Documentation of Eastern Khanty


The Department of Siberian Indigenous Languages

Tomsk State Pedagogical University

pr. Komsomolsky 75, k.246

Tomsk 634041 Russia




Project in Progress: Multimedia documentation of the endangered languages of Vasyugan and Alexandrovo Khanty of Tomsk region in Siberia (ELDP FTG 0135)




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Eastern Khanty Dialects


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The Long Term Documentation Initiative

This documentation initiative pursues comprehensive multimedia documentation of the endangered language and cultural heritage of Eastern Khanty, a native Siberian Uralic language. The language of the Khanty (a.k.a. Ostyak) forms, together with Mansi, the Ob'-Ugric subgroup of the Finno-Ugric group of the Uralic language family. Though often considered a single language, Khanty is a group of dialect clusters, or to many, including Khanty themselves, languages (western and eastern). The dialects of interest in this study are a continuum of related river dialects of Vasyugan, Alexandrovo and Vakh, and Yugan, are particularly interesting as they represent a reportedly more archaic and rich system in morphosyntactic terms. The total number of speakers of this very diverse, linguistically prominent and extremely under-documented dialects is rapidly decreasing to under 500, principally placing these dialects in the group of languages in the imminent danger of extinction within a single generation – moribund (Krauss, 1992). Eastern Khanty dialects demonstrate numerous features that attract considerable typological and sociolinguistic interest.

The project's team are researchers enjoying close contacts with representatives of respective indigenous communities, established over a period of consistent fieldwork. In the course of my PhD thesis project, I implemented, tested and refined the research methodology, documentation and archiving techniques; performed initial familiarization of community representatives with the nature of language documentation. Together with my colleagues I performed necessary networking activities, securing cooperation of local government authorities, community leaders and representatives. The proposed documentation project serves as a logical extension in the scope and depth of the existing pilot language database, encompassing larger number of endangered Eastern Khanty dialects, wider variety of genre, number and social strata of speakers.

        The activities of the project focuses on obtaining language data and metalinguistic information, archiving the data and representing it in accessible formats. We conduct extensive fieldwork in the native communities and document the endangered dialects of the Eastern Khanty in their natural functional environment, and with an emphasis on natural discourse. Previously collected data on the proposed Eastern Khanty dialects are also re-archived in standardized, generally acceptable formats supplementing the computerized database (text corpora, lexica, metadata, ethnographic information, digital audio/video and photo documents). We also perform preliminary processing of the data. The narrative discourse data are consequently interlinearized and parsed, forming  the Eastern Khanty corpus which we envision to be useful as a tool for educational and academic purposes. The corpus is expected to consequently form a part of an aligned parallel corpus of the Eastern Khanty – Russian – English. One of the outcomes of the project is also the tri-lingual Khanty–Russian-English dictionary in the ToolBox format, potentially convertible into any combination of the three languages. In the process of data archiving and processing, we use the equipment, software and methodologies that in my experience, represent the best current practice in language documentation and archiving, mostly originating form the DOBES recommendations. The data will be made available on CD/DVD-media and on the web. Members of the communities will receive the printed and bound copies of the selected texts, dictionary, as well as audio and video materials on the generally acceptable media.

The project has considerable intellectual merit, as there is a glaring need for further documentation to provide the basis for research and development of the teaching resources for the Eastern Khanty dialects. It is important for adequate typological observations, to secure the maximally authentic, diverse, and quantitatively significant corpus of naturally occurring language data, along with the accurate metalinguistic information. Such key research fields as Areal Linguistics, Sociolinguistic Analysis, Comparative and Typological Analysis, Aspects of Language Contact and Diffusion of Linguistic/Cultural features in such undoubtedly exciting area as Siberia, will benefit significantly from the project's outcome,  compared to current uneven empirical plain resulting from inadequate documentation of the areally adjacent languages/cultures. Thus, the project will fill the empirical gap, still existing with regard to some Siberian languages, particularly Eastern Khanty dialects.

The project’s broader impact will come from continued collaboration with representatives of the communities and their training in language documentation and ethnographic research. To cater for community ownership and accessibility to the outcomes of the project, the database of the archived audio/video documents will be accessible to the native community representatives as well as for NGO’s, official agencies, media and academicians active in the area.

Krauss, Michael. 1992. The world's languages in crisis. Language 68(1).1-42.


History and News:

The principle work within the project has started in 1999 with my OSI Budapest IPF fellowship, when I have started developing the the objectives and methodologies of Eastern Khanty documentation, archiving and analysis. The research and documentation activities then proceeded within the variety of projects with different collaborators and various support sources. In 2000 through 2003 my field work was supported by the Rice University Department of Linguistics summer research grants. In 2003-2004 sessions of field work were supported by the ELF and FEL field research grants. In 2004 my Eastern Khanty field research and linguistic analysis was supported by the NSF doctoral dissertation support grant, and finally, in 2005-06 this work developed into this specific documentation project supported by the joint NEH/NSF DEL program.      

  • The OSI IPF term completed February, 2001.
  • Rice University summer field research term completed August, 2003.
  • The Yale ELF project term completed August 1, 2004.
  • The British FEL project term completed December 1, 2004.
  • The NSF/NEH project term completed October 31, 2006.

Map of the Eastern Khanty Dialects

Vasyugan, Alexandrovo, Yugan


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 Copyright Andrey Filchenko.
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Last updated: 02/27/08.