Tungusic languages

Tungusic languages
Siberia, Manchuria
Linguistic classification: Altaic[1] (controversial)
  • Tungusic
ISO 639-5: tuw
Geographic distribution

The Tungusic languages (also known as Manchu-Tungus, Tungus) 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. Traditionally, linguists considered Tungusic to be part of the Altaic language family along with the Turkic and Mongolic language families; more recent proposals are that it belongs to Macro-Altaic, the latter including Japanese and Korean as well, or on the other hand, that Altaic is not a genetic group but a Sprachbund.



Linguists working on Tungusic have proposed a number of different classifications based on different criteria, including morphological, lexical, and phonological characteristics. One classification which seems favoured over other alternatives is that the Tungusic languages can be divided into a northern branch and a southern branch, with the southern branch further subdivided into southeastern and southwestern groups.

Northern Tungusic

The following languages can be considered dialects or related languages of Evenki

Southern Tungusic

  • Southwestern Tungusic (or the Jurchen-Manchu group)
    • Manchu of Manchuria, the language of the Manchus, who founded the Qing Dynasty of China.
    • Sibe: spoken in Xinjiang autonomous region by descendants of a Manchurian tribe dispatched by the Qing Dynasty to Xinjiang as a military garrison.
    • Jurchen: an extinct language of the Jin Dynasty of China.

Jurchen-Manchu (Jurchen and Manchu are simply different stages of the same language; in fact, the ethnonym "Manchu" did not come about until 1636 when Emperor Hong Taiji decreed that the term would replace "Jurchen") is the only Tungusic language with a literary form (in Jurchen script and later the Manchu alphabet) which dates back to at least the mid- to late-12th century; as such it is a very important language for the reconstruction of Proto-Tungusic.

The earliest[citation needed] and one of the most important extant texts in Jurchen is the inscription on the back of "the Jin Victory Memorial Stele" (Da Jin deshengtuo songbei), which was erected in 1185, during the Dading period (1161–1189). It is apparently an abbreviated translation of the Chinese text on the front of the stele.[2]

Other ancient Tungusic languages include that of the Mohe.

Common characteristics

The Tungusic languages are of an agglutinative morphological type, and some of them have complex case systems and elaborate patterns of tense and aspect marking. They also exhibit a complex pattern of vowel harmony, based on the parameters of vowel roundedness and vowel tenseness. Another common feature is vocabulary, such as Manchu emu, zhuwe, ilan, meaning 1,2,3.

Relationships with other languages

Tungusic has traditionally been linked with Turkic and Mongolic languages in the Altaic language family. Others have suggested that the Tungusic languages might be related (perhaps as a paraphyletic outgroup) to the Korean, Japonic, or Ainu languages as well.

See also



  1. ^ Lewis, 2009 (Altaic).
  2. ^ Tillman, Hoyt Cleveland, and Stephen H. West. China Under Jurchen Rule: Essays on Chin Intellectual and Cultural History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, pp. 228–229. ISBN 0791422747. Partial text on Google Books.

General references

  • Kane, Daniel. The Sino-Jurchen Vocabulary of the Bureau of Interpreters. Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, Volume 153. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1989. ISBN 0933070233.
  • Lewis, M. Paul (ed.). "Altaic" in Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International, 2009. ISBN 978-1-55671-216-6.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew. Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971.
  • Poppe, Nicholas. Vergleichende Grammatik der Altaischen Sprachen [A Comparative Grammar of the Altaic Languages]. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1960.
  • Tsintsius, Vera I. Sravnitel'naya Fonetika Tunguso-Man'chzhurskikh Yazïkov [Comparative Phonetics of the Manchu-Tungus Languages]. Leningrad, 1949.
  • Stefan Georg. "Unreclassifying Tungusic", in: Carsten Naeher (ed.): Proceedings of the First International Conference on Manchu-Tungus Studies (Bonn, August 28 – September 1, 2000), Volume 2: Trends in Tungusic and Siberian Linguistics, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 45-57

Further reading

External links

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