The Selkup Language

General Information on the Language

The Main Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group

Bibliographies on the Selkup Language

Different local groups of the Selkup call themselves differently: šöľqup, śöľqup (the Northern group), čumyľqup (the Central group at the river Tym and at the river Ob by Narym settlement), šöšqum, śüssogum (the Ob group by the tow Kolpashevo and the group residing in the Ket basin), tüjqum (the assimilated by Turkic population group that once lived at the river Chulym). The names šöľqup, śöľqup, šöšqum, śüssogum can be translated as ‘a forest man’, the names čumyľqup, tüjqum can be translated as ‘an earth man’.

Аксандаков Владимир Кузьмич (1957-2003), пос. Красноселькуп
Фото © О.А. Казакевич, 2002 г.

The Name of Language

  • Selkup
  • Ostyak-Samoyed
  • šöľqumyt әty
  • čumyľ qumyt әty
  • śüssü qumyt әty
  • šöš qumyt әty
  • tüj qumyt әty

Genetic Affiliation

Selkup belongs to the Samoyed branch of the Uralic language family. It is believed that Selkup split from its nearest relatives Nenets, Enets, and Nganasan, as well as from the now disappeared Kamass and Mator languages about two thousand yeares ago.

Geographic Spread of the Language

The Selkup are dispersed on a large area of Western Siberia between the Middle Ob and the Yenisei in the territory of the Tomsk region, the Krasnoselkup and the Pur districts of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area, and the Turukhansk district of the Krasnoyarsk territory.

The Northern Selkup
  • Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area
    • Krasnoselkup district
      • Krasnoselkup
      • Tolka
      • Ratta
      • Kikkiakki
    • Pur district
      • Tolka Purovskaia
      • Tarko-Sale
      • Bystrinka
    • Salekhard
  • Krasnoyarsk territory
  • Turukhansk district
    • the settlement Farkovo

Commentaries. In the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area the Northern Selkup reside at the middle and upper flow of the river Taz and its tributaries. In the villages Ratta, Kikkiakki, and the-Upper-Tolka they build the bulk of the population. About 50 Selkup live in Salekhard, the administrative centre of the autonomous area.

In the Turukhansk district of the Krasnoyarsk area the Selkup mostly live in the middle flow of the Yenisei, mostly at its link tributary the river Turukhan (with its tributaries the Upper and the Lower Baikha). In the village Farkovo they constitute the majority of the population. In some villages at the Yenisei they live among the Ket. Some Selkups also live in the village Kellog at the Yelogui, a link tributary of the Yenisei.

The Southern Selkup
  • Tomsk region
    • Kargasok district
      • the settlement Napas
    • Parabel district

      Kolpashevo district

      the settlement Ivankino

      the settlement Novosondrovo

    • Verkhneketskiy district
      • the settlement Ozernoye
    • Tomsk
    • Kedroviy

Commentaries. In the Tomsk region the Selkup reside in the middle flow of the Ob and its tributaries the Ket’, the Tym, the Parabel’, and the Vasyugan. They are dispersed in over 50 villages where they constitute from 0,1 % to 5 % of the population. In the only village Ozernoye they constitute the majority. In two othe villages - Ivankino and Novosondrovo – they constitute more one third of the population. Rather a large group of the Selkup live in Napas. About 30 % of the Southern Selkup live in the towns Kolpashevo, Kedroviy, and in the regional centre Tomsk.

