In the UNESCO Red Book, Ket is classified as seriously endangered
In the beginning of the 20th century, about
1225 people still spoke the Ket language. According to the 1989 census, some 48% of the 1 100 members of the ethnic group
still spoke the language, that would mean some that there are slightly more than
500 speakers left
The Ket Language
The Ket language is the last member of the former Yeniseyan language group, spoken along the Yenisey river in
kray. The closest related language is Yug (now extinct). The other member of the Yeniseyan group are Kott and Pumpokol. Since
Ket is the only surviving language, it is technically regarded an isolate language and included into the group of Paleo-Asiatic
languages. Earlier, it was called Yenisey Ostyak. In 1989, the Ket language was spoken by about 500 people and is seriously
endangered today. There are three dialects, a written Cyrillic alphabet but no standard form.
The Ket people live in the Turukhansk and Baykit
districts (rayons) of the Krasnoyarskij kraj. They are the last representatives of the former Yeniseyan group. The Ket people
are one of the 26 members of the Association of Small Peoples in the Russian North and Far East.
In 1989, there were 1 100 Ket people, roughly half of them (48%) still speaking the Ket language.
The name "Ket" derives from the word ke┤t,
meaning "man". Earlier, the Ket were called Yenisey Ostyaks (in contrast to the Selkups and Khantys, which were called
Ob-Ostyaks), and their language was called Yenisey Ostyak. Earlier, the Ket and Yug languages were spoken throughout a larger
territory in Central Siberia, as can be seen in the hydronyms ending in -ses and -sis (sÚ:s┤ "river") in these areas.
The modern Ket language consists of three dialects:
Southern Ket (from Podkamennaja Tunguska river up to Eloguja river), Central Ket (Nizhneimbatskij), from the place Surgutikha
to Turukhansk, and Northern Ket, along the Kurejka river and on the Munduysky lake. Within
the Southern Ket dialect the Podkamennaja govor and the Eloguja govor can be distinguished, and within the Central
Ket dialect, a Southern govor (Surgutikha) and a Northern govor (from Vereshchagin to Turukhansk) can be distinguished.
The Ket language is generally used in non-official
sphere. In official sphere, Russian is used (All Kets have a good command of Russian). The Ket language exists only in dialect
forms, there is no standard form for all dialects. The teaching language is Russian,
however, the Ket language is taught as a subject in the first classes. In the 1930s, a first Ket alphabet was designed based
on Latin script, but the development of writing the language was soon interrupted. In the 1980s, a new Ket alphabet was made
based on Cyrillic and new teaching material was published. A school dictionary, a primer and teaching books for the first
classes were published. Some intrastructural phenomena of the Ket language can possibly be explained by long-term historical
contacts with Samoyedic languages, especially Selkup, but research on this question has only begun.
The largest part of the borrowings into the Ket language reflects ancient language contacts and cannot be traced
back to a concrete source language. More recent borrowings stem form Samoyedic languages (Selkup) and - in less quantity -
from Turkic languages. The latest borrowings are from Russian. Earlier Russian borrowings are significantly phonetically and
Nowadays, the number of Russian loan words cannot
be determined. Since all Kets speak Russian well, any lacking term in the Ket language will be borrowed from Russian, moreover,
with only minimal phonetic adaptation. Thus one can speak of a phonological subsystem of the Ket language, functioning in
Russian loan words
Here you will find some words of the basis vocabulary
of the Ket language. Later on, you will be able to listen to
original Ket words and phrases.
Name of the project: Ket: The Endangered
Language (Anthropological Linguistics)
By:Alona Soschen, Ph.D.
2. Importance, Originality, Contribution to the Advancement of Knowledge
2.1 Importance of the Project in Anthropological Linguistics
A primary goal of this (linguistic) part of a project
is a comparative study of a language and a spoken culture of one indigenous nation of the Americas
(Dene)and a related one of Siberia (Ket). This
project also targets a preservation of a highly endangered Ket language, spoken on the territory of the Russian Federation.
