Uilta Language (Orok Language)

General Information on the Language

Self-Ethnonym of the Ethnic Group

Bibliography on the Uilta Language (Orok Language)

Uilta / Ulta (уйльта / ульта), Orochon (орочёны) (as a rule, used to address in Russian language), Orok (óроки), Nani (нāни) (‘a local person’); dozens of other variants are known

Variants of Ethnonyms and Self-Ethnonyms

Uilta (уjилта)

Photo © D.A. Funk, 1999

Genetic Affiliation

Belongs to Amur (Nani) subgroup of Tungus branch of Manchu-Tungus languages

Geographical Spread of the Language

Sakhalin Province, Russian Federation: Val village, Noglikskiy District and Poronaysk City, Poronayskiy District

Language Contacts

Evenk, Nivkhi, Russian languages; also Japanese – in the first half of the XX century

Number of Native Speakers

According to the results of Russian population census of 2002, Ulta (Orok) (all who identified themselves as “Oroch with Ulta language”, “Orochon with Ulta language”, “Uilta”, “Ulta”, “Ulch with Ulta language” were attributed to Ulta) count 346 people, 201 of them – urban and 145 – village dwellers. 64 people (18.5%) pointed that they have a command of their (“Ulta”) language, which, mostly, should be considered as a result of increased national consciousness in the post-Soviet period than a reflection of the real situation. In fact, number of people with a (different degree of) command of Ulta language is less than 10.

The native language of the overwhelming majority of Uilta is Russian.

Dialects, Subdialects

Two dialects: northern or Eastern Sakhalin (territorial group of Doronneni (дороннēни)) and southern or Poronaysk, having insignificant differences in phonetics, vocabulary, and also in grammar. Dialectical distinctions have been studied in detail by J. Ikegami.

Linguistic Characteristics of the Language

Vowels differ in length and articulation, which allows distinguishing 17 vowel sounds. 18 consonants differ in the place (bilabial, point, dorsal and velar) and the manner (noise and resonant) of formation. There are two types of vocalic harmony – palatal and labial. Uilta language belongs to suffixal agglutinative languages, with the fusion elements, word composition, reduplication, analytical formations used. The word classes include categorimatic, function words and interjections. Categorimatic words include nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, numerals; function words – postpositions, conjunctions and particles.

The noun has neither the category of gender, nor the category of animatedness. There are simple and possessive declensions: the former has 9, and the latter – 10 cases.

Grammatically, alienable and inalienable forms of possessiveness are distinguished. The verb can be transitive or intransitive; there are three moods – indicative, imperative and subjunctive. Syntactic relations are expressed through coordination and subordination. Complex sentences are rear, usually characterized by asyndetic relations (linguistic characteristics are taken from: Новикова А.И., Сем Л.И. Орокский язык (Orok Language) // Языки мира. Палеоазиатские языки. (Languages of the World. Palaeoasiatic Languages). М., 1997. С. 201-215).

Sociolinguistic Description of the Language

Legal Status, Present Day Situation of the Language

A language of an indigenous numerically small people of the Far North, Siberia and the Far East. Lessons of the native language are taught by volunteers in nursery and elementary school of Val village, Noglikskiy District of Sakhalin Province. Uilta ABC book was created (J. Ikegami and I.Y. Fedayaeva), but not published yet. In 1991 ‘’ the language of Orok” was introduced to the curriculum at the department of the North of the University by A.I. Hertsen in St. Petersburg.

Writing and Orthography

The project of writing of Uilta language was developed by Japanese linguist Prof. Jiro Ikegami. In 1993 this project was supported in the Institute of Linguistic Studies, RAS.

Social Functions of the Language

Uilta language is practically not used; used extremely rarely for communication of representatives of the oldest generation; several people from the age group of 40-50 years old also have a command of the language. Only the oldest generation feels discomfort from the lacking opportunities of speaking their language, especially during long-term stay with reindeer in taiga.

History of Studies of the Language (with references to archives)

There are monographic grammatical descriptions of the language (A. Nakanome, 1917, 1926; Т.И. Петрова, 1967), as well as researches devoted to separate grammatical forms and distinctions between dialects. Most of contemporary works on Uilta language were published by Japanese researchers in the series of the Society for the Preservation of Northern Region Culture and Folklore, Abashiri. Unpublished dictionary of “Orok language” and collection of folk records are stored in the archive of Sem family in St. Petersburg (communication of Т.А. Sem. December, 5 1999).


© D.A. Funk, 1999

© D.A. Funk, 1999

Translated into English by O.A. Povoroznyuk

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