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.

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