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Number of Speakers: 363,000
Key Dialects: See below
Geographical Center: Republic of Sakha (Yakut Autonomous Republic, Autonomous Republic of Sakha, Yakutia), Russia.
Yakut is spoken in Republic of Sakha (formerly known as Yakut Autonomous Republic of Russia), as well as the Amur, Magadan, and Sakhalin regions of Russia, and the autonomous districts of Taimyr and Evenki in Russian Siberia.
Yakut belongs to the Northern group of the Turkic branch of the Altaic language family. Other languages, belonging to the same group include Altai, Dolgan, Karagas (Qaragas), Khakas, Shor, and Tuvin. According to another classification, Yakut belongs to the atax-, or t-group of the Turkic languages.
Yakut is quite homogenous, and in general it is not divided into dialects as such. Unique phonetic, morphological, syntactic and lexical features can be found in all the regions of Yakut Republic, but they are so small that it is impossible to speak of different “dialects” of Yakut. Ubriatova (1982) distinguishes four sub-dialectal (Mundart) groups: central, Viliui, north-western and Taimyr. Some scholars (e.g., Campbell 2000) also consider Dolgan a dialect of Yakut, but the two languages are not mutually intelligible, and therefore it is more proper to classify them as two separate languages. Originally, Dolgan was a dialect of Yakut, but it was isolated from Yakut early, and developed in its own way. Dolgan exhibits considerable influence from Evenki (Ubriatova 1998).
The first book in Yakut appeared in 1819. It contained a short catechism, translated from Russian into Yakut, and an introduction to the spelling of Yakut. The spelling in this book, created by the priest G. Popov, was based on the contemporary Russian alphabet (graždanskij alfavit). This system turned out to be unsuitable for Yakut, and therefore was soon abandoned. Another attempt to create a writing system for Yakut was undertaken by a German scholar Otto Boehtlingk in 1851. This writing system was based on the Cyrillic alphabet, with some additional symbols. It represented the Yakut sounds much more precisely, and several major works on Yakut were written in Boehtlingk’s system, among which one could mention E. K. Pekarskij’s Yakut dictionary (1907-1930) and the collection of Yakut folk-literature (1907-1918). In 1853 another Yakut alphabet was created by a missionary, D. Xitrov. However, this system was was abandoned after some time. After the failure of Xitrov’s system, the so-called Kazan transcription was used for a short time. A major Yakut grammar (by S. Jastremskij) was written in this script. In 1917, a script based on Latin alphabet was proposed by a Russian scholar S. Novgorodov. In addition to the standard Latin letters, Novgorodov’s system included additional symbols. This system was used more or less successfully until 1938, when a new system was created, based on Cyrillic. Special symbols were created to denote the sounds that were absent in Russian. This system has 40 graphs, and has been used for Yakut ever since.
Yakut has 18 consonants, 2 affricates, 8 vowels (with allophones) and 4 diphthongs. Yakut stops and affricates can be voiced or voiceless. The vowels and certain consonants can be short or long. Yakut has vowel harmony. The stress falls on the word-final syllable. Longer words can also have secondary stress, which will fall on the root-syllable.
Yakut is an agglutinating language. The noun has the categories of number (singular and plural), possessivity, case (nominative, accusative, commitative, partitive, dative, comparative, instrumental, ablative) and person. The nouns have two types of declension: simple and possessive. The possessive marker always precedes the case ending. Nouns can be inflected in persons only when they are a part of a verb phrase, cf. uol ‘boy’ > uol-bun ‘I am a boy’, uol-gun ‘you are a boy’, etc. Yakut possesses a class of nouns, called “auxiliary nouns”, which generally express spatial relationships and are used together with notion nouns, e.g. suol taha ‘a place by a lake’; son taha ‘the surface of a coat’, kinige taha ‘the back of a book’; et taha ‘the outer (fat) layer of meat’, etc.
