Institute of Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences

A. M. Pevnov


I. Sociolinguistic data

I.1. Existing alternative names

There are no alternative names of the language in the academic literature. But there are several alternative self-designations of Negidals. The Russian ethnonym of негидальцы is related to the word не̄γида̄ ~ ӈе̄γида̄, which means Negidal (plural не̄γида̄л ~ ӈе̄γида̄л [Negidals]). The Negidal word не̄γида̄ ~ ӈе̄γида̄ also means ‘a site located downstream, by the shore ’, which means that Negidals are people living by the river . V. Cincius explained that this ethnonym was designed to oppose Negidals as coastal people to Evenki that roamed the mountain slopes of taiga. The origin of this ethnonym is probably Negidal, but it is also possible that it was initially an external ethnonym: the Evenki language has a word similar to the one in Negidal, both historically and phonetically: ӈе̄γида̄ [a space on the lower slope, a coastal space], so it is quite possible that it was Evenki who gave Negidals their name.

Some Negidals use the self-designation елкан бэйэнин, which is interpreted as “a real man”.

The self-designation на̄ бээн (на̄ бээсэлтин) belonged to the group of Lower Negidals who lived in the village of Ust-Amgun until the middle of the last century ( бээн < бэйэ-н ; на̄ бээсэлтин < на̄ бэйэ-сэл-тин ). The first word is obviously related to the component на̄ , which is also present in the self-designations of Ulchi на̄ни and of Nanai на̄ни, на̄най (it is clear that the Russian ethnonym of нанаец was based on it).

Negidals had another self-designation: эмӈун бэйэнин  [man from the River Amgun].


I. 2. General characteristics

I.2.1. Total number of native speakers and their ethnic group

Based on the 2020 Census, 22 people speak Negidal (according to this Census, there are 481 Negidals in total). Researchers, however, estimate that there are no more than 5 people who really speak Negidal.

Based on the First All-Russian Population Census of 1897, there were 423 men recorded as Negidals. In the 1926 Census, there were 683 Negidals; the 1959 Census did not indicate Negidals as a separate nationality, in 1970, 537 people were recorded as Negidals, in 1979 — 504 people, in 1989 — 622, in 2002 — 567, in 2010 — 513.

I.2.2. Age structure of native speakers

Only a handful of elderly people speak Negidal.


I.2.3. Sociolinguistic characteristics

I.2.3.1. Threat of extinction

The transmission of Negidal from parents to children had virtually ceased two generations ago. Neither today’s children, nor their parents master the language. In such situation, the language is considered highly endangered, and it is quite likely that this state of affairs is irreversible.


I.2.3.2. Use in various spheres

There is virtually no sphere in which Negidal continues to be used. Still, some attempts were made to organize optional language courses in a primary school in Vladimirovka (but the only textbooks at their disposal were ABCs). And given that there are not that many children that could learn Negidal, it would clearly be counterproductive to divide them into classes by age to teach their native language. In this particular case, the language nest method would have been more efficient.



Family and everyday communication


Education: nursery school


Education: school


Education: higher education


Education: language courses/clubs


Media: press (incl. online editions)


Media: radio


Media: TV


Culture (incl. live folklore)


Fiction in native language


Religion (use in religious practice)


Legislation + Administrative activities + Justice system


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


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



I.2.4. Information about written language and its existence

Only two handbooks were published in Negidal:

Kazarova, A., Nadeina, D., Bereltuyeva, D. Неғида хэсэнин: Электронное фонетическое справочное пособие по негидальскому языку [Electronic phonetic reference manual in Negidal]. Khabarovsk: Po zakazu ministerstva prirodnykh resursov Khabaravskogo kraia OOO “Portal Khabarovsk”, 2009.

Bereltuyeva, D., Kazarova, A., Nadeina, D. Њеғида букварь. Учебное пособие для не владеющих негидальским языком 1-го года обучения [Textbook for those who do not speak Negidal, 1 st year]. Khabarovsk: Izdatelsky dom “Chastnaya kollektsia”, 2016.

