The Aliutor Language

General Information

Bibliography on the Aiutor language

Term “Aliutor language” appeared quite recently; until that moment the language has been considered a dialect of Koryak language. The term itself originates from the name of formerly existing village Aliut (Russian: Олюторское, Олюторка), which population was called Aliutor - алюта-лъы-н or элютэ-лъы-н. Aliutor dialect per se includes several similar subdialects of different villages. In general sense Aliutor language rightfully includes, beside Aliutor itself, such dialects closely related to it such as Palana (Pallana), Karaga, Uka.

Speakers of these dialects have traditionally called themselves by general ethnonym Nymylan (нымылан) (нымы-лъы-н – “a village dweller; (semi)-settled person” from нымным – “village”), coupled with the exact name of a village used when necessary. Nymylan are opposed to nomadic reindeer herders calling themselves Chavchuven (чавчыв – “a nomad”). Although by the present moment this opposition in the aspect of different occupations has lost its significance, it is still important for a linguistic distinction. Russian settlers, who came to Chukotka in the XVII century, called these two groups the same name – “Koryak” (Russian: коряки), which is presumed to be an ethnonym of Koryaks given by Yukagirs, who served Russian as their guides.

Thus, Aliutor language should have been called Nymylan, however, the term “Nymylan language” (Russian: нымыланский язык), along with the term “Koryak language” (Russian: корякский (коряцкий) язык) was previously used in relation to Koryak dialects as a whole. Until 1960s the Aliutor language per se and dialects related to it have been considered (and still considered by many scholars) dialects of Koryak language.

Genetic Affiliation

Aliutor language belongs to Chukchi-Koryak branch of Chukchi-Kamchadal language family. Within Chukchi-Koryak branch, dialects of Aliutor language are represented by so called t-dialects, which are opposed to j-dialects (Chavchuven dialect and others) and r-dialects (Chukchi language); compare Aliutor тин’а-к, Koryak йин’э-к, Chukchi рин’э-к “to fly”. Considering many features shared by t-dialects and j-dialects, Chukchi-Koryak can be considered as divided into two groups: Chukchi and Koryak, with t-dialects forming Aliutor (or south-eastern) subgroup, and j-dialects – Chavchuven (north-western) subgroup.

By the tradition originating from the XIX century, Chukchi-Kamchadal family, along with other small language families of Siberia and the Far East, are united under the umbrella term of “Palaeoasiatic languages”, however, such union has no grounds from the linguistic point of view.

Geographical Spread of the Language

Speakers of Aliutor language live, mostly, on the eastern shore of Kamchatka Peninsula, in Koryak Autonomous District. In the second half of the XX century due to economic reasons, population was resettled from their villages to new ones which resulted in a shift of geographic spread of dialects and subdialects.

Language Contacts

Speakers of Aliutor language had traditional language contacts with other Chukchi-Kamchadal peoples, mostly, with Chavchuven (across the territory of Koryak National District), as well as with Chukchi, Kerek, (in the north) and Itelmen (in the south). Language contacts with Yakut and Even were also registered. From the end of the XVII century contacts with Russian language have been developed. In the XX century influence of Russian language intensified due to the transition of Kerek to sedentary life, as well as due to the introduction of Russian as a language of instruction in schools.

Number of Native Speakers

Aliutor population can be estimated only approximately, since the corresponding data are practically absent, due to the fact that Nymylan Aliutor are represented within the ethnic group of Koryak in the census. At present their total number (considering all dialects) can be approximated to no more than several hundreds of people.

Dialects and Subdialects

Aliutor language includes three main dialects: Aliutor per se (villages Vyvenka, Tilichiki, etc.), Palana (villages Lesnaya, Palana, etc.) and Karaga (villages Karaga, Anapka, etc.); Uka dialect is also close to Aliutor (the data on it are lacking). Within dialects there are different subdialects depending on locality (certain villages are often quite distanced from each other). Dialects differ, mostly, phonetically and, partially, lexically, so that their speakers can easily understand each other.

