I. Sociolinguistic data

1. Existing alternative names of the language and ethnic group

In the 1920s, Chukchi was renamed Luoravetlan (from the Chukchi autoethnonym of ӆыгъоравэтӆьат (sing. ӆыгъоравэтӆьан ) [real people]). However, this name never really caught on, although population censuses still use it as a second one to the ethnonym of Chukchi. It is possible that this autoethninym was not originally applicable to all the groups of Chukchi, who preferred to use the names of local groups (Chukchi reindeer herders) and settlements (Chukchi sea hunters) for their self-identification. At present, Chukchi use the following names for their language, both derived from йыӆйыӆ [language]: ӆыгъоравэтӆьэн йыӆйыӆ (in Chukotka) and чувчеӈйыӆйыӆ (in Nizhnekolymsky district of Yakutia and Penzhinsky district of Kamchatka).

2. General characteristics

2.1. Total number of speakers and their ethnic group

According to the 2020 Census, 2607 people spoke Chukchi. The same source says that there were 16228 Chukchi registered in Russia. Historically, Chukchi were not the only ones speaking Chukchi. On the other hand, some Chukchi are more fluent in other languages of indigenous peoples, e.g. Even or Koryak. In addition to Chukchi, the Chukchi language is spoken by some of the Evens and Yukaghirs of the Nizhnekolymsky District, Koryaks and Evens of Kamchatka, Inuits from the coasts of the Chukchi Sea. Such multilingualism is the consequence of the gradual relocation of Chukchi from the cold tundras on the high grounds of the northeasternmost point of Eurasia to the forest-covered mounds of the foothills of Koryak mountain country, south tundra, and foothills of the Kolymsky ridge, as well as the plain tundras of the lower reaches of the Kolyma and Alazeya rivers. This expansion formed the periphery of the Chukchi range, i.e. the traditional Chukchi territory up until the 17 th century (the so-called Chukotskaia zemlitsa). This periphery should include certain portions of the  coast of the Chukchi and Bering Seas, where Chukchi settlements existed side by side with Asian Inuit habitations. This coast can also be considered the periphery of the Inuit main territory, the western border of their settlements. In this multilingual area, Chukchi was the language of inter-ethnic communication. In addition, before the beginning of the 20th century, Chukchi usually spoke only their own language and often did not understand even Russian, with the exception of the furthest Chukchi nomad camps between the Alazeya and Indigirka rivers, where the inhabitants gradually assimilated and adopted languages and customs of local people.

 Following the establishment of the Soviet administration and administrative borders in the northeast in the 1930s, the situation has changed, and in some settlements, where another ethnic population was in the majority, Chukchi began to speak Russian or other language of the predominant population. It was either Even (Omolon, Bilibinsky District of Chukotka; Ayanka, Penzhinsky District of Kamchatka) or Koryak (Achaivayam, Olyutorsky District of Kamchatka). In addition, many Chukchi from the western part of their traditional territory began to understand Yakut and Yukaghir, in addition to Even.

The registration of nomad Chukchi in certain districts/regions and the establishment of administrative borders resulted in keeping Chukchi groups apart from each other, shaping different language behavior and linguistic repertoires (vocabularies). There was no regular transport communication between the frontier regions of Yakutia and Chukotka, as well as Chukotka and Kamchatka, and the Chukchi communities of the Nizhnekolymsky District of Yakutia, Olyutorsky and Penzhinsky Districts of Kamchatka evolved separately from Chukotka and each other, with the exception of rare contacts made the traditional way: at first, using reindeer, then Buran snowmobiles. The language policy was different too.

Image 1. Chukchi-speaking area and traditional Chukchi territory.

2.2. Three communities of Chukchi speakers

The established administrative borders divided Chukchi speakers into four loosely connected communities, in which Chukchi weren’t the only Chukchi-speaking members: (1) Chukchi and some of Inuits of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug; (2) Chukchi, Evens, Yukaghirs of the Nizhnekolymsky Districts of Yakutia; (3) Chukchi and other peoples of Kamchatka: a) Chukchi and Evens of the Penzhinsky District (Ayanka), b) Chukchi and Koryaks of the Olyutorsky District of Kamchatka (Achaiavayam, Srednie Pakhachi).  

