Chukchi language

Chukchi language

The Chukchi language (лыгъоравэтлъан йилйил, lyg"oravetl'an jiljil) also known as Luoravetlan, Chukot and Chukcha is a Palaeosiberian language spoken by Chukchi people in the easternmost extremity of Siberia, mainly in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. According to the Russian Census of 2002, about 7,700 of the 15,700 Chukchi people speak Chukchi; knowledge of the Chukchi language is decreasing, and most Chukchis now speak the Russian language (fewer than 500 report not speaking Russian at all). Chukchi is closely related to Koryak, which is spoken by about half that number. The language together with Koryak, Kerek, Alutor and Itelmen forms the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family.

The Chukchi and Koryaks form a cultural unit with an economy based on reindeer herding and both have autonomy within the Russian Federation.

The ethnonym Chukchi (also spelled Chukchee) is an anglicized form of the Russian ethnonym (singular Chukcha, plural Chukchi). This came into Russian from Čävča, the term used by the Chukchis' Tungusic-speaking neighbors, itself a rendering of the Chukchi word /ʧawʧəw/, which in Chukchi means "a man who is rich in reindeer". The Chukchis' term for themselves is /ɬəɣʔorawətɬʔat/ (singular /ɬəɣʔorawətɬʔan/), "the real people".

In the UNESCO Red Book the language is on the list of endangered languages.


Many Chukchis are using the language as their primary means of communication, both within the family and while engaged in their traditional agricultural activity (reindeer herding). The language is also used in media (including radio and TV translations), and some business activities. However, Russian language is increasingly used as the primary means of business and administrative communication, in addition to having an interlingua status on neighborhood territories inhabited by non-Chukchis Russian citizens, such as Koryaks and Yakuts. Almost all Chukchis speak Russian, although some have a lesser command than others. Chukchi language is used as a primary language of instruction in elementary school; the rest of secondary education is done in Russian, with Chukchi taught as a subject.

A Chukchi writer, Yuri Rytkheu (born 1930) has earned a measure of renown in both Russia and Western Europe, although much of his published work was written in Russian, rather than Chukchi.


Until 1931, the Chukchi language had no official orthography, in spite of attempts in the 19th century to write religious texts in it.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Vladimir Bogoraz discovered specimens of pictographic writing by the Chukchi herdsman Tenevil. Tenevil's writing system was his own invention, and was never used beyond his immediate family. The first official Chukchi alphabet was devised by Vladimir Bogoraz in 1931, and was based on the Latin alphabet:

А а Ā ā B b C c D d Е е Ē ē Ә ә
Ә̄ ә̄ F f G g H h I i Ī ī J j K k
L l M m N n Ŋ ŋ O o Ō ō P p Q q
R r S s T t U u Ū ū V v W w Z z
Ь ь

In 1937, this alphabet, along with all of the other alphabets of the peoples of the USSR, started to be written in Cyrillic. At first, it was the same as the Russian alphabet, with the addition of the relic letters К’ к’ and Н’ н’. In the 1950s, however, they were replaced by the letters Ӄ ӄ and Ӈ ӈ. These newer letters were mainly used in educational texts while the press continued to use the older versions. At the end of the 1980s, the letter Ԓ ԓ was introduced as a replacement for Л л. This was intended to reduce confusion with the pronunciation of the Russian letter of the same form. The Chukchi alphabet now stands as follows:

А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж
З з И и Й й К к Ӄ ӄ Ԓ ԓ (Л л) М м Н н
Ӈ ӈ О о П п Р р С с Т т У у Ф ф
Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь
Э э Ю ю Я я '

External influence

The external influences relating to Chukchi language have not been well-studied. The particular question of the degree of contacts between Chukchi and Eskimo languages remains open. Research is problematic in part because of the lack of written evidence. Contact influence of Russian, which will be increasing, consists of word borrowing and pressuring on surface syntax; the latter is primarily seen in written communication (translated texts), and is not apparent in day-to-day speech.

External links


  • The languages of the Soviet Union, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Language Surveys) 1981. ISBN 0-521-23230-9 (hardcover) and ISBN 0-521-29877-6 (paperback)
  • Nedjalkov, V. P. 1976. Diathesen und Satzstruktur im Tschuktschischen. In Studia Gramatika 13, Berlin (G.D.R) (in German language)
  • Skorik, P. Ja. (1961). Grammatika čukotskogo jazyka: Fonetika i morfologija imennyx častej reči (2 Volumes). Leningrad: Nauka.
  • Bogoras, W. 1922. Chukchee. In Handbook of American Indian languages II, e. F. Boas, Washington, D.C.

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