Language Contacts

  • Khanty
  • Ket
  • Evenki
  • Forest Nenets
  • Tundra Nenets
  • Chulym-Turkic
  • the language of the Siberian Tatars
  • Russian

Number of Native Speakers

The ethnic group strength in 1989 in the USSR was 3612 people (3564 people in Russia); the Population Census of 2002 gives 4249 people. According to our estimation basing on the results of a series of sociolinguistic surveys lead in the Krasnoselkup and Pur districts of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area and in the Turukhansk district of the Krasnoyarsk territory in 1996-2003, at present in the Northern group there are no more than 600 Selkup speakers left which is a little bit less than one third of the group strength (1833, according to the data of the Census 1989, 2166, according to the data of the Census 2002), and there are some (though rather few) children among the Selkup speakers. As for the speakers of the other Selkup dialects, according to the data of the Tomsk linguists, there are no more than 15-20 speakers of all the dialects of the Southern Selkup group altogether left, and they all are over 70. The number of 1641 Selkup speakers given as a result of the Census 2002 appears most doubtful.

Dialects and Sub-Dialects

Different researchers suggested different classification of Selkup dialects. The number of dialects varies from 3 (M.A. Castrén 1854) to 23 (K. Donner 1920). Most of dialect classifications of Selkup are based on phonetic features.

T. Janurik distinguishes three groups of dialects: Northern Selkup dialects, Middle Selkup dialects and Southern Selkup dialects. Inside those groups he distinguishes 6 dialect areas: the area of Tas, the area of Yenisei, the area of Tym, the area of Narym, the area of Ob and the area of of Ket. Inside those areas 12 dialects are distinguished: Tas, Lariak, Turukhan, Yelogui, Tym, Narym, Vasjugan, Togur, Kolpashevo, Chaia, Ket and Makovskoye dialects.

According to one of the classifications suggested by E. Helimski, in Selkup five dialects corresponding to the present local groups of the Selkup are distinguished: the Northern, or Taz-Turukhan dialect (with the Middle Taz, the Upper Taz, the Upper Tolka, the Baikha, the Yelogui sub-dialects), the Tym dialect (the sub-dialects of the Tym), the Narym dialect (the sub-dialects of the Narym, the Vasyugan, and the Parabel), the Ob dialect (the sub-dialects of the Middle Ob’, the Chaya, and the Lower Ket’), the Ket dialect (the sub-dialects of the Middle and Upper Ket’. In the 19th century there was one more, the so-called Extreme Southern with the sub-dialects of the Chulym, Chaya, and the Upper Ob’ now practically disappeared.

There are no clear borders between the Selkup dialects, some sub-dialects are of a transitional character. As a result, the neighbouring dialects appear to be relatively similar which enables mutual understanding for speakers of these dialects. At the same time, the dialects of the territories situated at a long distance have pretty considerable differences, which makes it difficult for speakers of these dialects to understand each other.

Linguistic Description


Vowels. 25 vowels, which are opposed in tongue position (front/central/back), height (low/mid/high), labialization (rounded / unrounded), tention (tense / lax), and length (short / long): .

Consonants. There are 16 consonants: plosives p, t, k, q; affricate č; fricatives s, š; nasals m, n, ń, ŋ; laterals l, l'; vibrant r; glides w, j.

Phonetic rules. Positional modification of the phonemes is characteristic of Selkup. Consonant assimilation is quite common: e.g., voiceless plosives, affricates and fricatives become semi-voiced in intervocalic position and when preceded by a sonorant. Consonant clusters as well as diphthongs are avoided in word-/morpheme-initial as well as word-/morpheme-final positions. /ŋ/ does not occur word-initially nor do /w/ and /č/ word-finally. Final nasals (m, n, ń, ŋ) alternate with plosives of the same place of formation (p, t, k), sometimes also with zero, e.g. kanak/kanaŋ/kana ‛dog’, qontam/ qon­tap ‛I found’. The word stress is dynamic and tone, and it is free. No vowel harmony is observed as a phonological feature, though, in some sub-dialects, reduced vowels in suffixes tend to assimilate to the stressed vowel in the root.

Syllable. Most common syllable types are CV and CVC.


Selkup is an agglutinating-synthetic language with suffixation as dominant morphological process, though there are some verbal prefixes as well as certain analytic constructions.

