Eastern Siberia
Geographic location: Russia, China, Japan
Number of Languages: 23
Number of Genetic Units: 9
Genetic Index: .391 (very high)
Endangerment Index: 2.1 (very high)
Research Index: 2.24 (low)
Threat Level: severe
map of the ESI hotspot


Like the Central Siberia hotspot, the Eastern Siberia hotspot contains few languages compared to other hotspots. However, it holds ten genetic units, with very few living languages in most of the genetic units. 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 government policies that force speakers of minority languages to use the national language, and many living languages in the area have only a few elderly speakers.

One language in this area is Mednyj Aleut, also called Copper Island Aleut. This language is a puzzle for linguists attempting to classify languages. Most languages are descended from one parent language. Mednyj Aleut is a mixed language - it has two parents. The first speakers of this language were children who had one Russian parent and one Aleut parent. The language they created and passed on is mostly like Aleut, but with Russian verb endings and many Russian words mixed in the vocabulary.

Languages and genetic units in this hotspot:

  1. Aleut
  2. Chukotko-Kamchatkan
  3. Eskimoic
  4. Nivkh
  5. Tungusic
  6. Turkic
  7. Yukaghiric/Isolate/Uralic
  8. Mixed Langauge (Aleut-Russian)
  9. Slavic
  1. Itelmen
  2. Kerek
  3. Kolyma Yukaghir
  4. Mednyj Aleut
  5. Oroch
  6. Tundra Yukaghir
  7. Udihe
  8. Yupik, Naukan
  9. Sakhalin Nivkh
  10. Amur Nivkh
  11. Orok
  12. Aleut
  13. Ulch
  14. Alutor
  15. Even
  16. Evenki
  17. Negidal
  18. Koryak
  19. Nanai
  20. Yupik, Siberian
  21. Chukchi
  22. Yakut
  23. Russian

Click here to download list of languages

Endangered languages include:

  • Alutor (< under 200 speakers, Chukchi-Koryak, spoken in Russia)
  • Orok (< 50 speakers, Tungusic, spoken in Russia)
  • Yukaghir (< 100 speakers, isolate, spoken in Russia)

Some features of languages include:

  • extreme polysynthetic word structure
  • elaborate case systems
  • word-initial velar nasal (ng)
  • vowel harmony


  • Aimerpok means 'to visit and expect food' in Aleut (America and Russia, 500 speakers)

  • Adding the suffix m to a noun that can have a smell creates a verb "to smell of x"; on a noun that has a taste, it means to taste like x; for a body part, it means to feel pain in that part; for animate nouns, it means to feel love for that entity in Evenki (China, Russia and Mongolia, 29,000 speakers).

  • The Yukaghir people (Siberia, 30-150 speakers) traditionally measured time with a unit called 'the kettle boiled,' about an hour long. A longer interval was called 'the frozen kettle boiled,' which took about 90 minutes.

  • Nivkh (< 300 speakers, Siberia) has 26 number classifiers , each for a specific object or class of objects. Nineteen of their classifiers apply only to a specific object: boats, sleds, fishing nets, skis, finger widths used to measure the thickness of animal fat, and batches of dried fish. Six other classifiers apply to kinds of objects such as: come in pairs (eyes, ears, boots, mittens), small and roundish (nuts, bullets, berries) or thin and flat (leaves, blankets, shirts). There is a twenty-seventh classifier for objects that don't fit into any other class.


19th century Nivkh man

19th century Nivkh man. Courtesy of AMNH.

Contemporary Nivkh speakers

Nivkh speakers Sergei and Natasha Firun with their children in the town of Liugi, on the northwest coast of Sakhalin Island, June 1990. Courtesy of Bruce Grant.


on Copper Island Aleut: Thomason, Sarah. 2001. Language Contact: an Introduction. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Watanabe, Hitosh. 1973. The Ainu Ecosystem. Seattle: University of Washington Press.