The Yukagir language

General information on the language

Bibliography on the Yukagir language

The Yukagir language is one of the languages of the Yukagir-Chuvan group, it is included into the group of so called Paleosiberian languages. Khodyns, Chuvans and Anauls are ethnic groups that are closely related to the Yukagirs, they lived in 17-18 centuries on the territory at the upper and middle reaches of the Anadyr river and they were completely assimilated by Chukchees, Koryaks and Russian old residents of the Anadyr basin and the lower reaches of the Kolyma river. One of the Russian-speaking groups of old residents inherited from their Yukagir-speaking ancestors the self-ethnonym “Chuvans”.

Self-ethnonym of the ethnic group

Two ethnic groups of the Yukagirs have one etymologically identical self-ethnonym, the Forest Yukagirs or Upper Kolyma Yukagirs name themself Odul (одул), the Tundra Yukagirs or the Lower Kolyma Yukagirs name themselves Vadul (вадул). The etymology of the name was not defined exactly, it can connect demonstrative pronouns and mean in Yukagir “local”. G. Steller and S.P.Krasheninnikov wrote that Koryak and Itelmen name of Yukagirs Edel meant wolf, but first this name corresponds to the self-name of Upper Kolyma Yukagirs, second the Chukchi word yatyol (ятъёл) that sounds like mentioned above name, means not “wolf”, but “fox”.

The name and self-name of the language

The language is called the Yukagir language, initiated in 1930s name Odul language came out of the use.

Genetic affiliation

Genetic affiliation of the Yukagir language represent a complicated problem of comparative-historical linguistics. The hypothesis on relationship of Yukagir with the Uralic languages was widespread, within the framework of which the position of Yukagir repeatedly changed. So, E.A.Krejnovich during different periods of his work attempted to compare Yukagir either with Samoyedic languages or with Finno-Ugric languages. Now the theory of Ural-Yukagir relationship received the best grounding in I.A.Nikolaeva's works in which Uralic reconstruction is compared with Proto-Yukagir language condition. However, comparative studying of Yukagir lexicon undertaken by E.A.Krejnovich in 1950s allows to consider that vocabulary of Yukagir has such parallels with Tungus-Manchu languages which cannot be considered as loans from the Even language. Some Yukagir-Turkic and Yukagir-Mongolian parallels cannot be regarded as late borrowings from Yakut, in Yukagir language lexical parallels with other languages of the Altaic family and a parallel with the Chukchee-Kamchadal languages which most likely reflect area contacts come to light also. Probably, the primordial Ural component of Yukagir in ancient times was influenced by different groups of the Altaic languages and also by the Chukchee-Kamchadal substratum. In view of last data the hypothesis about ancient Yukagir-Iranian contacts which were formulated in 1960s by A.P. Dulzon on a basis of morphological analysis of Yukagir toponymics does not come to be true. At the same time attention has been drown to inclusion of Yukagir-Nivkh lexical isoglosses into “Paleosiberian” linguistic reconstruction (O.A. Mudrak).

The area of living and migrations of the Yukagirs, traced on the basis of the analysis of substrata toponymics, includes all the basin of the Lena river (Russ. Lena (Лена) < Yak. Yolyuyone (Йолюйонэ), Eliene (Элиэнэ) < Yukagir Yoyl-enu(ng)) “the river with abrupt coast”) and lake Baikal (Байкал) (Russian Baikal, Mongol, Buryat Baigaal (Байгаал) < Yukagir Vayguol (Йойл-эну(нг)) “fin laying on the shore”). In the basin of Lena and Viljui there is widely used toponym of Yukagir origin Markha (Марха) (< Yukagir. Morkhe(ng) (Морхэ(нг) “birch”); at the same time on Chukotka there is a similar toponym of the mountain Markoing that had no explanation, most likely it was brought by Yukagir conductors in the beginning of 19 century. Yukagir and Yukagir-like toponyms and ethnic names are marked on the territory of the Upper Indigirka, and also in northwest coast of the Okhotsk Sea from vicinities of Magadan up to Okhotsk. At the same time the Yukagir toponyms in the areas to the east from Kolyma are not numerous, among the names of large objects it is possible to name only the name of the river Penzhina (Yukagir Pied’e-n-enu(ng) (Пиэд’э-н-эну(нг)) - “the elk river”). Contrary to the popular belief, the name of the Anadyr river is not Yukagir, but Chukchee (Chukchee Enmaatgyr (Энмаатгыр) “Brook flowing in rocks”). A number of toponyms on the coast of the Bering Sea connected with the name of the Yukagirs (Etelkujym bay in the Cross gulf, the river Atalvajam in northeast of Kamchatka) most likely corresponds not directly to territory of the former distribution of the Yukagirs, but to Chukchee-Koryak anthroponyms in which structure the name of Yukagir ethnos can be represented.

