Monthly Archives: March 2008

Ob-Ugric 12: Khanty (Tsingala)

The final class was spent looking at a text in a southern dialect of Khanty, Tsingala, on the heavenly origins of the bear. Western dialects of Khanty divide into North and South; Tsingala is related to Demjanka, Konda, and Krasnojarsk. These forms are probably no longer used.

The text was noted down in 1899 by Vasilii Yakovlevich from ‘two old folks’ in a village on the Irtysh, reproduced from E. Vértes (ed.), K. F. Karjalainens Südostjakische Textsammlungen I, Helsinki, Suomalais-Ugralainen Seura, MSFOu 157, pp. 113-5, and translated as ‘A medve égi származásárol’ in E. Vértes (ed.), Hadmenet, nászmenet. Irtisi osztják mesék és mondák, Budapest, Európa, 1975, pp. 5-6.

FlailingpawMan and TjaperwomanMother have a child, a bearcub whose bear-ness and sex are circumlocuted. The bear is let down from heaven on a metal chain by the Sevenridgebacked one, and looks for food in all seven lands (seven being sacred). Hungry, he raises his paws to Sanke father and asks for food; Sanke replies he should eat a brown horse, so he does. He digs himself a cave and goes into hibernation, and in spring his lair is discovered by a hunter’s dog. The hunter tells the bear: eat me if Sanke has intructed you to do so, but if not, I shall kill you, although of course killing a bear is the most taboo expression of all: ‘nuŋət ītə pājəŋ xǎttəŋ tūrəm pāɣəttam’, translated by Vertes into German as ‘so töte ich Dich’, and into Hungarian as ‘leszállítalak a véres alsó világba’.

The amount of repetition and parallelism (R&P) would suggest that the text is particularly archaic. Tsingala’s word order was pretty similar to Hungarian, while a number of lexical items were also familiar, including jāŋx (to go), which is also found in the Ómagyar Mária Siralom, and kət kittət (two hands), Cf. HU két kezet. The present tense marker, however, was -λ- (similar to the ‘ll’ in Welsh), while the past marker was -ø-.

The classes were fantastically rewarding and, having also served as an introduction to historical and comparative linguistics, enabled one to refute crackpot linguistic theories. On a broader cultural note, the origins of the Hungarian language will always be tied in with ideas of the origins (and therefore belonging) of the Hungarian people, to the extent that fantastic visions of the latter will inform the former. While the premises of the nineteenth-cenutry ugor-török háború may not have survived in tact, the desire and search for anchorage most certainly have. Nor might it might  do Russianists any harm either to acknowledge languages and cultures native to Russian territory.

Ob-Ugric 11: Khanty (Pim)

The second Khanty dialect we studied was an Eastern variant, Pim. The text is from László Honti, Chrestomathia Ostiacica, Budapest, 1984, pp. 166-7. It is the tale of a wife-hunt, one of the favourite activities in Uralic folk tales. Three women sing while they fish:

ěj kimλem räp-räp-räp, pä kimλem räp-räp-räp
egyik ruhaalj-am, rep-rep-rep, másik ruhaalj-am rep-rep-rep

They are noticed by a man:

ěj-λätnə måńť-konə ťě wär ŏjəγti
egy-kor-ban férfi-tól ez dolog észrevétetett

Like in the Mansi tale of the mouse, the object becomes seen to the viewer. The women return home to cook, and put death-cap mushrooms in the pot. The man watches as they become inebriated from eating the poisoned fish. The largest woman (ěnəλ păr-ne), a shoe-mender, sings:

pįkəm ńįrət jånttə ne, jånttə ne, jånttə ne
čăkəm ńįrət jånttə ne, jånttə ne, jånttə ne

szétrohadt cipő-k foltoz-ő nő,
tönkrement cipő-k foltoz-ó nő

The middle woman (kötəp păr-ne), a wood gatherer, sings:

jukəŋ äwi, jukəŋ ne,
jukəŋ äwi, jukəŋ ne

fá=s (= fából való) lány, fá=s nő

The third woman (koλəmət păr-ne), a roofer, sings:

jom-juγ tŏjnə λåjəγtam wuλəm,
pěťar-juγ tŏjnə λåjəγtam wuλəm

zelnice-fa tető-n lóg-vá-m lát-om [sc. magamat],
berkenye-fa tető-n lóg-vá-m lát-om

