Moksha language

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мокшень кяль / mokšəń käĺ
Native to Russia
Region European Russia
Ethnicity Mokshas
Native speakers
390,000 (together with Erzya) (2010 census)[1]
Official status
Official language in
Mordovia (Russia)
Regulated by Mordovian Research Institute of Language, Literature, History and Economics
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mdf
ISO 639-3 mdf
Glottolog moks1248[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Moksha language (Moksha: мокшень кяль mokšəń käĺ) is a member of the Mordvinic branch of the Uralic languages with around 130,000 native speakers.[1] Moksha is the majority language in the western part of Mordovia.[3] Its closest relative is the Erzya language, with which it is not mutually intelligible. Moksha is also considered to be closely related to the extinct Meshcherian and Muromian languages.[4]

Official status[edit]

Moksha is one of the three official languages in Mordovia (the others being Erzya and Russian). The right to one's own language is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Mordovia Republic.[5] The republican law of Mordovia N 19-3 issued in 1998[6] declares Moksha one of its state languages and regulates its usage in various spheres: in state bodies such as Mordovian Parliament, official documents and seals, education, mass-media, information about goods, geographical names, road signs. However, the actual usage of Moksha and Erzya is rather limited.


The first few Moksha schools were devised in the 19th century by Russian Christian missionaries. Since 1973 Moksha language was allowed to be used as language of instruction in first 3 grades of elementary school in rural areas and as a subject on a voluntary basis.[7] The medium in universities of Mordovia is Russian, but the philological faculties of Mordovian State University and Mordovian State Pedagogical Institute offer a teacher course of Moksha.[8][9] Mordovian State University also provides a course of Moksha for other humanitarian and some technical specialities.[9] According to the annual statistics of the Russian Ministry of Education in 2014-2015 year there were 48 Moksha-medium schools (all in rural areas) where 644 students were taught, and 202 schools (152 in rural areas) where Moksha was studied as a subject by 15,783 students (5,412 in rural areas).[10] Since 2010, study of Moksha in schools of Mordovia is not compulsory, but can be chosen only by parents.[11]



The Moksha languages is divided into three dialects:

  • Central group (M-I)
  • South-Eastern group (M-II)
  • Western group (M-III)

The dialects may be divided with another principle depending on their vowel system:

  • ä-dialect: Proto-Moksha *ä /æ/ is retained: śeĺmä "eye", t́äĺmä "broom", ĺäj "river".
  • e-dialect: Proto-Moksha *ä is raised and merged with *e: śeĺme "eye", t́eĺme "broom", ĺej "river".
  • i-dialect: Proto-Moksha *ä is raised to /e/, while Proto-Moksha *e is raised to /i/ and merged with *i: śiĺme "eye", t́eĺme "broom", ĺej "river".

The standard literary Moksha language is based on the central group with ä (particularly the dialect of Krasnoslobodsk).



There are eight vowels with a slight allophony and reduction of unstressed vowels. Moksha has lost its original system of vowel harmony but maintains consonant-vowel harmony (palatalized consonants go with front vowels, non-palatalized with non-front).

Front Central Back
Close /i/
⟨i⟩ ⟨и⟩
⟨į⟩ ⟨ы⟩
⟨u⟩ ⟨у, ю⟩
Mid /e/
⟨e⟩ ⟨е, э⟩
⟨ə⟩ ⟨а, о, е⟩
⟨o⟩ ⟨о⟩
Open /æ/
⟨ä⟩ ⟨я, э, е⟩
⟨a⟩ ⟨а⟩

There are some restrictions for the occurrence of vowels within a word:[12]

  1. [ɨ] is an allophone of the phoneme /i/ after phonemically non-palatalized ("hard") consonants.[13]
  2. /e/ does not occur after non-palatalized consonants, only after their palatalized ("soft") counterparts.
  3. /a/ and /æ/ do not fully contrast after phonemically palatalized or non-palatalized consonants.[clarification needed]
    • Similar to /e/, /æ/ does not occur after non-palatalized consonants either, only after their palatalized counterparts.
    • After palatalized consonants, /æ/ occurs at the end of words, and when followed by another palatalized consonant.
    • /a/ after palatalized consonants occurs only before non-palatalized consonants, i.e. in the environment /CʲaC/.
  4. The mid vowels' occurrence varies by the position within the word:
    • In native words, /e, o/ are rare in the second syllable, but common in borrowings from e.g. Russian.
    • /e, o/ are never found in the third and following syllables, where only /ə/ occurs.
    • /e/ at the end of words is only found in one-syllable words (e.g. ве /ve/ "night", пе /pe/ "end"). In longer words, word-final ⟨е⟩ always stands for /æ/ (e.g. веле /velʲæ/ "village", пильге /pilʲgæ/ "foot, leg").[14]

Unstressed /a/ and /æ/ are slightly reduced and shortened [ă] and [æ̆].