Geographical spread of the language

The Kolyma Yukagirs or Forest Yukagirs live mainly in Upper Kolyma ulus of the Republic Sakha (Yakutia), in the villages Nelemnoye, Verkhnekolymsk and Zyrianka, also in the villages Balygychan and Seimchan in Srednekansky districts of Magadan province; a small number of Kolyma Yukagirs lives in village Omolon of Bilibinskiy district of Chukotka. The Tundra Yukagirs live in Lower Kolyma ulus of the Republic Sakha (Yakutia), mainly in villages Andryushkino and Kolymskoye and also in other villages of Nizhnekolymskiy ulus.

Language contacts

The Yukagir language had rather ancient contacts with Chukchee and Koryak languages, in these languages a certain quantity of similar sounding words is traced. Contact of both Yukagir dialects (languages) with the Even language is rather evident, the majority of terms of reindeer breeding in Yukagir were borrowed from Even. The language of Upper Kolyma Yukagirs has traces of the Russian influence, certain Russian influence is traced also and in the language of Lower Kolyma Yukagirs, where there are some old as well as the number of new loan words. Influence of the Yakut language on Yukagir dialects / languages is not very significant. For villages where the Yukagirs live polyethnicity and multilinguism are characteristic. The Upper Kolyma Yukagirs have lived for a long time in contact with Russians, Yakuts, and in the past they had intensive contacts with the Evens: the senior generation of Kolyma Yukagirs till 1990s spoke well the Even language. In the lexicon of the Kolyma dialect of Yukagir there are Even and Russian loans, folklore records of recent years mark Russian words and phrases, switching into Russian takes place. The Lower Kolyma Yukagirs to some degree know Even, Chukchee, Yakut and the language/dialect of old Russian residents. The insignificant quantity of Yukagir words has penetrated into local Russian dialects of the lower part of the Indigirka, the Kolyma and basin of the Anadyr river, into the Even dialects within the limits of the former contact zones and into the Yakut dialects of northern area.

Number of native speakers

The number of Kolyma or Forest Yukagirs is about 130 persons, the number of Tundra Yukagirs is approximately 230 persons. A small number of Yukagirs-descendants of various territorial groups which were assimilated by other peoples of the Arctic coast of Chukotka lives in others uluses of Yakutia, mainly on the coast of Arctic ocean. About 100 persons, ranking to Yukagirs, but lost the native language more than hundred years ago live in Anadyrsky region of Chukotka (Markovo, Ust-Belaya villages, town Anadyr).

Dialects and subdialects

The number of Kolyma or Forest Yukagirs is about 130 persons, the number of Tundra Yukagirs is approximately 230 persons. A small number of Yukagirs-descendants of various territorial groups which were assimilated by other peoples of the Arctic coast of Chukotka lives in others uluses of Yakutia, mainly on the coast of Arctic ocean. About 100 persons, ranking to Yukagirs, but lost the native language more than hundred years ago live in Anadyrskiy region of Chukotka (Markovo, Ust-Belaya villages, town Anadyr).

Linguistic description

The Yukagir language is an agglutinative one with predominance of suffixation. Adjective as a part of speech with a special set of morphological categories is absent, Yukagir adjectives possess the same grammatical categories as verbs. The noun has categories of number (Singular and Plural), case (7 case forms) and possessiveness (in form of 3 person). In system of demonstrative pronouns special forms expressing logic accent are allocated. In system of the verb conjugation the forms of conjugation differ by morphological registration of a verbal word form, there are affirmative-subjective and affirmative-predicative forms of conjugation, and for transitive verbs alongside with them affirmative-objective form. The word order in the sentence is SOV, attribute precedes the dependant member.

Sociolinguistic characteristic of the language

Legal status, the present day situation of the language

The official status of the Yukagir language is the language of indigenous minority ethnos of the Russian Federation. In Republic Sakha (Yakutia) the Yukagir language together with other languages of indigenous population has status of an official language, however small number of native speakers and dialect differentiation of the Yukagirs make this status nominal. Nowadays Yukagir is the language of family and household communication mainly spoken by representatives of older and partly average generation. The best position has the Tundra dialect of Yukagir which preservation was promoted by functioning of the language in monolingual work collectives of inhabitants of tundras - reindeer breeders. The Kolyma dialect is spoken by some tens of persons. Since 1990 training of Yukagir in 1-2 classes of primary school has been introduced, there was published the ABC-book in Tundra dialect of Yukagir and a number of manuals in the Kolyma dialect was published. Among the most part of contemporary Yukagirs the native language is used in greetings, brief dialogues of the stereotyped contents, it is also a source of names of national collectives, celebratory actions etc. In life the terminology connected with traditional crafts, arts and crafts is kept and transferred. As one of means of maintenance of national identity of Kolyma Yukagirs there have some distribution the pictographic “letters” created on sample of “Yukagir letters ”tos”, observed by the travelers and scientists in the end of 19th century.

