The Enets Language

General Information on the Language

Bibliography on the Enets Language

The presently used ethnonym of the ethnic group was introduced in the 1930s and derived from the Enets word meaning “man”. The Enets call themselves Onae Enecheo (онаэ энечео’) or Onay Enchu (онай энчу’) - «real men».

Earlier ethnonyms “Yenisey Samoyeds” as well as Somatu (сомату), Madu (маду), Turukhanskie (туруханские) and Khantayskie (хантайские) were used for the tundra dialect, and Bay (бай), Pe-Bay (пэ-бай), Baikhinskie (баихинские) — for the forest dialect, Mangazeyskie мангазейские, Karasinskie (карасинские) — for both of them (see the information on dialects below). Thus, the language was called differently.

The language belongs to the northern group of the Samoyedic branch of the Uralian languages.

Traditional nomadic territory includes western part of Taimyr Peninsula lying to the north of Dudinka for tundra Enets, and eastern bank of Enisey River stretching between Dudinka and Igarka – for forest Enets. Historically, their territory was considerably larger reaching the basin of lower reaches the River Taz in the south; however, starting from XVII century they have been supplanted by Selkups in the south-west and by Nenents in the west. Enets territories were also included in the area crossed by one of the routs of Russian expansion (city name Mangazeya and word Samoyed/Samodiyets itself derive from the names of Enets clans). By the mid-XIX century the composition of their territory had been stabilized as limited by the eastern bank of Enisey River to the north of Igarka; diminished territories resulted in a number of Enets decreased approximately to 500 people by that time.

At present tundra Enets live in Vorontsovo village in the mouth of Enisey, forest Enets – in Potapovo village on Enisey reaches upper than Dudinka village. Some Enets live in Dudinka, others – side by side with Nganasans in Ust-Avam and Volochanka villages.

Nowadays the number of Nganasans equals to 237 people (2004). According to the recent census, around 100 people have a command of the native language.

Enets have traditionally neighbored Evenks, Nenets, Selkups, and Russians since the XVII century. Historically, forest Enets had contacts also with Kets. Tundra Enets have lived in close contact with Nganasans up to the present day.

The Enets language is divided into two dialects – northern tundra (сомату) and southern forest (бай). With dialects having significant differences, mutual understanding is quit complicated. Sometimes they hardly perceive themselves as a single ethnic group: forest Enets consider tundra Enets Nganasans, and tundra Enets consider forest ones – Nenets.

Linguistic Description

Enets language is agglutinative, suffixal (with no prefixes). The omission of consonants has led to the establishment of the rule of the open syllable and numerous consonant combinations (up to four consonants in a row); in fact, in the forest dialect further reduction of vowels and decreased vocalic sequences. There are morphonological processes at the junction of morphemes. The noun has three numbers; three types of declension, seven cases, a system of possessive declension. The verb has agreement according to the person and the number; has three types of conjugation depending on the presence and definiteness of the object; there are many non-finite forms. The main word order is SOV. Subordinate predications are expressed, primarily, by non-finite forms; composite sentences are rarely found.

Socio-Linguistic Situation

At present no more than ten people have a command of the tundra dialect, and two-three tens – of the forest dialect. All the speakers are older people. For all of them either Russian or Nenets is a language of communication.

The language is used only in the every day life communication. Presently insignificant amount of time is allotted to teaching the language as an elective subject at school. In the 90s the Enets supplement to newspaper «Советский Таймыр» (“Soviet Taimyr”) (later – simply «Таймыр» (“Taimyr”)) was regularly published and also the local radio had a broadcast in Enets.

Up to the mid-XX century Enets language has been considered a dialect of Nenets; in records of 1959 and 1979 Enets were not counted as an independent ethnic group, but were rather registered either as Nenets or as Nganasans.

History of Studies of the Language

For the first time Enets language was documented in the translated text of “Our Farther” recorded by N. Vitzen between 1664 and 1667. In the XVIII century Enets material was present in dictionaries compiled by D.G. Messersmidt, F.Y. Stralenberg and P.S. Pallas. During 1845-1849 expedition first detailed materials on Enets were collected by M.A. Castrйn.

In 1837 an essay of the Enets language was published by G.N. Prokofiev; in 1966 and 1993 the essays written by N.M. Tereschenko appeared. Dictionaries of Enets language (based on previously published materials) were compiled by M. Katzschmann and J. Pusztay (1978) and by T. Mikola (1995).

In 1992 a concise collection of Enets folklore was published. In 2001 school Enets-Russian and Russian-Enets dictionary appeared in press. In 2002 a comprehensive two-language collection of Enets folklore compiled by K.I. Labanauskas was published; in 1999 – a concise grammar of Enets language written by A. Künnap. A comprehensive lexical material was collected by E.A. Khelimskiy (unpublished). A number of works on Enets language belongs to I.P. Sorokina, Y.A. Glukhoy, V.P. Susekov, D.S. Bolina.

Translated into English by O.A. Povoroznyuk

© IEA RAS, 2005
This website was created with support from UNESCO Moscow Office