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Udege language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Native toRussia
RegionRussian Far East
Ethnicity1,500 Udeges (2010 census)[1]
Native speakers
100 (2010 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3ude
Udege is classified as Critically Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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 Udege language (also Udihe language, Udekhe language, Udeghe language) is the language of the Udege people. It is a member of the Tungusic family. It is a moribund language, and classified as critically endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.


Until the beginning of the 20th century, neither the Orochs, nor the Udeges, nor the Tazes, who were considered one ethnic group, had a common self-name, each group had its own territorial name. Ethnic identity was present rather "implicitly", i.e. when local autochthonous inhabitants were opposed to alien peoples (Chinese, Manchus, Koreans, etc.).

For the first time, a common ethnonym for the Udeges, Orochs and Taz was given by Jean-François de Laperouse by the common ethnonym Orochons (French: les orotchys) for the indigenous population living along the coast of the Tatar Strait and the Sea of Japan, namely in the Gulf of De-Kastri in 1787 in time of his round-the-world trip.[2] This name was in use in literature until the beginning of the 20th century, when the Udege language received its modern name.

For the first time, the term удиhе (udihe) as a self-designation for the people was introduced by the Russian ethnographer Brailovsky S. N. at the turn of the 20th century.[3] This self-designation was worn by one of the groups of northern Udege. At the same time, he did not separate the Udege and Orochs. Brailovsky also began to use the term taz as a synonym for the term udihe. In the late 1920s, a campaign was launched in the country to change ethnonyms. The Orochons were divided into three groups and became Orochs, Udeges or Tazes. For the first time, such a division can be found in the works of Arseniev V. K.

Geographic distribution[edit]

Udege is a highly endangered Manchu-Tungusic language spoken in the southern part of Russian Far East. The Udege live in Khabarovsk Krai (districts: Imeni Lazo, Nanaisky) and Primorsky krai (districts: Terneyskiy, Pozharsky, Krasnoarmeysky), and also in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (JAO).

According to the latest censuses (1989, 2002 and 2010), the number of Udege is constantly decreasing from 1,902 in 1989 to 1,496 in 2010. In 2010, 620 people were registered in the Khabarosky krai; 793 people lived in Primorsky krai. An additional 83 Udege were registered outside of these territories, including 42 people in the JAO. The census data also reflect the steady decline of the language: according to the 1989 census, Udege was spoken by 462 people, in 2002 it was 227 people, and in 2010 it was only 103 people. The 2010 census shows a sharp drop in the Udihe competence in the Khabarovsky Krai (from 96 to 16 people!).[4]

In the 1930s, the Udege were forcibly made sedentary: each areal group was settled in a specially built permanent settlement: Kukan (Kur-Urmi Udihe), Bira (Anyuy), Kun (Hungari), Agzu (Samarga), Gvasyugi [ru] (Khor), Syain, Mitahheza and Olon [ru] (Bikin), Sanchikheza (Iman). The less numerous sea-shore Udihe were dispersed. In the 1950s, a system of boarding schools for Udege children took shape, which finally broke the continuity of generations and oriented young people on speedy Russification.[5] In the 1960s and 70s in the course of the “consolidation of villages” campaign, smaller Udihe villages were liquidated: Bira (Anyuy), Sanchiheza (Iman), Syain and Mitakheza (Bikin). The Bikin Udihe resettled in the new Udihe village of Krasny Yar (Pozharsky rayon) [ru]; and Anyuy and Iman Udihe were resettled into neighboring Russian villages.[4][6] As a result of this policy, there are no monoethnic Udege settlements.


Traditionally, the udihe were semi-nomads, moving within a limited territory, each along a particular river and its tributaries, thereby forming territorial groups which usually consisted of several families. The territorial groups are mostly named after the corresponding rivers: (1) Kur-Urmi, (2) Samarga, (3) Anyuy, (4) Khungari, (5) Khor, (6) Bikin, (7) Iman, and (8) Sea shore (Namunka).[4] From a linguistic point of view, the dialects of the Udege language, as well as the Oroch language, form a common continuum. Actually, the Udege continuum is divided along the “north-south” line, relating to all levels: phonetics and phonology, morphology and vocabulary, syntax. There are no sufficient materials on the Kur-Urmi dialect.