There are 33 consonants in Moksha.

Labial Dental Post-
Palatal Velar
plain palat.
Nasal m

Stop p


Affricate ts

Fricative f





/ç/ is realized as a sibilant [ɕ] before the plural suffix /-t⁽ʲ⁾/ in south-east dialects.[15]

Palatalization, characteristic of Uralic languages, is contrastive only for dental consonants, which can be either "soft" or " hard". In Moksha Cyrillic alphabet the palatalization is designated like in Russian: either by a "soft sign" ⟨ь⟩ after a "soft" consonant or by writing "soft" vowels ⟨е, ё, и, ю, я⟩ after a "soft" consonant. In scientific transliteration the acute accent or apostrophe are used.

All other consonants have palatalized allophones before the front vowels /æ, i, e/ as well. The alveolo-palatal affricate /tɕ/ lacks non-palatalized counterpart, while postalveolar fricatives /ʂ~ʃ, ʐ~ʒ/ lack palatalized counterparts.


Unusually for a Uralic language, there is also a series of voiceless liquid consonants: /l̥ , l̥ʲ, r̥ , r̥ʲ/ ⟨ʀ, ʀ́, ʟ, ʟ́⟩. These have arisen from Proto-Mordvinic consonant clusters of a sonorant followed by a voiceless stop of affricate: *p, *t, *tʲ, *ts⁽ʲ⁾, *k.

Before certain inflectional and derivational endings, devoicing continues to exist as a phonological process in Moksha. This affects all other voiced consonants as well, including the nasal consonants and semivowel. No voiceless nasals are however found in Moksha: the devoicing of nasals produces voiceless oral stops. Altogether the following devoicing processes apply:

Plain b m d n g l r v z ʒ j
Devoiced p t k l̥ʲ r̥ʲ f s ʃ ç

E.g. before the nominative plural /-t⁽ʲ⁾/:

  • кал /kal/ "fish" : калхт //kal̥t/ "fish"
  • лем /lʲem/ "name" : лепть //lʲeptʲ/ "names"
  • марь /marʲ/ "apple" : марьхть /marʲtʲ/ "apples"

Devoicing is however morphological rather than phonological, due to the loss of earlier voiceless stops from some consonant clusters, and due to the creation of new consonant clusters of voiced liquid + voiceless stop. Compare the following oppositions:

  • калне /kalnʲæ/ "little fish" : калхне /kal̥nʲæ/ (< *kal-tʲ-nʲæ) "these fish"
  • марьне /marʲnʲæ/ "my apples" : марьхне /mar̥ʲnʲæ/ ( < *marʲ-tʲ-nʲæ) "these apples"
  • кундайне /kunˈdajnʲæ/ "I caught it" : кундайхне /kunˈdaçnʲæ/ ( < *kunˈdaj-tʲ-nʲæ) "these catchers"


Non-high vowels are inherently longer than high vowels /i, u, ə/ and tend to draw the stress. If a high vowels appears in the first syllable which follow the syllable with a non-high vowels (especially /a/ and /æ/) then the stress moves to that second or third syllable. If all vowels of a word are either non-high or high then the stress falls on the first syllable.[16]

Stressed vowels are longer than unstressed ones in the same position like in Russian. Unstressed vowels undergo some degree of vowel reduction.


Writing system[edit]

Mokshan Latin alphabet 1932
Mokshan Cyrillic alphabet 1924–1927

Moksha has been written using Cyrillic with spelling rules identical to those of Russian since the 18th century and as a consequence of that vowels /e, ɛ, ə/ are not differentiated in a straightforward way,[17] however they can be predicted more or less from Moksha phonotactics. The 1993 spelling reform defines that /ə/ in the first (either stressed or unstressed) syllable must be written with the "hard" sign ⟨ъ⟩ (e. g. мъ́рдсемс mə́rdśəms "to return", formerly мрдсемс). The version of the Moksha Cyrillic alphabet used in 1924-1927 had several extra letters, either digraphs or single letters with diacritics.[18] Although the use of the Latin script for Moksha was officially approved by the CIK VCKNA (General Executive Committee of the All Union New Alphabet Central Committee) on June 25, 1932, it was never implemented.