2.3. Age of native speakers

Chukotka . No natural communication in Chukchi between people under 40 was recorded, although the native speakers aged 30-40 can sometimes be found in all the above-mentioned localities . They are capable of communicating with elder people, who speak poor Russian, but more often than not they do not feel the need to use it when speaking with friends and they do not teach the language to their children.

Yakutia. Most of the older people live in rural communities where Russian language is predominant (Kolymskoye, Pokhodsk, Chersky). As a result, the elders fluent in Chukchi, 65-80 years old, speak Russian more often than Chukchi. Neighbors and friends of the older generation, 65-80 years old, speak Chukchi with each other; the middle generation sometimes uses Chukchi words in a predominantly Russian communication. There are no active speakers under 40 recorded in Nizhnekolymsky District, Yakutia.

Kamchatka. Active Chukchi speakers can only be found among middle and older generations. The vast majority of Chukchi speakers also speak Russian. In Chukotka, older generation has a poor command of Russian, therefore the communication between older and middle generation in native language happens more often, than in Yakutia and Kamchatka. People under 40 virtually never speak Chukchi.

2.3. Sociolinguistic characteristics

2.2.2. Threat of extinction

Kamchatka & Yakutia. The language is seriously endangered . There are over one hundred native speakers, but they are mostly from the older generation. Representatives of the middle generation understand Chukchi and can use it to communicate with older generation, but they rarely do it. There are no speakers (even passive ones) among children. Spheres of use: domestic activities for older generation, communications with linguists. The state support for the language is either minimal (Yakutia), or non-existent (Kamchatka).

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. The language is under the threat of extinction. It is used mainly by the middle and older generations, sometimes by young people, but no children in Chukotka speak it anymore. Spheres of use: domestic, formal declarative. The state support for the language exists, but at a very moderate level.

2.2.3. Use in various spheres




Family and everyday communication

In use

In all regions: between representatives of the middle and older generations if the older generation has a poor command of Russian. Between representatives of the older generation. Secret language and rare phrases in Chukchi in a domestic communication among the middle generation.

Education: nursery school

As a subject

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug: in ethnic settlements (with the highest density of indigenous population) and in some nursery schools in Anadyr;

Yakutia: teaching in Chukchi is not available every year (depends on the availability of competent teachers)

Kamchatka: no data

Education: school


Chukotka Autonomous Okrug: from 1 st to 9 th grade, it is an obligatory subject, whereas in high school, an optional one. It is taught in Kolymsky (Nizhnekolymsky District, Yakutia), an optional course in Ayanka (Penzhinsky District, Yakutia).

Education:  higher education


The major in Teaching Chukchi Language is taught at the Institute of Peoples of the North (within the Herzen State Pedagogical University in St. Petersburg). Chukchi is also taught at the Department of Northern Languages, North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk.

Education: language courses/clubs

Tool / subject (+ if optional)

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug: language courses for adults in Anadyr. Yakutia: no. Kamchatka Krai: no data.

Media: press (incl. online editions)


Supplement to the newspapers Krayny Sever (Anadyr) and Zolotaya Chukotka (Bilibino). Yakutia: supplement to Kolymskaya pravda .

Media: radio

Yes/ no

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug: yes. Local radio broadcasts on the Radio Rossii frequency: only around 85 min/week, including interviews with interesting people, news, music editions.

Local news reproduce Russian news programs, but other radio broadcasts are authentic. As far as we know, radio is the most popular media among the population that still thinks and speaks Chukchi. Yakutia and Kachatka: no.

Media: TV

Yes/ no

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug: yes. News in Chukchi are broadcast by local television three times a week (in total, around 75 min.). The materials mainly reproduce Russian news. Yakutia and Kachatka: no.

Culture (incl. live folklore)

Yes/ no

·               Certain rituals that are staged during district events contain some Chukchi elements (recorded in the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug).

·               Amateur groups. In many ethnic villages, there are dancing and vocal groups with renewable cast that sing songs in Chukchi (recorded in the Chukchi Autonomous Okrug). The most popular ones include Чукотка and the state academic Chukchi-Eskimos ensemble Эргырон .

