Nganasan language

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ня” njaʔ
Native toRussia
RegionTaymyr Autonomous Okrug
Ethnicity860 Nganasans (2010 census)[1]
Native speakers
416 (2020 census)[2]
Cyrillic script
Language codes
ISO 639-3nio
Geographic distribution of Nganasan at the beginning of the 20th century and currently.[3][4]
Nganasan is classified as Severely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger (2010)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

The Nganasan language (formerly called тавгийский, tavgiysky, or тавгийско-самоедский, tavgiysko-samoyedsky in Russian; from the ethnonym тавги, tavgi) is a moribund Samoyedic language spoken by the Nganasan people.


Nganasan is the most divergent language of the Samoyedic branch of the Uralic language family (Janhunen 1998). There are two main dialects, Avam (авамский говор, avamsky govor) and Vadeyev (Russian: вадеевский говор, romanizedvadeyevsky govor). A part of the vocabulary can be traced to elements of unknown substrate origin, which are roughly twice as common in Nganasan than in other Samoyedic languages like Nenets or Enets, and bear no apparent resemblance to the neighboring Tungusic and Yukaghir languages. The source of this substrate remains a mystery so far.[5]


Nganasan has 10[6] vowel phonemes and 21[7][6] consonant phonemes.

Nganasan vowels
Front Central Back
Close i y ɨ u
Mid e ə o
Open ⁱa a ᵘa

Several disyllabic sequences of vowels are possible:

High First Vowel High Mid Low
i- ii ia
y- yy ya
ɨ- ɨɨ ɨə ɨa
u- uu ua
Non-High First Vowel
-i -y -u -ə -a
e- ei ey
ə- əi əu əə
o- oi ou oa
a- ai ay au aa

The sequences /ⁱai/ and /iu/ also occur, but only across morpheme boundaries.[8]

The vowels /e/ and /o/ only occur in initial syllables.[8][7]

Vowels can be divided two pairs of groups based on harmony: Front /ⁱa e i y/ vs Back /a o ɨ u/, and Unrounded /ⁱa e i ɨ/ vs Rounded /a o y u/. Backness harmony only applies to high vowels.[8]

Front vowels do not occur after initial dental consonants.[6]

ɨ u/ do not occur after initial palatal consonants, having been neutralized into /e i y/.[6]

/ⁱa/ does not occur after palatal consonants, having been neutralized into /a/.[6]

/o/ does not occur after initial labial consonants, having been neutralized into /ə/.[6]

One of the main features of Nganasan is consonant gradation, which concerns the consonant phonemes /h, t, k, s/ alternating with /b, d, g, ɟ/ and their nasal combinations /ŋh, nt, ŋk, ns/ with /mb, nd, ŋg, ɲɟ/.[6]

Nganasan consonants[6][7]
Bilabial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t c k ʔ
voiced b d ɟ ɡ
Fricative plain ð h
sibilant s
Rhotic r
Approximant central j
lateral l
  • /h/ is labialized [hʷ] before /a/ and /ə/[8]
  • /b/ has the allophone [p] before other consonants, though this can also be analyzed as an "unusual" allophone of /h/[6]
  • /ɟ/ has the allophone [j] when not before a vowel[6]
  • /d/ is lenited to [ð] intervocalically[6]


The language's Cyrillic-based alphabet was devised in the 1990s:

А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж
З з З̌ з̌ И и Й й ’’ К к Л л М м
Н н Ӈ ӈ О о Ө ө П п Р р С с Т т
У у Ү ү Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ
Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ә ә Ю ю Я я
Cyrillic orthography
А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З З̌ И Й ˮ К Л М Н Ӈ О Ө П Р С Т У Ү Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ә Ю Я
а б в г д е ё ж з з̌ и й ˮ к л м н ӈ о ө п р с т у ү ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ә ю я
a b v g d je jo ʒ z ð i j ʔ k l m n ŋ o ᵘa p ɹ, ɾ s t u y f x t͡s t͡ʃ ʃ ʃtʃ - ɨ ʲ e ə ju ja




Nouns in Nganasan have the grammatical categories of number (singular, dual, plural), case (nominative, genitive, accusative, lative, locative, elative, prolative, comitative) and possessivity (non-possessive versus possessive forms). Nganasan lacks determiners; however, the possessive forms of second person singular and third person singular can be used to express definiteness (Katzschmann, 2008).