The Udihe dialects can be classified as follows:

  • Kur-Urmi

Northern group:

  • khor (udg. хуӈка)
  • anyuy (udg. униӈка)
  • samarga (udg. самаргиӈка)
  • khungari (udg. хуӈгаке) †

Southern group:

  • bikin (udg. бикиӈка)
  • iman (udg. имаӈка)
  • primorskiy (sea shore) (udg. намуӈка) †

The southern dialects were known as Kekar or Kyakala. The "Kyakala" of Russia is not to be confused with the Jurchenic "Kyakala" spoken in China, also called Chinese Kyakala in order distinguish it from "Russian Kyakala" (i.e., Kekar, or southern Udegheic).[4]

In the 30s of the 20th century, the Khor dialect on a Latin basis, created by Yevgeny Robertovich Schneider, was taken as the basis for the literary Udege language, which existed until 1937, when it was not repressed, and all literature created in Latin was not banned. Instead, the Cyrillic alphabet was formally introduced as part of a general campaign, but de facto the Udege language became unwritten until the 1980s.

In the late 80s, two literary languages began to form in the Udege language:

- one for the northern group based on the Khor dialect (Simonov-Kulyandziga alphabet; "Khabarovsk");

- the second for the southern group based on the Bikin dialect (the alphabet of Perekhvalskaya; "Leningrad" / "Petersburg").


Previously an oral language, in 1931 an alphabet was created for writing Udege as a part of latinisation in the Soviet Union.[7] In 1938 the policy of latinisation was reversed and the written Udige language was banned by Soviet authorities. Books in Udihe were collected and burned. Evgeny Schneider [ru], an Udige language author and translator was declared an enemy of the people and executed.[8]

1932 Udege latin alphabet primer giving each letter. Each letter is shown in print and handwritten styles. ⟨’⟩ is not included.
1931-1937 Alphabet
A a Ā ā B в C c D d Ӡ ӡ E e Ē ē
Æ æ F f G g H h I i Ī ī J j K k
L l M m N n Ņ ņ Ŋ ŋ O o Ō ō Ө ө
P p R r S s T t U u Ū ū W w X x
Y y Z z

Udege is currently written in two versions of the Cyrillic alphabet, known as the "Petersburg" and the "Khabarovsk" versions. The Khabarovsk version is used more often.[9]

Cyrillic alphabet (Khabarovsk version)
А а ʻА ʻа А̄ а̄ А̂ а̂ Б б В в Г г Ғ ғ
Д д Ӡ ӡ И и Ӣ ӣ И̂ и̂ Й й К к Л л
М м Н н Њ њ Ӈ ӈ О о ʻО ʻо О̄ о̄ О̂ о̂
П п Р р С с Т т У у Ӯ ӯ У̂ ŷ Ф ф
Х х Ч ч ь Э э ʻЭ ʻэ Э̄ э̄ Э̂ э̂

A few older letters that were used in this language: Ж ж, З з, Љ љ, Ц ц, Ш ш, Щ щ, Ъ ъ, Ы ы, ‘Ы ‘ы, Ы̄ ы̄, Ы̂ ы̂, Ю ю, ‘Ю ‘ю, Ю̄ ю̄, Ю̂ ю̂, Я я, ‘Я ‘я, Я̄ я̄, Я̂ я̂

Cyrillic alphabet (Petersburg version)
А а Б б В в (Ԝ ԝ) Г г Д д Ә ә Е е
Ё ё Ж ж З з Ӡ ӡ И и Й й К к Л л
М м Н н Ӈ ӈ Њ њ О о П п Р р С с
Т т У у Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ
Ъ ъ Ч ч Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я


The dialects of the Udege language differ in their sound composition, primarily in the system of vocalism. Northern dialects are characterized by the presence of five categories of vowel phonemes: short, long, diphthongs (which are similar in nature to long ones), glottalized and aspirated. In the southern dialects, aspirated vowels are absent, diphthongs tend to monophthongization. Vowel harmony is characteristic of all dialects. As for consonantism, there are 20 consonant phonemes in the northern dialects of the Udege language, and 19 in the southern dialects (there is no velar fricative /ɣ/).

General composition of vowels[10][11]
Front Central Back
Close i iː y yː u uː
Mid e eː ø øː ə əː o oː
Open æ æː a aː
Vowels of northern group[12]
Long /aː/, /oː/, /uː/, /əː/, /iː/, /iə/, /eæ/, /yø/, /yi/
Long laryngealized
/aˀa/, /oˀo/, (əˀə)
Long pharyngealized
/aʰa/, /oʰo/, /uʰu/, /əʰə/, /iʰi/, (iʰe), /eʰæ/, /yʰø/, /yʰi/
Vowels of southern group[12]
Long /aː/, /oː/, /uː/, /əː/, /iː/, /eː/, /æː/, /øː/
Long laryngealized
/aˀa/, /oˀo/, (əˀə)

The nature of glottalized and aspirated vowels in Udege can be explained by the loss of some consonants in the position between two vowels. Experimental studies have shown that in the northern dialects glottalized vowels are interrupted by a bow, therefore they are called "discontinuous". With a more fluent pronunciation, the bow is replaced by a "creaky" phonation.

