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Documentation and Analysis of the Endangered Teleut Language, Spoken in south-west Siberia, Russia


Language Teleut
Depositor Andrey Filchenko
Affiliation Tomsk State Pedagogical University
Location Russian Federation
Collection ID 0337
Grant ID SG0277
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This collection is the outcome of a language documentation project on Teleut, an endangered Turkic language of south-western Siberia. The main goal of the project was to create an accessible corpus of high-quality multimedia materials which could be of use for both the Teleut community and the researchers. The materials included in the collection not only focus on linguistic description of the Teleut language but also give a broader view of the contemporary culture of the community. The collection includes newly analysed legacy materials as well as new materials.


Group represented

This collection represents members of the Bachat Teleuts, an indigenous Turkic population of Western Siberia.

Initially, Teleuts settled in Gorny Altai but in the 16th century they were forced northwards by Mongols, to the inflows of rivers Ob and Irtysh. In the north, the Teleuts had contacts with Siberian Tartars, in the west they were in contact with Tuvinians, and in the south they were in contact with western Mongols and northern Altaians. Some Tomsk Tatars and northern Altaians were assimilated by Teleut (Umanskij 1995).

Similarly to some other Turkic Siberian languages, Teleut still has not received an official status of an independent Indigenous Language, even though it was historically the first written Turkic language of the Sayano-Altai area as the working language of the Altai Spiritual Mission in 19th century, and at one point was used as the basis for the development of Altai literary language.

The number of Teleuts according to the 2002 population census is around 2,500. All Teleuts are active Russian speakers, though all ethnic Teleuts speak Teleut. According to the research team’s own surveys, the number of fluent speakers is under 10% and includes mostly people over 50 years old, and the number of proficient native speakers in Kemerovo region is around 100. In the middle age group, half of the population can be considered semi-fluent speakers. In younger generation, fluency is extremely low, although there are some active bilinguals. Reasons for the language shift include urbanization and the destruction of the traditional land-use practices, the outflow of youths from villages to the cities and the lack of a clear policy in the field of language education, which all lead to a constant narrowing of the scope and function of Teleut as the language of daily communication.

The research project behind this collection has strong support of the Teleut community of Kemerovo region. At least two project consultants work with local children and organize extra-curricular activities involving Teleut language and culture. These children, young Teleut speakers, were involved in the project as consultants and displayed interest in the project activities and readiness to train in basic techniques and methods of language documentation and archival under the supervision and auspices of the local school and library. These and other representatives of the community expressed their desire to co-operate further on Teleut language and culture documentation, data recording from more consultants, including the children, at all stages and in all activities: recording data and metadata, transcription and annotation, archival, and use in producing applied materials (reference, pedagogical, etc.).


Language information

Teleut is an Altaic Turkic language and shows signs of areal contact contiguity. The language is ethnographically consistent with the local traditional culture of hunter-pastoralists.

The Teleut language has long been considered one of the southern dialects of the larger Altai language, the Kyrgyz-Kipchak subgroup of East Hun branch of Turkic languages. Recently, scholars have started referencing Teleut as a separate language, distinguished from literary Altai by lexical, phonetic and grammatical differences. However, the academic community currently direly lacks empirical data on Teleut, including a diverse text corpus of natural speech and a detailed description of grammar patterns, to investigate this classification further.

Until this research project, the Teleut language had no united representative archive of texts and multimedia records adequately showing the language. In the early 20th century, the Leningrad linguist and ethnographer N.P. Dyrenokva collected a large corpus of Teleut written texts, without audio-visual materials. This collection is now kept in the archives of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. However, this archive is difficult to access for scholars and even more so for the language community. In the 1970s, G.G. Fisakova (Kemerovo State University) investigated Teleut of Kemerovo region. Since then, existing investigations of the language have been unsystematic and sporadic. Existing print materials on Teleut are one dictionary of about 8,000 words, two textbooks for children and one self-study book for school teaching. There is no published academic grammar of Teleut. From the 1980s, there is one accessible well-structured but small archive with audio materials and metadata ( consisting of four texts gathered in the 1980s by the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Science.

As of now, Teleut still remains among the most neglected of the Turkic languages of Southern Siberia while the adjacent Shor, Khakas, Chulym-Turkic, Tofa have already been a subjects of both Russian and international scholarly projects, while Teleut is as highly endangered if not more.


Special characteristics

One of the researchers in this collection, Dr. Denis Tokmashev, is an ethnic Teleut. He is actively involved with the community and enjoys family and local support in Teleut documentation efforts.


Collection contents

This collection includes a diverse and range of high-quality language documentation materials by making audio and video recordings of speech events and providing them with appropriate metadata (including photographs, maps, notes etc.), and by structuring the collected materials in a uniform corpus of annotated texts, accompanied and cross-referenced with high-quality video and audio record.

When completed, the collection will include

  • about 18 hours of audio and video recordings, including traditional linguistic modality as well as wider multimodal aspects of communication (speech situations, speaker positioning, gesture)
  • a sociolinguistic survey on speaker numbers and language endangerment as well as sociolinguistic data, including photographs, biographies, folk histories and maps
  • time-aligned transcriptions and free translations into Russian and English for selected parts of the corpus using ELAN
  • for 15-20% of the recorded material, full interlinearisation using ELAN and FLEx
  • a lexicon and a 5,000-6,000 word corpus of interlinear glossed texts using SIL FLEx
  • digitised handwritten ethnological notes on social and material culture items, culture and technology transfer, aspects of cultural/ritual landscape, and their change under assimilative pressure, gathered through ad-hoc questionnaires, checklists, and elicitations
  • a publication of folk text legacy materials for community use
  • IMDI metadata

The collection additionally includes legacy materials with newly added information. Legacy materials are re-transcribed in IPA, annotated with conventional tag sets (Leipzig rules), entered into the lexicon, translated into Russian and English and given comprehensive metadata. Throughout the corpus, the original Cyrillic-based notation and original Russian free translation is preserved in the final digital format to maintain the original manuscript material and allow access to the original data for community members.


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared between 2013 and 2014 during fieldwork and research conducted for the ELDP Small Grant held by Andrey Filchenko.


Other information

The materials in this collection were also collection with the local community and with activists in language and culture preservation and revival (local school, local library, individual representatives of the Teleut community). A second collection on Teleut is available at ELAR at Some representatives of the adjacent Siberian Turkic communities (Eushta-Tom Tatars (Chat), upper Chulym) expressed interest in the project and the documentation program. This lead to further research later on and additional collections at ELAR for Eushta-Chat ( and Melets Chulym (


Acknowledgement and citation

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

Filchenko, Andrey. 2014. Documentation and Analysis of the Endangered Teleut Language, Spoken in south-west Siberia, Russia. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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