Case suffixes in Nganasan
Sg Dual Plural
Nominative Ø -KƏJ -"
Accusative Ø ~ (-M) -KI -J
Genitive Ø ~ (-Ŋ) -KI -"
Dative -NTƏ - -NTI-"
Locative -NTƏ-NU - -NTI-NU
Ablative -KƏ-TƏ - -KI-TƏ, ~KI-TI-"
Prolative -MƏ-NU - -"-MƏ-NU


Nganasan has personal, demonstrative, interrogative, negative and determinative pronouns. Personal pronouns are not inflected: their grammatical case forms coincide and their local case forms are expressed by the corresponding possessed forms of the postposition na-. Other pronouns are inflected like nouns (Helimski, 1998).

Personal pronouns and pronominal forms
Nom, Gen, Acc Lative Locative Elative Prolative Personal pronouns + clitics Personal emphatic pronouns
Sg1 mənə nanə nanunə nagətənə namənunə mɨlʲianə ŋonənə
Sg2 tənə nantə nanuntə nagətətə namənuntə tɨlʲiatə ŋonəntə
Sg3 sɨtɨ nantu nanuntu nagətətu namənuntu sɨlʲiatɨ ŋonəntu
Du1 mi nani nanuni nagətəni namənuni mɨlʲiani ŋonəni
Du2 ti nandi nanunti nagətəndi namənundi tɨlʲiati ŋonənti
Du3 sɨti nandi nanunti nagətəndi namənundi sɨlʲiati ŋonənti
Pl1 mɨŋ nanuʔ nanunuʔ nagətənuʔ namənunuʔ mɨlʲianɨʔ ŋonənuʔ
Pl2 tɨŋ nanduʔ nanuntuʔ nagətənduʔ namənunduʔ tɨlʲiatiʔ ŋonəntuʔ
Pl3 sɨtɨŋ nanduŋ nanuntuŋ nagətənduŋ namənunduŋ sɨlʲiatɨŋ ŋonəntuŋ


Verbs agree with their subjects in person and number, and have three conjugation types. Like other Samoyedic languages, Nganasan has the opposition of perfective and imperfective verbs.


The subjective conjugation is used when there is no object or the object is focused. The objective conjugation is used with transitive words. The reflexive conjugation is used for some intransitive verbs. Each conjugation type has its own personal endings. There are three subtypes of objective conjugation endings that correspond to object number.

Subjective Objective Objectless
singular object dual object plural object
1Sg -m -mə -kəi-j-nə -j-nə -nə
2Sg -rə -kəi-j-tə -j-tə
3Sg ø -tu -kəi-j-tu -j-tu -ʔ or -tə
1Du -mi -mi -kəi-j-ni -j-ni -ni
2Du -ri -ri -kəi-j-ti -j-ti -nti
3Du -kəj -ði -kəi-j-ti -j-ti -nti
1Pl -muʔ -muʔ -kəi-j-nuʔ -j-nuʔ -nuʔ
2Pl -ruʔ -ruʔ -kəi-j-tu -j-tu -ntuʔ
3Pl -tuŋ -kəi-j-tuŋ -j-tuŋ -ntəʔ


Nganasan has a broad mood paradigm with nine forms: indicative, imperative, interrogative, inferential, renarrative, irrealis, optative, admissive-cohortive, debitive, abessive and prohibitive. Mood forms are mostly built with the help of affixation but special particles are also sometimes used. All mood forms, except the imperative, have the same personal suffixes. Tenses are distinguished in the indicative, imperative and interrogative moods (Tereščenko, 1979).

