The Kerek Language

General Information

Bibliography on the Kerek language

The main ethnonym of the ethnic group is Kerek. Self-ethnonym — «coastal people»; каракыкку (deriving from Chukchi кэрэкит) is also used as a self-ethnonym. Kereks are divided into two groups: Navarin or Meynypilgyno (self-ethnonym — «upper») and Khatyrka (self-ethnonym — «lower»). Respectively, the language is divided into two dialects.

Genetic Affiliation

Kerek language belongs to Chukchi-Kamchadal family. It can be considered as one of Koryak dialects, however, having noticeable specific Chikchi features acquired in the result of close contacts with Chukchi.

Gegraphic Spread of the Language

Until recently Kerek have populated the Bering Sea shore, stretching from Anadyr Strait to the mouth of Opukha River. According to archeological data, earlier Kereks occupied a significantly larger territory, up to the Olyutorskiy Cape of Kamchatka. In the XVIII century Kerek population significantly decreased due to the war between Chukchi and Koryak, and later, due to epidemics and shrinking population of sea animals (traditional game object). During the XX century Kereks were practically assimilated by Chukchi. By now several Kerek families have survived in village in the Moyno-Pilgino River basin.

Number of Native Speakers

According to the data of 2004 census, no more than 15 people have a command of Kerek language; according to other data, already in 1991 there were only three individuals speaking Kerek: two of them spoke Navarin, and one – Khatyrka dialect. All of them, besides their native language, also had a command of Chukchi, and, to a lesser extent, of Russian language.

Linguistic Characteristics of the Language

The Kerek is an agglutinative prefixal-suffixal language. It differs from other languages of Chukchi-Kamchadal family by a less numerous phonemes, absense of vowel harmony and other features. There are seven cases and bipersonal conjugation of the verb. It has neutral word order — SOV; there are constructions of both nominative and ergative types found in the language. Subordinate predications are expressed with non-finite forms.

Socio-Linguistic Description of the Language

The Kerek language has never had either writing, or any official status. The Chukchi language was used as lingua franca; contacts with Russians were quite limited up to the 1930-1940s. Today Chukchi and Russian serve as languages of instruction.

History of Studies of the Language

Studies of Kerek language were started, in fact, only in the second half of the XX century, when the language itself was already on the brink of extinction (П. Я. Скорик, В. В. Леонтьев, А. П. Володин and others). There are records of texts, lexicographic materials.

The description is based on the following works from the list provided above: [Володин 1994а; 1997] and the Indigenous Minority Languages of Russia website.

© IEA RAS, 2005
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