·               Variety. GUBERNATOR

·               Cinema. In documentaries by A. Vakhrushev and V. Puya, one can hear Chukchi, often while switching codes (Chukchi to Russian). Chukchi can also be heard in the movies: Самые красивые корабли (1972, dir. A. Nitochkin), Китобой (2020, dir. F. Yuriev), etc.

·               Animation. “ U lukomoria... ” voiced in Chukchi:

·               Museums. Some museums of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug feature exhibit captions in Chukchi. For example, the Bilibino museum prepares an exhibit of a reindeer skeleton with captions in Chukchi, the exhibition of traditional clothing already has special captions.


Fiction in native language


Chukotka Autonomous Okrug: Fyodor Tinetev, author of the first poem published in Chukchi Тынэтэгын, is considered to be the first Chukchi writer. In the 1930s–1940s, publications included mainly translations: ideological and children’s literature, books by A. Pushkin and other classic writers. In the 1950s, there began the publication of collections of poetry, as well as the first collection of short stories by Yury Rythau and poems by V. Keulkut. It was only in the 1960-1980s that the active publication in Chukchi began: poems by M. Valgirgin, K. Geutval, A. Kymytval, stories by V. Yatgyrgyn and Y. Rythau. At present, writer V. Veket lives and writes in Chukotka. There are periodical publications of folklore materials. Researchers estimate total number of published fiction and folklore in Chukchi at about 200.

Yakutia: publication of a collection of poems by a multilingual poet who wrote in Chukchi and Yukaghir (Pura, G. Песня о тундре [Song about tundra]. 2016).

Kamchatka: no data

Religion (use in religious practice)


Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Concerning the traditional religious beliefs, shamanism uses Chukchi for traditional seasonal events: elders speak phrases in Chukchi, while conducting ceremonial acts. As for the  official religion, Orthodox Christianity does not use Chukchi. The Institute for Bible Translation initiated the translation of a Gospel of Luke Taӈпыӈыл Луканэн, 2002 (translated by I. Kulikova, Chukchi speaker, Cand. Sc. Philosophy).

Recently, various Baptist cults became very popular in villages and cities of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Thought leaders of some of them actively publicize national languages, encouraging Chukchi to translate into their native language and sing religious songs during meetings. In some villages, leaders of the sect organize theme events designed to encourage the communication in Chukchi on religious topics.

Yakutia and Kachatka: no data.

Legislation + Administrative activities + Justice system



Agriculture (incl. hunting, gathering, reindeer herding, etc.)



Internet (communication/ existence of websites in native language, not media)


Exchanges in message apps

2.4. Information about written language and its existence

Chukchi has a very recent writing tradition. It was only in the 1930s that the graphic system elaborated for Chukchi and, consequently, the literature that used it saw the light of day. Previously, Chukchi language was recorded using the graphic system of collectors (see the recordings of Chukchi words made by Oscar Nordqvist, a Norwegian participant of the expedition of A. Nordenskjöld and missionary Mikhail Petelin in 1878-1879).

In the 1920s, a Chukchi man Tenevil (Tynevil) invented an ideographic writing based on primitive characters (in total, there were recorded 160 characters, although witnesses say that the Tenevil’s system contained about 1000 of them). He spent his lifetime improving the system, which resulted in the creation of symbols not only for verbs and nouns, but also pronouns and conjunctions. The shepherd used this system to keep a diary, he sometimes transmitted “notes” on wooden tablets to kolkhoz via his son, taught other Chukchi to use his writing system. After his death in 1937, the use of this writing system stopped.

The first official variant of the writing system was created using the Unified Northern Alphabet that was based on the Latin graphic system. The 1932 is considered the year of the creation of a Latin-based Chukchi writing, it was the year of publication of the first Chukchi ABC .

There were even the Latin-based arithmetic textbooks, since the teaching in primary school was initially in Chukchi. After 1937, the writing system of Chukchi, along with all other peoples of the North, was switched to Cyrillic. But according to certain sources, the Latin-based Chukchi alphabet continued to be used locally even in the 1940s. The special symbols ӈ and ӄ designed to indicate special sounds of the Chukchi language were introduced after the 1950s, before that they used letters with apostrophes: к’ and н’ .

