Central Siberia (CSI)
Geographic location: Russia
Number of Languages: 25
Number of Genetic Units: 6
Genetic Index: .24 (high)
Mean Level of Endangerment: 1.52 (high)
Mean Documentation Status: 2.0 (low)
Threat Level: high
map of CSI hotspot

Description:

The Central Siberia hotspot contains few languages compared to other hotspots. However, it holds six genetic units, four of which have only one living language. It is notable, therefore, for its genetic diversity, and for its extreme endangerment. Many Siberian languages have been lost in the last few generations due to Russian-only government policies, and many living languages in the area have only a few elderly speakers.

One moribund language of the area is Tofa, which is now spoken by fewer than 30 people, all of them elderly. The Tofa people were traditionally reindeer herders and hunter-gatherers. Their language includes a complex classification for reindeer, which allowed reindeer herders to provide a large amount of detail in just one word. For example, the word döngür means ‘male domesticated reindeer in its third year and first mating season, but not ready for mating.’ Now most the Tofa people speak Russian, which has no equivalents for words like döngür.

Genetic Units found in Hotspot (6):

  1. Mongolic
  2. Samoyedic
  3. Tungusic
  4. Turkic
  5. Ugric
  6. Yeniseic
  7. Slavic

Hotspots Formula:

List of Languages:

  1. Arin [extinct]
  2. Assan [extinct]
  3. Buryat
  4. Dolgan
  5. Eastern Khanty
  6. Enets
  7. Evenki
  8. Kamas [extinct]
  9. Ket
  10. Kott [extinct]
  11. Lower Chulym [extinct]
  12. Mator [extinct]
  13. Nganasan
  14. North Altai
  15. Ös
  16. Pumpokol [extinct]
  17. Sel’kup
  18. Shor
  19. South Altai
  20. Soyot [extinct]
  21. Tofa
  22. Tuvan
  23. Xakas
  24. Xyzyl
  25. Yugh [extinct]

Endangered Languages include:

  • Central Siberian Khanty (< 50 speakers, Ob-Ugric [Uralic])
  • Enets (< 50 speakers (both mutually unintelligible varieties), Northern Samoyedic [Uralic])
  • Ket (< 150 speakers, Yeniseic)
  • Ös (< 15 speakers, Turkic)
  • Southern Sel’kup (< 20 speakers, Southern Samoyedic [Uralic])

Some Features of Languages in Hotspot include:

Trivia:

  • Artyshtaar means 'to burn juniper as incense for religious (animistic) purposes' in Tuvan (200,000 speakers)

  • Chary means 'a five-year-old, castrated, domesticated reindeer that can be ridden' in Tofa (35 speakers)

  • Tuvan (200,000 speakers) has a word that means 'the two wives of my two brothers.' If you had three brothers, or one of your two brothers was unmarried, you would never use this word.

Media:

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Soundfile of Constantine Mukhaev telling a traditional Tofa tale. 2001.

Shoydak ool, Tuvan storyteller

Mr. Shoydak-ool Khovalyg, a Tuvan epic storyteller, practices an endangered genre. (Photo David Harrison, 2004)

Ös

Ivan Skoblin, one of the last 25 speakers of Ös, a Turkic language of Central Siberia.

Yuri and Anna Baydasheva

Yuri and Anna Baydasheva and David Harrison in 2003. The Baydashevs are the last known household where a couple speaks to each other in Ös. By 2005, Yuri had suffered a significant hearing loss, limiting his ability to communicate. (Photo Greg Anderson, 2003)

Anna Baydasheva reads Ös book

Anna Baydasheva (center) with her son and granddaughter, reads from the first Ös (Middle Chulym) book, prepared by Greg Anderson and David Harrison, 2005.

screenshot of Anna_Siderevna.dv

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Anna Siderevna, one of the last speakers of Ös, demonstrates wool spinning and sings a traditional wool-spinning song for David Harrison and Greg Anderson. Siberia, 2003. (Footage courtesy of Ironbound films)

Reindeer life stages

Life stages of Todzhu reindeer.

Mongolic languages map

Map of Mongolic languages (peripheral to the CSI hotspot). Click to view a larger version.

Sources:

Anderson, Gregory D. and K. David Harrison. 2004. Shaman and Bear: Siberian Prehistory in Two Middle Chulym Texts. In Vajda, Edward J. (ed.) Languages and Prehistory of Central Siberia, pp. 179-198. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Levin, Theodore. 2006. Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond. With Valentina Süzükei. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.