search catalogue

Documenting Henan Oirat, China


Language Henan Oirat
Depositor Attila Rákos
Affiliation Eötvös Loránd University, Department of Mongol and Inner Asian Studies
Location China
Collection ID 0297
Grant ID SG0244
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection aims to document the current state and last traces of the Mongolic language of the Henan Oirats.


Group represented

Henan Oirat (Henan Mongol) is the ethnic language of the Henan Oirats, a group of around 30,000 individuals, who inhabit Henan Mongol Autonomous County (Henan Mengguzu Zizhi Xian) of Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Huangnan Zangzu Zizhi Zhou), Qinghai Province, China.
The materials in this collection were recorded in the locations in Henan County: Khusin on the southern fringe of the county, and Serlong on the south-eastern edge. Both are settlements with a population of approximately 2000-3000, and surrounding camp-sites of nomads.


Language information

Henan Oirat is an Altaic/Mongolic language spoken in China. It is a highly aberrant form of Oirat with considerable influence of Tibetan.

Oirat varieties are spoken in the Kalmyk Republic of Russia, Western parts of Mongolia, and in different parts of North-west China including Qinghai and Gansu provinces, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Alasha league in the Inner-Mongolian Autonomous Region.

As a linguistic group, the Henan Oirats represent an intrusion of the Western Mongols (Oirats) to Northern Tibet in the 16th-17th centuries. The Mongols rapidly divided into several local groups, many of which were fully assimilated by the Tibetans. Among the Henan Oirats the language seems to have been preserved until the 19th century, but since then a rapid process of Tibetanisation took place, leaving only tens of fluent speakers extant today.

The Henan Oirat dialect is spoken in Henan Mongol Autonomous County, which is situated in the south-eastern edge of Qinghai near to its borders with Gansu and Sichuan. Thus Henan County is the southernmost location where speakers of Mongolian can be found.

The dialect that is likely to be closest to Henan Oirat is the one spoken by the so-called Haixi Mongols hundreds of miles to the northwest. According to the previous fieldworks carried out by some members of the research team for this research, the dialect of the Haixi Mongols is a unique dialect of Oirat with conspicuous traces of other non-Oirat dialects of Mongolian (Khalha and Inner-Mongolian dialects), Amdo Tibetan, and Mandarin Chinese.

Considering the history and the degree of isolation of the Henan Oirats, the researchers presume that their dialect must have retained a considerable amount of archaic features of Oirat and developed its own characteristics unknown in other Mongolic languages.

Formerly the number of speakers of Henan Oirat was estimated to be 50, but on the basis of the researchers’ fieldwork (Mátyás Balogh, July 2012) there are approximately 300-600 speakers left, of which 100 are fluent speakers. There is no doubt that Henan Oirat will become extinct within 50 years or even sooner.


Collection contents

When complete, this collection will include

  • audio recordings including folklore texts, monologues, narrative speech and dialogues, with topics covering various aspects of the speakers’ life, such as work, religion, traveling, customs, hygiene, legends, tales, desires, emotions
  • video recordings of speaker’s daily activities as well as video interviews
  • photographs
  • transcriptions (narrow phonetic and simplified), translations into English, and further annotations
  • linguistic analyses (Henan Oirat grammar in comparison to other Oirat dialects, the influence of Tibetan and Chinese languages on Henan Oirat)
  • print publications and multimedia materials for the local Oirat community
  • metadata on content and context


Collection history

The materials in the collection were gathered by Attila Rákos between 2013 and 2014 for his fieldwork funded by an ELDP Small Grant.


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Rákos, Attila. 2015. Documenting Henan Oirat, China. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

Powered by Preservica
© Copyright 2024