In the related Udege language, aspirated and discontinuous vowels correspond to three-phonemic combinations of vowels with consonants. In general, aspirated long vowels are formed from the combination V-s-V, and glottalized long vowels from the combination V-q-V.[12]

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p b t d k ɡ ʔ
Fricative s x ɣ[a] h
Affricate (t͡s) (d͡z) t͡ʃ d͡ʒ[b]
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Approximant w j
Lateral l
  1. ^ as a separate phoneme exists in the Khor dialect.
  2. ^ in the southern group it is realized as /ts/ and /dz/ respectively.
  • /d͡z/ in the Southern dialect can have an allophone of [z].
  • /p/ in medial positions can be heard as [f].


Udege contains a variety of loanwords from the closely related Nanai language, which have supplanted some older Udege vocabulary, such as:

  • [banixe] (thank you), from Nanai [banixa], instead of Udege [usasa][check spelling]
  • [dœlbo] (work), from Nanai [dœbo], instead of Udege [etete]
  • [daŋsa] (book) from Nanai [daŋsa], itself a loanword from Chinese: 檔子 (Pinyin: dāngzi), which actually means "file, records, archives"

In general, a large degree of mutual assimilation of the two languages has been observed in the Bikin region. Udege has also exerted phonological influence on the Bikin dialect of Nanai, including monophthongisation of diphthongs, denasalisation of nasal vowels, deletion of reduced final vowels, epenthetic vowels preventing consonant final words, and the deletion of intervocalic [w].[3]


The beginning of the fairy tale "Selemege":[14][15]

E. R. Snejder's (Schneider) alphabet Omo jəgdig’ə bagdehæni, mam’asaxi-da. Mam’asani gə̄nʒi bisini. Tu bisiti. Bimi-də mam’asatigī digaŋkini:

— Bi Sələməgə guniəiwəti isənəʒəmi, — guŋkini.

"Khabarovsk" Cyrillic alphabet (alphabet by M. D. Simonov and V. T. Kyalundzyuga) Омо йэгдэғ’э багдиэ̂ни, мам’асахи-да. Мам’асани гэ̅нʒи бисини. Ту бисити. Бими-дэ мамас’атиғи̅ диғаңкини:

— Би Сэлэмэгэ гунэивэти исэнэʒэми, — гуңкини.

"Leningrad" Cyrillic (alphabet by E. V. Perekhvalskaya) Омо йəгдəг’ə багдиəни, мам’асахи-да. Мам’асани гə́нʒи бисини. Ту бисити. Бими-дə мамас’атигий диаңкини:

— Би Сəлəмəгə гунəйwəти исəнəʒəми, — гуңкини.

A. A. Kanchuga's alphabet Омо егдигэ багдиэни, мамасахида. Мамасани гээнди бисини. Ту бисити. Бимидэ мамасатиги диаңкини:

— Би Сэлэмэгэ гунэивэти исэнэзэми, — гуңкини.

English translation Once upon a time there was one fellow, he was married. The child's wife was expecting. It was. After a while, he says to his wife: — I'll go and take a look at this Selemege who is being talked about, — he said.


  1. ^ a b Udege at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ M. L. A. Milet-Mureau (1798). Voyage de La Pérouse. Vol. 3. Paris: L'an vi de La République. p. 99.
  3. ^ a b Nikolaeva & Tolskaya 2001.
  4. ^ a b c d Perekhvalskaya 2022.
  5. ^ Girfanova 2002, p. 3.
  6. ^ Perekhvalskaya 2016, p. 509.
  7. ^ Алфавит Октября. Итоги введения нового алфавита среди народов РСФСР [October alphabet. The results of the introduction of a new alphabet among the peoples of the RSFSR] (in Russian). 1934. p. 159.
  8. ^ Belikov, Vladimir (February 1994). Rifaa, Adel (ed.). "Language Death in Siberia" (pdf). Unesco Courier. Unesco. p. 35. Retrieved 2022-05-25.
  9. ^ М. Д. Симонов, В. Т. Кялундзюга (1998). Словарь удэгейского языка (хорский диалект). Препринт [Dictionary of the Udege language (Khor dialect). Preprint] (in Russian). Vol. I. pp. 3–6, 59.
  10. ^ Nikolaeva & Tolskaya 2001, p. 35.
  11. ^ a b Girfanova 2002, p. 6.
  12. ^ a b c Perekhvalskaya 2022, p. 238.
  13. ^ Nikolaeva & Tolskaya 2001, p. 51.
  14. ^ ПостНаука 2020.
  15. ^ Perekhvalskaya 2016, p. 512.


External links[edit]