From letters to sounds
Cyr Аа Бб Вв Гг Дд Ее Ёё Жж Зз Ии Йй Кк Лл Мм Нн Оо
IPA a b v g d ʲe, je, ʲɛ, ʲə ʲo, jo ʒ z i j k l m n o, ə
ScTr a b v g d ˊe, je, ˊä, ˊə ˊo, jo ž z i j k l m n o, ə
Cyr Пп Рр Сс Тт Уу Фф Хх Цц Чч Шш Щщ Ъъ Ыы Ьь Ээ Юю Яя
IPA p r s t u f x ts ʃ ɕtɕ ə ɨ ʲ e, ɛ ʲu, ju ʲa, ʲɛ, ja
ScTr p r s t u f χ c č š šč ə ˊ e, ä ˊu, ju ˊa, ˊä, ja
From sounds to letters
IPA a ʲa ja ɛ ʲɛ b v g d e ʲe je ʲə ʲo jo ʒ z i ɨ j k l l̥ʲ
Cyr а я я э я, е б в г д дь э е е е ё ё ж з зь и ы й к л ль лх льх
ScTr a ˊa ja ä ˊä b v g d e ˊe je ˊə ˊo jo ž z ź i j k l ľ ʟ ʟ́
IPA m n o p r r̥ʲ s t u ʲu ju f x ts tsʲ ʃ ɕtɕ ə
Cyr м н о п р рь рх рьх с сь т ть у ю ю ф х ц ць ч ш щ о, ъ,* a,* и*
ScTr m n o p r ŕ ʀ ʀ́ s ś t u ˊu ju f χ c ć č š šč ə


Before 1917 about 100 books and pamphlets mostly of religious character were published. More than 200 manuscripts including at least 50 wordlists were not printed. In the 19th century the Russian Orthodox Missionary Society in Kazan published Moksha primers and elementary textbooks of the Russian language for the Mokshas. Among them were two fascicles with samples of Moksha folk poetry. The great native scholar Makar Evsevyev collected Moksha folk songs published in one volume in 1897. Early in the Soviet period, social and political literature predominated among published works. Printing of Moksha language books was all done in Moscow until the establishment of the Mordvinian national district in 1928. Official conferences in 1928 and 1935 decreed the northwest dialect to be the basis for the literary language.

Common expressions (Moksha–Russian–English)[edit]

Moksha Transliteration Russian English
И́на Ina Да Yes
Э́ле Elä Да Yes
Пара Para Ладно Good
Аф Af Не Not
Аш Ash Нет No
Шумбра́т! Shumbrat! Здравствуй! Hello! (addressing one person)
Шумбра́тада! Shumbratada! Здравствуйте! Hello! (addressing more than one person)
Сюк(пря)! Sjuk(prä)! Привет! ("поклон"), Добро пожаловать! Hi! (Welcome!)
Ульхть шумбра́! Uljxtj shumbra! Будь здоров! Take care!
У́леда шумбра́т! Uleda shumbrat! Будьте здоровы! Take care (to many)!
Ко́да те́фне? Koda tefnä? Как дела? How are your things getting on/How are you?
Ко́да э́рят? Koda erjat? Как поживаешь? How do you do?
Лац! Це́бярьста! Lats! Tsebärjsta! Неплохо! Замечательно! Fine! Very good!
Ня́емозонк! Näjemozonk! До свидания! Good bye!
Ва́ндыс! Vandys! До завтра! See you tomorrow!
Шумбра́ста па́чкодемс! Shumbrasta pachkodems! Счастливого пути! Have a good trip/flight!
Па́ра а́зан
- ле́здоманкса!
- се́мбонкса!
Para azan
- lezdomanksa!
- sembonksa!
- за помощь!
- за всё!
Thank you
- for help/assistance!
- for everything!
Аш ме́зенкса! Ash mezenksa! Не за что! Not at all!
Простямак! Prostjamak! Извини! I'm sorry!
Простямасть! Prostjamastj! Извините! I'm sorry (to many)!
Тят кя́жиякшне! Tät käzhijakshnä! Не сердись! I didn't mean to hurt you!
Ужя́ль! Uzhälj! Жаль! It's a pity!
Ко́да тонь ле́мце? Koda tonj lemtsä? Как тебя зовут? What is your name?
Монь ле́мозе ... Monj lemozä ... Меня зовут ... My name is ...
Мъзя́ра тейть ки́зa? M'zjara teitj kiza? Сколько тебе лет? How old are you?
Мъзя́ра тейнза ки́за? M'zjara teinza kiza? Сколько ему (ей) лет? How old is he (she)?
Те́йне ... ки́зот. Teinä ... kizot. Мне ... лет. I'm ... years old.
Те́йнза ... ки́зот. Teinza ... kizot. Ему (ей) ... лет. He (she) is ... years old.
Мярьгат сува́мс? Märjgat suvams? Разреши войти? May I come in?
Мярьгат о́замс? Märjgat ozams? Разреши сесть? May I have a seat?
О́зак. Ozak. Присаживайся. Take a seat.
О́зада. Ozada. Присаживайтесь. Take a seat (to more than one person).
Учт аф ла́мос. Ucht af lamos. Подожди немного. Please wait a little.
Мярьк та́ргамс? Märjk targams? Разреши закурить? May I have a smoke?
Та́ргак. Targak. Кури(те). You may smoke.
Та́ргада. Targada. Курите. You may smoke (to more than one person).
Аф, э́няльдян, тят та́рга. Af, enäldjan, tjat targa. Нет, пожалуйста, не кури. Please, don't smoke.
Ко́рхтак аф ламода сяда кайгиста (сяда валомня). Korxtak af lamoda sjada kajgista (sjada valomnä). Говори немного погромче (тише). Please speak a bit louder (lower).
Азк ни́нге весть. Azk ningä vestj. Повтори ещё раз. Repeat one more time.
Га́йфтть те́йне. Gajfttj teinä. Позвони мне. Call me.
Га́йфтеда те́йне. Gajfteda teinä. Позвоните мне. Call me (to more than one person).
Га́йфтть те́йне сяда ме́ле. Gajfttj teinä sjada melä. Перезвоните мне позже. Call me later.
Сува́к. Suvak. Войди. Come in.
Сува́да. Suvada. Войдите. Come in (to many).
Ётак. Jotak. Проходи. Enter.
Ётада. Jotada. Проходите. Enter (to many).
Ша́чема ши́цень ма́рхта! Shachema shitsenj marxta! С днём рождения! Happy Birthday!
А́рьсян тейть па́ваз! Arjsjan teitj pavaz! Желаю тебе счастья! I wish you happiness!
А́рьсян тейть о́цю сатфкст! Arjsjan teitj otsju satfkst! Желаю тебе больших успехов! I wish you great success!
Тонь шумбраши́цень и́нкса! Tonj shumbrashitsenj inksa! За твое здоровье! Your health!
Од Ки́за ма́рхта! Od Kiza marxta! С Новым годом! Happy New Year!
Ро́штува ма́рхта! Roshtuva marxta! С Рождеством! Happy Christmas!
То́ньге ста́не! Tonjgä stanä! Тебя также! Same to you!

