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Sakha (Yakut) Turkic Language

Sakha (Yakut) Turkic Language

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Published by Üntaç Güner

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Published by: Üntaç Güner on Aug 31, 2011
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Sakha (also known as Yakut) is a very divergent Turkic language that hascopied a large number of words from Mongolic and is surrounded by Tungusiclanguages (Evenki and
). A number of ethnographers mention the inter-marriage of the Sakha people with indigenous north Siberian groups as well as thelinguistic assimilation of the latter in the course of Sakha prehistory (e.g. Sero
evskij[1896] 1993: 230f; Dolgix 1960: 461, 486; Tugolukov 1985: 220). Not surprisingly,therefore, a large number of differences that distinguish Sakha from its Turkicrelatives are attributed to contact with Evenki and/or Mongolic (Ubrjatova 1960: 78,1985: 46;
irobokova 1980: 140; Schönig 1990: 95f; Johanson 2001: 1732). Thisstudy is an attempt at elucidating the contact influence the Sakha may haveundergone in their prehistory, both from a molecular-genetic perspective (i.e.intermarriage/admixture) and from a linguistic point of view.This introductory chapter presents an overview of the Sakha language and prehistory, as well as an overview of the languages and prehistory of the populationsthey are or were in contact with, i.e. Evenks,
vens, Yukaghirs, and Mongolic-speaking groups (section 1.1). A discussion of the current theories and approaches tolanguage contact follows in section 1.2, while previous studies of the impact of language contact on Sakha are presented briefly in section 1.3. In section 1.4 Ioutline the aims of this study and the general methodology followed.
1.1 The Sakha and their Siberian neighbours
1.1.1 The SakhaThe Sakha are one of the northernmost Turkic-speaking peoples in Eurasia.Although in the English-speaking literature they are frequently referred to as Yakuts(e.g. Gordon 2005: 507; Balzer 1994), their own ethnonym is Sakha, and they calltheir language
a tïl–a
[Sakha tongue–POSS.3SG] ‘language of the Sakha’.Following the wishes of my consultants in Yakutia, I use the native ethnonym in thisthesis
.According to the 2002 census, there are currently 443,852 Sakha in the
In addition to the countless people mentioned in the acknowledgements, I sincerely thank Frederik Kortlandt and Bernard Comrie for crucial support and very constructive comments.
Given the possibility of confusing the ethnonym Even at the beginning of a sentence withthe English word ‘even’ [i:ven] I use the symbol for transliteration of the Russian letter 
)in the name of the people as well as their language. Since the name Evenk (Evenki for thelanguage) is unambigous, I write it in its English form.
For practical reasons, the term Yakut was retained as ethnonym in the publications of thegenetic data (Pakendorf et al. 2006, Pakendorf et al. 2007).
2Russian Federation, the vast majority of which reside within the autonomousRepublic Sakha (Yakutia) (cf. Figure 1.1). Language retention among the Sakha ishigh – according to the 2002 population census, approximately 93% of Sakha knowtheir heritage language, and only approximately 87% know Russian; among the rural population this figure is even lower, with only approximately 83% of the Sakhaclaiming a knowledge of Russian (Federal’naja slu
 ba gosudarstvennoj statistiki2004: 19, 24, 113, 130)
.Amongst urbanized Sakha knowledge of Russian is morewidespread, since in towns Russians and Ukrainians dominate numerically, whereasvillages are predominantly mono-ethnically Sakha [with the exception of somevillages in the north and northeast, where settlements are multiethnic, consisting of Sakha and minority peoples (Maslova 2003a: 2; personal observation)]. In Sakharural settlements, older people are sometimes still monolingual Sakha speakers, asare children under school age, notwithstanding the fact that often the only televisionchannels that can be received in such settlements are Russian (personal observation).As can be seen from the data of the 2002 census (456,288 speakers of Sakha asopposed to 443,852 people who claimed Sakha ethnicity; Federal’naja slu
 bagosudarstvennoj statistiki 2004: 124), Sakha is endangering minority languages inYakutia, especially Evenki and
ven (Pis’mennye jazyki Rossii 2000: 576, 2003:641, 668; Federal’naja slu
 ba gosudarstvennoj statistiki 2004: 151). Thus, in the
veno-Bytantaj district Sakha has nearly completely replaced
ven, with only a fewolder 
ven speakers remaining (Raisa Starostina, pers. comm.; own observation).The Republic Sakha (Yakutia) covers an enormous territory of more than3,000,000 km
 –roughly six times the area of France, and about one sixth of the areaof the Russian Federation (Safronov 2000:11; Microsoft Encarta Reference LibraryPremium 2005). Although nowadays Sakha are settled over most of this territory, atthe time of first Russian contact in the 17
century (the Yakutsk fort was founded in1632) the Sakha were concentrated mainly in a fairly small area of central Yakutia, between the Lena, Amga and Aldan rivers (Dolgix 1960: 377, cf. Figure 1.2). Thus,their expansion over the large area they inhabit today occurred quite recently, in the17
and 18
centuries (Dolgix 1960: 360ff; Forsyth 1992: 63; Wurm 1996a: 971f).
Of course, it is not quite clear what the label
(‘knowingRussian’) really entails; whether this indicates just a basic knowledge of Russian or whether some degree of fluency is required. Judging from my own field observations, the percentageof fluent Russian speakers in rural areas is certainly lower than 80% when children areincluded in the count
3Figure 1.1: The location of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) within the RussianFederation. © MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology.The main mode of subsistence among the Sakha is cattle- and horse- breeding; since the collapse of the Soviet Union this is practised on the level of basicsubsistence economy. Both cattle and horses are kept for meat, cows in addition providing milk, which is the basis of many Sakha food products, especially in latespring and early summer. In addition, hunting of game and fowl as well as fishingsupplement the economy. Cattle are kept in barns during the winter and throughoutthat time (often seven to eight months) need to be fed with hay; therefore, hay-making is the most important event in the Sakha calendar. The Sakha horses,however, are able to fend for themselves even in winter, when they dig in the snowfor fodder (in temperatures reaching –50° C and below). They are half-wild androam free practically all year; only in early spring are mares brought to enclosures toensure their safety at the time of foaling (personal observation).

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