Paleosiberian languages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

North Asia, East Asia
Linguistic classificationNot a single family

Paleosiberian (or Paleo-Siberian) languages or Paleoasian (Paleo-Asiatic) (from Greek παλαιός palaios, "ancient") are terms of convenience used in linguistics to classify a disparate group of linguistic isolates as well as a few small families of languages spoken in parts both of northeastern Siberia and of the Russian Far East. They are not known to have any linguistic 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. Kerek is extinct, and Itelmen is now spoken by fewer than 100 people, mostly elderly, on the west coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.
  2. Nivkh is 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. Ket is spoken in the central Yenisei river basin in the Turukhansk district of Krasnoyarsk Krai by no more than 200 people. It is known to be the last remnant of a small language subfamily, the Yeniseian languages, formerly spoken on the middle Yenisei and its tributaries. (Whether Ket should be considered an isolate is therefore a matter of definition: historically speaking, it is not.)

Michael Fortescue (2011)[2] suggests that Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Nivkh (Gilyak) are related to each other on the basis of morphological, typological, and lexical evidence. Together, Chukotko-Kamchatkan and Nivkh ("Amuric") form a larger Chukotko-Kamchatkan-Amuric language family. Fortescue does not consider Yukaghir and Yeniseian to be genetically related to Chukotko-Kamchatkan-Amuric.

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.

Koreanic (Korean) shares some typological features with the four Paleosiberian groups (e.g. lack of phonemic voiced stops, verb compounding, earlier ergativity), and Alexander Vovin suggests that it actually has more in common with "Paleosiberian" than with the putative Altaic group (to which it is sometimes assigned) — even though the Paleosiberian languages are not thought to form a typological whole.[3] Janhunen (2016: 8)[4] suggests the possibility that similar consonant stop systems in Koreanic and Nivkh may be due to ancient contact.

Alexander Vovin (2004, 2010)[5][6] 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. Vovin (2004) notes that Old Turkic had borrowed some words from an unknown non-Altaic language that may have been Ruan-ruan.


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.[7] 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".[8] In the past, attempts have been made to relate it to Sino-Tibetan, North Caucasian, and Burushaski.

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." In Lingua, Volume 121, Issue 8, June 2011, Pages 1359-1376.
  3. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2015). "Korean as a Paleosiberian Language". 알타이할시리즈 2. ISBN 978-8-955-56053-4. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  4. ^ Janhunen, Juha (2016). Reconstructio externa linguae Ghiliacorum. Studia Orientalia 117 (2016), pp. 3–27.
  5. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2004. ‘Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Old Turkic 12-Year Animal Cycle.’ Central Asiatic Journal 48/1: 118-32.
  6. ^ 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 Aralık 2010, İstanbul / 3-5 December 2010, İstanbul: 1-10.
  7. ^ "The Dene–Yeniseian Connection". Alaska Native Language Center. 2010.
  8. ^ Bernard Comrie (2008) "Why the Dene-Yeniseic Hypothesis is Exciting". Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska: Dene-Yeniseic Symposium.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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