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 and People


The Ket language is the last member of the former Yeniseyan language group, spoken along the Yenisey river in the Krasnoyarsk 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 grammatically adapted.

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.

under construction



Name of the project: Ket: The Endangered Language (Anthropological Linguistics)


By: Alona Soschen, Ph.D.


1. Description

1.1    Context

1.2    Objectives

2. Importance, Originality, Contribution to the Advancement of Knowledge

2.1 Importance of the Project in Anthropological Linguistics



3. Theoretical Approach or Outline


1. Description

1.1    Context


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 Ket language.

    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 methodology. 



    Although the 1,200 or so remaining Kets today live in North Central Siberia along the middle reaches and tributaries of the Yenisei River, 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 Minusin Basin 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 (Nikolaev 1985).


1.2    Objective


    The aim of this project is:

         to 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).


St.Petersburg State University

Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Petersburg), the Siberian Languages Laboratory of Tomsk Pedagogical University of a US government-funded Fulbright Research Grant.


Alekseenko, E.A. 1967. Kety: istoriko-etnograficheskie ocherki [The Kets: historical-ethnographic sketches]. Moscow: Nauka.

________ 1975. “K voprosu o tak nazyvaemykh ketakh-jugakh [On the question of the so-called Ket-Yughs]”.  Etnogenez i etnicheskaja istorija narodov Severa, ed. I.S. Gurvich: 211-22.   Moscow:  Nauka.

Alekseev, V.P. & I.I. Gokhman. 1984. Antropologija aziatskoj chasti USSR [Anthropology of the Asiatic Part of the USSR].  Moscow: Nauka.

Debets, G.F. 1947.“Sel’kupy (antropologicheskij ocherk) [The Selkups: an anthropological sketch]”.  Trudy Instituta antropologii i etnografii 2: 103-45.  Moscow: AN SSSR.

Levin, M.G. 1951.  “Drevnie pereselenija cheloveka v Severnoj Azii po dannym antropologii [Ancient human migrations in North Asia based on anthropological data]”. Trudy Instituta antropologii i etnografi 16: 469-96.  Moscow:  AN SSSR.

Krivonogov, V.P.  1998.  Kety na poroge III tysjacheletija [The Kets on the Threshold of the Third Millennium].  Krasnoyarsk: Krasnoyarsk University.

Chlenova, N.L. 1975. “Sootnoshenie kul’tur karasukskogo tipa i ketskikh toponimov na territorii Sibiri [A correlation between Karasuk-type cultures and Ket toponyms in Siberia]”. Etnogenez i etnicheskaja istorija narodov Severa: 223-30. Moscow: Nauka.

Comrie, Bernard. 1981. The languages of the Soviet Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dolgikh, B.O. 1960. Rodovoi i plemennoi sostav narodov Sibiri v XVII v. [The clan and tribal composition of the peoples of Siberia in the 17th century]. Moskva.

Dul’zon, A.P. 1959. “Ketskie toponimy Zapadnoj Sibiri [Ket toponyms of Western Siberia”. Uchenye zapiski Tomskogo pedinstituta 18: 91-111. Tomsk. 

________. 1968. Ketskij jazyk [The Ket language]. Tomsk: Tomsk State University.

Krejnovich, E.A. 1961. “Imennye klassy i sredstva ikh vyrazhenija v ketskom jazyke [Noun classes and their expression in Ket]”. Voprosy jazykoznaniia 2: 106-16.

________. 1968. Glagol ketskogo jazyka [The Ket verb]. Leningrad: Nauka.

Nikolaev, R.V. 1985. Fol’klor i voprosy etnicheskoj istorii ketov [Folklore and questions of the ethnic history of the Kets]. Krasnoyarsk: Krasnoyarsk State University.

Porotova, T.I. 1990.  Kategorija mnozhestvennosti v enisejskikh jazykakh [The category of plural in Yeniseian languages]. Tomsk: Tomsk State University.

Vajda,E.J. 2001. “Ket”, Languages of the World/Materials 204, Linkom Europa, to appear.

Vajda,E.J. 2000a.“Actant conjugations in the Ket verb”.Voprosy iazykoznanija 67/3:21-41. 

______. 2000b. “Ket Prosodic Phonology”. Languages of the world 14: 1-20. Munich: Lincom.

______. 2000c. “Yeniseian and Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit: some grammatical evidence of a genetic relationship.” Sravnitel’no-istoricheskoe i tipologichekoe izuchenie iazykov i kul’tur, ch. 2: 22-34.  Tomsk:  Tomsk Pedagogical University.

______. 2001. Yeniseian peoples and languages: a history of their study, with an annotated bibliography and a source guide. Surrey, England: Curzon Press.

______. [in press]. “The roll of position class in Ket verb morphology.” WORD.

Verner, G.K. 1979. “Enisejskie chislitel’nye pervogo desjatka [The first ten Yeniseian number words].” Jazyki narodov Sibiri, vyp. 3: 207-16.  Kemerovo.

Vall, M.N. & I.A. Kanakin. 1985. Kategorija imeni v ketskom jazyke [Ket nominal categories]. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

_______ & _____. 1988. Kategorija glagola v ketskom jazyke [Ket verbal categories]. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

_______ & _____. 1990. Ocherk fonologii i grammatiki ketskogo jazyka [A sketch of Ket phonology and grammar]. Novosibirsk: Nauka.

Vovin, Alexander. 2000. “Did the Xiong-nu speak a Yeniseian language?”  Central Asiatic Journal 44/1: 87—104.

Werner, Heinrich [=Verner, Genrikh]. 1993. Slovar' ketsko-russkij i russko-ketskij [Ket-Russian and Russian Ket learner's dictionary]. St.Petersburg: Prosveshchenie.

_____. 1994. Das Klassensystem in den Jenissej-Sprachen. Wiesbaden:Harrassowitz.

_____. 1995. Zur Typologie der Jenissej-Sprachen. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

_____. 1996.Vergleichende Akzentologie der Jenissej-Sprachen.Wiesbaden:Harrassowitz.

_____. 1997a. Das Jugische (Sym-Ketische). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

_____. 1997b. Die ketische Sprache. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.




copyright Soschen 2007-2014