Tundra Nenets language

Tundra Nenets is a Samoyedic language spoken in northern Russia, from the Kanin Peninsula to the Yenisei River, by the Nenets people.[3] It is closely related to Nganasan and Enets, more distantly related to Selkup and even more distantly to the other Uralic languages, such as Finnish and Hungarian. It has a sister language, the Forest Nenets language, and the two are sometimes seen as simply being dialects of a single Nenets language, and sometimes as separate languages. There is low mutual intelligibility between the two. In spite of the huge area in which Tundra Nenets is spoken, Tundra Nenets is very uniform with few dialectal differences.[4]

Tundra Nenets
Native toNorthern Russia
Native speakers
(95% of Nenets speakers cited 1989)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3

The language has speakers of all ages and is still passed down to children. In some western parts of where the language is spoken, however, children and young people are increasingly shifting to either Russian or Komi.[4]


The syllable structure of Tundra Nenets is generally CV(C), and syllables with initial, medial or final consonant clusters of more than two consonants are not allowed. Words normally do not begin with a vowel, except in western dialects of the language, mostly due to the loss of /ŋ/, so the standard Tundra Nenets word ŋarka ('big') is found as arka in western varieties.[5]


The number of vowel phonemes in Tundra Nenets is 10, which have 17 distinct allophones governed by palatality, which dominates whole sequences of vowels and consonants.[6] Vowel frontness is not segmentally contrastive.

Monophthong vowels are present in the chart below. Phonemes are marked in bold, with their palatal (on the left) and non-palatal (on the right) allophones marked underneath using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Unrounded Rounded
Close Long /í/
[(ʲ)iː], [ɨː]
[(ʲ)ʉː], [uː]
Short /i/
[(ʲ)i], [ɨ]
[(ʲ)ʉ], [u]
Mid Tense /e/
[(ʲ)eː], [ɤː]
[(ʲ)ɵː], [oː]
Lax /°/
Open Tense /a/
[(ʲ)aː], [ɑː]
Lax /ø/
[(ʲ)ɐ], [ʌ]

There is also a vowel æ, which is interchangeably realized as [æ͡e̘] or [æː]. This and the long close vowels only occur in word-initial syllables.

Vowel reduction

In much of the literature on Tundra Nenets and its sister dialect, Forest Nenets, a so-called reduced vowel is mentioned. This reduced vowel was thought to have two distinct qualities depending on whether it was found in a stressed or unstressed position. In stressed position it was transcribed as ø and represented a reduced variant of an underlying vowel, and in unstressed position it was transcribed as â and represented a reduced variant of /a/. Recently, however, it has become clear that the reduced vowels are in fact short vowels, counterparts to their respective long vowels. Today â should simply be replaced by a, while ø simply represents a short vowel, although it is not specified which short vowel in this orthography.[7]


The number of consonant phonemes in Tundra Nenets is 27.[8] All labial and coronal consonants have plain and palatalized counterparts.

Bilabial Coronal Velar Glottal
Plain Palzd Plain Pala.
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop Voiceless p t k ʔ
Voiced b d
Affricate Voiceless ts tsʲ
Fricative Voiceless s x
Approximant Semivowel j w
Lateral l
Trill r

The trill [r] may be uvular [ʀ] or a uvular fricative [ʁ] for some speakers.

All consonants can be found word-internally between vowels, but their occurrence in other positions is strongly limited.[9]

  • Only the 16 consonants shown on darker gray background may occur word-initially.
  • Syllable-finally, most consonant contrasts are not found, and only six consonants occur: /b/, /ʔ/, /m/, /n ~ ŋ/, /l/, /r/.


Tundra Nenets has a phonological process of sandhi: the simplification of consonant clusters, both within words (in e.g. inflection) and between words. This allows considering some of the consonant phonemes secondarily derived from underlying consonant clusters.[10]

  • Fortition of fricatives: when preceded by a consonant, the fricatives /s/, /sʲ/, /x/ become the affricates / stops /ts/, /tsʲ/, /k/ respectively.
  • A syllable-final glottal stop /ʔ/ is lost before any obstruent consonants.
  • A word-final non-labial nasal /n/ is lost when followed by a sonorant, and becomes a glottal stop utterance finally. Within a word, the cluster /nj/ may occur.

