the application of adopted Even written language.

Fiction in Even language has been published since the 1930s. In this period the prose by V. Sleptsov, P. Gromov, K. Babtsev, P. Tylkanov, the prose and poetry by A. Cherkanov appeared. The most popular works included poetry and prose by N.S. Tarabukin (1910-1950), the author of two books of poems and book “Мое детство” (“My Childhood”) reprinted for over 5 times both in Even language and in translations in Russian and Yakut. Later on Even poetry was represented in books of poems of P.Lamutskiy (P.A. Stepanov), V.D. Lebedev, V.S. Keymetinova (Bargachan), A.V. Krivoshapkin, D.V. Krivoshapkin, V. Koetmetti (V.A. Keymetinova), V. Arkuk (V.G. Begolyubskaya) as well as in several books of authors’ improvisational songs of E.N. Bokova. The authentic prose in Even language is represented by the books of A.V. Krivoshapkin and E.N. Bokova. Stories of Even writers M.N. Amamich “Не провожайте с тоской улетающих птиц” (Magadan, 1977), M. Kerdeekene (U.G. Popova) “Сказание о старине и пароходе с красным флагом” (Magadan, 1982) и M.P. Fedotova “Шалунья Нулгынэт” (“Полярная звезда” (“Polar Star”), 1997, N 6) were written in Russian.

There are also several pieces of Even folklore of different genres known as self-records collected and redacted by Even authors (K.S. Cherkanov, M.D. Dyachkov, E.N. Bokova, U.V. Kanyukova). There are over 120 books in total published in Even language and representing both authentic literature in Even and translated pieces with redacted childhood literature and fairytales prevailing. Examples of social and political literature translated in Even are rather few. In the 1930s in Magadan newspapers “Айдит орочел” (1935-36) и “Оротты правда” (1936-1941) were published in Even. Since the 1990s a one-page supplement to Chukotka newspapers has been published in Even; sporadically, supplements in Even appear in district newspapers in different district (uluses) of Yakutia; newspaper “Айдит” with analogical texts both in Russian and in Even is issued in Bystrinskiy District of Kamchatskaya Province. Periodically, some materials in Even were published in journalistic periodicals such as “Розовая чайка” (Yakutia, 1991-1992), “Айвэрэттэ” (Chukotka, 1989-1995). Radio station “Гяван” (Yakutia) broadcasts in Even; Chukotka district radio and television (Anadyr) has regular broadcasts in Even.

Social Functions of the Language

In all places Even language is used in the oral form as a means of communication within production teams involved in traditional economic activities (reindeer herding brigades) as well as in every day life communication between representatives of the older generation and , along with Russian, in communication between middle age people. The knowledge of Even language among children is found, mostly, in large families living in national villages or staying permanently in reindeer herding brigades. Even language in the written form is used in teaching the native language in pre-school institutions, in elementary school, in some districts – in high school; in all places Even language performs the function of a subjects taught while it is not a language of instruction even in pre-school institutions. Original and translated fiction in Even, as well as the prints of folklore texts, have a circulation in a relatively narrow, socially and professionally restricted environment – among intelligentsia, pedagogues, methodologists, authors of textbooks, researchers.

Even language is taught as a subject in elementary school in all areas populated by Evens, as a required course - up to the 11 grade in Bilibinskiy District of Chukotskiy Autonomous District, as an elective subject – up to the 9 grade in Bystrinskiy District of Kamchatskaya Province, on Severo-Evenskiy District of Magadanskaya Province and in a number of districts of Sakha (Yakutia). Even language is taught in a number of special training schools including Anadyr higher pedagogical training school, in Yakutsk pedagogical training school, in the college of Cherskiy village of Nizhnekolymskiy District (ulus) of Shaka (Yakutia) Republic, as well as in higher educational institutions such as Yakutsk State University by M.K. Ammosov, in Northern International University (Magadan City), in Russian State Pedagogical University by A.I. Hertsen (department of the peoples of the Far North). In the period from 1926 to 1995 over 70 textbooks of Even language for elementary school were published, in 1991 a textbook of Even language for pedagogical training schools was issued. Existing manuals of Even language for high school include only those for the 5-6 grades, textbooks of Even literature for the 7-9 grades have recently been prepared.