The selective category for the Selkup noun is animateness (animate/inanimate), and the declensional categories are number (singular / dual / plural), case, possession. There is neither grammatical gender nor classes. There are 13 cases in the Northern Selkup dialect: Nominative, Accusative, Genetive, Instrumental, Caritive, Translative, Coordinative, Dative-Allative, Illative, Locative, Elative, Prolative, Vocative. The category of possesion shows the person (first/second/third) and number (singular/dual/plural) of the possessor with the help of possessive suffixes attached to the noun expressing the possessed thing(s) or person(s). Within the noun paradigm adjectival, adverbial, and conjugated verbal forms can be formed.

The selective categories for the Selkup verb are: aspect (perfective/imperfective), aktionsart (iterative/durative/intensive/multiobject/multisubject/inchoative/attenuative/frequentative, etc.), voice (transitive/intransitive, causative/non-causative, reflecsive/non-reflecsive, active/passive), and the conjugational categories are mood (indicative/latentive/conditional/subjunctive/optative/debitive/auditive/imperative), tense (present/past/narrative past/future), type of conjugation (subjective/objective), person (first/second/third), and number (singular/dual/plural).

Non-finite forms of the verb are: infinitive, two verbal nouns (verbal noun I and verbal nounII), five participles (present participle, past participle, debitive participle, destinative participle, caritive participle), three converbs (present converb, past converb, caritive converb).

Negation is expressed with the help of negative particles.

Grammar and Semantics

The counting system is decimal with some rudiments of the septimal system.

A considerable part of the Selkup lexicon is of Samoyedic origin. The number of borrowings from the neighbouring languages – Khanty (the Vakh dialect), Ket, Evenki, some Turkic languages – is comparatively small. Since the XVIIIth century there have been borrowings from Russian, in the last decades practically without any phonetic adaptation.


Selkup is a nominative language. The most common word order is SOV. The modifier precedes the head word. As a rule, the subject of a finite sentence is in the nominative case, and that of a non-finite clause in the genitive case. The direct object is either in the accusative or the nominative case. The use of polipredicative constructions (complexes with an infinitive, a verbal noun, a participle or an adverbial participle) as semantic equivalents of complex sentences is quite typical of Selkup.

Sociolinguistic Situation

Legal Status, Present Day Situation of the Language

language of indigenous minority people of the Russian Federation

In the Tomsk region, the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area and the Turukhansk district of the Krasnoyarsk territory Selkup has a status of a protected language.

Writing and Orthography

The first attempt to create a writing system for the Selkup language was made in the 19th century when the first Selkup alphabet primer was compiled and published by a civil servant and explorer of local lore N.P. Grigorovski. A southern dialect of the language was used as basis for the book and the Cyrillic alphabet. In 1900 archbishop of Tomsk and Altai Makariy published a religious teaching book in near dialectal base also using the Cyrillics. However, it did not bring about major changes in education and the majority of the Selkups remained illiterate for another half-century.

In the early 1930s a writing system was developed for the language on the basis of the Northen (Tas-Turukhan) dialect, this time the Latine alphabet with some additional signs was used. A number of elementary textbooks and teaching materials was published, and Selkup children started to receive their primary education through the medium of Selkup.

In accordance with All-Union initiative of transferring a number of Latin alphabet based writing systems to Cyrillic-based, Selkup received another writing system in 1937. Again, new textbooks needed to be issued. Two Cyrillic Selkup primers were published in 1940 and 1953. However, in the mid-1950s the Selkup language was removed from the curriculum and Russian became the only medium of instruction in Selkup schools.

The third and most recent attempt to give the Selkup language a written form was undertaken in the 1980s, again on the basis of the Northern dialect and the Cyrillic alphabet. In 1986 a new (the fifth) Selkup alphabet primer was published and Selkup was introduced as a subject at primary schools of the Krasnoselkup district. Later, Selkup was introduced as a subject in the only Selkup settlment in the Turukhansk district Farkovo. Since then, a Selkup reader for grades one and two, textbooks of the Selkup language for grades two and three, a reader for grade four, as well as a school dictionary Selkup-Russian-Selkup have been published. The authors of the school textbooks are representatives of the Selkup intelligentsia. Besides, in 2002 a university textbook of Selkup was published. It was the first university textbook of a minority language of Siberia and the Far East.