As the citation form of a noun is the bare stem, a word ending in a glottal stop in isolation can thus underlyingly end either in a plain glottal stop, or in a nasal. The latter is sometimes called a "nasalizable glottal stop", and is in the orthography of the language written differently from the former.


The alphabet of Tundra Nenets is based on Cyrillic, like with most other languages found in Russia, with the addition of three letters: Ӈ ӈ, ʼ, and ˮ, which are less common among the Cyrillic letters.


Vowels' palatalized and plain allophones are distinguished in the original orthography.[11]

phonemic transcription a e o i u æ
Cyrillic Plain а э о ы у э
Palatalized я е ё и ю

The Cyrillic orthography does not distinguish the reduced vowel from /a/, nor long /iː/ and /uː/ from their short counterparts /i/ and /u/. æ is not found in a palatalized environment, and thus does not show up in the chart.

The schwa, [ə], has no direct counterpart in the Cyrillic orthography, and is in most cases not written. Sometimes, however, it is written, but its presence is very irregular, as the writing system is not fully standardized. It may appear as а, я, ы, ӗ or ŏ. Consider for instance the following words written with phonemic transcription and the Cyrillic orthography respectively, /xad°/, хад ('snowstorm') and /nix°/, ныхы ('power').[12]


The consonants in the Cyrillic orthography can be seen in the chart below. Note that palatalized consonants are not included.[13]

phonemic transcription /m/ /p/ /b/ /w/ /n/ /t/ /d/ /ts/ /s/ /j/ /l/ /r/ /ŋ/ /k/ /x/ /ʔ/ /ʔ/
Cyrillic м п б в н т д ц с й л р ӈ к х ˮ ʼ

The letter ˮ marks a "plain" glottal stop, while ʼ marks a glottal stop derived from a word-final /n/.

As in Russian, the consonants are palatalized using the soft sign, ь, so, the palatalized consonant /mʲ/ is represented with мь in Cyrillic unless it is followed by a palatalizing vowel, such as ё, so that /mʲo/ is мё in Cyrillic.



(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Ет хибяри ненэць соямарианта хуркари правада тнява, ӈобой ненээя ниду нись токалба, ӈыбтамба илевату тара.

Et xibjari nenėc’ sojamarianta xurkari pravada tnjava, ṇoboj nenėėja nidu nic’ tokalba, ṇybtamba ilevatu tara.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.



  1. Daniel Abondolo, 1998. The Uralic Languages, p. 517.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Eastern Tundra Nenets". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Staroverov, Peter (2006). Vowel deletion and stress in Tundra Nenets. Moscow, Russia. p. 1.
  4. Salminen 1997, p. 13.
  5. Salminen 1997, pp. 35–36.
  6. Salminen 1997, pp. 36–37.
  7. Salminen, Tapani (1993). On identifying basic vowel distinctions in Tundra Nenets. Finnisch-Ugrische Forschungen. 51. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. pp. 177–187.
  8. Salminen 1997, pp. 37–38.
  9. Salminen 1997, pp. 40–41.
  10. Salminen 1997, pp. 43–44.
  11. See Salminen (1997), pp. 36-37
  12. Salminen 1997, pp. 34–35.
  13. Salminen 1997, pp. 38.
  14. Nenets language, alphabet and pronunciation


  • Salminen, Tapani (1997). Tundra Nenets inflection. Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne. 227. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. ISBN 952-5150-02-X.
  • Salminen, Tapani (1998). A morphological dictionary of Tundra Nenets. Lexica Societatis Fenno-Ugricate. XXVI. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. ISBN 951-9403-99-X.
  • Nikolaeva, Irina (2014). A Grammar of Tundra Nenets. Mouton Grammar Library. 65. Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-032047-3.
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