The Udeghe Language

General information on the language

Self-ethnonym of the ethnic group

Bibliography on the Udeghe Language

Ude, udie.

The main name and self-name of the language

According to V.K. Arsenyev – Udehe. Other variants – Orochy, Orocheny, Tasy, Namunka, Kyakary, Kekari.

Photo © A.V. Smolyak. IEA RAS Archive

Genetic affiliation

Udehe is one of the Tungus-Manchu languages that is referred to southern (Amur) group. More precisely, the Udehe language belongs to languages of mixed type combining in itself the features characteristic both for northern and for southern Tungus-Manchu languages.

Geographical spread of the language

The Udehe people live in villages Gvasjugi of the district named after Lazo, Arsenyevo (Rassvet) of Nanaisky district of Khabarovsk territory, Krasny Yar of Pozharsky district and Akzu of Terneysky district of Primorsky Territory.

Language contacts

At the end of XIX, the beginning of XX centuries there took place often contacts with the Chinese language, since 20th century Udege came into contact with Russian that at the present time forced Udehe language out of use.

Number of native speakers

According to the official data there are about 2 thousand the Udehe people in Russia, according to our survey their number does not exceed 800 persons, approximately two thirds of them are descendants of mixed marriages. Native speakers are not more than 40.

Dialects and subdialects

There are two Udege dialects Khorsko-Anyuiski and Bikinsko-Imansky dialects. The difference between theres dialects is not great and concerns mainly phonetic and lexical spheres, it is explained by more tight contacts in the past with the Chinese in the area of spread Bikinsko-Imansky dialect.

Linguistic description


The Phonetic structure of the word in the Udehe language is characterized by vocalism: confluences of consonants are met neither in the beginning nor at the end of the word. There take place various confluences of vowels in the word. Without taking into account long vowels in Udehe there are 7 vowel phonemes and 21 consonants. Harmony of vowels is a characreristic feature of the language though it can sometimes be broken and have gradual character.


On it’s morphological type Udehe is a suffix-agglutinative language. By adjunction of morphemes elements of fusion take place. Besides synthetic constructions there are analytical ones. Word form is characterized by definite sequence of morphemes: root + suffix of word-formation + suffix of derivational word formation (voice, aspect, collective forms) + suffix of mixed word formations (tense/aspect, number, relative possessiveness of nouns, person/ impersonality of participle) + suffix of relational formatiom (case, possessiveness, person/number of verb) + suffix-particle. As a rule, every suffix has one function. Grammatic categories are expressed through suffixes.

Semantical-grammatical data

Noun has categories of number, possessiveness, case, subjective estimation, person /non person.

Adjective does not change in genders, numbers, cases. It has no degrees of comparison. There are two main categories: qualitative and relative.

Numerals have several categories. Dividing and single numerals are not declined.

Pronouns are divided into personal, demonstrative, interrogative, attributive. Among personal pronouns in Plural forms inclusive and exclusive forms are marked out.

Verb includes verbal forms, participle, adverbial participle and nominal forms (supinum, conditional, forms of "simultaneous” и "occurring at different times action” that used by one-subject and differ-subject actions). Negative forms of the verb are formed analytically.

Adverbs are divided into categories of quality, quantity, place, time and degree.

Nouns-postpositions are widely used in syncategorematic function having forms of personal and impersonal posessiveness also change on cases.

Interjections are widely used.

Syntactic data

The structure of simple sentence is characterized by nominative construction. The main word order is SOV. The adverbial modifier of time and place are located right at the beginning of the sentence preceding subject. Compound sentences meet seldom, they are characterized by conjunctionless connection.

Sociolinguistic characteristic of the language

The legal status, the present day situation of the language

The Udehe language is the language of a small indigeneous people of RF. At the present time the Udehe language is used only in household sphere, mostly by older generation representatives.

