Chulym language

Чулым,[1] Ӧс (июс) тили, татар тили[2][3]
Native to Russia
Ethnicity 360 Chulyms (2010 census)[4]
Native speakers
44 (2010 census)[4]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 clw
Glottolog chul1246[5]

Chulym (Russian: Чулымский язык, Čulymskij jazyk), also known as Chulim, Chulym-Turkic, Küerik, Chulym Tatar or Melets Tatar (not to be confused with the closely related Siberian Tatar language) is the language of the Chulyms. The name the people use to refer to themselves, and also to their language, is Ös, literally ‘self’ or ‘own’. It is also spoken by the Kacik (Kazik, Kuarik). This name originated from a now extinct tribe.


The language is closely related to the Shor and Khakas languages. Though all these are considered by some as one language, the Ös speakers themselves do not believe this to be the case.

Chulym comprises distinct dialects, corresponding to locations along the Chulym River: Lower Chulym (now believed extinct), Middle Chulym, and Upper Chulym.

Chulym is a moribund language and will most likely be extinct by the 2030s. It is listed in the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages. During the filming of the 2008 American documentary film The Linguists, linguists Greg Anderson and K. David Harrison interviewed and recorded 20 speakers and estimated there may be between 35–40 fluent speakers out of a community of overall 426 members.[6] The youngest fluent speaker was 54 at the time of filming.[7]

The speakers are located in Russia, in southwestern Siberia, north of the Altay Mountains, in the basin of the Chulym River, a tributary of the Ob River.[8] The Turkic, Northeastern villages where the greatest concentrations of Ös live are Belij Yar, Novoshumilovo, Ozyornoe, and Tegul’det, in eastern Tomsk Oblast’ and Pasechnoe in western Krasnoyarsk Kray. All speakers are bilingual in Russian. In Soviet times, speakers of the language suffered as children were discouraged from or punished for using the language in schools, in a process of language devalorization.[9]


Chulym was once a widely spoken language but its history consists of “multiple waves of colonization and linguistic assimilation first into Turkic, and now into Russian.” This shift becomes even more evident when one studies the structure of the language, which is distinguishable from other Siberian Turkic languages. Now, Middle Chulym has become endangered due to the Russian hostility that occurred during the mid-twentieth century. It was during the 1940s, when Joseph Stalin was in power, that there was an establishment of a program called “the second mother tongue policy”. This included the act of rounding up children and sending them to boarding schools, where they learned the nation’s language and were forced not to speak their own native tongue. The program quickly caused the community to abandon the Chulym language. Soon enough, the language became associated with negative connotations and thus it gained an inferior and low social status. According to the film, The Linguists, a Chulym native speaker, Vasya, claimed that “Chulym was viewed as a ‘gutter language’,” and the language was no longer passed on to the children. Furthermore, in the 1970s, the Chulym community was forced into Russian-speaking settlements, where they had to adapt and speak the Russian language in order to move up in the social ladder and have greater chances of economic prosperity. Soon enough, Chulym speakers were abandoning their native tongue; this caused the community to lose a great number of speakers and their language traditions. Not only were the Chulym people forced to abandon their language, but also the government dropped them from the census statistics as a distinct ethnic group after 1959. Under the eyes of the government, the Chulym population was seen as non-existent, and not enough to earn itself a place as a different national unit; it was not until 1999 that the community regained their status as a separate ethnic entity. Thus with Russia’s urbanization and domination of their national language, Chulym’s chances of survival were slim.


The fact that Chulym had no written indigenous tradition, made it even more difficult for the language to endure. It was not until David Harrison and Greg Anderson from the documentary, that they began using scientific methods to document the Chulym language. The two linguists highlighted the efforts made to preserve the Chulym language and record what language loss meant to the community. The two travel to Tegl’det, a small village where they were able to find three Chulym speakers. It was there that they met Vasya, who was the youngest native Chulym speaker at the time. Their process of documentation included sitting down in private with the speakers and recording them during the interview. Accordingly, in collaboration with Vasya and the other two speakers, the two linguists were able to list words in Chulym such as numbers, greetings, a wool-spinning song, aphorisms, and bear- and moose-hunting stories. They were also able to collect personal narratives, spontaneous conversations, body parts, colors, fauna, flora and kin terms, along with instructions on how to use certain tools such as fur-covered skis and wooden canoes. The two linguists often sat with the natives and asked them to count in correspondence with their fingers, revealing how Chulym uses a 12-base instead of a 10-base number system. They also asked the natives to interpret specific sentences, with the intention to identify any Chulym rules of grammar. With this, the linguists battled to offset the negative connotations of and attitudes towards the Chulym language.[10]


  1. Письменные язки мира. Языки Российской Федерации. — М.: Academia, 2003. — Т. 2. — ISBN 5-87444-191-3 (Russian)
  2. Invention of Ös writing (Middle Chulym) on YouTube (Chulym)
  3. Чулымский говор в проекте Endangered Languages Project (Tatar)
  4. 1 2 Chulym at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  5. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Chulym". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  6. K.D. Harrison and G. D. S. Anderson (2006). "Ös tili (Middle and Upper Chulym Dialects): Towards a comprehensive documentation". Turkic Languages. 10 (1): 47–71.
  7. Kirk Honeycutt (18 January 2008). "The Linguists". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved 22 February 2009.
  8. K.D. Harrison and G. D. S. Anderson (2003). "Middle Chulym: Theoretical aspects, recent fieldwork and current state". Turkic Languages. 7 (2): 245–256.
  9. The Linguists (film, 2008)
  10. The Ös documentation Project


  • Anderson, Gregory and K. David Harrison (2006) Ös tili (Middle and Upper Chulym Dialects): Towards a comprehensive documentation. Turkic Languages. 10(1) 47-71.
Chulym language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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