History of Studies of the Language

First records of Evens were made by Russian explorers in the end of the 1930s– in the beginning of the 1940sof the XVII century on their way from Yakutsk towards the east to the Pacific Ocean – in this period documents register ethnonym Lamutki (“ламутки”, from Even Lamutkan (ламуткан) “seaside inhabitant”), Lamut people (“ламутские люди”) as well as a number of clan names of Evens of western Okhotsk Sea shore. Linguistic materials on the Even language have been known since the XVII century (Even numerals recorded by N. Vitzen), a significant number of the words from the language of settled Evens was recorded in the 1940sof the XVIII century by Y.I. Lindenau; P.S. Pallas’s “Сравнительный словарь всех языков и наречий” (“Comparative Dictionary of All Languages and Dialects”)) (1787-1789) contains materials on two Even dialects. Ethnographical materials on Evens related to the XVIII century are included in “Описании Иркутского наместничества” (“Description of Irkutsk Vicegerency”), 1972 (Novosibirsk, 1998), in the works of S.P. Krasheninnikov, Y.I. Lindenau, G.A. Sarychev; in the XIX century Even ethnography was described by G. Maydel who documented samples of the language and folklore, by N.V. Slyunin and W.G. Bogoraz who recorded a number of folklore texts and compiled the first academic grammar of Even language. Lexical materials on Even language collected by V.P. Olenin in the beginning were included in well-known “Тунгусский словарь” (“Tungus Dictionary”) of S.M. Shirokogoroff (Tokio, 1944). In the 1930s Even language was studied by V.I. Levin, in the 1940s research of V.I. Tsintsius and K.A. Konokova appeared; since the 1960s Even has been studied and described by Even researchers V.D. Lebedev, V.A. Robbek, K.I. Dutkin, since the 1990s – by V.G. Belolyubskaya, S.I. Sharina, V.A. Petrova and others.

Literature in Even language is available in Magadan provincial library by A.S. Pushkin, in Magadan regional studies museum, as well as in National library of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

In spite of numerous monographic publications on Even language, this language has not been properly described yet. Modern academic requirements are met only in the description of syntax (A.L. Malchukov). The most authoritative and comprehensive morphological description is found in the grammatical essay by V.I. Tsintsius written in the 1930-1940s and published in 1947. The studies of phonology of Even language was left behind the process of transformation of Even graphics and orthography for a long period of time. Experimental and phonetic studies of the phonetic structure of Even language and dialects is still lacking. Dialects and sub-dialects of Even language have not been thoroughly described. There are no authoritative and comprehensive two-language dictionaries which would represent the materials in the existing Even graphics with the phonetic features reflected in it.

Unpublished archival materials on Even language are kept in the stocks of V.I. Tsintsius, St. Petersburg department of the RAS Archive; and sound records – in Phonographic Archive of the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkinskiy Dom), RAS, as well as in personal collections including the author’s personal archive.

Specialists and Academic Centers Conducting the Study of the Language

  • Burykin, Aleksey Alekseevich, Dr. Sc. in philology

    Institute of Linguistic Studies, RAS. 199053, Tuchkov Pereulok, 9, St. Petersburg. E-mail:,

  • Malchukov, Andrey Lvovich, Dr. Sc. in philology

    Institute of Linguistic Studies, RAS. 199053, Tuchkov Pereulok, 9, St. Petersburg

  • Robbek, Vasiliy Afanasyevich, Dr. Sc. in philology

    Institute of the Problems of Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberian Branch, RAS. 677027, Sosnovaya, 4, Yakutsk-27, Yakutsk State University by M.K. Ammosov, Faculty of Philology, Department of Northern Philology. 677007, Kulakova St., 46, Yakutsk-7

  • Varvara Grigoryevna Belolyubskaya, C. Sc. in philology

    677007, Kulakova St., 46, Yakutsk-7

  • Sardana Ivanovna Sharina, C. Sc. in philology 677007, Kulakova St., 46, Yakutsk-7

Translated into English by O.A. Povoroznyuk

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