The Kumandin Language

General Information on the Language

The Main Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group

Bibliography on the Kumandin Language

The Kumandin


  • Kumandin (on the name of one of the tribes, etymologically compared with the ethnonym куман and related to the Turkic root qu: <*qub «pale» + -man).
  • Куванды / куванта
  • Кувандык / кувандыг / кувандых

The Main Language Name

The Kumandin language

Photo © I.I. Nazarov

Genetic Affiliation

The Kumandin language is a dialect of the Altai language, but according to some Turkic scholars it may be considered a separate language in the Khakas subgroup of the Uygur-Oghuz group of the Turkic languages.

The Geographical Spread of the Language

The Kumandin, a Turkic language ethnic group of the Southern Altai, live densely in Solton and Krasnogorsk regions and the city of Biysk of the Altai district, Turachak region and Gorno-Altaisk city of the Republic of Altai. Furthermore they live scattered in Altai district and the Republic of Altai as well as outside their borders.

Number of Native Speakers

Since the Kumandin became part of Russia till the 1926 census the Kumandin were registered in all official papers as a separate ethnic group. But afterwards they were registered as Altai or Tatar and were not distinguished in censuses, which did not allow to determine their number. Nowadays the Kumandin are considered a separate ethnic group. They are included into the number of a minority indigenous people of the North and the United list of a minority indigenous people of RF. According to the data of the 2002 census the number of Kumandin is 3114. 1044 speak the Kumandin language.

Language Contacts

Russian, Altai.

Dialects and Subdialects

There is no data of dialects of the Kumandin language in literature.

Linguistic Description

The Kumandin language is close in some phonetic features to the Shor and partly to the Khakas language. It has some phonetic and grammatical features explained by substratum processes working during the history of language formation and development. Phonetic, morphologic and lexical differences allow to assign to the Kumandin language a special place among the dialects of the Altai language, some Turkic scholars separate the language as an independent unit in the system of Turkic languages of Siberia. Thus, there are distinctions in vowel labialization: only narrow non-labial vowels of the second and following syllables are labialized. Or else, for example, there is dropping of narrow vowels and narrowing of broad vowels, there are cases of deep vowels fronting.

Sociolinguistic Description of the Language

Legal Status, the Present Day Situation of the Language

Nowadays representatives of middle and elder generations of the Kumandin prefer the native language in everyday speech, whereas the youth prefers Russian. Almost all the Kumandin have command of the Russian language, for some of them it is their mother tongue. The Kumandin living in the Republic of Altai can speak the literary Altai language. The correlation of people speaking their native language and Russian is the following: 1044 speak the Kumandin language, 3106 speak Russian.

Writing and Orthography

In the middle of the XIX c. missionaries of the Altai Religious Mission developed writing system for the Altai language, based on the Teleut language. This writing system was also in use among the Kumandin before the 1917 Revolution.

Social Functions of the Language

In early 1930s an attempt was undertaken to teach the Kumandin in their native language. For example, 1933 the “Kumandy-primer” was published, but this attempt failed. The use of the primer was abandoned, because it was based on the Latin script which complicated the language acquisition by the Kumandin themselves. Nowadays there are no children textbooks in the Kumandin language, school instruction is carried out in Russian. The Altai literary language is taught as subject, therefore there is a problem of interacting of the literary language and dialect in the regions of the Kumandin settlement in the sphere of school education, because local Kumandin speech affects considerably the Altai language.

Specialists believe, that the instruction in the primary school should be conducted in the Kumandin language for the sake of its preservation and development, or else the language should be introduced as main obligatory subject, taught in further grades optionally. This raises the problem of instructional literature in the Kumandin language, training of teachers and textbook authors.

Works on popularization of the Kumandin language and culture were conducted by the “Society of the Kumandin people of the Altai Revival”, founded 1992 in Biysk. It was succeeded by the 1998 founded “Association of the Kumandin People Revival”. Priority of this organization is the preservation of the ethnos, language revival and preservation, ethnic rights protection. The superior body of this organization is the congress, governing body between the congresses – council.
4. History of Language Studies

Special descriptions and dictionaries of the Kumandin language appeared in the last third of the XX c. The first dictionary supplied by a grammar description was the research of N.A. Baskakov «Диалект кумандинцев (куманды-кижи: грамматический очерк, тексты, переводы и словарь» (The Kumandin dialect (kumandy-kizhi: grammar outline, texts, translations and vocabulary)), published 1972 in series “Northern Dialects of the Altai Language”. On the basis of this work a Russian-Kumandin phrase-book was compiled under the direction of F.A. Satlaev and also the instructional “Kumandin-Russian Dictionary” done by L.M. Tukmachev, E.I. Tukmacheva, M.B. Petrushova . I.Ya. Selyutina conducted experimental work on the Kumandin phonetics. The author analyzed vocalism and consonantism of the Kumandin language, and other structural issues of the language.

Specialists studying the language

  • Selyutina I. Ya.

    research fellow of the Institute of Philology of the Siberian Branch of RAS

Academic centers studying the language

  1. Institute of Philology of the Siberian Department of RAS

The following sources were used to compile this information

  1. Языки народов России. Красная книга. М., 2002.

Translated into English by A.N. Bitkeeva

© IEA RAS, 2005
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