Aspect and tense

Most corresponding imperfective and perfective stems have the same root, but in rare cases the roots can be different. The aspectual opposition between imperfective and perfective verbs remains semantic in most verbal forms. However, in the indicative mood it is used to express present continuous and present perfect meanings, respectively. In this case, the opposition is present formally: imperfective verbs take imperfective suffixes and the perfective ones have the perfective suffixes (Helimski, 1998). Imperfective verbs can also express future meanings. These forms are not considered tense in the strict sense. The proper tense forms of past and future include past, past perfect, future, future-in-the past (Katzschmann, 2008).

Non-finite verb forms

Formation Example
Present participle S1'-NTUə(-NCx)(-Px) koðutuə "which was killed ~ which has been killed"
Preterite participle S1-SUə-Dʲəə(-NCx)(-Px) kotudʲüədʲəə "which killed ~ which was killed"
Future participle S1'-ʔSUTə(-NCx)(-Px) koðuʔsutə "which will kill ~ which will be killed"
Future-in-the-past participle S1'-ʔSUTə-Dʲəə(-NCx)(-Px koðuʔsutədʲəə "which was to kill ~ which will be killed"
Abessive participle S1-MəTUMA̩ʔ(-NCx)(-Px) kotumətumaʔa "which has not killed ~ which has not been killed"
Preterite abessive participle S1-MəTUMA̩ʔA̩̥-Dʲəə(-NCx)(-Px) kotumətumaʔdʲəə "which did not kill ~ which was not killed"
Passive participle S1-Məə(-NCx)(-Px) kotuməə "killed"
Preterite passive participle S1-Məə-Dʲəə(-NCx)(-Px) kotuməədʲəə "which was killed"
Verbal adverbs
Formation Example
Verbal adverb S1-SA kotudʲa 'having killed', nʲisɪ̈ kotudʲa "having not killed"
Verbal adverb of immediate precedence S1-KAJ-SA kotugasʲa "having just killed"
Conditional-temporal verbal adverb S1-HÜʔ(-Px4) kotubüʔ "(if ~ when) to kill', kotubɪ̈nə 'if ~ when I kill", etc.
Preterite temporal verbal adverb S1-HÜʔ-ə(-Cx))-Px) kotubüʔə "when killed', kotubüʔəmə "when I killed", etc.
Future conditional verbal adverb S1-HÜʔ-NÜ-Px2 kotubününə "if I will kill"
Verbal nouns
Formation Example
Imperfective verbal noun S1-MUN(-Cx)(-Px) kotumu

sG kotumunə hireə "worth killing"

sLat niimsiəm kotomundə "I was afraid to kill"

sEla + s1 kotumu(ng)ətənə "so that I do not kill", etc.

Perfective verbal noun (S3/S1')-ʔMUə(-Cx)(-Px) koðaʔmuə ~ koðuʔmuə

sLoc + s1 koðaʔmuəntənunə "where I killed", etc.

Preterite verbal noun S1'-NTU(-Cx)(-Px) koðutu

sLat koðutundə "when killed"

koðutundənə "when I killed"

Supine S1'-NAKə(-Px2) kotunakə

s3 kotunagətu "in order that he killed", etc.


Word order[edit]

The dominating word order in Nganasan is SOV, similar to other Samoyedic languages. However, Nganasan is considered to exhibit more freedom in word order than other languages of its group. According to Tereščenko (1979), other types of word orders are used for shifting the sentence focus, especially in emphatic speech. The focused constituent usually immediately precedes the verb. Wagner-Nagy (2010) suggests that Nganasan is similar to Hungarian in its behavior, in that its word order is determined by pragmatic factors rather than being fixed.