After the system of writing was finalized, it sped up the creation of the Chukchi literary language: they started publishing folklore, school textbooks and dictionaries in Chukchi, translating ideological literature and Russian classics into Chukchi. In order for this to be completed, the Soviet administration had to expedite the creation of a national intellectual circle among the indigenous students sent to Leningrad to learn their native language at the Institute of the Peoples of the North. The literary language was based on the Eastern (Uelenski) dialect of the settled coastal Chukchi. The literary tradition is quite limited, the standard literary language is currently in its early youth. There is fiction, publicist writing, study materials in Chukchi, but no specialized literature was published so far. Functional styles do not exist either. Local intellectuals point out that the language of fiction and publicist literature, as it is now, is overburdened with loan translations from Russian, artificial, and difficult to understand. Only few authors managed to break through the barrier of this officialese and started to write using the living Chukchi language.

3. Geographic Characteristics

3.1. Subjects of the Russian Federation with compact residence of native speakers

The majority of Chukchi lives in settlements and roams across the tundra of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Chikchi reside in all districts of the Okrug, and native speakers can be found in any of them, virtually in any locality. According to the 2010 Census, Chukchi and Chukchi-speaking people live in a relatively compact way, in neighboring districts. In Nizhnekolymsky District of Yakutia, Chukchi is spoken mainly to the east, near the border with Chukotka. Some Chukchi live in the north of Kamchatka Krai, in Penzhinsky (Ayanka) and Olyutorsky Districts (Achaivayam, Srednie Pakhachi). Finally, a very small number of Chukchi lives in Magadan and Magadan Oblast that also borders the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

Table 1. Number of Chukchi in various regions based on the 2010 Census

RF Region

Number of Chukchi

Fluent in Chukchi (not only native speakers)

Chukotka Autonomous Okrug









Magadan Oblast



In Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the Chukchi language has de facto higher status then in two neighboring regions, but only in Yakutia does it have de jure official status, i.e. it is considered to be a local official language in localities inhabited by Chukchi. In Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Chukchi is taught in numerous schools, they publish textbooks, dictionaries, teaching aids, and newspapers in Chukchi, there are occasional language courses for adults, as well as official and traditional events, where Chukchi plays an important part. In Yakutia, its status is somewhat lower than that of Yakutian, but some measures of language preservation are still being taken. There is no data concerning the measures of support and preservation of Chukchi taken in the Olyutorsky District, Kamchatka Krai; in Penzhinsky District, where researchers carried out some field work, such measures are reduced to minimum (an optional Chukchi course was organized in a local school by a teacher on his/her own initiative). Therefore, the region of language distribution has a considerable impact on the level of language preservation.

3.2. Total number of localities traditionally inhabited by native speakers

Based on the 2010 Census, native speakers of Chukchi live in over 60 localities in three regions of the RF. Chukotka Autonomous Okrug has six districts, and in each one of them there are at least several settlements that have Chukchi speakers. In Yakutia, there is only one district with Chukchi-speaking population: Nizhnekolymsky, and the Chukchi-speaking population is concentrated mainly in Kolymskoye and Chersky. In Penzhinsky District of Kamchatka Krai, Chukchi-speaking residents live only in Ayanka. In Olyutorsky District, there is some information about Chukchi speakers living in Achaivayam (based on the data provided by the expedition of A. King), their presence in Srednie Pakhachi remains questionable.

4. Historical dynamics

The tables below summarize the dynamics in the number of Chukchi as ethnic group throughout the country and the number of Chukchi speakers in 1897-2020. It is impossible to regroup this data in one single table, since the data collection practices varied considerably. Thus, in the Censuses between 1959 and 1989, a respondent could indicate his/her proficiency “as a native”; he/she couldn’t simply chose his/her language from the list of languages. For this period, the data concerning each language is available only for the people of the same nationality.

Table. Number of Chukchi and proficiency in Chukchi based on the Censuses between 1897 and 1926

Census year

Number of Chukchi

Proficient in Chukchi







It is noteworthy that according to the 1926 data, the number of people proficient in Chukchi exceeded the total Chukchi population. This proves the above-mentioned multilingualism, i.e. the fact that the people living on the outskirts of the traditional Chukchi territory spoke not only their own ethnic language, but also Chukchi. This was partially true even in the 20 th century, thus, 99 Inuits indicated their command of Chukchi in the 2002 Census.

