Nanai language

The Nanai language (also called Gold, Goldi, or Hezhen) is spoken by the Nanai people in Siberia, and to a much smaller extent in China's Heilongjiang province, where it is known as Hezhe. The language has about 1,400 speakers out of 17,000 ethnic Nanai, but most (especially the younger generations) are also fluent in Russian or Chinese, and mostly use one of those languages for communication.[2]

на̄най, на̄ни
Native toRussia, China
RegionRussian Far East, Heilongjiang
EthnicityNanai people
Native speakers
1,400 (2010)[1]
  • Southern
    • Nanai group
      • Nanai
  • Nanai
  • Akani
  • Birar
  • Samagir
Language codes
ISO 639-3gld
Lang Status 40-SE.svg
Nanay is classified as Severely Endangered by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger
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In China, the language is referred to as Hèzhéyǔ (Chinese: 赫哲语). The Nanai people there variously refer to themselves as /na nio/, /na bəi/, /na nai/ (which all mean "local people"), /ki lən/, and /χə ɖʐən/, the last being the source of the Chinese ethnonym Hezhe.[3]


The language is distributed across several distantly-located areas:

It is thought that in Russia, the Nanai language has been best preserved in the Nanai District of Khabarovsk Krai, because of the active Nanai-speaking community there, which has been active in working on the publication of books in Nanai, as well as textbooks on the language, and also because of the ethnic autonomous status of the Nanai District. According to Stolyarov's data, the worldwide Nanai population is 11,883, of whom 8,940 live in rural localities of Khabarovsk Krai. However, only 100–150 native speakers of the language remain there.[5] The 2002 Census recorded 12,194 Nanai people who claimed to speak Russian as well.[6] Three ethnic Nanai villages remain, those being Dzhuen, Ulika, and Dada; in the remaining populated areas, the proportion of Nanais among local residents is much smaller.[7]

Scholars in China have traditionally presented less fine-grained dialect classifications; An identified only two, Hezhen and Qile'en, the former referring to all varieties of the language spoken in Russia. He conducted his studies in Jiejinkou, Bacha, And Sipai villages in Heilongjiang; at the time of his survey in 1982, the youngest fluent speaker was 55, and the oldest 72.[8]

Historical dialect classificationsEdit

There are several classifications of Nanai dialects. Early classifications tended to be areal and paid less attention to criteria for the differentiation of dialects. Lipskoy-Val'rond's classification, which distinguishes seven dialects, is one example of this; he distinguished the Sungari, Upper Amur, Ussuri, Urmi, Kur, Central Amur, and Lower Amur dialects.[9] In the 1920s, the period of initial studies of the Nanai language, the area of settlement of the Nanai people was more extensive than at present; many dialects, which had not yet been classified by researchers, later disappeared, and remain unnamed.

The next period of studies did not begin until after a 20-year interruption, at the end of the 1940s; by then, the number of dialects had grown, and subsequent classifications distinguished as many as ten. Also, the distribution of the Nanai language had sharply narrowed; many Lower Amur and Ussuri dialects remained unstudied. According to Sunik's classification, which emphasizes morphological and phonetic features,[10] "Nanaian language forms two groups, which are decomposed into a number of dialects".[11]

  1. Upper Amur: Sakachi-Alyan, Naykhin, Bolon, Dzhuen, Garin
  2. Central Amur: Kur-Urmi, Bikin, Right-bank Amur, Sungari, Ussuri

Avrorin divided the language into three varieties: Sungari (aka Upper Amur), (Lower) Amur, and Kur-Urmi, further subdividing them into a number of dialects. The basic difference with Sunik's classification concerns the Amur and Upper Amur groups: Avrovin considered Bolon and Dzhuen under Naykhin, while separating Kur-Urmi as its own group, while Sunik viewed Kur-Urmi as a dialect.[12] Sem, in contrast, classified Nanai into Upper, Central, and Lower Amur groups, each divided into a number of dialects; he counted a total of ten dialects.[4]

  1. Upper Amur: Right-bank Amur, Sungari, Bikin (Ussuri), Kur-Urmi
  2. Central Amur: Sakachi-Alyan, Naykhin, Dzhuen
  3. Lower Amur: Bolon, Ekon, Gorin

Among the contemporary carriers of Nanaian language (middle and lower Amur dialects), dialect levelling and mixing has occurred due to extensive population migrations and the system of teaching of Nanai language (based on the Naykhin dialect); therefore it is difficult to differentiate the dialects in contemporary language data.


