Niwchish language

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The Niwchische (or outdated Giljakische ) is about 200 nivkh people speaking, in Russia at the confluence of the Amur and on the island of Sakhalin life. Niwchisch is an isolated language , so it is not genetically related to any other known language .

However, it is combined with other Siberian languages ​​to form the group of Paleo-Siberian languages . The Paleo-Siberian languages ​​do not form a genetic unit , but rather a group of residual Old Siberian languages ​​that were spoken there before the Urals , Turkic and Tungus ethnic groups.

Ethnolinguistic background

Niwchische or Giljakische is an isolated language with about 200 speakers (2010 census: 198) from an ethnic group of over 4000 people (2010: 4562) who worked in small units as fishermen and hunters on Sakhalin (in the villages of Nekrassowka and Nogliki, Poronaisk Rajon in central Sakhalin and around Ocha in the north of the island) and on the Amur tributary Amgun , for example between Komsomolsk on the Amur and Nikolayevsk on the Amur - often in communion with the Tungus Negidals and Russians . There is evidence that Niwchen also lived in northern Japan in parts of Honshū and Hokkaidō until the 13th century . Then they went up in the population of Hokkaidō, and their language was replaced by Ainu or Japanese .

The self-designation of people and language is ńivx , which means "human" (more precise language: mer ńivx dif ( мер нивх диф ), from mer (мер) "we", ńivx ( нивх ) "human" and tif ( тиф ) " Language"). The name giljak ( гиляк ) comes from the Manchu name giljami ( гилями ), which was expanded with the Russian ending -як / -jak /.

Proportion of speakers in the ethnic group

The proportion of ethnic Niwchen who still speak their language has declined sharply in recent decades, as the following overview of the census data shows. Most of the competent speakers of Niwchisch are older than 65 years, children no longer speak Niwchisch, most Niwchen speak predominantly Russian today.

Ethnic Niwchen and proportion of Niwchish speakers (rounded up to 1989):

year Ethnic
1926 4100 4100 100%
1959 3700 2800 76%
1970 4400 2200 50%
1979 4400 2100 48%
1989 4700 1100 23%
2002 5162 688 13%
2010 4652 198 4%

It can be assumed that the number of speakers will continue to decline in recent years. Niwchish is therefore a language that is threatened with extinction.


Niwchisch is divided into three dialects: Amur, Nordsachalin and Ostsachalin, whereby Amur and Ostsachalin are not mutually understandable due to clear differences in phonetics, grammar and lexicon. The North Sakhalin dialect occupies an intermediate position. (Some researchers see the dialects as separate languages; then Niwkh would be a small family of languages ​​and not an isolated language.) East Sakhalin Niwkh has borrowed some loanwords from Ainu and Japanese , while the Tungusic languages ​​have otherwise been more influential. In the last few decades, the Russian loan and foreign word stock has increased steadily, but the terms used in traditional everyday life are still consistently used in Nihchian terms.

Relationships with other languages

From the point of view of morphology and syntax, Niwchi could be viewed as a typical Altaic language, although this does not say anything about its genetic relationships. There have been numerous attempts to demonstrate the relationship between Niwchic and other languages. In particular, Tungus , Chukchi , Eskimo-Aleut and Japanese were used.

Joseph Greenberg understands Niwchish as a subunit of his now refuted Eurasian macro family (Greenberg 2000). In this he essentially follows Kortlandt (2004). Former representatives of a relationship between Indo-European and Ural-Jukagiric also spoke out in favor of a genetic connection between Niwchic and various Eurasian languages. The arguments in favor of such genetic relationships have so far not been convincing for many researchers, so that the majority of Niwchish is still viewed as an isolated language. The classification in the remainder of the group of the Paleosiberian languages , which is only defined in the area, is genetically irrelevant.

Some linguists suggest that the Nihik language is related to Korean , but not to other languages. Juha Janhunen's research shows that the language of Goguryeo was possibly an "Amurian language" (Niwchisch), and that today's Korean has an "Amurian" origin and was gradually influenced by Chinese. (see Macro Buyeo ).

Today, a linguistic relationship is believed to be primarily with some of the native languages ​​of America . Michael Fortescue suspects a direct relationship with the Salish languages , the Wakash languages and the Chimakum languages on the northwest coast of North America. In 2011 Fortescu expanded the relationship with the Chukchi-Kamchadal languages . The linguist Sergei L. Nikolayev sees it similarly . He also extends Fortescu's language family with the Algic languages .

Written language

After early attempts in 1880, which were forgotten again, a written language based on the Latin script and the Amur dialect was introduced for Niwchi in 1931 (some numbers of a Niwchian newspaper appeared). In 1953 the transition to the Cyrillic script took place with a few special characters, which the Niwchian ethnologist Taksami adapted better to the Niwchian phonetics in 1980. While the Hebrew written language was initially used in primary education, it has not been used for this since the 1960s. Even as the (oral) language of instruction in primary education, Niwchish has given way entirely to Russian. The Niwchian poet Vladimir Sangi published not only Russian works, but also some in Sakhalin Niwchisch.