Siberia’s Kets speak the only surviving Yeniseic language. Only 48.3 per cent of 1,113 Kets(1989 Soviet census) where reported being able to speak Ket fluently (Vajda 2001),
while Russian is taking over as their primary language of communication (Krivonogov 1998). Nowadays, most Kets no longer speak
their language. Kets are a linguistic and ethnic minority in imminent danger of losing their language. The economic situation
in the Ket areas of Turukhansk District shows no signs of improving, and serious efforts should be undertaken to preserve
Kets were referred to as “Yenisei Ostyaks” before the soviet
era, or “Ostyak-Samoyeds.”It was later replaced first by the Russian
jenise˙jts╠ ‘Yeniseians’ and soon after by ke˙t╠ ‘Kets’ (from the
native Ket word ke$t, meaning ‘person’ or ‘human being’).
Modern Ket has three major
dialects spoken in Turukhansk District villages: Kellog (the Southern dialect), which today has the largest number of speakers;
Surgutikha (Central Ket); and Northern Ket is spoken in the Maduika area (Vajda 2001).
Ket differs considerably from the neighboring Indo-European,
Uralic, and Altaic tongues (Comrie 1981). Ket vocabulary does not show any connection with other contemporary North Asian
languages, its phonological system lacks synharmony, the phonological word is characterized by a unique system of phonemic
contour tones. In addition, Ket has a complex polysynthetic verb with its subject/object agreement morpheme positions determined
idiosyncratically as a derivational feature of each individual verb stem instead a general grammatical rule.
The known Yeniseic languages probably have a common
ancestor spoken at least 2,200 years ago. Ket is often linked with a variety of language isolates and families spoken outside
Siberia, such as Basque, Abkhaz-Agygh, Nakh-Dagestanian, Burushaski, Sino-Tibetan, Haida
and Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit (Ruhlen 1998). Ket is generally considered an isolate language; however, it also bears the result
of centuries of contact with other Eurasian languages.
Recently, Proto-Yeniseic has been shown to contain
systematic phonological and morphological parallels with Proto-Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit (Vajda, 2000c). Vajda supports an idea
of the existence of an ancient, perhaps even early-Holocene, “Yeniseian-Dene” proto-language, which may represent
the only clear genetic link between Old and New World language families that can be demonstrated using traditional historical-comparative
Although the 1,200 or so remaining Kets today live
in North Central Siberia along the middle reaches and tributaries of the YeniseiRiver, toponymic evidence indicates Yeniseic-speaking peoples once inhabited
vast areas of Inner Eurasia. There have been attempts to link the Kets with various prehistoric archeological complexes, most
notably the sedentary Karasuk culture (1,200–700 BC) of the MinusinBasin of the Upper Yenisei (Chlenova 1975), which supplanted earlier,
presumably Indo-European food-producing cultures in the same area. Yeniseic elements may very well have been present in the
Xiong-nu and Hunnic confederations.Recent scholarship (Vovin 2000) even suggests
the Xiong-nu linguistic fragments recorded in Chinese writings may have been closely related to Ket.
Ket folklore combines
elements originating among steppe farmers and pastoralists with elements of aboriginal taiga hunting and fishing cultures
The aim of this project is:
compare the core aspects of Ket phonology and grammar in a systematic way with the languages of Athabascan group.
A chief impediment to a more informed knowledge of Ket has been the confusion attendant most previous attempts to write
a tonal language with an exclusively segmental alphabet or with an overly narrow phonetic transcription that obscures the
language's basic phonological patterns. The present research effects a sort of compromise.The sketch is based on Southern
Ket (SK), the dialect spoken by most remaining native speakers. Morphological and lexical differences between the now extinct
Yugh and the three surviving Ket dialects are fairly substantial (Werner 1997a), but SK differs from the two northern dialects
in rather minimal ways, mainly in the realm of phonetics and secondarily in lexicon.
The present sketch largely concurs with descriptions in Werner (1997b), but uses a somewhat different phonological
interpretation of the Ket tones (first discussed in Vajda 2000b) and a new analysis of Ket verb morphology (already partly
introduced in Vajda 2000a).
Museum of Anthropology
and Ethnography, St. Petersburg), the Siberian Languages Laboratory of Tomsk Pedagogical University
of a US government-funded Fulbright Research
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