On the phrase level, the attributes within the noun phrase usually precede the noun and become focused when placed after it. Numerals and adjectives agree with the heads in case, and adjectives also agree with the head in number. The case agreement is only complete in grammatical cases; in locative cases the attribute gets genitive form. There are no prepositions in Nganasan, postpositions are composite parts of words and also require the attributes in genitive cases. Possession is expressed with genitive construction or by a possessive suffix attached to the possessed (Helimski, 1998; Katzschmann, 2008).

Nganasan is a pro-drop language: pronominal subjects are often omitted when the verb conjugation type is subjective (Tereščenko, 1979).


Standard negation is expressed by negative auxiliary (ńi-) followed by the main verb in connegative form marked with ʔ, e.g. ńi-ndɨ-m konɨʔ "I do not go". All inflectional markers are taken by the negation auxiliary (Gusev, 2015). Objects in the form of personal, negative or demonstrative pronouns can be inserted between the negative auxiliary and the main verb (Wagner-Nagy, 2011). There are a few negative verbs other than ni-, such as kasa — "nearly", ləði — "vainly", əku — "maybe", and ŋuəli — "of course", but their functionality is restricted, with only ni- having a full paradigm.

Existential sentences are negated with the negative existential predicate d'aŋku or its derivative stem d'anguj-. D'aŋku can only be used in present indicative as it behaves like a noun: it takes nominal predicative endings. D'anguj- (a composite of d'aŋku and ij- "be") is used for all other tense/mood combinations.


Subordination is typically formed by constructions with non-finite verbal forms. Such constructions are usually placed before the constituents they modify. The relative construction is always placed immediately before the modified constituent, whereas other types of constructions allow other constituents to interfere. The word order in such construction is the same as in simple sentences (Tereščenko, 1973).


Coordination is most often achieved by means of intonation. Sometimes pronominal and adverbial derivatives can be used as conjunctions. For example, adverb ŋonə 'also' can be used as conjunction. The category of conjunctions may be undergoing formation under the influence of Russian (Tereščenko, 1973).


  • Gusev, V. (2015) Negation in Nganasan. In Miestamo, M., Tamm, A., Wagner-Nagy, B. (ed.) Negation in Uralic Languages, 103–312. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 9789027268648
  • Helimski, Еugene. (1994). Очерк морфонологии и словоизменительной морфологии нганасанского языка. Таймырский этнолингвистический сборник, (1), 190-221.
  • Helimski, Eugene. (1998) Nganasan. In Abondolo, Daniel (ed.), The Uralic Languages, 480–515. London: Routledge.
  • Katzschmann, M. (2008) Chrestomathia Nganasanica: Texte – Übersetzung – Glossar – Grammatik, Norderstedt.
  • Kortt, I. R.; Simčenko, Ju. B. (1985). Wörterverzeichnis der Nganasanischen Sprache. Berlin: Systemata Mundi. ISBN 3-925500-00-6.
  • Tereščenko, N.M. (1986) Алфавит нганасанского языка, in Skorik P.A. (ed.), Палеоазиатские языки, Leningrad: Nauka.
  • Tereščenko, N.M. (1979) Нганасанский язык, Leningrad: Nauka.
  • Tereščenko, N.M. (1973) Синтакс самодийских языков, Leningrad: Nauka.
  • Wagner-Nagy, B. (2002) Chrestomathia Nganasanica. (Studia Uralo-Altaica : Supplementum 10) Szeged. ISBN 963-482-588-5
  • Wagner-Nagy, B. (2010) Existential and possessive predicate phrases in Nganasan. In Gusev, V. and Widmer, A., Finnisch-Ugrische Mitteilungen, 32/33. Hamburg: Buske.
  • Wagner-Nagy, B. (2011) On the typology of negation in Ob-Ugric and Samoyedic languages (MSFOu 262). Helsinki: SUS
  • Wagner-Nagy, B. (2018). A grammar of Nganasan (Vol. 6). Brill.


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