Nivkh language
Nivkh or Gilyak is a language spoken in Outer Manchuria
Outer Manchuria
Outer Manchuria , is the territory ceded by China to Russia in the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the Treaty of Peking in 1860. . The northern part of the area was also in dispute between 1643 and 1689...

, in the basin of the Amgun
Amgun River
Amgun River is a river in Khabarovsk Krai, Russia which flows northeast and joins the Amur River from the left near its mouth. The length of the river is 723 km. The area of its basin is 55,500 km². The Amgun is formed by the confluence of the Ayakit and Suduk Rivers. Its main tributary...

 (a tributary of the Amur), along the lower reaches of the Amur itself, and on the northern half of Sakhalin
Sakhalin or Saghalien, is a large island in the North Pacific, lying between 45°50' and 54°24' N.It is part of Russia, and is Russia's largest island, and is administered as part of Sakhalin Oblast...

. 'Gilyak' is the Manchu appellation. Its speakers are known as the Nivkh people.

Nivkh does not appear to be related to any other language, making it a language isolate
Language isolate
A language isolate, in the absolute sense, is a natural language with no demonstrable genealogical relationship with other languages; that is, one that has not been demonstrated to descend from an ancestor common with any other language. They are in effect language families consisting of a single...

. For classification convenience, it is included in the group of Paleosiberian languages
Paleosiberian languages
Paleosiberian languages or Paleoasian languages is a term of convenience used in linguistics to classify a disparate group of languages spoken in some parts of north-eastern Siberia and some parts of Russian Far East...

. Many words in the Nivkh language bear a certain resemblance to words of similar meaning in other Paleosiberian languages
Paleosiberian languages
Paleosiberian languages or Paleoasian languages is a term of convenience used in linguistics to classify a disparate group of languages spoken in some parts of north-eastern Siberia and some parts of Russian Far East...

, Ainu
Ainu language
Ainu is one of the Ainu languages, spoken by members of the Ainu ethnic group on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaidō....

, Korean
Korean language
Korean is the official language of the country Korea, in both South and North. It is also one of the two official languages in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in People's Republic of China. There are about 78 million Korean speakers worldwide. In the 15th century, a national writing...

, or Tungusic languages
Tungusic languages
The Tungusic languages form a language family spoken in Eastern Siberia and Manchuria by Tungusic peoples. Many Tungusic languages are endangered, and the long-term future of the family is uncertain...

, but no regular sound correspondences have been discovered to systematically account for the vocabularies of these various languages, so any lexical similarities are considered to be due to chance or to borrowing. The Nivkh language was included in the controversial Eurasiatic languages
Eurasiatic languages
Eurasiatic is a language macrofamily proposed by Joseph Greenberg that includes many language families historically spoken in northern Eurasia. The eight branches of Eurasiatic are Etruscan, Indo-European, Uralic–Yukaghir, Altaic, Korean-Japanese-Ainu, Gilyak, Chukotian, and Eskimo–Aleut, spoken in...

 hypothesis by Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Greenberg
Joseph Harold Greenberg was a prominent and controversial American linguist, principally known for his work in two areas, linguistic typology and the genetic classification of languages.- Early life and career :...

. Michael Fortescue
Michael Fortescue
Michael David Fortescue is a British-born linguist specializing in Arctic and native North American languages, including Kalaallisut, Inuktun, Chukchi and Nitinaht. He is professor of General Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen and chairman of the Linguistic Circle of Copenhagen...

 maintains that Nivkh is related to the Mosan languages.

The population of ethnic Nivkhs has been reasonably stable over the past century, with 4,549 Nivkhs counted in 1897, and 4,673 in 1989. However, the number of native speakers of the Nivkh language among these has dropped from 100% to 23.3% in the same period, so that there are now just over 1,000 first-language speakers left.


Nivkh is divided into four dialect
The term dialect is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors,...

s, the Amur dialect, the North Sakhalin dialect, the South Sakhalin dialect, and the East Sakhalin dialect. The lexical and phonological differences between the dialect spoken by the Nivkhs of the Amur River basin and the dialect spoken by the Nivkhs of Sakhalin Island are so great that some linguists have classified them as two distinct languages belonging to a small Nivkh language family. Other linguists have emphasized the high degree of variability of usage among all Nivkhs; even within the Amur or Sakhalin dialect zone, there is said to be great diversity depending on the village, clan, or even individual speaker.


