The Mansi language

The general information on the language

Self-Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group

Bibliography on the Mansi language

Ethnonym Mansi according to one version means “person”, to another version it originates from Mansi words Mos (Mось, Mons (моньсь) (speaking one), however the Khanty, closely related to the Mansi people, have a moité named Mos. To the self-name for identification of the ethnic group Mansi as well as specialists in their culture usually add the name of district, whence there is a given group (for example, Sakv Mansit (сакв маньсит)– the Sygva Mansi, Aly Tagt Mansi (алы тагт маньси) - the Upper Sosva Mansi). Obsolete, but kept in historical and ethnographic sources the name Voguls originated from the name of one of Uralic tribes Vokyl (вокыл) (Khanty Vykli) or from Komi-Zyryan word Vagol (вагол) “stranger, wild, ignorant вагол”.

Variants of the name and the self-name the language

The official name of the language – the Mansi language (an obsolete spelling of the name used in the second half of 1930s – Man’si, the Man’si). In the beginning of 1930s at total revision and change of names of small peoples of Russia there was an attempt to legalize the name of people “Voguls” and the name of the language “The Vogul language”. For some time Khanty - Mansi Autonomous territory was officially called Ostyak-Vogul, but new names didn’t get accustomed and soon went out of the use.

The genetic relations

The Mansi language belongs to Ob-Ugric group of the Ugric branch of the Finno-Ugric languages belonging together with the Samoyedic languages to the Ural language family. The most close to Mansi is the Khanty language, especially its western dialects.

Geography of the language distribution

Mansi - ethnic native speakers live in Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous territory, partially in Yamal-Nenets autonomous territory and the Tyumen region, some Russianized Mansi families, the descendants of Tavda Mansi live in Sverdlovsk region.

Language contacts

Munsi have steady contacts with Komi in the West owing to this fact in Mansi there are loanwords from the Komi language. Early Russian loanwords also penetrated into the Mansi language via Komi language. Reindeer-breeding terminology of the northern Mansi was influenced by the Nenets language owing to the contacts with the Nenets people. Southern Mansi, mainly the users of Konda dialect have traces of Turkic (Tatar) influence in their language, through Turkic some words of the Iranian origin penetrated to Mansi. The Lyapin Mansi know the Komi language, Ob and Lower Sos’va Mansi know the Khanty language and use it in communication.

Number of native speakers

The number of Mansi according to the population census of 1989 was 8474 persons. In 1989 the Mansi language was considered as native one by 62,7 % of people, according to other data the number of speaking Mansi was more than 3 thousand persons.

Existence of dialects

Among Mansi there are distinguished several ethnographic groups which speak different dialects: Northern group, the representatives of which speak Sos’va, Upper Loz’va and Tavda dialects (the Tavda dialect disappeared already in 1960s), Eastern group speaking Konda dialect and the Western group, speakers of Pelym, Vagil, Middle Loz’va and Lower Loz’va dialects. The language and traditional culture now are preserved by northern (Sos’va-Lapin) and eastern (Konda) Mansi. Differences between Konda dialect and other dialects are great enough and complicate for the Konda Mansi the usage of written Mansi language, which is based on Sos’va dialect.

The linguistic characteristic of the language

  • Phonology There are 12 vowels and 17 consonants in Mansi language (Sos’va dialect), vowels are opposed on longitude - brevity. Among consonants sonants are absent almost completely.
  • Morphology Mansi is referred to agglutinative languages of suffixal type, prefixal morphological components (preverbs) exist only at verbs. The noun has categories of a number (singular, dual and plural), a case (8 forms) and a possessiveness (9 forms). Adjectives have a category of number in predicative function. Numerals have a quantity of forms, cardinal numbers change on cases. The verb has three types of conjugation – subject, subject - objective and subject - passive. The structure of synsemantic parts of speech includes postpositions and particles.
  • Semantics and Grammar In word-formation the composition is advanced.
  • Syntax Mansi belongs to languages of nominative structure. Attribute precedes determined word, word order is SOV.

The Sociolinguistic characteristics of the language

The official status, contemporary state of the language

The official status of Mansi is the language of aboriginal small peoples of the Russian Federation. Mansi is one of the title languages in Khanty - Mansi autonomous territory and due to it has prioritary position in comparison with many languages of peoples of the North of the Russian Federation. However in autonomous region itself because of the small number of Mansi people in comparison with Khanty the Mansi language occupies more modest position in all spheres of use of languages of aboriginal ethnoses. In Mansi some materials were published on the pages of a district national newspaper. Since 1950s the time of the termination of publication of translated literature in languages of peoples of the North of the Russian Federation the number of the issued literature in Mansi is rather insignificant. Many Mansi writers, for example, poet A.Tarkhanov, write in Russian. Writing and orthography

Writing system and orthography

The first attempts to create writing system for Mansi happened the middle of 19th century. In 1868 in London there was published the Gospel from Matthew translated into Mansi by Grigory Popov. In second half of 19th century there started the teaching of Mansi children, so in 1903 in Moscow the ABC-book for the Ural Mansi, written by bishop Nikanor was published. In 1932 the writing for Mansi was developed on the basis of the Latin alphabet, from 1937 the Mansi writing was transferred on the Cyrillic basis. In the beginning of 1980s in the alphabet some symbols for long vowels were initiated. Contemporary Mansi writing and orthography are considered the most well worked out from philological point of view and constitute the most successful attempts of graphical system improvement of the language on Cyrillic basis. As the basis of literary Mansi language there was taken Sos’va dialect, however writing in Konda dialect also functions to the certain degree, for example M.P. Vakhrusheva-Balandina wrote her verses in it.