Since 1990, the monthly newspaper Нивх диф / Niwch dif ("Niwchische Sprache") has been published in the Sakhalin Oblast in Niwchisch and Russian.

The Nivk alphabet:

А а Б б В в Г г Ӷ ӷ Ғ ғ Ӻ ӻ Д д
Е е Ё ё Ж ж З з И и Й й К к К 'к'
Ӄ ӄ Ӄ 'ӄ' Л л М м Н н Ӈ ӈ О о П п
П 'п' Р р Р̌ р̌ С с Т т Т 'т' У у Ф ф
Х х Ӽ ӽ Ӿ ӿ Ц ц Ч ч Ч 'ч' Ш ш Щ щ
Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я

Speech characteristics

Phonetics and Phonology

Niwchisch has a rich inventory of consonants :

voiceless plosives voiceless aspirated plosives voiced plosives voiceless fricatives voiced fricatives Nasals
Labials p p ' b f v m
Dental t t ' d ř r n
Palatal t ' t '' d ' s z ɲ
Velare k k ' G x ɣ ŋ
Uvulars q q ' ɢ χ ʁ -

There are also the consonants j , l and h .

The vowel system is relatively simple: a , e , i , ə , o , u .

Long vowels often appear as a result of the elision of a voiced velar or uvular fricative, e.g. B .:

  • o: la < oγla "boy"

They have a phoneme character , as the following example shows:

  • t'u: r "fire" - t'ur "peas"


The consonants are divided into gradation or alternation series, e.g. B. / pvb /, / trd /, / t'-z-d '/, / k-γ-r / (there are a total of 20 such series). Depending on the final sound of the preceding word, the word-introducing consonants run through the allophones of a series (see also initial mutation ):

Example 1):

  • təf "house" (lexical form with initial / t- /)
  • ətək rəf "father's house" (/ r- / after k-sound)
  • oγlagu dəf "House of Children" (/ d- / after vowel)

Example (2):

  • vəkz-d ' "lose"
  • nux pəkz-d ' "lose a needle"

Nominal inflection

The nominal inflection is agglutinating, it distinguishes by suffixes number (singular and plural) and 8 cases (cases). The plural marker is / -ku / (allophone: / -xu /, / -gu / etc.):

  • ətək "father" → ətək-xu "fathers"
  • oγla "boy" → oγla-gu "boy"

In addition to the unmarked nominative absolute there are u. a. a dative-accusative (suffix / -ax /), dative-aditive (/ -rox /), locative (/ -uin /) and instrumental (/ -γir /). (Niwchisch is not an ergative language.)

There are also pronominal possessive prefixes in Niwchian, in the singular these are / ńi- /, / t''i- / and / p'i- /:

  • ń-rəf "my house"
  • t '' - rəf "your house"
  • p'-rəf "his / her house"

Personal pronouns

In the system of the Nivkh personal pronouns, there is a dual form in the 1st person and the distinction "exclusive" (the person addressed is excluded) versus "inclusive" (the person addressed is included) in the plural :

person Singular dual Plural
1. ńi megi ńəŋ exclusive , more inclusive
2. t''i - t''əŋ
3. if - ivŋ


An interesting peculiarity of Niwchischen is the existence of different series of numerals , which are used depending on the nominal class of the counted (similar to, for example, the numerical classifiers in a number of East and Southeast Asian languages).

For example, the number word is "three":

  • t'aqr in humans
  • t'or in animals
  • t'em on boats
  • t'for in networks etc.

There are a total of 26 such classes. The opening consonant / t '- /, which obviously contains the actual number information, remains stable for all 26 number words for "three".

A similar situation applies to all numerical series, e.g. B. at "one":

  • ńim for boats
  • ńiř for dog sledding, etc.

With "two":

  • mim on boats
  • miř for dog sledding, etc.

Verbal inflection

The niwchische verbal system is characterized by polysynthesis and incorporation .

It differentiates between the categories of genus verbi (active, hortative, reflexive; there is no actual passive), aspect (perfective, iterative, habitual, durative), mode and tense in affirmative, negative, interrogative and affective versions. The extremely complex formation of shapes cannot be discussed in detail here. Only the general " finiteness marker" -d ' should be mentioned here .

The language has a number of special gerunds or conversions with the help of which the sentence can be linked . In this case, with the aid of these verbs in the complex sets also subject equality or -ungleichheit between the subsets to be expressed (see Fig. Switch-reference ).


Niwchisch has the basic word order subject-object-verb .

Text sample

Original version from Panfilov (1965, p. 222):

П'ат'икхэ п'нанакхэ пан'д '. Ат'ик мат'кад '. К'уγэ пун'д'γэ борор п'ур т'эврq χад '. Иγрор ршыкҥан нанак т'эврq тупрш фывркт '. Т'ӯртох ршатот ин'д'γу. Һoҥгут'умкэ ат'ик ырк пилра палрох мырра чолҥай хура т'оχ к'ура q'отр к'ура. [...]

