Eniseian Languages

Eniseian Languages


(also Yeniseian languages), a group of related languages spoken along the Enisei River (a less appropriate name is Ket languages). The Eniseian languages include Ket, Sym (now spoken by only a few persons; Sym is usually regarded, along with Imbat, as a dialect of Ket), and the extinct languages Kot (to the east of the Enisei and north of the Kan River; it was still spoken by several persons in the mid-19th century), Asan (to the south of Kot), Arin (to the north of Krasnoiarsk), and Pumpokol’ (along the upper reaches of the Ket’ River). The last three languages became extinct in the 18th century. Eniseian influence is apparent in some of the Turkic languages (such as Khakass and Tuva) and several extinct Samoyed languages (Kamasin and other languages of the region). The more ancient area in which the Eniseian languages were spoken may be judged from hydronymic terms (the terms for “river,” such as the Ket ses, the Kot shet or chet, the Arin set, the Pumpokol’ tet, and the Asan ul). These elements are found in river names ranging from the Kureika to the sources of the Enisei and Altai and from the Irtysh to the Biriusa. The Ket and Sym languages are known from a number of texts on mythology, folklore, and everyday life, whereas the other languages are known only from short word lists collected in the 18th century by P. Strahlenberg, G. Miller, I. Fischer, and others; M. Castrén gathered data on the Kot language. These materials provide some indication of the nature of the comparative and historical phonetics of the Eniseian languages and a number of morphological elements. The first attempts have been made to reconstruct several features of the Eniseian protolanguage.

The important phonetic features of the Eniseian languages include the presence of a glottal stop and uvular and implosive consonants, limited development of the voiced-voiceless opposition, the appearance of the hardness-softness opposition in the northern part of the Eniseian language area, the existence of tones, and the simplicity of consonant distribution. The case system is fairly regular and is typologically similar to the Samoyed system; a possessive declension and the remnants of noun classes also exist. The verb system is extremely complex. Subject-object relations, like a number of other categories, are expressed by affixes, which may occur in initial, medial, and final word position; internal inflection is combined with agglutination; ergative-type constructions have been recorded; and third-person forms play a special role. The Eniseian languages are characterized by tendencies toward polysynthesism and incorporation. The vocabulary of the Eniseian languages is rich in borrowings from the Samoyed, Turkic, and Russian languages. The most reliably established relationships are those between the Eniseian and Tibeto-Burman languages; the Eniseian languages have a number of important features in common with Burushaski, as well as with the Caucasian, Basque, and American Indian languages. M. Castrén pioneered the study of the Eniseian languages; large contributions were made by G. Ramstedt, K. Donner, E. Lewy, N. K. Karger, K. Bouda, and 0. Tailleur. The fundamental investigations of A. P. Dul’zon and E. A. Kreinovich dealt anew with the basic problems of the Eniseian languages.


Dul’zon, A. P. Ketskii iazyk. Tomsk, 1968.
Kreinovich, E. A. “Ketskii iazyk.” In the collection lazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 5. Leningrad, 1968.
Kreinovich, E. A. Glagol ketskogo iazyka. Leningrad, 1968.
Ketskii sbornik. Moscow, 1968–69.
Castrén, M. A. Versuch einer jenisei-ostjakischen und kottischen Sprachlehre. St. Petersburg, 1858.
Donner, K. Ketica [vols. 1–2]. Helsinki, 1955–58.