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Documentation of endangered Tungusic languages of Khabarovskij Kraj


Language Negidal (ISO639-3:neg), Kur-Urmi, Ulcha (ISO639-3:ulc)
Depositor Elena Kalinina, Valentin Goussev, Nina Sumbatova, Svetlana Toldova
Affiliation Moscow State University
Location Russian Federation
Collection ID 0222
Grant ID MDP0151, PPG0013
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

The collection aims to provide the fullest possible documentation of three Tungusic languages: Negidal, Kur-Urmi and Ulcha. The main objectives of the project are:

  1. recording an extensive text corpus in Kur-Urmi, Negidal and Ulcha
    • for Ulcha: 20 hours of speech
    • for Kur-Urmi: 7.5 hours
    • for Negidal: 12 hours)
  2. transcribing, analyzing and annotating the recorded texts
  3. recording sound files from older hand-written recordings
  4. attempts at collecting, transcribing and translating some existing archived texts in Negidal and possibly Kur-Urmi
  5. providing databases of vocabulary sound files to go with the text corpora (about 2500 entries)


Group represented

Speakers of Kur-Urmi, Ulcha and Negidal, living in Khabarovskij Kraj, in the basin of the Amur River.

While there are very few speakers of Kur-Urmi and Negidal, there are more speakers of Ulcha, and these Ulcha speakers have a lively interest in their language. Some schools of the Ulcha region want to have the Ulcha language in the curriculum, but they desperately lack teaching materials.


Language information

Kur-Urmi (traditionally regarded as a dialect of Nanai), Ulcha and Negidal are all spoken in Khabarovskij Kraj, in the basin of the Amur River. All languages belong to the Tungus-Manchu language family, along with Nanai, Even, Evenki, Oroch, Orok, Udige and Manchu. Some of these, namely Oroch, Evenki and Udige are the closest geographical neighbours of the three languages.

Minor Tungusic languages represent a fascinating example of a linguistic continuum, with an intricate combination of typologically interesting features. In phonology, they exhibit vowel harmony and a phonemic vowel length. Morphologically they are agglutinating and syntactically left-branching SOV languages with nominative-accusative syntactic role marking. The data of these languages can greatly contribute to the study of such problems as morphological compounds vs. syntactic phrases, morphological affixes vs. clitics, personal vs. impersonal passives, simple vs. complex clauses, finite vs. non-finite verb forms, subordination vs. coordination.

The degree of endangerment all the three languages are facing has become highly dramatic now. All languages have long ceased to be passed on to young generations. The current social and economic situation in the region does not provide any incentives for wider use of native languages.

Negidal and Kur-Urmi do not have any written standard. Ulcha has a Cyrillic alphabet. There are some attempts to teach Negidal and Ulcha to schoolchildren, but up to now they have not been very successful. In 2007, there were only two people who still spoke Kur-Urmi fluently, and only four speakers with fluent command of Negidal. In the Ul’chskij Region there are 100–200 speakers of Ulcha, aged 50 and older. The Ulcha community members showed special interest in language documentation and revitalization work. There is an Ulcha leaflet published with a local newspaper, there used to be a radio programme in Ulcha.


Special characteristics

In 2007, there were only two people who still spoke Kur-Urmi fluently, and only four speakers with fluent command of Negidal.


Collection contents

When complete, the collection aims to include

  • extensive electronic text corpora in Kur-Urmi (7.5 hours), Negidal (12 hours) and Ulcha (20 hours) of spontaneous and elicited speech
  • lexical databases (2,500 entries), including orthographic form in Cyrillic, IPA transcription, translation into Russian and English, translation into Latin (for names of biological species and some body parts), grammatical information, etymology, examples, linked sound file, links to synonyms and cognate lexical units in other Tungus-Manchu languages, links to text examples, comments
  • time-aligned transcriptions, analyses and annotations of at least half of the recorded texts
  • collections, transcriptions and translations of archived legacy texts
  • supplementary grammar notes in English

The recorded texts and elicitations cover the following topics:

  • the language consultants are asked to prepare narratives on given topics, which can include the history of a settlement or a family, cultural and religious practices, folklore texts or episodes from a person’s life
  • language consultants are asked to improvise a conversation on any topic of interest to all participants
  • a language consultant interviews a member of the community (usually an elder one)
  • questionnaires related to grammar aspects


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared over a number of years, during field trips to Khabarovskij Kraj for a number of research projects:

  • 2004-2005 (Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, grant ID PPG0013)
  • 2006 (Russian Scientific Foundation for Humanities, grant ID 06-04-18012e)
  • 2007-2010( Endangered Languages Documentation Programme, grant ID MDP0151)


Other Information

The materials in this collection will also be archived at the Moscow State University (Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics), The Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North in Khabarovsk, and at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, in their Endangered Languages Archive.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Kalinina, Elena. 2013. Documentation of endangered Tungusic languages of Khabarovskij Kraj. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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