Endangered Languages: Modern Mansi Research


Author: Koshelyuk Natalia (National Research Tomsk State University, Russia)
Speaker: Koshelyuk Natalia
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
COMELA 2020 General Session


Abstract

The Press Office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that in the next century about a third of the world’s existing languages will disappear. This information is based on the data from “Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing”. A critical situation in this regard exists in Siberia, a central region of Russia. The significant part of its aboriginal population spoke unique languages in the past but now does not differ in its former linguistic diversity any more. At least 30 languages of the indigenous peoples of Siberia are threatened with extinction, including the Mansi language. The native speakers of this language are the Mansi, indigenous population of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug. According to the census of 2010, their total population is a little over 12,000 people, meanwhile, as a result of the active assimilation, the overwhelming majority of them speak only Russian. Moreover, the number of its native speakers is decreasing and some dialects are already recognized as extinct ones. At present the Mansi language is one of the least described ones.

Realising the importance of preserving and maintaining the linguistic and cultural heritage, today a lot of diverse measures are being taken in order to improve the current situation: UNESCO has a programme for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage; educational events, festivals, seminars, conferences are being held; the research funds are allocated. Over the past few years the scientists from different countries have managed to achieve the impressive results in the study and preservation of the endangered languages, Mansi in particular. Thus, a project for the study of the related Khanty and Mansi languages “Ob-Ugric languages: conceptual structures, lexicon, constructions, categories” was launched in Germany in 2009. In 3 years the linguists from Germany, Austria, Finland and Hungary organized “Virtual Research Environment” that has no analogues. Extensive research on the study and preservation of the Mansi language is being conducted in Russia as well. Since 2017, with the support of a government grant, the scientists from Tomsk and Moscow created Mansi corpus based on the linguistic platform Lingvodoc, the expeditions to the last native speakers have been conducted, a number of unknown archival sources have been introduced for scientific use and its analysis significantly enriched the existing knowledge of the language and gave the opportunity to assume the possibility of revising the existing classification of the Mansi dialects.

Keywords: Endangered languages, Mansi language, Mansi dialects, modern research