Eastern Khanty Dialects
The Uralic languages spoken in Russia and minority Uralic languages in other countries are threatened by extinction as the native language competence in children and young people is increasingly low, they are mostly educated only in majority language (Russian, Norwegian, Lithuanian) and grow up in a predominantly mainstream cultural environment.
In the book ''Northern Minority Languages. Problems of Survival'' (Shoji, Janhunen 1997), M.Krauss presents data concerning Uralic peoples and the number of speakers of their languages. This evaluation of viability by age distribution of speakers is as follows: a (language spoken by all generations, learned by practically all children), a- (learned by nearly all or most children), b (spoken by all adults, parental age and up, but learned by few or no children), b- (spoken by adults in their thirties and older, but not by younger parents, and probably no children), c (spoken only by middle-aged adults and older, forties and up), c- (fifties and up), -d (sixties and up), d (seventies and up), d-(seventies and up, fewer than 10).
Based on his count, Krauss draws the conclusions that from part of the Uralic languages some have already become extinct in the last two centuries (Yurats, Kamass, Mator, southern and western Mansi, southern Khanty). Some of them have a (best) viability status designation of a, meaning that there may be some children, but generally few, if any, who speak the language, which accordingly, may have some chance of survival into the indefinite future. Krauss writes, "Larger numbers still and the heavy concentration in the Obdorsk-Yamal region of northern Khanty of traditional speakers of all generations and exceptionally strong maintenance of eastern Khanty qualify those languages as the next strongest northern languages in Russia. In any case even these most favoured northern languages are to be considered endangered. Very probably they will still be spoken in the year 2100, but for how much longer, and by children?"
Based on our field work over the last 10 years the above statistics could be amended with regards to the Eastern Khanty dialects: Yugan, Vakh, Alexandrovo and Vasyugan (table below), and perhaps, the total number of the Eastern Khanty dialect speakers is nowadays to be realistically placed at under 3,000.
Since the time of the discovery of common features in Uralic languages, mainly in the 19th century, the problem of explaining the distribution of these clearly genetically affiliated languages over the vast geographical area has remained. Based on the interdisciplinary studies (linguistic, archaeological, genetic, etc.) a number of concepts was posited with regards to the location of an ancient Uralic proto-home: (i) east in western Siberia, or on both sides of the North-Urals; (ii) on both sides of the Central and South-Urals; (iii) on the European side quite far to the east; (iv) on the European side quite far to the west; (v) a narrow area along the Volga and its tributaries; and finally (vi) a vast area between the Urals and the Baltics inhabited by ancient Uralic people of a Uralic proto-race, who spoke the Uralic proto-language, enjoying the Uralic proto-culture and possibly. There is also a very plausible 'lingua franca' approach positing a vast contact area of remotely related languages/cultures in the state of on-going contact, using a variety of Uralic proto-language for communication. "At any rate, it should be born in mind that 6000 years ago there was no Garden of Eden any more, there were many languages which must have been in contact among themselves. The incidence of a common Proto-Uralic is logically highly improbable" (Suhonen 1997:89).
Based on the widely accepted (in Russia) convention, the Uralic proto period presumably ends around 8,000-4,000 years ago, with the migration mainly westward from ancient proto-home. Gradually, during thousands of years, the descendants of the ancient Uralic peoples of the east shifted more and more towards the west until they reached the vicinity of the Baltic Sea.
In western Siberia, the eastern Uralic group of the Ugric and Samoyed languages (together with Mordvin) display a number of similar features:
- morphologically distinguished transitive and intransitive forms;
- dual number;
- reflection of a plural object in the verb structure;
- expression of the object of the clause by a locative;
- predicative declension of substantives;
- addition of a redundant element in the expression of tempus.
With regard to syntax, the members of the Uralic language family are more closely knit. The similarities can constitute (as far as they do not represent language universals) retention of ancestral features from the time of the Uralic Protolanguage.
The Khanty language is one of two Ob-Ugric languages (the other being Mansi), which together with Hungarian comprise the Ugric branch of the Finno-Ugric group of Uralic language family.
The main dialectal divide is between the big dialectal clustering: of western (northern tundra) vs. eastern (southern+eastern forest hunter-fishers).
Western Khanty dialects enjoy better degree of description and continuous preservation and education attempts. Some of the western dialects have the devised written form and native language media. Eastern dialects are less described and more endangered, with no regular native language teaching or native media. The number of speakers steadily reduces placing some of the dialects in serious threat of extinction within the next 10-15 years.
The core Khanty vocabulary still contains numerous examples of vocabulary inherited from the Finno-Ugric proto-language (Collinder, 1962). Khanty is predominantly an agglutinative language with no prepositions and numerous affixes, each of which expresses a particular function.
Among the important features traditionally listed as typical be listed as follows: