Language Contact in the Arctic Volume 541 (Northern Pidgins and Contact Languages) || Language contact in northeastern Siberia (Chukotka and Kamchatka)

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  • Language contact in northeastern Siberia (Chukotka and Kamchatka)

    Bernard Comrie


    The aim of this article is to investigate the kinds of language contact that have characterized northeastern Siberia, more specifically the Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas.1 It is thus not directly concerned with Arctic pidgins for pidgins in this area, reference should be made to the contri-bution to this volume by Willem de Reuse - but it does discuss the kinds of language contact that are a prerequisite to the development of pidgins. The main indigenous languages of Chukotka and Kamchatka are the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages, generally reckoned to be five in number: Chukchi, Koryak, Kerek, Alutor, and Kamchadal (Itelmen). Of these, the first four are very close to one another, while Kamchadal is highly divergent. "Kamchadal" originally covered a group of probably three related languages or highly divergent dialects, but of these only Western Kamchadal has survived to be the subject of intensive linguistic investigation. Of the languages of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan family, dis-cussion will be confined, for present purposes, to Chukchi and Western Kamchadal; most of what is said of Chukchi would also apply to Koryak, probably also to Kerek and Alutor, with the exception that these last two underwent no development as written languages in the Soviet period. In addition, a further indigenous language (or, more accurately, group of languages) will play an important role in what follows, namely Siberian Yupik, a member of the Eskimo branch of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Siberian Yupik represents an immigration of Yupik Eskimo into Siberia, and the language is currently spoken both on the Russian side of the Bering Strait and on St. Lawrence Island, administratively part of the state of Alaska in the USA.2 The main nonindigenous language rele-vant to language contact in this area is Russian, although English also plays a certain role, even in speech varieties of areas under Russian ad-ministration.

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  • 34 Bernard Comrie

    Three contact situations will be discussed below: Chukchi and Russian (and also English), Central Siberian Yupik and Chukchi, and Western Kamchadal and Russian. It will be observed that two of these contact situations involve a nonindigenous language, while one involves two in-digenous languages. This distinction, however, is not the most salient classificatory feature of these language-contact situations. Rather, the Chukchi-Russian (-English) contacts stand out as an instance of super-ficial lexical borrowing, in the traditional sense of this term, while those involving Central Siberian Yupik-Chukchi and Western Kamchadal -Russian attest to a more intimate relationship between the two languages involved, more akin to language mixing or language shift. These terms - borrowing, language shift, language mixing - are used essentially in the senses in which they are introduced in Thomason and Kaufman (1988). Borrowing in its narrow sense refers to a situation where one language borrows, at least initially, only lexical items from another, pri-marily nonbasic lexical items, indeed in the first instance usually only lexical items to name new objects or concepts borrowed from the other language's speakers. Borrowing can be recognized by the prevalence of nouns among the borrowed elements, in the most superficial instances of borrowing to the exclusion of all other loans. Language mixing, by con-trast, presupposes a fairly detailed knowledge of both languages by those who initially carry out the mixing, with the result that much less salient parts of one language's structure are incorporated into the other. As such, language mixing presupposes a closer social contact between speakers of the two languages. Language shift occurs where speakers of a language abandon their language in favor of another language, carrying over cer-tain features of their original language into the new language; since these speakers are by definition familiar with the first language, they can carry over features that would require an intimate knowledge of that language.

    1. Early Chukchi contacts with Russian (and English)

    By "early" contact I mean contact that took place before the develop-ment of Chukchi as a written language, which took place primarily in the period from 1930. As part of the process of developing Chukchi as a written language, a substantial volume of vocabulary was borrowed from Russian, written in exactly the same way as it is written in Russian (even to the extent of using cyrillic letters that form part of the Russian alpha-bet but are not used in indigenous Chukchi words). For the early period,

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  • Language contact in northeastern Siberia (Chukotka and Kamchatka) 35

    an invaluable source is Bogoras (1922), based on the author's own life among the Chukchi (and other Chukotko-Kamchatkan peoples) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular during expedi-tions in 1895-1897 and 1900-1901. By this time, there were already well developed contacts between (at least some) Chukchi and local Russian seafarers and traders, so that Chukchi had had to come to terms with naming various foreign concepts. Bogoras notes that the usual Chukchi response at this period was to create new lexical items from indigenous lexical resources.