Southern dialects of Selkup differ considerably from the Northern and thus at the beginning of the 1990s a decision to teach the Selkup children of the Tomsk region the dialects of their own as a subject was reached. In the Laboratory of Indigenous Peoples of Siberia at Tomsk Teacher Training Institute a series of materials for the Middle-Ob dialect was compiled and published (an alphabet primer, a school dictionary Selkup-Russian-Selkup and two manuals of Selkup: in the Middle-Ob dialect and in the Narym dialect).

It should be mentioned that the main sphere of the functioning of the Selkup writing system is education. Outside school and university the Selkup writing (both in the Northern dialect and in the dialects of the Southern Selkups) is very little used.

Social Functions of the Language

Traditional spheres of the functioning of Selkup are family, traditional activities (hunting, fishing, and reindeer herding for transport needs), and oral lore.

Once Selkup was intensely used in the religious practices (the Selkup were and partly still are animalists, and for contacts with other worlds and spirits they had shamans, those who possessed spirits-helpers and were able to cross world borders with the help of their spirits). Now, as far as we are informed, among the Selkups there are no practicing shamans left (though there are still people suffering for shamanic sickness and some people still remember shamanic incantations heard from their shaman-ancestors. In the 1930s Selkup began to be used in new spheres: education and book publishing, and since the end of the XXth century also in radio and television.

The transmission of the southern Selkup dialects from parents to children has stopped since some decades. Now these dialects are spoken only by some elderly people. The preservation of the Northern dialect is much better but still far from rejoicing. Since the 1970s the Northern dialect began to lose its positions: in larger settlements with the bulk of the population formed by newcomers from different parts of Russia and Selkups being a minority it is rarely spoken even in purely Selkup families (and one third of all Selkup families in the district are mixed being Selkup-Russian, Selkup-Ukrain, etc.) and its natural transmission from parents to children practically stopped. In small villages where Selkups constitute the majority of the population (Ratta, Pur Tolka) natural transmission of the language from parents to children is still preserved. To-day the functioning of Selkup is strongly connected with traditional activities of the population, especially reindeer herding.

All Selkups speaking Selkup are bilingual with Russian as their second or sometimes their first language. There are no Selkup speaking monolinguals any more. In Selkup speech of Selkups of all generations code-switching and code-mixing are quite common, it is found even in recorded folklore texts.

The sociolinguistic survey done in 1996-2003 among the Northern Selkup showed an existing discrepancy between what people say they wish and what they really do in respect of the ethnic language preservation: that almost all the interviewed Selkup parents expressed the wish to see their children able to speak Selkup; unfortunately, most of them choose to speak Russian with their children irrespective of their own linguistic competence in Selkup.

Education To-day, the Northern dialect of Selkup is taught in six rural schools in the districts with Selkup population (the Krasnoselkup and Pur districts of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous area and the Turukhansk district of the Krasnoyarsk territory) and in one urban school (the sanatorium boarding school of Salekhard) In the 2001-2002 school year over 160 pupils of primary school and over 20 pupils of secondary school (5-9 degrees) attended Selkup classes. The Ob dialect of Selkup is taught in the primary school of the village Ivankino of the Tomsk region (in 2001-2002 10 pupils attended Selkup classes). Besides, in the school of the village Tolmachiovo the Narym dialect of Selkup was taught as an optional subject. As an optional subject Selkup is also taught in the district centre of Cultures in Parabel. In the Tomsk region Selkup is taught and learned as a foreign language. The same applies to the majority of the Selkup children in the North as well. At the beginning of the 1990s school was regarded as the place where Selkup children could learn the language of their ancestors. Unfortunately, up to now Selkup classes at school appeared to be almost ineffective: having no strong motivation children don’t get sound knowledge in the language and fail to acquire proper linguistic competence.