Writing and orthography

Writing in Yukagir language exists since 1969 when in Yakutsk the collection of G.N.Kurilov poems of with a part of the text in Yukagir (Tundra dialect) has been issued. Further there was been issued about 10 books in Yukagir and the editions containing Yukagir texts, with use of the Yakut alphabet. The alphabet for Tundra dialect of Yukagir on the base of which there was taken the Yakut alphabet and graphic sustem, this writing was made official in 1987, and later was distributed in the Kolyma dialect of Yukagir. Teaching the Yukagir language in kindergartens and in primary school is connected to the significant difficulties connected to absence of manuals, shortage of the qualified pedagogical staff from number of Yukagirs, living in regions of traditional residing of ethnos, and also very weak motivation to development of language for the children-Yukagirs and absence of support of using the Yukagir language in family communication.

The fiction in Yukagir is represented by writings of G.N.Kurilov's (pseudonym Uluro Ado) and his brother N.N.Kurilov. Since 1930s writers - Yukagirs preferred to create the products in Russian: N.I.Spiridonov's stories (pseudonym Teki Odulok) “The Life of the Imteurgin-senior” and “The Life of the Imteurgin-junior ” (last story is lost) were written in Russian; S.N.Kurilov's novel “Khanido and Khalerkha” was published also in Russian, as well as stories and verses of the gifted writer - Yukagir from Nelemnoye G.A. Djachkov. Now Upper Kolyma Yukagir poetess L.N. Demina writes her verses also in Russian.

Social functions of the language

Nominally the Yukagir language is one of the official languages of Republic Sakha (Yakutia), however its official status hardly probable can be provided even in these settlements where Yukagirs live in compact groups. The basic function of the Yukagir language nowadays is reduced to function of the ethnic representation.

History of Studies of the Nanai language

The first data about the Yukagir language have been received at the end of 17 century. N.Vitzen has published translation of a pray “Paternoster” in Yukagir. In the end the 18 - beginning of 19 centuries materials on ethnography and language of the Yukagirs were collected by I. Billings, G.A. Sarychev, F.P. Vrangel and F.F. Matjushkin who posesses last assembly of lexical materials on the languages of Chuvans and Omoks (the Anyui Yukagirs) which in 1820 lived in a lower reaches of Kolyma. Much to our regret, in this assembly it is impossible to differ consistently actually Chuvan and Omok words and Yukagir components of language of old residents of basin of Anadyr, who came back to native places in 1840s to the vicinities of the former Anadyr ostrog (fortress), a modern settlement Markovo in Chukotka. Their language can contain loanwords from the language of Omoks. Chuvan A.E.Djachkov, the author of the book “Anadyrsky Kray” (“The Anadyr territory”) wrote, that he remembered only two words of his native language - tegoya “knife” (Yukagir chogoye) and oile “give”, however these words cannot be counted unconditionally Chuvan ones, because A.E. Djachkov’s grandmother as appears from his curriculum vitae, belonged to “Omoks”. In second half of 19 century some materials on Yukagir have been collected by G.Majdel and published by A.Schiefner, in 1895-1897 a plenty of samples of language and folklore of Kolyma and Tundra Yukagirs has been collected by V.I.Jochelson. In 1930-1980s the Yukagir language was studied by E.A. Krejnovich, since 1960s the researches in Yukagir language and folklore are conducted by G.N.Kurilov (Yukagir from Lower Koluma ulus), in 1980-1990s years of 20 century significant number of samples of folklore of Upper Kolyma Yukagirs is engaged in language and folklore and materials on the Kolyma dialect were collected by I.A.Nikolaeva (Moscow) and L.N. Zhukova (Yakutsk), and also by E.S. Maslova (Saint Petersburg); a language situation among the Yukagirs was studied by N.B. Vakhtin in his field researches. Now into the studies of Yukagir language there are engaged Yukagirs in V.I.Shadrin and E.S. Atlasova, In the Institute of peoples of the North of Russian State Pedagogical University named after A.I. Hertzen A.G. Kurilov is teaching the Yukagir language.

Now only Tundra and Kolyma dialects of the Yukagir language have sufficient documentation. There are isolated data on other territorial variants of Yukagir, in particular, about language of the Omoks. The languages of Khodyns, Chuvans and Anauls are represented basically with proper names - personal names from documents of 17-18 centuries and toponyms in the upper and middle current of Anadyr river and the basin of Penzhina river. In this material which difficultly gives in исследвоанию, appreciablly strong Chukchee and Koryak influence. The grammatical system of Yukagir is described, except for syntax, there is volumetric dictionary of Tundra dialect. There are no regular phonetic descriptions and experimental phonetic researches, the lexicon of the Kolyma dialect is insufficiently documentated.

Archival materials on Yukagir are available in Archive of the Yakutsk Centre of science of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science. Audiomaterials with the specimen of Yukagir speech (broadcast) in volume of 170 hours of sounding are available in the funds of the Yakut republican radio. In 2003 the Museum of Music and folklore (Yakutsk) has has released 7 compact discs with samples of Yukagir folklore.

Translated into English by A.N. Bitkeeva

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