    Chukchi gloss translation keli- carve 'write' keli-kel carving 'drawing; writing;

    letter, book' keli-t?ul carve-piece 'paper' kale-tko-ra-n carve-HAB-house-ABS 'school' tin-hle-t ice-eye-PL '(eye) glasses' tin-uqqem ice-deep:vessel 'bottle' tin-puvtdn ice-jar 'glass jar' rirje-nerj fly-thing 'airplane'

    The verb stem keli- in Chukchi originally meant (and can still be used to mean) 'carve'. Its semantic range was extended, under contact with li-terate Russians, to mean 'write'.3 The next three items in (1) are deriva-tives of keli-. The same stem keli- can also be used as a nominal stem, referring to the product of the action denoted by the verb stem keli-, for this particular nominal formation, the absolutive singular form of the noun, also used as its citation form, is formed by reduplicating the initial CVC of the stem, a morphophonemic process that is quite widespread in Chukchi. The suffix -t?ul is widely used in Chukchi to mean 'piece, con-crete object', so that keli-t?ul has the meaning 'paper', in some varieties of Chukchi also 'money'. Both the extension of the meaning of keli- and these derivatives with these senses are noted by Bogoras and are still current in Chukchi; they are listed, for instance, in Moll - Inenlikej 1957. The next item in (1) shows the use of Chukchi linguistic material to pro-vide equivalents of words reflecting new social conditions, rather than just material objects; it is presumably subsequent to Bogoras's time, at least not being mentioned by him, but is listed by Moll - Inenlikej. The stem keli- appears in its vowel harmony alternant kale-,4 to this is at-tached a suffix -tku (vowel harmony variant -tko), which indicates habit-

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  • 36 Bernard Comrie

    ual action; to this is attached the element -ra, which appears in indepen-dent form as the noun yaraip (stem yam-) 'house'; to which is attached finally the suffix -n, a lexically determined indicator of absolutive case in the singular. This item can thus be glossed more literally as 'house in which one habitually writes', a not unreasonable expression for 'school'. The Chukchi lexical item tin-, literally 'ice', is used in a number of neolo-gisms to mean 'glass', and here we find it combined with ble-t 'eyes' (where -t is the plural absolutive suffix); the sense is thus literally 'ice (or glass) eyes', i. e., '(eye) glasses'. This item is cited both by Bogoras and by Moll and Inenlikej. In addition, Bogoras cites tin-uqqem 'bottle', while Moll and Inenlikej cite tin-puvtan 'glass jar'. The last item is post-Bo-goras, though still current in Chukchi: the Chukchi suffix -nerj, attached to a verb stem, indicates an instrument for performing the action denoted by that verb, so that when attached to the stem riqe- 'fly', the result is an instrument for flying, or an airplane.

    Though rarer, Bogoras notes that Chukchi also borrowed some words directly from Russian. Some examples are given in (2).

    Chukchi Russian English taaq tabak 'tobacco' caqar saxar 'sugar' cay (PL cag-td) caj 'tea' kone-kon kon' 'horse' col sol' 'salt' toroma zdorovo 'hello'5

    In nearly all such instances, however, one finds adaptation of the loan word to the phonological and morphological patterns of Chukchi. Thus, Russian sounds that are nonexistent in Chukchi are replaced by the clos-est Chukchi sound, as when /s/ is replaced by the palatal affricate, here transcribed c, in caqar and col, or /x/ is replaced by the uvular plosive /q/ in caqar, or the distinctive palatalization of the word-final nasal of Rus-sian kon' is lost, or /b/ is simply dropped in taaq. The noun cay follows the pattern of other Chukchi nouns with final y in selecting the -te variant of the absolutive plural suffix and changing y to g (a voiced velar frica-tive) before this suffix (as before t more generally). The word for 'horse' has the stem kone-, and its absolutive singular is formed by means of the same kind of initial CVC reduplication noted in (1) for keli-kel, to give kone-kon. Nearly all of the examples cited by Bogoras are nouns, the only exception being the greeting toro


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