The Chelkan Language
General Information on the Language
Bibliography on the Chelkan language
Self-ethnonym of the Chelkans is Chalkandu / Shalkandu (чалканду / шалканду).
The Chelkans are an ethnic group best represented in Turachakskiy and Choyskiy districts of Altai Republic, with the most numerous communities living in villages Kurmach-Baygol and Suranash, as well as in villages Turachak, Biyka, Itkuch, Kebezen.
The Chelkan language, along with other northern dialects of Altai language – Kumandin and Tubin/Tubalar – as well as with the Shor and Khakas languages, is related to Khakass subgroup of Uighur and Oguz group of Turkic languages.
During the whole Soviet period starting from 1926 exact number of Chelkans was lacking since they were not counted separately but rather were reckoned among Altaians during population censuses. According the National population census of 2002, the number of Chelkans equals to 855 people (see www.perepis2002.ru).
The Chelkan language as well as Altai literary language and all the rest of Turkic languages is characterized by vowel harmony in phonetics, with more stable auslaut guttural phones, i.e., compare: таг with the literary туу “mountain”; суг with literary суу “water”; in an intervocalic position they are often transformed into -й-: яг – яйи “his house”; sometimes in literature initial –j- in Chelkan is substituted with нь: jаңмыр – ньаңмыр.
Chelkan is characterized by agglutination in morphology, fixed word order in syntax, the commonality of lexis, as well as by specific features in vocabulary as contrasted to the literary Altaian language.
The Chelkan language is non-literate. In 2000 Chelkans, along with other ethnic groups of Altai (Tubalars and Telengits) were granted the status of numerically small peoples of Russia with their language included in the Red Book of the peoples of Russia which, however, did not have any significant impact on the situation of their language and culture: neither the written language was developed (in Chelkan there are sounds which are lacking in Altaian literary language) nor manuals or textbooks were compiled. By far the only textbook is book for children «Аба-jыштың-аң-куштары» (“Animals and Birds of Primeval Taiga”, 2004) by A.M. Kandarakova compiled and published by researchers from the Institute of Philology, Siberian Branch of RAS and supported by the grant of the European Commission “Increasing Opportunities of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia for Education of High Level”.
The first documentation of the language of Chelkans (Lebedins) was implemented by academician V.V. Radlov (1865). In the XX century the studies of the Altaian language and its dialects, namely, Chelkan, was contributed by N.A. Baskakov whose series of books «Северные диалекты алтайского (ойротского) языка» (“Northern Dialects of Altaian (Oyrot) language”) also contains a monographic description of Chelkan dialect (1985). In his works N.A. Baskakov used his own expeditionary materials, and also all previously recorded texts and materials on the northern dialects of the Altaian language. The toponymy of the region inhabited by Chelkans and Altaians is generally described in fundamental work by O.T. Molchanova «Структурные типы тюркских топонимов Горного Алтая» (“Structural Types of Turkic Toponyms of Gornyiy Altai”) (Saratov, 1982) and in «Топонимическом словаре Горного Алтая» (“Toponymic Dictionary of Mountain Altai”) (Gorno-Altaisk, 1979; over 5400 entries). From 2000 to 2004 researchers of the Institute of philology, Siberian Branch, RAS in Novosibirsk conducted expeditions to the places inhabited by Chelkans. Materials on the Chelkan language collected in these expeditions were published in volumes ##7, 10, 13 and 15 of series «Языки коренных народов Сибири» (“Languages of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia”).
All Chelkans are bilingual and have a good command of Russian which has already become native for many of them. Chelkan with the narrowing sphere of its functioning is still living only in family communication and in small production teams involved in traditional economic activities.
The main centers of the studies of Chelkan language – the Institute of Altaic Studies named after S.S. Surazakov (Gorno-Altaisk) and the Institute of Philology, Siberian Branch, RAS (Novosibirsk).
Krachnakov, Timofei Pavlovich, a Chelkan shaman, Gorno-Altaysk
Photo © D.A. Funk, 2002
Specialists and Academic Centres Studying the Chelkan Language
Projects of the Language Studies
Grant of the RFBR in collaboration with Germal Scientific Research Society (DFG) (№ 03-06-04-001): “The Corpus of Chelkan Texts: Documentation of Spoken Chelkan Language with the Purpose of Preservation of the Data of this Language”, 2004-2005.
Translated into English by O.A. Povoroznyuk
© IEA RAS, 2005
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