Manchu-Tungus Languages

Manchu-Tungus Languages


a group of related languages spoken in the USSR by peoples in Eastern Siberia and the Far East: the Evenki (Tungus), Eveny (Lamuty), Negidal, Oro-chi, Udegei, Oroki, Ul’chi, and Nanai. They are also spoken in the People’s Republic of China (Northeastern China, Sinkiang Province) and in the Bargi region of the Mongolian People’s Republic. In the USSR, the Manchu-Tungus languages are spoken by more than 46,000 people (1970 census).

The Manchu-Tungus languages are similar to the Turkic and Mongol languages typologically and internally. Consequently, they are believed by some scholars to constitute a separate branch of the Altaic language family, although a genetic relationship to the Altaic languages has not been proved. The Manchu-Tungus languages share many lexical, semantic, and grammatical features, including those of declension, conjugation, word formation, sentence structure, and word grouping. There is also a similarity in terms of phonemes and phonetic regularities. These include synharmony, which is based on the division of vowels according to height; assimilation of consonants; and phonetic structure of the syllable and the word.

The first scholarly classification of the Manchu-Tungus languages, arranged by nationalities according to linguistic data, was made by L. I. Shrenk. Modifications of this classification were introduced by L. Ia. Shternberg, P. P. Shmidt, and researchers of the Leningrad Institute of the Peoples of the North. The most common division is into two subgroups: the northern, or Siberian, subgroup, and the southern, or Manchu-Amur subgroup.

The Manchu language occupies a distinct position within the Manchu-Tungus languages. In grammar it is close to the other languages of the southern group, but in vocabulary and particularly in word formation it is similar to the languages of the northern subgroup. It also differs substantially from both subgroups in its poorly developed inflectional morphology, absence of personal verb forms and possessive noun forms, considerable development of analytic devices, fixed word order, the phonemic oppositions s–š and p–f, and a hard-soft opposition of half of the consonant phonemes. The extinct Jurchen language, known from only partially deciphered written texts of the 12th to 16th centuries, was close to Manchu.

Another classification of the Manchu-Tungus languages according to subgroups is as follows: the northern, or Siberian, subgroup (Evenki, Negidal, Solon, and Eveny), the southern, or Amur subgroup (Nanai, Ul’chi, Oroki, Orochi, and Udegei), and the western, or Manchu, subgroup (Manchu and Jurchen). Other classifications have also been proposed. They are all binomial classifications, combining into one group either the southern and western subgroups or the southern and northern subgroups. The northern (excluding the Solon language) and southern subgroups are represented in the USSR. Evenki, Eveny, and Nanai have been written languages (based on the Russian alphabet) since the early 1930’s.


Shrenk, L. Ob inorodtsakh Amurskogo kraia, vol. 1. St. Petersburg, 1883.
Shternberg, L. Ia. Giliaki, orochi, gol’dy, negidal’tsy, ainy. Khabarovsk, 1933.
Tsintsius, V. I. Sravnitel’naia fonetika tunguso-man’chzhurskikh iazykov. Leningrad, 1949.
Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 5. Leningrad, 1968.