A storm lifts up the house and the women in it; the large woman ends up in the middle of the river, the middle woman ends up in a tree, and third woman is stuck to the roof by her plaits. Once the storm dies down, the man appears, and brings the large woman to the shore, sits the middle woman next to him, and extracts the third woman and her plaits from the roof. They take him into the house, where he marries the third woman, takes the middle woman as his seamstress, and the large woman as his wood-carrier.

The present tense marker is λ, whereas the past is unmarked, e.g.:

wĕ(j) (to take):

wĕ-ø-λ-ət vitték 1 direct object, 3rd person plural
wĕj-ø-təɣ-ø vitte 1 direct object, 3rd person singular
wĕj-ø-ø vitt 1 direct object, 3rd person singular


or wu (to see, find): wu-λ-λ-el (HU: látja); wu-λ-ø-əm (HU: látok).

måńť-ko-nə ťě wär ŏjəγt-i férfi-tól ez dolog észrevétetett by man this thing was noticed
pom-ət köt-nə tŏγə-jăγr-i hínár köz-ben bele-gabalyod-tat-ott by mid-reed-s she was entangled

Ob-Ugric 10: Khanty (Kazym)

Khanty (also known as Ostyak) is a complex chain of dialects spoken by people who live in a vast, roughly L-shaped area along the Ob, the lower Irtysh, and tributaries. According to the most recent fitures (1989 census), there are some 22,000 speakers of Khanty; of these, 62.9 per cent were native speakers (i.e. c. 14,000). Khanty speakers make up about 1 per cent of the population of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug.

On both historic-phonological and syntactic-typological grounds, these may be broken into two major groupings, East v. West. The East group further subdivides into (1) the Far Eastern dialects Vach and Vasjugan, and (2) the Surgut group, which includes Jugan, Malij Jugan, Pim, Likrisovskoe, Tremjugan and Tromagan […]. The West group subdivides into North and South subgroups. Clearly southern are the Demjanka dialects and Konda, Cingali, and Krasnojarsk. Clearly northern are the Obdorsk dialect and the Berjozov subgroup, consisting of the Synja, Muzhi, and Shurikshar dialects, and, to the South, Kazym.

Daniel Abondolo, ‘Khanty’, in Abondolo (ed.), The Uralic Languages, Routledge, 2006, pp. 358-86 (358-9).

Photo: Janno Sim

Khanty consists of three main dialects, Northern, Southern and Eastern, each of which have many sub-dialects; the northern dialect is closer to northern Mansi than it is to other dialects of Khanty. Khanty-speakers are spread over a considerably larger area than Mansi, whose dialects are largely mutually intelligible. Because the Khanty are also much greater in number, and their dialects so different from each other one could, as Wolfgang Steinitz  (1905-67) did, dedicate oneself to Ostyakology and collect Khanty bear-feast songs; whereas the dearth of Mansi materials and speakers means that we cannot really speak of an -ology, although introducing oneself as a Vogulologist would be fun. Steinitz used Marij (also known as Cheremis, a Finno-Volgaic language spoken in today’s Mari Republic and along the Vjatka river basin as well as in Tatarstan, Udmurtia and Perm) and Ostyak in order to reconstruct Proto-Ugric, while the Fennic school focussed, as one would expect, on the reconstruction of Proto-Finnish. Together with Selkup and Estonian, Khanty is one of the most dialectically fragmented Uralic languages.

We studied Khanty texts from the three main dialects, each of which required their own grammar. Northern Khanty dialects have two or three cases, while Eastern variants can have up to sixteen, as well as some other unique linguistic features, such as ergativity. The voiceless lateral fricative λ, similar to the ll in Welsh, is found in northern and southern regions, but not in the central areas. Because the dialects are so disparate, no standardised version has ever emerged, and it seems that Russian is the lingua franca of Khanty speakers. Once again, transcription problems are myriad.

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