The Nanai language is taught in secondary schools in Russia, mainly in Nanai villages in Khabarovsk Krai.[citation needed]

In China, the Nanai (Hezhe) people use Chinese for writing. The number of speakers has been in continual decline for decades; by the 1980s, the use of the language was restricted to special situations and communication with family members.[13] In an effort to reverse this decline, a text book for Hezhe schoolchildren discussing the Hezhe language was published in 2005 (in pinyin transcription).[14]


In the history of the Nanai written, there are 3 stages:

  • until the early 1930s, early attempts to create Cyrillic script writing;
  • 1931–1937 – Latin script;
  • since 1937 – modern Cyrillic script.

The first books in the Nanai language were printed by Russian Orthodox missionaries in the late 19th century in a Cyrillic orthography. In the 1920s–30s, after several false starts, the modern written form of the Nanai language was created by a team of Russian linguists led by Valentin Avrorin.[citation needed] The Nanai language uses the same alphabet as the Russian alphabet.

Nanai Latin script (1931–1937)Edit

In 1930, it was decided to create a Unified Northern Alphabet on the Latin basis for the small-numbered peoples of the North. In January 1932, these alphabets, including Nanai, were officially approved at the I All-Russian Conference on the Development of Languages and Writings of the Peoples of the North.[15] The approved Nanai alphabet was as follows:[16]

A a B в Ꞓ є D d Ʒ ʒ E e Ə ə F f
G g H h I i J j K k L l M m N n
Ņ ņ Ŋ ŋ O o P p R r S s T t U u
W w Z z

In some versions of the alphabet, the letter Ꞓ ꞓ was replaced with the usual Latin C c and meant the same sound.[17]

Nanai Cyrillic script (1937 – present)Edit

On June 5, 1936, the Presidium of the Council of Nationalities of the CEC of the USSR decided to translate the written language of the peoples of the North, including the Nanai, into Cyrillic.[15] At the beginning of 1937, the Nanai Cyrillic alphabet was officially approved - it included all the letters of the Russian alphabet except Щ щ and Ъ ъ.[18] The sound [ŋ] was indicated by a combination of letters Нг нг. In 1939, the Nanai spelling rules in Cyrillic were adopted, refined in 1958, when the Nanai alphabet began to contain all 33 letters of the Russian alphabet, as well as the letter Ӈ ӈ (instead of Нг нг).[19] However, in fact, in most publications, instead of Ӈ ӈ, the use of Нг нг continued.

The current version of the Nanai alphabet was approved in 1993.[20] The modern Nanai alphabet has the following form:[21]

А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж
З з И и Й й К к Л л М м Н н Ӈ ӈ
О о П п Р р С с Т т У у Ф ф Х х
Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э
Ю ю Я я

To indicate long vowels in the educational literature, diacritics are used – macrons above the letters.[21]

In China, where Nanai residents also live, in 1987 a reading book for Nanai schools was published with parallel text in Chinese and Nanai languages. Pinyin was used to write the Nanai text.[22]

Alphabet matching tableEdit

Cyrillic Latin Cyrillic Latin Cyrillic Latin Cyrillic Latin Cyrillic Latin
А а A a Ж ж - Н н N n У у U u Ъ ъ -
Б б В в З з Z z Ӈ ӈ Ŋ ŋ Ф ф F f Ы ы
В в W w И и I i О о O o Х х H h Ь ь
Г г G g Й й J j П п P p Ц ц Э э Ə ə
Д д D d, Ʒ ʒ К к K k Р р R r Ч ч Є є Ю ю
Е е Л л L l С с S s Ш ш Я я
Ё ё М м M m Т т T t Щ щ

Sample text from a Bible translation published in 2002 is shown below.[23]

Lord's Prayer (Luke 11:2–4)
Nanai (Cyrillic) with transliteration and English (NIV)





















































Нёани дахамдичии уӈкини: «Кэсивэ гэлэйдуэри туй ундусу: „Боаду, уйлэ би, Эндур Ама! Гэбукуди гэрбуси бигини. Си боа яловани далачайси эрин исигини! Наду-да, боаду-да Си чихалайси бигини!

Nǒani dahamdičii uŋkini: "Kesive geleĭdueri tuĭ undusu: 'Boadu, uĭle bi, Endur Ama! Gebukudi gerbusi bigini. Si boa ǎlovani dalačaĭsi erin isigini! Nadu-da, boadu-da Si čihalaĭsi bigini!

He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.














Ини таондоани сиагопова эпэмбэ бунду буру.

Ini taondoani siagopova epembe bundu buru.

Give us each day our daily bread.






































Буэ оркимпова гудиэсигуру, буэ-дэ оркиӈку, наӈдаку гурумбэ гудиэсиэпу, буэ мурумпувэ-дэ эди памаванда, хай-да дялимбани, оркимбани эди дял дяпаванда"».

