Nganasan language

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ня” njaʔ
Pronunciation [nʲɐʔ]
Native to Russia
Region Taymyr Autonomous Okrug
Ethnicity 860 Nganasans (2010 census)[1]
Native speakers
130 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 nio
Glottolog ngan1291[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Nganasan language (formerly called тавгийский, tavgiysky, or тавгийско-самоедский, tavgiysko-samoyedsky in Russian; from the ethnonym тавги, tavgi) is a language of the Nganasan people. In 2002 it was spoken by 500 out of 830 Nganasan people in the southwestern and central parts of the Taymyr Peninsula.


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 (вадеевский говор, vadeyevsky govor). Vocabulary can be traced elements of the unknown substrate origin.


The language has 10 vowels and about 20 consonant phonemes.

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

Several bisyllabic sequences of vowels are possible:

-i -y -ɨ -u -ə -ɐ
i- ii
y- yy
ɨ- ɨɨ ɨə ɨɐ
u- ui uu
e- ei ey
ə- əi əu əə
o- oi ou
ⁱa- ⁱai
ɐ- ɐi ɐy ɐu ɐɐ
ᵘa- ᵘaɐ

One of the main features of Nganasan is the consonant gradation, which concerns the consonant phonemes /b, t, k, s (sʼ)/ and their nasal combinations /mb, nt, ŋk, ns/.


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 Ҫ ҫ
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




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


Sg Du Pl
ACC Ø ~ (M) KI J
GEN Ø ~ (Ŋ) KI "


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 possessive case 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 mïlʲianə ŋonənə
Sg2 tənə nantə nanuntə nagətətə namənuntə tïlʲiatə ŋonəntə
Sg3 sïtï nantu nanuntu nagətətu namənuntu sïlʲiatï ŋonəntu
Du1 mi nani nanuni nagətəni namənuni mïlʲiani ŋonəni
Du2 ti nandi nanunti nagətəndi namənundi tïlʲiati ŋonənti
Du3 sïti nandi nanunti nagətəndi namənundi sïlʲiati ŋonənti
Pl1 mïŋ nanuʔ nanunuʔ nagətənuʔ namənunuʔ mïlʲianïʔ ŋonənuʔ
Pl2 tïŋ nanduʔ nanuntuʔ nagətənduʔ namənunduʔ tïlʲiatiʔ ŋonəntuʔ
Pl3 sïtïŋ nanduŋ nanuntuŋ nagətənduŋ namənunduŋ sïlʲiatïŋ 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.


Subjective conjugation is used when there is no object or object is focused. Objective conjugation is used with transitive words. 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
with singular object with dual object with plural object
1Sg m kəi-j-nə j-nə
2Sg ŋ kəi-j-tə j-tə ŋ
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 ʔ tuŋ kəi-j-tuŋ j-tuŋ ntəʔ


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

Aspect and tense

Most corresponding imperfective and perfective stems have the same root, 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 tense. The proper tense forms of past and future include past, past perfect, future, future-in-the past (Katzschmann, 2008).


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, expecially 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, 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 possessive suffix attached to the possessed (Helimski, 1998; Katzschmann, 2008).

Nganasan is a pro-drop language: pronominal subjects are often 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 don’t go’. All inflectional markers are taken by the negation auxiliary (Gusev, 2015). Objects in the form of personal, negative or demonastrative pronouns can be inserted between the negative auxiliary and the main verb (Wagner-Nagy, 2011). There are couple of negative verbs other than ni-, such as kasa - 'nearly, ləði - 'vainly', əku - 'maybe', ŋuəli - 'of course' but their functionality is restricted, with only ni- having a full paradigm.

Existential sentences are negated with 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 achieved 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 consituents 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 conjuction. The category of conjunctions may be undergoing formation under 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, 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


  1. ^ a b Nganasan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Nganasan". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 

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