At the post-secondary level the Northern dialect of Selkup is taught at Salekhard Teacher Training College (to all the students of Selkup origin irrespective of their area of study), at the Herzen Teacher Training University in Saint-Petersburg, and at Moscow Lomonosov University. The dialects of the Southern Selkups are tought only at Tomsk Teacher Training Institute (here the Selkup students attend the Selkup language classes irrespective of their area of study).

Publications. In Selkup almost solely textbooks and manuals are published. There are publications of Selkup folklore. Texts of Selkup songs were published twice (in 1962 and in 1999).

In the 19th century fragments of the New Testament were translated into Selkup by archbishop Makariy, but the text of the translation has never been read by Selkups. N.P. Grigorovskiy translated some prayers into Selkup. At present the Lucas Gospel is being translated into Selkup by R.A. Priyezzhikh (Irikova). In 2000 an extract from her translation was published (2: 1-20).

Periodicals. There was only one attempt to use Selkup in press. In April 1992 in the Krasnoselkup an issue of the district newspaper “Severnyi Krai” was published containing a Selkup page which had been prepared by E. Smorgunova. Unfortunately, that initiative was not supported, and the first Selkup newspaper page appeared to be the only one.

Radio. Selkup radio transmissions started in the Salekhard radio station in 1986 (twice a week for 15 minutes). For the period from 1989 to 1996 Selkup broadcasting was removed to Krasnoselkup. It stopped in 1996 and was renewed in Salekhard in 1998. The Pur district television-radio company “Luch” in Tarko-Sale also broadcasts in Selkup 15 minutes a week.

Television. The television company “Aliance” (Krasnoselkup) broadcasts in Selkup twice a month, as well as the television-radio company “Luch” (Tarko-Sale).

Enlarging its spheres of functioning Selkup loses in the most important for its functioning sphere – family comunication. The only hope are the families still keeping reindeer as a strong correlation between the reindeer breeding and the ethnic language functioning in the family is observed.

History of Studies of the Language

The study of Ket began in the middle of the 19th century by M.A. Castren. The first grammar of Selkup was published in 1935 by G.N. Prokofiev. In 1980 a detailed description of the Northern (the Taz) dialect by A.I. Kuznetsova, E.A. Helimski, and E.V. Grushkina. In the 1990s two monograph descriptions of the dialects of the Southern Selkups were published in Tomsk. By now there exist many publications describing and analyzing phonemic structure and morphology of various Selkup dialects. The syntactic structure is still understudied.

The main archives containing Selkup materials are the archive of G.N. and E.D. Prokofiev (Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St-Petersburg), the archive of the Chair for the Languages of Siberian Peoples of the Tomsk State Teacher Training University, the archives of L.A. Varkovitskaya (Moscow State Lomonosov University), the archive of A.I. Kuzmina (Institute of Philology of the Siberian section of the Russian Academy of Sciences).

Sound Sample of the Selkup Language

Why people shouldn’t spend the night in a store hut. A Selkup fairy tale [text (pdf)] [mp3 (532 kB / 2:16 min) listen]


Kusamina (Tamelkina), Galina Vladimirovna (born in 1956), Farkovo settlement, 2003

Kukushkin, Gennadiy Polikarpovich (born in 1949), Farkovo settlement, 2003

Specialists and Academic Centres Studying the Language


  • Bykonia, Valentina Viktorovna, Doctor of Philology, professor

    Tomsk Teacher Training University. Chair for the Languages of Siberian Peoples. Russia, 634041, Tomsk, Komsomol’sky prospekt, 75. Phone: +7 (3822) 522-889

  • Kazakevich, Olga Anatolievna, Ph.D., Leading Researcher

    Moscow State Lomonosov University, Research Computer Centre, Laboratory for Computational Lexicography. Russia, 119992, Moscow, GSP-2, Vorobiovy Gory. Phone: +7 (095) 939-2357. Fax: +7 (095) 938-2136. E-mail:

