The Ulchi language

General information on the language

The self-ethnonym of the ethnic group

Bibliography on the Ulchi language

The Self-ethnonym of the ethnos is nani, that means ‛local, aboriginal people’, the Nanai name themselves in this way.

Name and self-name of the language

The ethnonym ulchi, olchi for the first time was applied by L.Schrenk (Schrenk 1883), and later in Soviet period it was widely spread.

Photo © A.V. Smolyak. IEA RAS Archive

Genetic affiliation

The Ulchi language is the language of southern (Amur) groups of Tungus languages, it closely relates to Nanai and Orok (Ulta).

The geographical spread of the language

The Ulchi live in Ulchsky district of Khabarovsky territory in lower banks of Amur, they occupy great territory in 39 thousand sq km (Bulava and Mongol villages).

Language contacts

The ethnic basis is historically the same as for the Nanais. In formation of the ethnos there took part such ethnic groups as Amur Evenki, Negidals, Oroches, Oroks (Ulta), Nivkhs, Ainu, Manchus-Chinese.

Number of native speakers

The number of native speakers is 3, 2 thousand. In the last century Ulchi was influenced greatly by Russian. In 1989 only approximately 30 % of people considered Ulchi as their native language.

Dialects and subdialects

In dialect relation Ulchi is homogeneous.

Linguistic description


Sound system of the Ulchi language is characterized by the common features for Tungus languages: presence of phonemic series of dorsal consonants, opposition of long and brief consonants, harmony of vowels. In the language there are 8 vowels (long and brief) and 18 consonants. The phonetic structure of the word is characterized by absence of consonantal clusters in the beginning and in the end of the word. Various types of positional diphthongs are met seldom.


According to morphological status this is an agglutinative-suffixal language with elements of fusion.

Semantical-grammatical data

Noun has categories of person, an alienated / inaliennable possession, has forms of number, case, possessiveness.

Adjective does not change neither on genders nor on cases, degrees of comparison are absent. There are qualitative and relative adjectives. Numerals have some categories, each of which is characterized by the morphological parameters, and on the general grammatical meanings they refer to a special lexical and grammatical subgroup of nouns, adjectives or adverbs.

Pronouns divide in personal, demonstrative, interrogative, attributive ones. Personal pronouns have two stems – for nominative and oblique cases. There is no opposition of inclusive and exclusive forms in 1 person plural, unlike the other Tungus languages.

The verb includes actually verbal forms, participles, verbal adverbs and special nominal forms (supinum, colditional). Negative forms of verb are formed analytically.

Adverbs divide into categories: qualities, quantities, place, time, degree. Syncategorematic words and particles. Postpositions, conjunctions, words - particles, particles-suffixes are used for expression of some grammatical meanings of significant words, for expression of connection between them.

Interjections and imitative words are represented.

Syntactic data

Syntactic structure of the Ulchi language keeps main principles of Tungus languages. The word order - S-O-V, attribute precedes the dependant member, the structure of compound sentence is made by an adjunction of a simple sentences or by means of detached adverbial and participial constructions that functionally correspond to subordinate clauses of Russian type.

Sociolinguistic characteristic of the language

Legal status, the present day situation of the language

The official status of the Ulchi language is language of indigenous minority ethnos of RF, it is a title language on the territory of Ulchsky region in Khabarovsky territory.

Writing and orthography

In 30th on initiation of the writing system for Ulchi Nanai alphabet on base of Latin script was used and for education sphre Nanai literary language was used. The Ulchi literary language wasn’t formed. Now Ulchi is taught only in the primary school.

Social functions of the language

It is a language of household use.

History of studies of the Ulchi language

In 1908 the Ulchi linguistic materials were collected by P.P.Schmidt and published in the form of Ulchi-English dictionary with the appendix of texts (Schmidt 1923). In introduction the author ranked Ulchi as a dialect of Nanai. In the materials he mentioned B.O.Pilsudsky who compiled a dictionary (about 1500 words) on the data of Amur Ulchi and Sakhalin Oroks and didn’t divide the data being confident that Ulchi and Orok were the same language. Dictionary materials of Ulchi gathered also K.D.Loginovsky during an expedition of Vladivostok East Institute to the Lower of Amur in 1906-1907.

The beginning of scientific studying of the Ulchi language began in 1936 when T.I.Petrova's book «The Ulchi dialect of the Nanai language» was published in the form of grammatical sketch including samples of texts with translations and dictionary with 3500 words (Petrova1936). In extensive chapter «Ulchi folklore» A.M.Zolotaryov gave in Russian a number of samples of ancient legends (Zolotaryov, 1939). In 1968 O.P.Sunik's article «The Ulchi language» (Sunik 1968) was published where Ulchi was considered as a separate Tungus language. In 1981 there were published some Ulchi folklore texts collected by V.A.Avrorin in 1948. In 1985 there appeared O.P.Sunik's monograph «The Ulchi language» provided with grammatical sketch, texts and dictionary.

The sample of the text in Ulchi

Хосимбу сагдиңгузи йосоңдами ңэнэхэти. Тара талза наму геолиқтами, пулиқктэм, геоксава йосоми, пулиқтити. Ум пас зувэ ойолони дусэ осира, ти хэйэктин, ти пулиқтин. Ти зувэ хавас ңэнин, тавас ңэни. Тара эси-гдэл ти мапа зувэти ңэнини. Пурэмди геоли гурсэли қас ңэлэчи.


Hosimbu and his elder brother went to hunt on seals. Far from the sea-shore they went on oars hunting on seals. On one of the ice splinters there happened to be a tiger, the stream was throwing it back and forward. Then the old man in his boat approached the ice splinter. His workmates-hunter who were rowing were very afraid.

Translated into English by A.N. Bitkeeva

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