The titles of these handbooks alone (Неғида ~ Њеғида) make it clear that they used different alphabets. Below, you’ll see the alphabet used in the ABC.



I.3. Geographic characteristics

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

Negidals inhabit the lands of two districts of Khabarovsk Krai: Ulchsky District and Imeni Poliny Osipenko District.

I.3.2. Total number of l ocalities traditionally inhabited by native speakers

There is not a single locality where Negidals would constitute the majority of the population. Based on the 2020 Census, there are 11 settlements with over 10 Negidal inhabitants, 2 with over 50 Negidals.

I.3.3. List of localities

Below, you’ll find the list of localities with over 10 Negidal inhabitants (based on the 2010 Census). The table also contains the total population of the given settlement, which helps to see that Negidals indeed remain an absolute minority everywhere.




Total population




























Imeni Poliny Osipenko







I.4. Historical dynamics

Below, you’ll find the number of native speakers recorded in Censuses (and their percentage of total population of the ethnic group). Dark shading in cells indicates lack of data.

Census Year








Size of ethnic group








Language proficient

Not taken into account separately







% of proficient speakers of the total ethnic group

Probably close to 100 %








The 2010 and 2020 Censuses differentiated two questions: which language the respondent considers his/her native one and whether he/she is proficient in the national language. The following answers concern Negidal:

Census Year



Size of ethnic group



Indicated as native language



Language proficient



% of proficient speakers of the total ethnic group (based on the Census data)




Population censuses show a steady decline in the percentage of people proficient in Negidal. At the same time, researchers estimated that the real number of Negidal speakers was considerably lower that the results of the Censuses: M. Khasanova indicated that there were no more than 10-15 fluent Negidal speakers as early as the late 20 th century, and today, their number does not exceed 3-5  people. Such a discrepancy with the results of Censuses can be explained by the fact that it is up to respondents to decide what it means to speak the language, thus, some of them can give a positive reply, when they only know the most common words and several cliched phrases. In addition, the outcome of the 2010 and 2020 Censuses was somewhat paradoxical: the number of respondents who considered Negidal their native language exceeded the number of proficient speakers. It can be explained by the difference between the scientific and common interpretation of the notion of native language: scientists see the native language as the one that a person assimilates within one’s family, from parents, whereas many people see it as a traditional language of their ethnic group, even if they do not speak it and their parents transmitted them Russian (or some other) language.



II. Linguistic Data

II.1. Position in the genealogical classification of world languages

Negidal, together with Even, Evenki, Solon, Oroqen, and Tungusic Khamnigan (the latter three are common in China), constitutes the Northern branch of the Manchu-Tungus language family. Within this branch, its closest “relative” is Evenki, although some of its peculiarities bring it closer to Even.

II.2. Dialects

Two dialects can be distinguished in Negidal. Traditionally, they are called Lower and Upper Negidal. These names are linked to the way the two groups of Negidals settled along the course of the River Amgun: Lower Negidals lived in the lower reaches of the River Amgun, Upper Negidals, upstream in the Imeni Poliny Osipenko District. The dialects are close enough, their difference is mostly in the phonetic form of words, cf., for instance,  Lower қачиҳан ~ Upper качикан [puppy] (there are no uvular consonants in Upper Negidal), or Lower ахинма ~ Upper акитма [older].


II.3. Brief history of language study

The first recordings in Negidal (about 30 words) were made by Alexander Middendorf during his trip in 1842—1845. In 1910, Negidals were visited by Lev Sternberg, who recorded approximately 600 words and made note of some grammatical forms. In 1925, P. Schmidt published his Язык негидальцев [The Language of the Negidals], which is comprised mainly of the Negidal dictionary (approx. 1200 words). Upon the request by P. Schmidt, the materials for this dictionary were collected by “Pr. B.  Barátosi Balogh (Hungary), Pr. P. Krastin (Latvia), and Mr. Loginovsky (Russia)”.