Transcription according to Comrie (1981, p. 276):

p'at'ikxe p'nanakxe pańd '. at'ik mat'kad '. k'uɣe puńd'ɣe boror p'ur t'evrq χad '. iɣror řəkŋan nanak t'evrq tupř fəvrkt '. t'uurtox řatot ińd'ɣu. hoŋgut'umke at'ik ərk pilra palrox mərra t''olŋaj xura t'oχ k'ura q'otr k'ura.


“A younger brother and an older sister grew up together. The brother was little. He took a bow and arrow and went out and shot birds. Whenever he killed her, he brought her and the older sister plucked the bird's feathers. After boiling them on the fire, they ate them. When they lived like this, the brother was already big and always went up into the forest and killed reindeer, killed moose and killed bears. "

See also


  • George L. Campbell: Concise Compendium of the World's Languages. Routledge, London a. New York 1995.
  • Bernard Comrie: The Languages ​​of the Soviet Union . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge etc. 1981. pp. 266-272.
  • Joseph H. Greenberg: Indo-European and its Closest Relatives. The Eurasiatic Language Family. Vol. 1: Grammar. Stanford University Press 2000.
  • Wilhelm Grube: Giljak Dictionary . Vol. 3 by L. v. Schrenck: Travel and research in the Amur country in the years 1854-1856 . St. Petersburg 1892.
  • Ekaterina Gruzdeva: Nivchskij jazyk . In: Jazyki mira . Vol. 4. Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 1997, pp. 139–154.
  • Ekaterina Gruzdeva: Nivkh (Languages ​​of the World) . LINCOM Europe, Munich 1998. ISBN 3-89586-039-5 .
  • Frederik Kortlandt: Nivkh as a Uralo-Siberian language . In: Per aspera ad asteriscos (Festschrift for Jens Elmegård Rasmussen) . Institute for Languages ​​and Literatures at the University of Innsbruck 2004.
  • Ernst Kausen: The language families of the world. Part 1: Europe and Asia . Buske, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 3-87548-655-2 .
  • Johanna Mattissen: Dependent Head Synthesis in Nivkh: A Contribution to a Typology of Polysynthesis . John Benjamin, Amsterdam and Philadelphia 2003.
  • Akira Nakanome: grammar of the Nikbun language (Giljak) . Translated from the Japanese by W. Othmer. Osaka, 1927.
  • Vladimir Z. Panfilov: Grammatika nivchskogo jazyka (2 vols.). Moscow u. Leningrad 1962-1965.
  • Valentina N. Savel'eva et al. Čuner M. Taksami: Russko-nivchskij slovar ' . 1965. Sovetskaja Ėnciklopedija, Moscow 1965.
  • Valentina N. Savel'eva et al. Čuner M. Taksami: Nivchsko-russkij slovar ' . Sovetskaja Ėnciklopedija, Moscow 1970.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ウェブマガジンカムイミンタラ~北海道の風土·文化誌:オホーツク文化人とモヨロ貝塚網走流氷とともにやってきた古代民族の謎とロマンに魅せられた父子三代と研究者たち. Retrieved September 11, 2019 .
  2. Janhunen, Juha (2005). "The Lost Languages ​​of Koguryo". Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies . 2-2 : 65-86.
  3. Giovanni Stary: Tumen Jalafun Jecen Aku: Manchu Studies in Honor of Giovanni Stary . Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006, ISBN 978-3-447-05378-5 ( [accessed August 20, 2018]).
  4. Janhunen, Juha (2005). "The Lost Languages ​​of Koguryo". Journal of Inner and East Asian Studies . 2-2 : 65-86.
  5. Kang, Gil-un (1990).고대사 의 비교 언어 학적 연구. 새문사.
  6. ^ Michael D. Fortescue: Language Relations Across The Bering Strait: Reappraising the Archaeological and Linguistic Evidence . Bloomsbury Academic, 1998, ISBN 978-0-304-70330-2 ( [accessed September 11, 2019]).
  7. Michael Fortescue: The relationship of Nivkh to Chukotko-Kamchatkan revisited . In: Lingua . tape 121 , no. 8 , June 1, 2011, ISSN  0024-3841 , p. 1359–1376 , doi : 10.1016 / j.lingua.2011.03.001 ( [accessed September 11, 2019]).
  8. Sergei L. Nikolaev / Сергей Львович Николаев: SL Nikolaev. 2015. Toward the reconstruction of Proto-Algonquian-Wakashan. Part 1: Proof of the Algonquian-Wakashan relationship . ( [accessed September 11, 2019]).
  9. Sergei L. Nikolaev / Сергей Львович Николаев: SLNikolaev. 2016. Toward the reconstruction of Proto-Algonquian-Wakashan. Part 2: Algonquian-Wakashan sound correspondences . ( [accessed September 11, 2019]).