The grammar of Nivkh is highly synthetic, with a developed case system, as well as other grammatical markers, but no grammatical gender. The basic word order of Nivkh is subject–object–verb. Nivkh is notable for the high degree of incorporation between words. For example, those morphemes which express spatial relationships (prepositions or postpositions in many other languages) are incorporated into the noun to which they relate. A single word may consist of a combination of several roots, nouns, verbs, and affixes in order to express a particular meaning. Thus, in Nivkh, the formation of each individual word is significant to the sentence.


А а Б б В в Г г Ғ ғ 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 Ц ц Ч ч Ч’ ч’ Ш ш Щ щ
Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я


Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Uvular consonant
Uvulars are consonants articulated with the back of the tongue against or near the uvula, that is, further back in the mouth than velar consonants. Uvulars may be plosives, fricatives, nasal stops, trills, or approximants, though the IPA does not provide a separate symbol for the approximant, and...

Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

m n ɲ ŋ
Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

unaspirated p t c k q
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

voiceless f s x χ h
voiced v z ɣ ʁ
Trill consonant
In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

voiceless | r̥
voiced | r
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

| l j w

The labial fricatives are weakly articulated, and have been described as both bilabial
Bilabial consonant
In phonetics, a bilabial consonant is a consonant articulated with both lips. The bilabial consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

 [ɸ, β] and labiodental
Labiodental consonant
In phonetics, labiodentals are consonants articulated with the lower lip and the upper teeth.-Labiodental consonant in IPA:The labiodental consonants identified by the International Phonetic Alphabet are:...

 [f, v]. The palatal stops may have some degree of affrication, as [tʃʰ, tʃ]

Nivkh features a process of consonant alternation
In linguistics, lenition is a kind of sound change that alters consonants, making them "weaker" in some way. The word lenition itself means "softening" or "weakening" . Lenition can happen both synchronically and diachronically...

, in which morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

-initial stops alternate with fricatives and trills:
Aspirated ↔ voiceless Unaspirated ↔ voiced
Stop p t c k q
Continuant f s x χ v r z ɣ ʁ

This occurs when a morpheme is preceded by another morpheme within the same phrase
In everyday speech, a phrase may refer to any group of words. In linguistics, a phrase is a group of words which form a constituent and so function as a single unit in the syntax of a sentence. A phrase is lower on the grammatical hierarchy than a clause....

 (e.g. a prefix
A prefix is an affix which is placed before the root of a word. Particularly in the study of languages,a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.Examples of prefixes:...

 or an adjunct
Adjunct (grammar)
In linguistics, an adjunct is an optional, or structurally dispensable, part of a sentence that, when removed, will not affect the remainder of the sentence except to discard from it some auxiliary information...

), unless the preceding morpheme ends itself in a fricative or trill, or in a nasal or /l/. 'soup' 'duck soup' 'kind of seal soup'
  • but: /cxəf pəɲx/ 'bear soup'

Only the morpheme-initial position is affected: other clusters ending in a stop are possible within a morpheme (e.g. /utku/ "man").

In some transitive verb
Transitive verb
In syntax, a transitive verb is a verb that requires both a direct subject and one or more objects. The term is used to contrast intransitive verbs, which do not have objects.-Examples:Some examples of sentences with transitive verbs:...

s, the process has been noted to apparently run in reverse (fricatives/trills fortiting to stops, with the same distribution). This has been taken a distinct process, but has also been explained to be fundamentally the same, with the citation form
Citation form
In linguistics the citation form of a word can mean:* its canonical form or lemma: the form of an inflected word given in dictionaries or glossaries, thus also called the dictionary form....

 of these verbs containing an underlying stop, lenited due to the presence of a former i- prefix (which still survives in the citation form of other verbs, where it causes regular consonant alternation). Initial fricatives in nouns never change.

Before nasals or /l/, the unaspirated stops become voiced [b, d, ɟ, ɡ, ɢ]. Unlike Consonant Alternation, this occurs also within a morpheme. The Amur dialect deletes some word-final nasals, which leads to voiced stops occurring also word-initially.


The vowel system of Nivkh is unusual, being described by Ian Maddieson
Ian Maddieson
Ian Maddieson is a linguist at UC Berkeley, an Adjunct Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico, Vice-President of the International Phonetic Association, and Secretary of the Association for Laboratory Phonology...

 as "defective." It is actually a rotated system in which a gap in the mid front region of the vowel space is compensated for by moving vowels around. The centralised /ɤ/ has been described by Maddieson (1984) as complementing a gap caused by the lack of an ordinary mid front vowel.

The mid front vowel expected in a five-vowel system may have in the past developed into a close-to-mid front unrounded diphthong, represented in Maddieson's description of the language as /ɪe/.
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

unrounded rounded
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

ɪ u
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

ɪe ɤ o
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...


External links

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