In 1926-1927, the students of L. Sternberg, V. Cincius and K. Mylnikova, from the Ethnographic Department, Faculty of Geography, Leningrad State University, participated in a year-long expedition to study Negidals. They collected an extensive ethnographic material and a rich collection of folklore texts of various genres. A small portion of texts was published in 1931 in Тунгусский сборник [Tungus compilation], along with a co-written essay on Negidal phonetics and grammar. Virtually nothing is known about Klavdia Mylnikova; she traveled to Negidals once again in 1935 (to collect ethnographic and archaeological material), then her personal file at the Institute of Ethnography was closed in 1937, the year that her husband, Alexander Forstein, got arrested and sentenced to 10 years of labor camps. Most of the collected materials were prepared for publication more than half a century later by Vera Cincius: she published Негидальский язык [The Negidal language] in 1982. While the texts in Тунгусский сборник [Tungus compilation] were written in Latin, in Негидальский язык [The Negidal language], they were transcribed in Cyrillic.

In summer 1961, Negidal linguistic materials were collected by V. Kolesnikova and O. Konstantinova.

In 1981–2000, a series of expeditions to Negidals were organized by M. Khasanova and A. Pevnov. In 2003, they published Мифы и сказки негидальцев [Myths and tales of the Negidals]  in Japan, in the Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim series (Negidal texts were transcribed using Cyrillic-based graphic).

In the 1990s, S. Kadzama organized expeditions to Negidals, then published a series of folklore texts.

In 2005—2007, several expeditions to Negidals were organized by V. Gusev, E. Kalinina, N. Sumbatova, and S. Toldova; in 2017—2020, by N. Aralova and B. Pakendorf.


II.4. Key linguistic data (phonetics, grammar, vocabulary)

II.4.1. Phonetics


The system of vocalism in Negidal is relatively complex, on one hand, and insufficiently analyzed, on the other. Moreover, the current state of language no longer permits to pursue a comprehensive instrumental phonetic study. Which is why to describe the system of Negidal vowels, we have to rely mainly on the history of Negidal vocalism that can be reconstructed by comparing the Negidal material with the materials of related languages of the Northern branch of the Manchu-Tungus language family.

The leading principle of the vowel system in Manchu-Tungus languages is vowel harmony. Its presence in a language means that all vowels are divided into two sets, or groups, and the vowels within a word may only belong to one of them. One of the most important consequences of the vowel harmony is that each suffix has to have phonetic variants with different vocalism: when a suffix is attached to a root (or a base), it has to contain the vowels that are in harmony with the vowels of the root (or base). Cf. the past tense indicator with its variants - ча ( бака-ча [found]) and -чэ ( эмэ-чэ [came]).

There are quite a few languages in the word where vowels obey the rules of vowel harmony. At the same time, languages may differ depending on the principle that guides the vowel harmony within a word. The Turkic languages, for instance, are ruled by the vowel harmony by row (e.g. the Dolgan language analyzed in Atlas): a word may only contain the vowels either of the front, or the back row (the so-called backness harmony). It may be accompanied by a rounding harmony: if there are rounded vowels within a root, all suffix vowels also have to be rounded (i.e. suffixes may only contain о, u, ö, ü ).

The vowel harmony of Manchu-Tungus languages is based on another principle: every vowel has a relatively higher (more closed) and a relatively lower (more open) variant. In other words, the language has two i -like phonemes (open i and close i ), two u -like phonemes (open u and close u) , two o -like phonemes (open o and close o ). And finally, there is a harmonic pair of a (as a relatively low vowel) and э (as a relatively high vowel). Cf. the quoted examples of the Negidal past time indicator -ча / - чэ .

