The Oroch Language

General Information on the Language

Bibliography on the Oroch language

The self-ethnonym of the Oroch нани (literally 'man of the earth, people') was lost in the 19 c. The present self-ethnonym is “орочи”. The common etymology is оро «deer» + -чи- suffix of possession («deer-possessing, deer-raising»), though the Oroch do not raise deer. The spread of the ethnonym is connected with the name of the French seafarer J.F. Laperouse, who visited the Far East 1787.

Ethnonym variants: орочи, орочэ, орочоны, орочены

The Oroch language belongs to the southern subgroup of the Tungus-Manchu language group, which are part of the Altaic language family.

It is believed that the Oroch language is the closest to the Nanai language, because a substantial group of the Nanai (of the Evenki origin, samagirs) joined the Oroch. Up to the early 20 c some scholars regarded the Oroch and the Udege as close dialects. In 1930s the Udege language was considered as a possible common literary language for both of the ethnoses.

With the existing division of the Tungus languages into the northern and southern groups, the Oroch language together with the Udege can be conventionally related to the languages of a transitional type as having features of to of the groups.

The majority of the Oroch live in the Khabarovsk district: in the town of Sovetskaja Gavan’ and Sovgan’ region; Vanino and the Vanino region; in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Komsomolsk region; in Ulchi region, a few families live in the Primorski region. According to the information received at the Khabarovsk district administration there were 900 Oroch in 1 January 2000 in Russia, among them 492 in the Khabarovsk district, 129 in the Sakhalin district, 87 in the Magadan district, 14 in the Primorski district (1959 V.A. Avrorin gave a figure 477, as he believed that the official figure 800 included some of the Even groups, who called themselves Oroch or Orocheli - Аврорин, 1968:191)

In the middle of the 19 c. as Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian migrants, as well as foreign manufacturers came to the Far East, the cultural-economical balance of the traditional Oroch live was broken. Formerly unknown diseases appeared, hunger occured. Pressed by migrants the Oroch moved to the sources of rivers and behind the Sikhote Alin mountain ridge. Active intervention of Orthodox missionaries into spiritual live intensified the collapse of the economic order of the Oroch.

In early 1920s the Soviet authorities rebuilt live in the Far East. There were kolkhozes created. The Oroch were moved into bigger settlements of the Russian type. Children were brought to boarding schools with instruction only in Russian, which led to the almost complete oblivion of the Oroch language.

According to the 1989 census there were 883 Oroch in the country (at that time USSR), cf. 1040 in 1979. 17 % designated the Oroch language as their mother tongue (cf. 33% in 1979). All the Oroch have command of the Russian language. According to unofficial data the number of Oroch does not exceed 467. The discrepancy with the official data is explained by the fact that into this figure the Orok of the Sakhalin were included, who are Oroch according to their passports, and probably other ethnos’ representatives. (cf. С.В.Березницкий, 1999:5).

V.A. Avrorin and E.P. Lebedeva, who visited the Oroch 1959 counted 477 people, whereas the USSR census data were 800. According to the assumption of these scholars some groups of the Even, who called themselves Oroch or Orocheli were included (Аврорин 1968: 191).

Earlier the Oroch language was divided into three dialects: Tumnin (the central and largest, spread in the catchment basin of the Tumnin River), Khadi – on the rivers of Khadi, Uy, Koppi, Samarga and Khungary, spoken by the Oroch from the Khungari River who moved to the Amur. The Khadin dialect was strongly influenced by the Udege language, the Tumnin dialect was under influence of the Gorin dialect of the Nanai language. Only the Khungari dialect was definitely separate until the present.

Linguistic Description

The Oroch language has 7 vowels and 19 consonants. One of the essential phonetic rules, besides the consonant assimilation, is the synharmonism, which has a specific feature – it is “graded”. The stress usually falls on the last syllable.

According to its morphological type the Oroch language is, as the other Tungus-Manchu languages, a suffixed-agglutinative language, the morpheme composition is not only reached in mere “glueing”, but also fusion of some morphemes, the boarders between which become obliterated. There are also analytical constructions consisting of significant words and auxiliaries, besides the synthetic forms.

Each word is characterized by a certain morpheme order: root + word-formation suffix + derivational suffix (voice, aspect, collectiveness) + relational suffix (case, verb number and person) + suffix particle. Usually each suffix has one function. Grammatical categories are expressed by suffixes. The following parts of speech are distinguished: nouns (substantives, adjectives, numerals, pronouns), verbs, adverbs, auxiliaries (postpositions, conjunctions, particles). There are no grammatical categories of gender or class, as well as animacy.

