I.I. Nazarov

Department of archeology and, ethnography and source studies of Altai State University, Barnaul

Endangered Language of Kumandins: Present Day Situation and Ways of Preservation

Nazarov, Ivan Ivanovich

The language of Kumandins belonging to indigenous numerically small peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East has been studied in the works of N.A. Baskakov (1958, 1972), F.A. Satlaev (1994), I.Y. Selyutina (1983, 1998). Kumandin language is considered to be one of Altai dialects and is included in Khakass subgroup of Uigur and Oguz branch of Turkic languages (Satlaev 1994, P.34). At the same time a number of specific features of Kumandin language allow distinguishing it both among Altai dialects and among Turkic languages in general (Baskakov, 1972, P. 8). Within Kumandin language Baskakov distinguished three local subdialects named after administrative districts populated by Kumandins: Turochak, Solton and Starobardinskoe. The latter of the mentioned dialects was considered to be most characteristic and well-preserved in the middle 1950s. (Baskakov, 1958, P.68). Distinctions between the subdialects of Solton and Krasnogorsk Kumandins reveal themselves only in the present days.

These are, to put it briefly, the main modern ideas of the language of Kumandins. In any dictionary entry or in a scientific publication devoted to the culture of this people you can come across the seemingly incommutable statement: “Kumandins are a small Turkic-language people…”. Meanwhile, the present situation among Kumandins has changed significantly. These changes are a topic of the present work based on field materials of the author who in 2000-2002 held expeditionary research in the areas traditionally populated by Kumandins – in the villages of Krasnogorskiy (former Staro-Bardinskiy) and Soltonskiy districts of Altai region and in Turochakskiy district of the Republic of Altai. During the expeditionary work which was not directly connected with the studies of the modern linguistic situation but, rather, covered the condition of the traditional culture in a more general context, we could not but pay attention to the degree of preservation of the native language in Kumandin families, as well as to the attitude of Kumandins themselves to the preservation and development of their language.

It should be noted straightaway that due to different reasons a textbook of Kumandins language which could have been used by Kumandins for the studies of ABC of the native language has not been created so far. Moreover, by the beginning of the 2000’s not a single periodical has been published in Kumandin language on the territory of Altai region. In the end of the 1990s an attempt of introduction of Kumandin language in high schools was made. Thus, for instance, Kumandin teachers taught the subject “on voluntary basis” in schools of villages Krasnogorskoye, Shatobal, and in city Biysk. This process, however, was complicated by the lack of special training for teachers, of textbooks and manuals. To put this in other words, the language of Kumandins exists only in an oral, spoken form.

During numerous interviews with our informants (this special survey included 86 Kumandins) the situation appeared to be the following. Among the general mass of the respondents four age groups can be distinguished quite clearly: 1) those born before the mid XX century; 2) those born in the period from the 1950s till the 1970s; 3) those born between the 1970s and the 1990s, and the fourth group – teenagers and children. Approximately 43% of the Kumandins interrogated by us stated that their native language is Kumandin (primarily, representatives of the first group and, partially, of the second one); 41% think of Russian as their native language (the third group and the teenagers), and 16% were inclined to estimate the role of both languages as equal (the second group and, partially, the third group). The level of the command of the native language is reflected in the following numbers: 41% of respondents can fluently speak the native language; 21% can understand but cannot speak the native language (the second and the third groups); the rest of respondents, mainly, representatives of the third group and also the teenagers don’t have any command of Kumandin language. The majority of the respondents (67%) use Russian for communication at home, and only 24% use both languages in such cases. We have not met any family where the members spoke only Kumandin language. In the families where one of the spouses is Kumandins and the other one is Russian (and such families, according to our estimate, constitute over 70%) Kumandin language is not used either. More than one third of Kumandins interrogated by us don’t use their native language at all. A minor part of the second group, the whole of the third group, as well as teenagers and children are included in there. Kumandin language speakers from the first and the second age groups use their native language in communication with relatives and representatives of other groups of Altaians.

The results showing the attitude of Kumandins to mastering of the native language are quite interesting. 52% of the respondents expressed a wish to specialize in the studies of Kumandin language. Those are, mainly, representatives of the third group, as well as the teenagers and the children. The older generations consider their knowledge of the language sufficient enough and had negative answers to the question. To the question whether it is necessary to form special groups for learning the native language in high schools, 69% of respondents answered positively, 21% expressed their negative attitude to this idea, and the rest were hesitant about the answer. Similarly to the previous question, the majority of the respondents who agreed with the formation of such groups belonged to the younger age groups.

Thus, the present day situation of Kumandin language can be characterized as bilinguism with increasing domination of Russian language in all spheres of life. If no critical changes happen in the nearest future then there will be no native speakers of “Kumandin dialect” left and in the ethnographic publication we will have to reformulate the definition of Kumandins into one similar to: “Kumandins were a formerly Turkic language people, presently speaking Russian ”. The change in present pessimistic situation and the preservation of the living language of Kumandins can be facilitated only by a set of urgent task-oriented measures. A broadened network of groups of pupils specially taught Kumandin language and, therefore, preparation of specialists in pedagogics; publication of periodicals in Kumandin language; involvement of Kumandin youth in folklore collectives are among them.


  1. Baskakov 1958 — Baskakov N.A. Altayskiy Yazyk (Vvedenie v Izuchenie Altaiskogo Yazyka i Ego Dialektov) (Altaian language (Introduction into the Studies of Altaian Language and Its Dialects)). Мoscow, 1958.
  2. Baskakov 1972 — Baskakov N.A. Dialekt Kumandintsev (Kumandy Kizhi): Grammaticheskiy Ocherk, Teksty, Perevody i Slovar (Dialect of Kumandins (Kumandy Kizhi): Grammatical Essay, Texts, Translations and Dictionary). Мoscow, 1972.
  3. Satlaev 1994 — Satlaev F.A. Kumandintsev Yazyk (Language of Kumandins). In Krasnaya Kniga Yazykov Narodov Rossii: Entsiklopedicheskiy Slovar-Spravochnik. Мoscow, 1994. P. 34-35.
  4. Selyutina 1983 — Selyutina I.Y. Kumandinskiy Konsonantizm: Eksperimentalno-Foneticheskoe Issledovanie (Kumandin Consonantism: An Experimental Phonetic Study). Novosibirsk, 1983
  5. Selyutina 1998 — Selyutina I.Y. Kumandinskiy Vokalizm: Eksperimentalno-Foneticheskoe Issledovanie (Kumandin Vocalism: An Experimental Phonetic Study). Novosibirsk, 1998.

Translated into English by O.A. Povoroznyuk

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