Writing and Orthography

The writing on the basis of Latin script was worked out for the Udehe language in the middle of 1930th of XX century. At the end of 1930th during the conversion of all writing systems of peoples of Russia onto Cyrillic graphic the new Udehe writing didn’t get wide spread and gradually was lost. The problem on the creation of Udege writing was discussed again only in the middle of 1980th, but solution wasn’t found. The main and the only well scientifically grounded solution of this problem was worked out by the Research Center of Altaic languages by the Department of Altaic languages by Leningrad branch of Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR but it was ignored. On one of the meetings the department of Altaic languages approved a project of Udehe alphabet worked out by well-known specialist in Tungus-Manchu languages studies prof. O.P.Sunik. The alternative, incorrect, inefficient variant of the Udege alphabet was discussed on a session of one of the Departments of Khabarovskii Executive Committee in 1987, specialists in Udehe language studies didn’t take part in the discussion. The decision supposed by the Department of Altaic languages by Leningrad branch of Institute of Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences wasn’t taken into account. From time to time there appear some enthusiasts in this sphere but it did not promote the successful solution of the problem. For the last years a number of manuals on Udehe for educational institutions on the basis of this alphabet were published by A.H. (see bibliography).

Social functions of language

At the present time Udehe functions only in household sphere.

History of Studies of the Udege language

The first linguistic data on the Udehe language appeared in I.P.Nadarov's work «Northern–Ussurisk territory», it included a dictionary that contained 238 words (Nadarov 1887). The appendix to S.Brailovsky's research contains 1000 words (Brailovsky 1901). Invaluable materials on the Udehe language were left for us by V.K.Arsenyev, they are kept in archives, for example, of Primorsky branch of Geographical society (Vladivostok), Society of Amur territory studying (Vladivostok), Russian geographical society (Petersburg - Petrograd). The greatest and qualified contribution to Udehe studying was made by E.R.Schneider (1897-1937) shot down in 1937. He was at the sources of Udehe writing’s creation, published a number of textbooks for schools, published a «Udehe-Russian dictionary” with grammatical sketch description (Leningrad, 1936), it became later the basic manual for studying Udehe and it hasn’t lost it’s originality and urgencytill now. In 1950-1980ies O.P.Sunik began to make his researches in Udehe. He was the first to clarify complicated phonetic system of Udehe and gave correct interpretation to some disputable facts (Sunik, 1958). Prof. V.I.Tsintsius also used materials of Udehe for comparative researches (1949). For some period Dr.Kormushin I.V. made researches in Udehe studies at Leningrad branch of Institute of Linguistics (Kormushin, 1998), later A.H.Girfanova replaced him, she published in 2001 «Dictionary of the Udehe language», it is considered as the fullest for the present day (Girfanova 2001), there were written by her also a number of manuals for schools and colleges. In 2001 I.Nikolaeva in the co-authorship with M.Tolskaya published in Mouton publishing house grammar of the Udehe language (in English). One of the drawbacks of the work is that it is written on the base of only one Bikinsky-Imansky dialect that was not reflected in the title of the work.

Texts in Udege language

Али бисэ ути? Тинэңи бисини-бэдэ биэ. Би н΄аула биңэи эгдимэ исэи, оно бу саңтау багдиэмэти. Утэлиэңи удэдигэ колхозатиги суэти бисини. Би амии эниңэи-дэ эсити суэ. Оно багдиэми-дэ эими са ути Кайалуду. Эмнэгдэли (минду иленти аңани ңэнилиэни) бу анау еухэ биталани агда:ни. Би мэнэ эниңэи киалани бисими.


When did it take place? As it was yesterday. When I was small, I saw a lot, saw the life of elder generations. At that time the Udehe people entered the kolkhoz. Father and mother didn’t enter kolkhoz. I don’t remember the life in Kayalu. Once (I was 3 years old) our bat stopped at a spit. I was near my mother.

Specialists studying the language

  • A.H.Girfanova

    Senior lecturer of the department of language theory by philological faculty of the Sankt-Peterburg State University. Address: 199034 Sankt-Peterburg, Universitetskaya naberezhnaya, 11. Philological faculty, department of language theory. e-mail: Phone-fax: (812)328-95-10

  • Sidziro Kazama, Tokyo University of foreign languages (Japan)
  • Tosiro Tsumagari, Hokkaido University (Japan)

Translated into English by A.N. Bitkeeva

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