The rich verb system has the categories of aspect, mood, number, person, tense and voice. Yakut possesses a great number of derivative suffixes. In Yakut, negation can also be formed with the derivative suffix -(y)ma-, cf. sanaa- ‘think’ > sanaa-ma- ‘not-think’, syt- ‘lie’ > syt-yma- ‘not-lie’. Modal and auxiliary verbs are widely used in Yakut as well. Yakut is an SOV language.
ROLE IN SOCIETY
Yakut is the official language of the Yakut Autonomous Republic, where Russian is also widely spoken. Most Yakuts are bilingual in Russian. Yakut is also widely used as the language of international communication by non-Yakut people, e.g. Evenki, Even, Yukagir, and other minorities of the Yakut AR. A significant number of non-Yakuts consider themselves native speakers of Yakut. According to 1959 census, 84% of Evenki, 31% of Even and 5% of Russians living in the Yakut AR considered Yakut their native language (Ubriatova 1982). A number of newspapers, radio and TV stations exist in Yakut.
Yakuts came relatively recently to the territory of modern Yakutia. Several theories exist about the homeland and origin of Yakut, but it is commonly believed that the ancestors of modern Yakut speakers were an ancient Turkic peoples, Kurykan, who inhabited areas adjacent to Baikal and Angara. The ethnonym “Kurykan” appears in early Chinese historical sources, and Orxon runic inscriptions, both sources dating back to the 6th century A.D., but it is likely that Turkic people had come there at a much earlier date. The archaelogical research has found evidence for human activities in the Baikal region dating back to Stone Age, i.e. more than 15,000 years ago. The Kurykan people lived around Baikal until the 10th century, when they were driven out by Mongols (according to other accounts, Huns). Kurykan came to the territory of Yakutia around the 15th or 16th centuries (possibly, they moved to this area in waves). In the new homeland, the Kurykan language entered a new stage of development, due to influence from substratum and the neighboring non-Turkic languages, like Even, Evenki, Yukagir, etc. The arrival of the Kurykan in Yakutia may be considered the starting point of the Yakut language (based on Ubriatova 1982). Other theories about the prehistory and migrations of Yakut also exist, discussed in Ubriatova (ibid.). According to one, Yakut is a descendant of some unknown, non-Turkic language. This theory is not supported by most Turkologists, because Yakut is clearly a member of the Turkic branch of languages. All the features that Yakut does not share with other Turkic languages can be explained as obtained in the course of development of Yakut (Kurykan) after its speakers left the Turkic homeland in Baikal regions.
Campbell, G. L. 2000. “Compendium of the World's Languages”. Vol. 2. Ladakhi to Zuni. Second edition. First published 1991. Routledge, London and New York.
Grimes, Barbara F. (ed.). 1992. “Ethnologue: Languages of the World”. 12th edition. First edition 1951. Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc. Dallas, Texas.
Krueger, John R. 1962. “Yakut Manual”. Indiana University Publications, Uralic and Altaic Series, volume 21. Published by Indiana University, Bloomington; Mouton & Co., The Hague, Netherlands.
Ubriatova, E. I. (Editor-in-Chief). 1982. “Grammatika sovremennogo jakutskogo literaturnogo jazyka. Fonetika i morfologija”. 1. tom. Akademija nauk SSSR, Sibirskoje otdelenije, Jakutskij filial, Institut jazyka, literatury i istoriji. Izdatel’stvo “Nauka”, Moskva.
______1998. “Dolganskij jazyk”. In: Jarceva, V. N. (Editor-in-Chief). “Jazykoznanije. Bol’šoj enciklopedičeskij slovar’”. Naučnoje izdatel’stvo “Bol’šaja russkaja enciklopedija”. 1-oje izdanije 1990. Moskva. P. 136.
______1998. “Yakutskij jazyk”. In: Jarceva, V. N. (Editor-in-Chief). “Jazykoznanije. Bol’šoj enciklopedičeskij slovar’”. Naučnoje izdatel’stvo “Bol’šaja russkaja enciklopedija”. 1-oje izdanije 1990. Moskva. Pp. 623-4.
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