Table 4. Number of Chukchi and people who consider Chukchi to be their native language based on the Censuses from 1959 to 1989

Census year

Number of Chukchi

Indicated Chukchi as mother tongue

Share of Chukchi considering the language their mother tongue


12 000


11 268




13 597


11 231




14 000


11 339




15 184


11 209



Table 5. Number of Chukchi and people who consider Chukchi to be their native language based on the Censuses of 2002, 2010, and 2020

Census year

Number of Chukchi


Proficient in Chukchi

















The tables show that the number of people who consider themselves ethnic Chukchi remains relatively stable and even enjoys some growth. The number of people fluent in Chukchi, however, has been steadily declining.

II. Linguistic data

1. Position in the genealogical classification of world languages

Based on the genealogical classification, Chukchi traditionally belongs to the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language family, which usually also includes Koryak, Alyutor, Kerect (extinct), and Itelmens.

The first researcher of the Chukchi language V. Bogoraz was the first to suggest uniting Chukchi, Koryak, and Itelmens into a single Luoravetan family. In his analysis of Luoravetan languages in general, Bogoraz mentioned the dialectical diversity of Koryak and the relative homogeneity of Chukchi. In 1958, P. Skorik introduced a new name — Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages. This group (or family, nowadays) includes five languages: Chukchi, Koryak, Kerek, Alyutor, and Itelmens.

2. Dialects

Chukchi is traditionally described as monolithic when it comes to dialects. This monolithic nature is particularly noticeable when compared to the variability of the related Koryak group of idioms. Nonetheless, one might still find some slight differences between the center and the outskirts of this rather wide linguistic and geographical space. Native speakers of Chukchi are keenly aware of these differences, as small as they might be, and sometimes consider them very important, especially when they live outside of their traditional region, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

In grammatical descriptions, authors distinguish various numbers of Chukchi dialects. V. Bogoraz distinguished two groups of dialects:
nomadic reindeer herders (Western group) and sedentary seaside dwellers (Eastern group). P. Skorik insisted that the Chukchi language had also Enmylin, Nunligran, and Khatyrka dialects, in addition to the above-mentioned Eastern and Western groups. M. Dann, author of a thesis on Chukchi grammar, described some subunit that he called Teɬquep variety, however, he was unclear as to the geographic area of this presumed Chukchi dialect; no other variants were mentioned.

Based on modern data, the Chukchi linguistic community can be divided into 3 geographic zones: western, eastern, and southern. It should be noted that the eastern zone is not limited to the dialects of sedentary seaside dwellers mentioned by Bogoraz, but it also includes the  linguistic variants of Chukchi reindeer herders from nearly all districts of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, with the exception of the western part of Biblinsky Districts and the southern part of Anadyr District. The western area includes the western part of Bilibinsky District (Omolon, the Kattyn transshipment base and other lands of Oloy, a reindeer herding sovkhoz), the northeast of the Penzhinsky District, Kamchatka Krai (mainly Ayanka), and the Nizhnekolymsky District of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia). The southern zone includes Vaegi and Khatyrka villages in the south of Anadyr District, as well as, possibly, the north of Kamchatka Krai (Olyutorsky District, Achaivayam). For the approximate geographical borders between dialects, see the map below.

Image 9. Map of Chukchi dialects

The outer limits of these zones are the areas of intense contacts between Chukchi and other peoples: Evens and Yukaghirs in the west, Koryaks (and partially Evens) in the south, Inuits in the east, on the border of the mainland.
The idea of dividing the traditional Chukchi territory into zones is based on the geographical distribution of Chukchi camping grounds and settlements. It is also highly important to note that the interlocutors from different zones find it very hard to understand each other.

Due to noticeable differences in their lifestyles, there is a considerable difference in the vocabulary of language versions of two Chukchi groups: seaside dwellers аӈӄальыт (sing. Аӈӄальын ) that live along the shores of Bering and Chukchi Seas and hunt marine mammals, and reindeer herders чавчыват (sing. Чавчыван ) that roam the continental part of the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug and breed reindeer.