Paleo-Asiatic Languages

Paleo-Asiatic Languages


(also Paleosiberian languages), a conventional name for the genetically distinct languages of small peoples in northern and northeastern Siberia. The Russian scholar L. I. Shrenk hypothesized that these peoples are the descendants of the oldest inhabitants of northern Asia. The Paleo-Asiatic languages comprise four genetic groups: Chukchi-Kamchatka (Chukchi, Koriak, Aliutor, Kerek, and Itel’men), Eskimo-Aleut (Eskimo and Aleutian), Yukaghir-Chuvan (Yukaghir and the extinct Chuvan language), and Eniseian (Ket and the extinct Kot, Arin, and Asan languages). The Paleo-Asiatic group also includes the genetically isolated Nivkh language.

Genetically dissimilar, the Paleo-Asiatic languages have typological differences. They are all agglutinative. But in some languages the agglutination is suffixal; in others, suffixal-prefixal; and in still others, infixal. Several Paleo-Asiatic languages are incorporating languages, and some have an ergative construction. Thus, the widely used term “Paleo-Asiatic languages” is conventional and has no linguistic significance.

V. G. Bogoraz and L. Ia. Shternberg, the Russian scholars who founded Paleo-Asiatic studies, played a large role in the study of the Paleo-Asiatic languages; I. I. Meshchaninov also studied the Paleo-Asiatic languages. Soviet linguistic research has helped clarify the nature of the internal and external relationships of the languages. It has also aided the attempt to resolve problems regarding the settlement patterns and interrelationship of the peoples of northern Asia and North America.

Some scholars have suggested possible relationships between the Paleo-Asiatic languages and the Uralic and Altaic languages. The Eniseian languages are sometimes associated with the Sino-Tibetan languages.


Iazyki i pis’mennost’ narodov Severa. Editor in chief, Ia. P. Al’kor. Part 3: Iazyki i pis’mennost’ paleoaziatskikh narodov. Edited by E. A. Kreinovich. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
“Paleoaziatskie iazyki.” In the collection Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 5. Leningrad, 1968. (Includes references.)