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Janurik, Boglárka (2013). "Code-switching in an Erzya-Russian bilingual variety: An "endangered" transitory phase in a contact situation". In Mihas, Elena; Perley, Bernard; Rei-Doval, Gabriel; et al. Responses to Language Endangerment. In honor of Mickey Noonan. New directions in language documentation and language revitalization. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. p. 180. ISBN 978-90-272-0609-1. Retrieved 17 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Moksha". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ [1] Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Janse, Mark; Sijmen Tol; Vincent Hendriks (2000). Language Death and Language Maintenance. John Benjamins Publishing Company. p. A108. ISBN 978-90-272-4752-0. 
  5. ^ (Russian) Статья 12. Конституция Республики Мордовия = Article 12. Constitution of the Republic of Mordovia
  6. ^ (Russian) Закон «О государственных языках Республики Мордовия»
  7. ^ Isabelle T. Kreindler, The Mordvinians: A doomed Soviet nationality? | Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 26 N°1. Janvier-Mars 1985. pp. 43-62
  8. ^ (Russian) Кафедра мокшанского языка
  9. ^ a b (Russian) Исполняется 15 лет со дня принятия Закона РМ «О государственных языках Республики Мордовия» // Известия Мордовии. 12.04.2013.
  10. ^ Статистическая информация 2014. Общее образование
  11. ^ (Russian) Прокуратура борется с нарушением законодательства об образовании = The Prosecutor of Mordovia prevents violations against the educational law. 02 February 2010.
  12. ^ Feoktistov 1993, p. 182.
  13. ^ Feoktistov 1966, p. 200.
  14. ^ Feoktistov 1966, p. 200–201.
  15. ^ Feoktistov 1966, p. 220.
  16. ^ Raun 1988, p. 100.
  17. ^ Raun 1988, p. 97.
  18. ^ page on the Moksha language


In Russian
  • Аитов Г. Новый алфавит – великая революция на Востоке. К межрайонным и краевой конференции по вопросам нового алфавита. — Саратов: Нижневолжское краевое издательство, 1932.
  • Ермушкин Г. И. Ареальные исследования по восточным финно-угорским языкам = Areal research in East Fenno-Ugric languages. — М., 1984.
  • Поляков О. Е. Учимся говорить по-мокшански. — Саранск: Мордовское книжное издательство, 1995.
  • Феоктистов А. П. Мордовские языки // Языки народов СССР. — Т.3: Финно-угроские и самодийские языки — М., 1966. — С. 172—220.
  • Феоктистов А. П. Мордовские языки // Основы финно-угорского языкознания. — М., 1975. — С. 248—345.
  • Феоктистов А. П. Мордовские языки // Языки мира: уральские языки. — М., 1993. — С. 174—208.
  • Черапкин И. Г. Мокша-мордовско – русский словарь. — Саранск, 1933.
In Moksha

External links[edit]