Substantives are divided into nouns denoting persons and non-persons. This opposition is not morphologically expressed. Personal pronouns refer to persons, non-personal nouns are substituted by demonstrative pronouns. The number category is expressed lexically (personal pronouns, numerals, quantitative adverbs) and morphologically. Declension of nouns can be simple or possessive. The simple declension includes nine cases. Three types nouns are distinguished according to phonomorphological peculiarities in oblique cases. The possessive declension has the tenth case addressive. The possessive declension is divided into personal-possessive and reflexive-possessive. The category of possession is expressed not only by possessive suffix system, but also by forms of possession and non-possession, as well as analytical form with negative particle ана ‘without’, and special possessive forms of nouns or pronouns (suffix – ңи). There are two types of possession – alienable and inalienable. Adjectives are divided into qualitative and relative. They have no degrees of comparison, but have a form of distinguisheness. Adjectives are not declinated.

Numerals are divided into cardinals, ordinals, collectives and limitatives.

Pronouns can be classified as personal, reflexive, reflexive-possessive, definitive, demonstrative and interrogative. There are 7 personal pronouns. The 1st person plural can be inclusive or exclusive.

The verb paradigm comprises besides verbal forms themselves participle and adverbial participles, which are derived from the same verbal stems, but differ in their inflection and syntactic functions. Negative verb forms are formed analytically, as well as synthetically. Participle is tensed and declinated. There are personal and impersonal, possessive and non-possessive forms of participles. There are up to 15 adverbial participle types, which are divided into simple and possessive. Simple express dependent action done by the same subject as the main action. Possessive express the action contemporary to the main action relating to the remoted past or (conditional-temporary) an additional preceding action, done by a different subject than the main action subject, (conditional-preceding) condition of the action in the main clause or the meaning of goal. Analytical possessive adverb participles denote preceding action.

Adverbs are divided into qualitative, quantitative, distributive, repetative, temporal and locative. Functionally the adverbs are supplemented with widely used ideophones.

Among the auxiliaries are postpositions, conjunctions and particles. Postposition are widespread.

There are coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

Separate word particles – negative (with the negative imperative form, negative possession form, negative adverb participle) as well as attributive.

Interjections are broadly used.

The main derivation means is suffixation. Conversion plays a considerable role – adjective and adverbs substantivation, substantive verbalization and adjectivization.

The basic word order is S-O-V, attributes expressed by adjectives can stand in preposition, as well as in postposition, in the later case they have the 3rd person personal-possessive form. The sentence system is nominative, the subject always has nominative case, the predicate one of the verb personal-predicative forms.

Sociolinguistic Characteristic of the Language

Nowadays the Oroch language is oral, almost extinct even in the elder generation.

The Oroch language has no writing system.

Almost not used in everyday life.

The first ethnographic description of the Oroch belongs to L. Schrenk. In 1880s the Oroch were studied by V. Margaritov, I. Nadarov, A. Protodyakonov, who published fragmentary data on the language vocabulary. Later the Oroch were studied by S. Leontovich, S. Brailovski, L. Sternberg, who also published information on the vocabulary and grammar. 1928 P.Schmidt published an Oroch dictionary. Texts recorded by I. Lopatin in 1924 were published with translation into English in Switzerland in 1957. V.I. Zinzius published a survey of the Oroch phonetics and morphology in 1949.

During the Soviet period the Oroch language was studied by V.A. Avrorin and E.P. Lebedeva, who published the gathered data as two collections –– “Орочские сказки и мифы” («The Oroch Tales and Myths»), Novosibirsk, 1966 (58 texts with commentaries) and «Орочские тексты и словарь» (The Oroch Texts and Vocabulary), Leningrad, 1978. The fifth volume of the edition «Языки народов СССР» (Languages of the USSR people) (Leningrad, 1968) contains their article «The Oroch language» (pp. 191 – 209). 1996 a collection of Oroch texts, gathered in expeditions by S. Kazama, with Japanese translations was published in Japan.

Several articles on the Oroch language are published by A.Kh. Girfanova («The Red Book», М., 1984, 2002; in «Языки Российской Федерации и соседних государств» (Languages of the Russian Federation and Neighboring Countries) encyclopedia. Т.II. М., 2001).

Presently A.Kh. Girfanova (St.-Petersburg State University) in cooperation with N.L. Sukhachev (Institute of Linguistic Studies RAS, St.-Petersburg) conduct the study of archive materials on the Oroch language, kept in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok archives.

Specialists studying the Oroch Language

  1. Presently the Oroch language is studied by A.Kh. Girfanova, assistant professor of the Chair of General Linguistics of the Philological Department at the St.-Petersburg State University

    e-mail:, phone: (812) 328-95-10; St.-Petersburg, 199034, Universitetskaya nab., 11

  2. Sindziro Kazama (Japan, Tokio, Tokio University of Foreign Languages)


Linguistic processing of the archive materials of V.K. Arsenyev on the Udege and Oroch languages (1908-1912). Supported by the Russian State Foundation for Humanities. Project № 05-04-04073а (together with the senior research fellow of the Institute of Linguistic Studies, RAS N.L. Sukhachev).

Translated into English by A.N. Bitkeeva

© IEA RAS, 2005
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