Tungusic languages

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Siberia, Manchuria
Linguistic classification: One of the world's primary language families
  • Northern
  • Southern
ISO 639-5: tuw
Glottolog: tung1282[1]
Geographic distribution

The Tungusic languages /tʊŋˈɡsk/ (also known as Manchu-Tungus, Tungus) form a language family spoken in Eastern Siberia and Manchuria by Tungusic peoples. Many Tungusic languages are endangered, and the long-term future of the family is uncertain. There are approximately 75,000 native speakers of the dozen living languages of the Tungusic language family. Some linguists consider Tungusic to be part of the Altaic language family, along with Turkic, Mongolic, and sometimes Koreanic and Japonic. However, there is no consensus that Altaic is a linguistically genetic group and not a sprachbund.


Linguists working on Tungusic have proposed a number of different classifications based on different criteria, including morphological, lexical, and phonological characteristics. One classification which seems favoured over others is that the Tungusic languages can be divided into a northern branch and a southern branch (Georg 2004):

Northern Tungusic
Southern Tungusic

Jurchen–Manchu (Jurchen and Manchu are simply different stages of the same language; in fact, the ethnonym "Manchu" did not come about until 1636 when Emperor Hong Taiji decreed that the term would replace "Jurchen") is the only Tungusic language with a literary form (in Jurchen script and later the Manchu alphabet) which dates back to at least the mid- to late-12th century; as such it is a very important language for the reconstruction of Proto-Tungusic.

The earliest[citation needed] and one of the most important extant texts in Jurchen is the inscription on the back of "the Jin Victory Memorial Stele" (Da Jin deshengtuo songbei), which was erected in 1185, during the Dading period (1161–1189). It is apparently an abbreviated translation of the Chinese text on the front of the stele.[2]

Other ancient Tungusic languages include that of the Mohe.

Common characteristics

The Tungusic languages are of an agglutinative morphological type, and some of them have complex case systems and elaborate patterns of tense and aspect marking. They also exhibit a complex pattern of vowel harmony, based on the parameters of vowel roundedness and vowel tenseness.

Relationships with other languages

Tungusic has traditionally been linked with Turkic and Mongolic languages in the Altaic language family. Others have suggested that the Tungusic languages might be related (perhaps as a paraphyletic outgroup) to the Koreanic, Japonic, or Ainu languages as well.

See also



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  2. Tillman, Hoyt Cleveland, and Stephen H. West. China Under Jurchen Rule: Essays on Chin Intellectual and Cultural History. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995, pp. 228–229. ISBN 0-7914-2274-7. Partial text on Google Books.

General references

  • Kane, Daniel. The Sino-Jurchen Vocabulary of the Bureau of Interpreters. Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, Volume 153. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1989. ISBN 0-933070-23-3.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew. Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971.
  • Poppe, Nicholas. Vergleichende Grammatik der Altaischen Sprachen [A Comparative Grammar of the Altaic Languages]. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1960.
  • Tsintsius, Vera I. Sravnitel'naya Fonetika Tunguso-Man'chzhurskikh Yazïkov [Comparative Phonetics of the Manchu-Tungus Languages]. Leningrad, 1949.
  • Stefan Georg. "Unreclassifying Tungusic", in: Carsten Naeher (ed.): Proceedings of the First International Conference on Manchu-Tungus Studies (Bonn, August 28 – September 1, 2000), Volume 2: Trends in Tungusic and Siberian Linguistics, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 45-57

Further reading

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External links