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Tundra Nenets language

Tundra Nenets
Native to Northern Russia
Ethnicity Nenets
Native speakers
unknown (95% of Nenets speakers cited 1989)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog tund1255[2]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Tundra Nenets is a Samoyedic language spoken in northern Russia, from the Kanin Peninsula to the Yenisei River, by the Nenets people.[3] It is closely related to Nganasan and Enets, more distantly related to Selkup and even more distantly to the other Uralic languages. It has a sister language, the Forest Nenets language, and the two are sometimes seen as simply being dialects of a single Nenets language, and sometimes as separate languages. There is low mutual intelligibility between the two. In spite of the huge area in which Tundra Nenets is spoken, Tundra Nenets is very uniform with few dialectal differences.[4]

The language has speakers of all ages and is still passed down to children. In some western parts of where the language is spoken, however, children and young people are increasingly shifting to either Russian or Komi. Also, the traditional Nenets lands are being destroyed and as it seems like the world has turned the blind eye to these destructions,[which?] the future of the Tundra Nenets language may not be as bright as one would think.[4]


The syllable structure of Tundra Nenets is generally CV(C), and syllables with initial, medial or final consonant clusters of more than two consonants are not allowed. Words normally do not begin with a vowel, except in western dialects of the language, mostly due to the loss of /ŋ/, so the standard Tundra Nenets word ŋarka ('big') is found as arka in western varieties.[5]


The number of vowel phonemes in Tundra Nenets is 10, which have 17 distinct allophones governed by palatality, which dominates whole sequences of vowels and consonants.[6] Vowel frontness is not segmentally contrastive.

Monophthong vowels are present in the chart below. Phonemes are marked in bold, with their palatal (on the left) and non-palatal (on the right) allophones marked underneath using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Unrounded Rounded
Close Long /í/
[(ʲ)iː], [ɨː]
[(ʲ)ʉː], [uː]
Short /i/
[(ʲ)i], [ɨ]
[(ʲ)ʉ], [u]
Mid Tense /e/
[(ʲ)eː], [ɤː]
[(ʲ)ɵː], [oː]
Lax /°/
Open Tense /a/
[(ʲ)aː], [ɑː]
Lax /ø/
[(ʲ)ɐ], [ʌ]

There is also a vowel æ, which is interchangeably realized as [æ͡e̘] or [æː]. This and the long close vowels only occur in word-initial syllables.

Vowel reduction

In much of the literature on Tundra Nenets and its sister dialect, Forest Nenets, a so-called reduced vowel is mentioned. This reduced vowel was thought to have two distinct qualities depending on whether it was found in a stressed or unstressed position. In stressed position it was transcribed as ø and represented a reduced variant of an underlying vowel, and in unstressed position it was transcribed as â and represented a reduced variant of /a/. Recently, however, it has become clear that the reduced vowels are in fact short vowels, counterparts to their respective long vowels. Today â should simply be replaced by a, while ø simply represents a short vowel, although it is not specified which short vowel in this orthography.[7]


The number of consonant phonemes in Tundra Nenets is 27.[8] All labial and coronal consonants have plain and palatalized counterparts.

Bilabial Coronal Velar Glottal
Plain Palzd Plain Pala.
Nasal [[bilabial nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.m]]
[[alveolar nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.n]]
[[velar nasal#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ŋ]]
Stop Voiceless [[voiceless bilabial stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.p]]
[[voiceless alveolar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.t]]
[[voiceless velar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.k]]
[[glottal stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ʔ]]
Voiced [[voiced bilabial stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.b]]
[[voiced alveolar stop#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.d]]
Affricate Voiceless [[Voiceless alveolar sibilant affricate#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.ts]]
Fricative Voiceless [[voiceless alveolar fricative#Voiceless alveolar sibilant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.s]]
[[voiceless velar fricative#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.x]]
Approximant Semivowel [[palatal approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.j]]
[[labio-velar approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.w]]
Lateral [[alveolar lateral approximant#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.l]]
Trill [[alveolar trill#REDIRECTmw:Help:Magic words#Other
This page is a soft redirect.r]]

All consonants can be found word-internally between vowels, but their occurrence in other positions is strongly limited.[9]

  • Only the 16 consonants shown on darker gray background may occur word-initially.
  • Syllable-finally, most consonant contrasts are not found, and only six consonants occur: /b/, /ʔ/, /m/, /n ~ ŋ/, /l/, /r/.