Social functions of the language

Nowadays Mansi is used mainly family household communication by the people of the senior generation, it is used also in small collectives that lead traditional way of life and occupied in hunting, fishery or reindeer breeding. In Mansi language can be heard in radio broadcasting, now twice a month in Mansi two columns in a newspaper are published. Mansi is taught in primary school, in Khanty-Mansiysk Pedagogical School, in the Ugra State University (Khanty-Mansiysk), in Institute of Peoples of the North of Russian State Pedagogical University named after A.I. Hertzen (Saint Petersburg), and periodically in Novosibirsk State University.

History of language studying

The first contacts of Russians with Mansi refer to 15-16th centuries, since this time in Russian documents there appeared Mansi proper names. One of the first ethnographic descriptions concerning Mansi is «The brief description of the Ostyak people» written by G.I. Novitsky (1715). Some dictionaries and vocabularies of Mansi dialects were fixed in 18th century. Scientific studying of the Mansi language is connected with the names of Hungarian scientists of 19th century B. Munkáchi, A. Reguly, P. Hunfalvi, Finnish scholars A. Alquist, A. Kannisto, M. Liimola. In 20th century in Hungary Mansi was studied by D.Lako, B.Kalman, K.Redei, J.Guya, L. Honti, E. Shal, in Germany by V.K. Schteinitz. In Russia Mansi was studied by A.I. Emeljanov, V.N. Chernetsov and I.J. Chernetsova, A.N.Balandin, later by Mansi M.P. Vakhrusheva-Balandina, E.I. Rombandeyeva, A.I. Sainakhova, D.V. Gerasimova and others. K.V. Afanasyeva is engaged in methodology of Mansi training at school.

The Mansi language belongs to such languages of small peoples of the North of the Russian Federation that are investigated well enough. The full description of the structure of Mansi is given in E.I. Rombandeeva's two monographs, and also in several editions of the textbook of Mansi for pedagogical colleges. Sound structure the Mansi language is not well studied, there is lack of experimental - phonetic researches, there are only some articles. Lexicon is also insufficiently investigated. The dictionaries of Mansi are rather small in volume, the fullest dictionaries were written in 1950s and they do not meet the contemporary scientific and practical requirements.

Archival materials on the Mansi language

Archival materials on the Mansi language, including audiomaterials are concentrated basically in Khanty - Mansi Autonomous Region (Okrug), however in regional archives they are inaccessible for work to experts. An extensive collection of Mansi folklore materials in various dialects of the Mansi language that belonged to V.N. Chernetsov, nowadays are kept in Tomsk State University. The records of of Mansi folklore samples that take place in the Phonogrammarchive of the Institute of Russian literature (the Pushkin House) of the Russian Academy of Science are not numerous.

Scholars engaged in studying of the language

  • Rombandeeva, Yevdokiya Ivanovna (Ромбандеева Евдокия Ивановна), D.Sc. Research Institute of Ob-Ugrian Peoples, Khanty-Mansiysk, Khanty-Mansi Automonous Region (Научно-исследовательский институт обско-угорских народов, Ханты-Мансийск, ХМАО). e-mail:
  • Gerasimova, Dina Vasilievna (Герасимова Дина Васильевна), C.Sc. e-mail:

Scientific centres engaged in the language research

  • Ugra State University, Khanty-Mansiysk, Khanty-Mansi Automonous Region (Югорский государственный университет, г.Ханты-Мансийск)
  • Research Institute of Ob-Ugrian Peoples, Khanty-Mansiysk, Khanty-Mansi Automonous Region (Научно-исследовательский институт обско-угорских народов, Ханты-Мансийск). e-mail:
  • Department of Uralic Labguages Institute of Peoples of the North, Russian State Pedagogical University named after A.I. Hertzen, Saint Petersburg (Кафедра уральских языков и методики их преподавания, Институт народов Севера, Российский гос. Педагогический университет, Санкт-Петербург)
  • Department of Finno-Ugrian Phililogy, Faculty of Philogy, Saint Petersburg State University (Кафедра финно-угорской филологии, Филологический факультет, Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет). Mailing address: Russia, 199034, Санкт-Петербург, в-32, Университетская наб., 11, СПбГУ, Филологический факультет, кафедра финно-угорской филологии
  • Institute of Philology, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (Институт филологии Сибирского отделения РАН). Mailing address: Russia, 630090, Новосибирск-90, ул. Николаева, д.8. Институт филологии СО РАН, сектор языков народов Сибири

Translated into English by A.N. Bitkeeva

© IEA RAS, 2005
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