  • Kim-Maloney, Alexandra A., Ph.D., professor

    University of Alaska, Anchorage, Department of Anthropology. 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, Alaska 99508-8334, U.S.A. Phone: (907)7866849. Fax: (907)7864850. E-mail:;

  • Kuznetsova, Ariadna Ivanovna, Doctor of Philology, professor

    Moscow State Lomonosov University, Philological faculty. Chair for Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. Russia, 119992, Moscow, Vorobiovy Gory, the 1st Humanities Building, office 953. Phone: +7 (095) 939-2601. E-mail: kuzn@kuznec.mecme.ed

  • Kuznetsova, Nadezhda Genievna, Doctor of Philology, professor

    Tomsk State Teacher Training University, Chair for the Languages of Siberian Peoples. Russia, 634041, Tomsk, Komsomol’sky prospekt., 75. Phone: +7 (3822) 522-889

  • Helimski, Eugeniy Arnoldovich, Doctor of Philology, professor

    Corresponding member of the Finno-Ugric Society (Helsinki).) Director. Hamburg University, Institute of the Finno-Ugric / Uralic Studies. Bogenallee 11, D-20144 Hamburg, Deutschland. Phone: (4940) 428382787. Fax: (4940)42838-6117. E-mail:;

Academic Centres

  • Hamburg University, Institute of the Finno-Ugric/Uralic Studies. Bogenallee 11, D-20144, Hamburg, Deutschland
  • Moscow State Lomonosov University, Philological faculty, Chair for Theoretical and Applied Linguistics. Russia, 119992, Moscow, Vorobiovy Gory, the 1st Humanities Building, office 953. Phone: +7 (095) 939-2601, E-mail: Web site

  • Moscow State Lomonosov University, Research Computer Centre, Laboratory for Computational Lexicography. Russia, 119992, Moscow, GSP-2, Vorobiovy Gory. Phone: +7 (095) 939-2357. Fax: (095) 9382136. Web-сайт:,
  • Tomsk State Teacher Training University, Chair for the Languages of Siberian Peoples. Russia, 634041, Tomsk, Komsomol’sky prospekt., 75. Phone: +7 (3822) 522-889

Projects of the Language Studies

“A Computer Thesaurus of the language of Folklore texts of the Northern Selkup”, grant of the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Researches, 1998-2000, № 98-06-80100 (project leader O.A. Kazakevich);

“Changes of the language of the Northern Selkups in the XXth century”, grant of the Russian Foundation for the Humanities, 2001-2003, № 01-04-16225a;

“Local dialects of the Northern Selkups: a comtrastive description and a data base of sound files”, grant of the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Researches, 2001-2003, № 01-06-80363 (project leader O.A. Kazakevich).

“Interaction of the segmental and supra-segmental levels in the phonetic systems of Siberian languages (a case study of the contacting languages of the Middle Yenisei and adjacent territories)”, grant of the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Researches, 2005-2007, № 05-06-80234 (project leader O.A. Kazakevich).

“A Dictionary of the dialects of the Southern Selkup”, grant of the Russian Foundation for the Humanities, 2001-2003 (project leader V.V. Bykonia).

There was also a project aimed at reconstruction of historical development of Selkup supported by the Russian Foundation for the Humanities, 2001-2003 (project leader L.A. Ilyina).

Databases of Selkup linguistic materials (texts and dictionaries including “A Sounding Dictionary of Local Dialects of the Northern Selkups”) are developed at the Laboratory for Computational Lexicography (Research Computer Centre of Moscow State Lomonosov University), at the Institute of the Finno-Ugric/Uralic Studies (Hamburg University), and at the Chair for the languages of Siberian Peoples (Tomsk State Teacher Training University).

Translation provided by the author (O.A. Kazakevich)

© IEA RAS, 2005
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