Bue orkimpova gudiesiguru, bue-de orkiŋku, naŋdaku gurumbe gudiesiepu, bue murumpuve-de edi pamavanda, haĭ-da dǎlimbani, orkimbani edi dǎl dǎpavanda.'"

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation"


Vowels and vowel harmonyEdit

The Nanai language has seven phonemic vowels: /i, u, y, o, œ, a, ə/. There are twelve allowed diphthongs: /ai, ao, əi, əo, ia, iə, io, iu, ua, ui, uo, oi, ya, yə/; there are also two allowed triphthongs: /iao, uai/. Phonemic vowels change as follows based on surrounding consonants:[24]

  • [i] is elided after [dz, ts, s]
  • /i/ becomes [ɪ] after /ɖʐ, ʈʂ, s/
  • /i/ becomes [i̟] after /m, n, l, d/
  • A glottal stop [ʔ] is inserted before /i/ when it begins a syllable and precedes /dz, s, tɕ, ɕ, l, m, ŋ/.
  • /ɘ/ may optionally become [ɯ] in non-initial syllables
  • A vowel in a final syllable is nasalised when it precedes /n/

The following table summarises the rules of vowel harmony.

Vowel harmony in Nanai[25]
Class Group Members Notes
Yang vowels Group 1 [a]
Group 2 [o, œ] Do not appear after [i, u, y]; also [o] does not appear after [œ]
Yin vowels Group 3 [ə] After [a, o], becomes neutral and can harmonise with any vowel
Neutral vowels Group 4 [i]
Group 5 [u, y] [y] will not appear again after [y]


As for consonants, there are twenty-eight:

  Labial Dental /
Retroflex (Alveolo-)
Velar Uvular
Stop p b t d         k ɡ q ɢ
Affricate     ts dz ʈʂ ɖʐ        
Fricative ɸ   s (z) ʂ ʐ ɕ (ʑ) x (ɣ) χ (ʁ)
Nasal   m   n           ŋ    
Approximant       l       j   w    
Trill       r                

Phonemic consonants may optionally change as follows:[26]

  • /s ɕ χ/ become [z ʑ ʁ] (respectively) between two vowels
  • /ɡ/ to [ɣ] in syllable-final position, before [d] in the following syllable


Phonology of the various dialects of Nanai has been influenced by surrounding languages. Tolskaya specifically noted several phonological peculiarities of Bikin dialect which may indicate influence from Udege, including monophthongisation of diphthongs, denasalisation of nasal vowels, deletion of reduced final vowels, epenthetic vowel preventing consonant final words, and the deletion of intervocalic [w].[27]


Tolskaya's survey of the Nanai language also noted a variety of loanwords from Chinese, such as [ʐili] "calendar" from Chinese 日曆 (Pinyin: rìlì); a few also came from other languages, such as [pomidor] (tomato), almost certainly from Russian помидор, though the exact route of transmission is not attested and it may have been reborrowed from other neighbouring languages rather than directly from Russian.[28] There is also some vocabulary shared with Mongolian and the Turkic languages, such as:

These too are likely loanwords, though proponents of the Altaic hypothesis may take these as evidence of a genetic relationship.[29] Conversely, the Nanai language itself has also contributed some loanwords to the Udege language, supplanting Udege vocabulary:

  • [banixe] (thank you), from Nanai [banixa], instead of Udege [usasa];
  • [dœlbo] (work), from Nanai [dœbo], instead of Udege [etete];
  • [daŋsa] (book) from Nanai [daŋsa], itself a loanword from Chinese 單子 (Pinyin: dānzi), which actually means "list".

A large degree of mutual assimilation of the two languages has been observed in the Bikin region;[27] the Udege language itself only has 230 speakers left.[30]


  1. ^ Nanai at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Lewis 2009 (Nanai)
  3. ^ An 1986, p1
  4. ^ a b Sem 1976, p24
  5. ^ a b Stolyarov 1994
  6. ^ Russian Census (2002), Table 4.3
  7. ^ Ministry of Trade and Economic Development, 2002
  8. ^ An 1986, pp. 1–2
  9. ^ Sem 1976: 21. Initially published in Дальневосточной энцинклопедии, 1927.
  10. ^ Sunik 1962, p23
  11. ^ «нанайский язык образует два наречия, распадающиеся на ряд говоров»
  12. ^ Avrovin 1955, pp. 7–8
  13. ^ He and Wu, 2005
  14. ^ Li, 2005
  15. ^ a b Сем Л. И (1971). "История создания письменностей малых народов советского Дальнего Востока". История, социология и филология Дальнего Востока. Vol. 1000. Владивосток: АН СССР. Дальневост. науч. центр [Труды. