Paleosiberian languages

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North Asia, East Asia
Linguistic classificationNot a single family

Paleosiberian (or Paleo-Siberian) languages or Paleoasian (Paleo-Asiatic) (from Greek παλαιός palaios, "ancient") are several linguistic isolates and small families of languages spoken in parts of northeastern Siberia and the Russian Far East. They are not known to have any genetic relationship to each other; their only common link is that they are held to have antedated the more dominant languages, particularly Tungusic and latterly Turkic languages, that have largely displaced them. Even more recently, Turkic (at least in Siberia) and especially Tungusic have been displaced in their turn by Russian.


Four small language families and isolates are usually considered to be Paleo-Siberian languages:[1]

  1. The Chukotko-Kamchatkan family, sometimes known as Luoravetlan, includes Chukchi and its close relatives, Koryak, Alutor and Kerek. Itelmen, also known as Kamchadal, is also distantly related. Chukchi, Koryak and Alutor are spoken in easternmost Siberia by communities numbering in the thousands (Chukchi) or hundreds (Koryak and Alutor). Kerek is extinct, and Itelmen is now spoken by fewer than 5 people, mostly elderly, on the west coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
  2. Nivkh (Gilyak, Amuric) consists of two or three languages spoken in the lower Amur basin and on the northern half of Sakhalin island. It has a recent modern literature.
  3. Yukaghir is spoken in two mutually unintelligible varieties in the lower Kolyma and Indigirka valleys. Other languages, including Chuvantsy, spoken further inland and further east, are now extinct. Yukaghir is held by some to be related to the Uralic languages.
  4. The Yeniseian languages were a small family formerly spoken on the middle Yenisei River and its tributaries, but are now represented only by Ket, spoken in the Turukhansk district of Krasnoyarsk Krai by no more than 200 people.

On the basis of morphological, typological, and lexical evidence, Michael Fortescue suggests that Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Nivkh (Amuric) are related, forming a larger Chukotko-Kamchatkan-Amuric language family. Fortescue does not consider Yukaghir and Yeniseian to be genetically related to Chukotko-Kamchatkan-Amuric.[2]

Other languages[edit]

Ainu is sometimes considered to be a Paleosiberian language, although it is not, strictly speaking, a language of Siberia. Small numbers of Ainu speakers currently live in southern Sakhalin, where it was the primary native language. Ainu was also spoken in the Kuril Islands and on Hokkaidō, where a strong interest in its revival is taking place. Attempts have been made to relate it to many other language families, including Altaic, Austroasiatic, Austronesian, Nihali, Indo-European and Uralic.

Alexander Vovin considers the Ruan-ruan language, spoken by the people of the Rouran Khaganate, to be an extinct non-Altaic language that is not related to any modern-day language, and is hence unrelated to Mongolic.[3] He notes that Old Turkic had borrowed some words from an unknown non-Altaic language that may have been Ruan-ruan.[4]


Together with Japanese, these "poor relations" resist any easy or obvious linguistic classification, either with other groups or with each other. Languages within the Paleosiberian group are considered by some scholars, including Edward Vajda, to be related to the Na-Dené and Eskimo–Aleut families of Alaska and northern Canada. This would back the majority consensus that North America's aboriginal peoples migrated from present-day Siberia and other regions of Asia when the two continents were joined during the last ice age.

Ket, or more precisely Yeniseian as a whole, has been linked in a generally well-received proposal to the Na-Dené languages of North America.[5] Dené–Yeniseian has been called "the first demonstration of a genealogical link between Old World and New World language families that meets the standards of traditional comparative-historical linguistics".[6] In the past, attempts have been made to relate it to Sino-Tibetan, North Caucasian, and Burushaski.

Kim Bang-han proposed that placename glosses in the Samguk sagi reflect the original language of the Korean peninsula and a component in the formation of both Korean and Japanese. He proposed that this language was related to Nivkh.[7][8] Juha Janhunen suggests the possibility that similar consonant stop systems in Koreanic and Nivkh may be due to ancient contact.[9]

Two additional groups of languages predating the expansion of Turkic, Tungusic and Russian are known from Western Siberia, namely the Ob-Ugric and Samoyedic languages. They are however not considered Paleosiberian, as they are part of the established larger Uralic family. Yukaghir has often been suggested as a more distant relative of Uralic (see Uralic-Yukaghir languages), but this remains disputed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Campbell, Lyle; Mixco, Mauricio J. (2007). A Glossary of Historical Linguistics. Edinburgh University Press. p. 148. ISBN 978 0 7486 2378 5.
  2. ^ Fortescue, Michael (2011). "The relationship of Nivkh to Chukotko-Kamchatkan revisited". Lingua. 121 (8): 1359–1376. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2011.03.001.
  3. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2010). "Once Again on the Ruan-ruan Language". Ötüken’den İstanbul’a Türkçenin 1290 Yılı (720-2010) Sempozyumu From Ötüken to Istanbul, 1290 Years of Turkish (720–2010). 3–5 December 2010, Istanbul. pp. 1–10.
  4. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2004). "Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Old Turkic 12-Year Animal Cycle". Central Asiatic Journal. 48 (1): 118–132.
  5. ^ "The Dene–Yeniseian Connection". Alaska Native Language Center. 2010.
  6. ^ Bernard Comrie (2008) "Why the Dene-Yeniseic Hypothesis is Exciting". Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska: Dene-Yeniseic Symposium.
  7. ^ "원시한반도어(原始韓半島語) - 한국민족문화대백과사전". Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  8. ^ Beckwith, Christopher (2004), Koguryo, the Language of Japan's Continental Relatives, BRILL, ISBN 978-90-04-13949-7.
  9. ^ Janhunen, Juha (2016). "Reconstructio externa linguae Ghiliacorum". Studia Orientalia. 117: 3–27. Retrieved 15 May 2020. p. 8.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Вернер Г. К. Палеоазиатские языки [1] // Лингвистический энциклопедический словарь. — М.: СЭ, 1990. (in Russian)