Chukchi-Kamchatka Languages

Chukchi-Kamchatka Languages


an isolated family of languages spoken by a small number of people who constitute the principal native population of the Chukchi region and Kamchatka. The total number of native speakers is approximately 18,000 (1970 census). The Chukchi-Kamchatka languages, which are included among the Paleo-Asiatic languages, are divided into two branches: Chukchi-Koriak and Itel’men. The Chukchi-Koriak branch includes four closely related languages: Chukchi, Kodak, Aliutor (Aliutor proper and the Palana and Karaga dialects), and Kerek (the Maino-Pilgin and Khatyrka dialects). The Itel’men branch consists only of the Itel’men (Kamchadal) language and has a number of substratum features. Some scholars regard the Aliutor and Kerek languages as dialects of Koriak. The Itel’men branch formerly included three languages: Northern and Southern Itel’men, both of which disappeared in the late 19th century, and Western Itel’men, which is represented by the present-day Itel’men dialects.

The Chukchi-Kamchatka languages exhibit vowel harmony (seeSYNHARMONY) and assimilation and dissimilation of consonants; obstruents are represented by a single series of unvoiced stops, and there is a relatively large number of sonants. The grammatical structure of the Chukchi-Kamchatka languages shows them to be agglutinative languages of the prefixing-suffixing type; they have discontinuous affixes. The case system is well developed; in some positions nouns are inflected for person. The verb has two conjugations: subject and subject-object. The aspectual-temporal system is well developed. In most of the Chukchi-Kamchatka languages verbs and nouns are marked for three numbers—singular, dual, and plural. The numerals are based on a quinary system of counting. A nominative construction and an ergative construction are used in sentences with a verbal predicate. The languages typically exhibit incorporation. The vocabularies of the Chukchi-Kamchatka languages contain borrowings from Russian. Chukchi and Koriak have their own writing systems; Latin-based alphabets were created in 1931, and the current Cyrillic-based alphabets have been used since 1936.


Skorik, P. Ia. “Chukotsko-kamchatskie iazyki.” In Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 5. Leningrad, 1968. (Contains bibliography.)