Linguistic Characteristics of the Language

Aliutor language belongs to agglutinative languages of suffixal-prefixal type. Phonetic structure is characterized by diverse phonological processes, including compact vowel harmony. The noun has three numbers, a developed set of cases; there are predicative forms. The verb is characterized by moods and different aspect and tense forms; there are two types of conjugation conditioned by transitivity/intransitivity of the verb, agreed to three persons and three numbers of the agent and the patient (if there is one). The word order is non-fixed, with SVO и VSO variants being quite common; incorporation is also a characteristic feature of the Aliutor language. Subordinate predications are often expressed with non-finite forms, but subordinate clauses are also quite common.

Socio-Linguistic Description

Aliutor language is an endangered language, which is almost not passed from one generation to another one at present. Older generation of Nymylan, many of whom grew up in tundra, have a rather good command of the native language and more or less substantial knowledge of traditional culture. A milestone in the history of the language was introduction of Russian as a language of instruction in boarding schools, where children were taught, while their parents were occupied with the work at settlements, usually located in tundra, rather far from the village itself. Another turning point was resettlement of the population to new villages, where people spoke a different dialect or a subdialect. As a result, a young generation grew up in villages, with Russian as the main language of communication, and, therefore, having almost no knowledge of either their native language or traditional culture.

At present 15-20% of all Nymylan, mostly generation older than 50, have a relatively good command of the language. Their main sphere of use of the native language is discussion of topics related to traditional economic activities. All presently living Nymylan fluently speak Russian; there are practically no monolingual speakers left.

Cyrillic writing created in the 30s of the XX century for Koryak language on the basis on Chavchuven dialect, turned out to be incomprehensible for speakers of Aliutor dialects due to considerable phonetic differences of Koryak and Aliutor. However, the principles of Koryak writing themselves are quite appropriate for recording of educational materials on Aliutor language. Presently, Aliutor is taught as an elective subject; methodological developments are published.

History of Studies of the Language

For the first time Aliutors/Alyutors were obviously mentioned by V. Atlasov in the XVII century. The earliest records of Koryak language, dated back to the end of the XVII-beginning of the XVIII century (in the materials of N. Vitzen, I. Stralenberg, G.F. Mueller, etc.) are rather fragmentary and incomplete. More valuable linguistic data were collected in the middle XVIII century by S.P. Krasheninnikov, who distinguished two groups (and two main respective dialects) among Koryak: reindeer herding (nomadic) and settled (sedentary), while stressing great diversity of sub-dialects. Some incomplete data on Koryak language and its dialects, collected in the end of the XVIII and in the XIX centuries are represented in the works of P.S. Pallas, L. Radlov, K. Ditmar and others.

Large-scale research of Koryak and other Chukchi-Kamchadal languages started only in the end of the XIX  in the beginning of the XX centuries with the works of outstanding ethnographer, linguist and writer W.G. Bogoraz and his colleague W.I. Jochelson, who specialized in Koryak language.

In the XX century detailed research of different aspects of Koryak language (Chavchuven and other dialects) was conducted by A.N. Zhukova, an author of most of the works in this area. In 1968 A.N. Zhukova published her first description of the phonetics and grammar of Aliutor language (partially, based on materials of I.S. Vdovin), and later, in 1980 – detailed description of Palana dialect.

In the 70s Aliutor/Ayutor dialect per se became an object of special studies conducted by expeditions of Moscow State Pedagogical University; their participants published a number of articles on different aspects of phonetics and grammar, including the works of A.E. Kibrik, S.V. Kodzasov, I.A. Melchuk, I.A. Muravyova and others. In 2002 an etymological dictionary of Chukchi-Kamchadal languages, with the reference to Aliutor and Palana linguistic data, was published by O.A. Mudrak.

Aliutor language is also in the focus of attention of foreign, especially, Japanese researchers, who in recent years have published a series of works, with some of them in Russian (M. Kurebito, Y. Nagayama and others).

By present of all dialects of Aliutor language, Aliutor dialect per se has been properly studied: studies of verbal morphology by A.A. Maltseva, description of Aliutor language and folklore texts, found in the monograph by A.E. Kibrik, S.V. Kodzasov, I.A. Muravyova (the book was also published in English), grammatical essay by Y. Nagayama have been published. There is also a rather detailed description of Palana dialect in the monograph by A.N. Zhukova. Karaga dialect is described in separate publications. The data on Uka dialect are incomplete.

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