In any case, the linguistic reconstruction based on the comparison of Manchu-Tungus materials recreates precisely such a system for the unrecorded Proto-Tungusic language –  the common ancestor of all modern Manchu-Tungus languages. This language began to splinter about 2000 years ago, and within this period, its descendants underwent more or less significant changes in vocalism, which somewhat muddled the initially clear picture. Among all Manchu-Tungus languages, Even is the language in which this system of two harmonic sets was best preserved; it contains the archaic, virtually proto-lingual system of vowels. To understand better the changes that underwent the system in Negidal, we encourage readers to get familiar with the Atlas article on vocalism and vowel harmony in the Even language. In Negidal, the system of vowels of the first syllable (i.e., the syllable that determines the harmony of the word) was substantially restructured. In particular, the articulatory and acoustic contrast between vowels of two harmonic series was enhanced: the relative difference of vowel height was increased so much that it became absolute.

Below, you’ll find the comparison of Negidal and Even materials (since Even is the most archaic of all Northern Manchu-Tungus languages). The transcription is based on IPA principles.

- in Negidal, the contrast of the two i -like vowels (a relatively close i and a relatively open ɪ) has turned into an opposition i ~ e :







и кэ-

и хэ̄-



и̇ лъ̇т-

е лит-


- in Negidal, the contrast of the two u -like vowels (a relatively close u and a relatively open ʊ ) has turned into an opposition u ~ o :







H у т

х у тэ



м у̇ нру̇кан

м о нохан


The last shift in Negidal resulted in the apparition of a new о vowel in the words that had never contained it before.

-  in Negidal, the contrast of the two old о -like vowels (a relatively close о and a relatively open ɔ ) has turned into an opposition u ~ о :






a birch bark trough to put in a cradle








But if the old vowels o or ɔ are used in two syllables in a row in the same word, it results in delabialization (when pronouncing vowels, lips are virtually not rounded):





o beforeo



ɤмɤн (recorded as омун , өмөн , эмэн )

ɔ before ɔ



ʌлʌ (recorded as оло, о а ло а , о а ло а , ала)



Relatively high vowels  Relatively low vowels



All these historical shifts resulted in the following system of vowels of the modern Negidal:













i   ī



u   ū


e   ē


ɤ… (ɤ̄)

o   ō


ə̄   ə̄

ʌ   ʌ̄




а   ā




Vowel harmony dictates that a word can only contain the vowels of the same set: either the ones highlighted in red, or in green.

At the same time the vowel harmony in affixes gets destroyed, one can use the indicators of both harmonic sets with the same word root, cf. accusative case асаткан-ма and асаткан-мэ [girl] or plural ала-сэл [fish] instead of the expected ала-сал .



The Negidal system of consonants is displayed in the following table that contains such specific, compared to Russian, symbols as the mediolingual t͡ʃ , d͡ʒ , ɲ and the velar ŋ .

Negidal consonants (each phonetic symbol is accompanied by a letter from the Negidal alphabet designed to record the sound)










p п   b б

т    d  д

t͡ʃ ч   d͡ʒ  ӡ̌

k к   g г/ғ

q к





х х




m м


ɲ њ

ŋ ӈ











j й










The uvular q is only present in the Lower dialect. Moreover, in the Manchu-Tungus languages (with the exception of Evenki that has no uvular sounds) the distribution of the velar k and uvular q depends on vowel harmony: the velar is used in the words with relatively high vowels, the uvular in the words with relatively low vowels. In Lower Negidal, the use of k and q does not always follow this principle, and the exceptions are possible both ways, cf. / ətijəqqən / [old man] and / asatkan / [girl].

Hereinafter, all examples will be phonetically transcribed (using the system that is not very different from the orthography displayed in Негидальском букваре [Negidal ABC] (2016)).



