|Ethnicity:||Yukaghirs, Chuvans, Anauls|
|Russian Far East|
Extent of Yukaghir languages in the 17th (hatched) and 20th (solid) centuries
The Yukaghir languages (/, /; also Yukagir, Jukagir) are a small family of two closely related languages – Tundra and Kolyma Yukaghir – spoken by the Yukaghir in the Russian Far East living in the basin of the Kolyma River. According to the 2002 Russian census, both Yukaghir languages taken together have 604 speakers. Recent reports from the field reveal that this number is far too high: the Yukaghir languages have at most seventy to eighty speakers. The entire family is thus to be regarded as moribund.
Classification and grammatical features
The relationship of the Yukaghir languages with other language families is uncertain, though it has been suggested that they are distantly related to the Uralic languages, thus forming the putative Uralic–Yukaghir language family.
Tundra and Kolyma Yukaghir are the only two remnants of what used to be one of the dominant languages/language families of north-eastern Siberia, spreading from the River Anadyr in the east to the River Lena in the west. On the basis of the evidence of early sources, it can be assumed that there existed a Yukaghir dialect continuum, with what is today Tundra Yukaghir and Kolyma Yukaghir at the extremes.
These two languages share only a relatively small part of the vocabulary and are not mutually intelligible. The basic grammatical structures, however, are very similar. Both languages have residual vowel harmony and a complex phonotactics of consonants. Both have rich agglutinative morphology and are strictly head-final. There is practically no finite subordination and very few coordinate structures. The most spectacular feature of TY and KY grammar is the split intransitive alignment system based on discourse-pragmatic features. In absence of narrow focus, the system is organised on the nominative–accusative basis; when focused, direct objects and subjects of intransitive verbs are co-aligned (special focus case, special focus agreement).
The two extant varieties of Yukaghir are:
- Tundra Yukaghir (Northern Yukaghir, also known as Wadul): 30 to 150 speakers as of 1989. Last spoken in the tundra belt extending between the lower Indigirka to the lower Kolyma basin ( ). Formerly spoken in a much wider area extending to the Lena basin in the west.
- Kolyma Yukaghir (Forest Yukaghir, Southern Yukaghir, also known as Odul): 5 to 10 speakers as of 2009 . Last spoken in the forest zone near the sources of the Kolyma, divided between the Sakha Republic and the Magadan Oblast (around ), previously in the wider area of the upper Kolyma region.
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