Tundra Nenets has a phonological process of sandhi: the simplification of consonant clusters, both within words (in e.g. inflection) and between words. This allows considering some of the consonant phonemes secondarily derived from underlying consonant clusters.[10]

  • Fortition of fricatives: when preceded by a consonant, the fricatives /s/, /sʲ/, /x/ become the affricates / stops /ts/, /tsʲ/, /k/ respectively.
  • A syllable-final glottal stop /ʔ/ is lost before any obstruent consonants.
  • A word-final non-labial nasal /n/ is lost when followed by a sonorant, and becomes a glottal stop utterance-finally. Within a word, the cluster /nj/ may occur.

As the citation form of a noun is the bare stem, a word ending in a glottal stop in isolation can thus underlyingly end either in a plain glottal stop, or in a nasal. The latter is sometimes called a "nasalizable glottal stop", and is in the orthography of the language written differently from the former.


The alphabet of Tundra Nenets is based on Cyrillic, like with most other languages found in Russia, with the addition of three letters: Ӈ ӈ, ʼ, and ˮ, which are less common among the Cyrillic letters.


Vowels' palatalized and plain allophones are distinguished in the original orthography.[11]

phonemic transcription a e o i u æ
Cyrillic Plain а э о ы у э
Palatalized я е ё и ю

The Cyrillic orthography doesn't distinguish the reduced vowel from /a/, nor long /iː/ and /uː/ from their short counterparts /i/ and /u/. æ is not found in a palatalized environment, and thus does not show up in the chart.

The schwa, [ə], has no direct counterpart in the Cyrillic orthography, and is in most cases not written. Sometimes, however, it is written, but its presence is very irregular, as the writing system is not fully standardized. It may appear as а, я, ы, ӗ or ŏ. Consider for instance the following words written with phonemic transcription and the Cyrillic orthography respectively, /xad°/, хад ('snowstorm') and /nix°/, ныхы ('power').[12]


The consonants in the Cyrillic orthography can be seen in the chart below. Note that palatalized consonants are not included.[13]

phonemic transcription /m/ /p/ /b/ /w/ /n/ /t/ /d/ /ts/ /s/ /j/ /l/ /r/ /ŋ/ /k/ /x/ /ʔ/ /ʔ/
Cyrillic м п б в н т д ц с й л р ӈ к х ˮ ʼ

The letter ˮ marks a "plain" glottal stop, while ʼ marks a glottal stop derived from a word-final /n/.

As in Russian, the consonants are palatalized using the soft sign, ь, so, the palatalized consonant /mʲ/ is represented with мь in Cyrillic unless it is followed by a palatalizing vowel, such as ё, so that /mʲo/ is мё in Cyrillic.



  1. ^ Daniel Abondolo, 1998. The Uralic Languages, p. 517.
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tundra Yurak". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Staroverov, Peter (2006). Vowel deletion and stress in Tundra Nenets. Moscow, Russia. p. 1. 
  4. ^ a b Salminen 1997, p. 13.
  5. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 35–36.
  6. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 36–37.
  7. ^ Salminen, Tapani (1993). On identifying basic vowel distinctions in Tundra Nenets. Finnisch-Ugrische Forschungen 51. Helsinki: Suomalais-Ugrilainen Seura. pp. 177–187. 
  8. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 37–38.
  9. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 40–41.
  10. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 43–44.
  11. ^ See Salminen (1997), pp. 36-37
  12. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 34–35.
  13. ^ Salminen 1997, pp. 38.