Most of the Negidal vocabulary is naturally of Manchu-Tungus origin. And within the Manchu-Tungus language family, Negidal clearly shares the most of its common vocabulary with the Northern Manchu-Tungus languages that it is particularly close to. But even in the case of words of Manchu-Tungus origin, researchers detect in Negidal different groups of words that are indicative not of its genetic relations with the Northern Manchu-Tungus languages, but of its contacts with other Manchu-Tungus languages of the region. For instance, there is a layer of cultural vocabulary shared with the Lower Amur languages that stems from either Manchu, or Jurchen language of later period, whereas its fishing-related terminology has a lot in common with that of Nanai and Ulchi.

It is also worth mentioning such an interesting lexical group as figurative words, which Negidals actively used in folklore. A very good definition of figurative words was given by Valentin Avronin, one of the finest specialist of Manchu-Tungus languages, in his Грамматика нанайского языка [Grammar of Nanai language]  {}: “Figurative words designate the notions that are closely associated with direct visual, aural, tactile impressions and emotional experiences. They are designed to express figurative characteristics of objects and their actions, and they represent a sort of snapshot of the real object with its various features. Many of them draw a rather complex picture, describing an object or an action from different angles. Their specificity and weak generality limit the range of their use, but make their content much more remarkable”.

In Negidal, figurative words do not belong to any part of speech, they resemble Russian interjections, like бум , хлоп , топ , прыг . Here are some examples of sentences with figurative words:

Солакин сему-сему / Лиса молчит, (лиса) ни гу-гу [Fox is quiet, (fox) stays silent].

Би е̄сайи тэӈ-тэӈ камнум / Я свое глаза крепко-накрепко заклеиваю [I glue my eyes very tightly].

Йаскола неси-неси / По земляному полу прыг-скок [On the dirt floor, jump-jump].

Хулэпта̄ндула паӈ-паӈ-паӈ   / По золе фрр-фрр (= зола во все стороны от крыльев птички полетела) [In the ashes whizz (=ashes flew all over because of the bird’s wings].

Чоӈколдули чохол бэл-бэл   / Сквозь чонгко (отверстие для вентиляции в стене зимнего дома) порх (выпорхнула птичка из дома) [Through чонгко (a hole in the wall of a winter house) swish (the bird flew out of the house].

Гэдэхэл’ан гэӈ-гэӈ / Затылок к земле (лисица крадется, распластавшись) [Back of the head to the floor (fox is creeping up, flattened to the floor].

Ихэйивани пуйу-пуйу ӡ̌э о гдэ о вка̄нча . / Кости сжег до мелкого пепла [Burned down bones to fine ash].

Солаки бэйичиллэн эпэкэ̄-га̄йава: дайамала̄н дапчу-ӯс , дэвкилэ̄н дэлду-ӯс , некмала̄н непчу-ӯс , иктэла̄н багдэ-эс , е̄сала̄н келту-ӯс , се̄ндола̄н л’эдбэ-э̄с , идгила̄н сиγэ-э̄с / Лиса стала скрадывать дедушку-сову: спина — хрясь (прогнулась), зад — хлоп (прижался к земле), шея — вниз (опустилась), зубы — блеск (оскалились), глаза — вспых (заблестели), уши — вверх (насторожились), хвост — вжик (движется из стороны в сторону) [Fox is sneaking up to the grandpa owl: back – crack (buckled), backside – clap (pinned to the ground), neck – down (lowered itself), teeth – shine (bared), eyes – blaze (lit up), ears – up (alerted), tail – whoosh (moves from side to side)].


In this example, the translations are more than approximate: in Negidal, there are no such words that would mean “up” or “down”. And the beginning of this sentence shows a very curious way of figurative word formation: the repetition of the first syllable of the non-figurative word in the figurative word related to it. Thus, да йамала̄н да пчу-ӯс, дэ вкилэ̄н дэ лду-ӯс, не кмала̄н не пчу-ӯс could be translated into Russian as something like: спина — спинанц!, зад — заданц!, шея — шеянц!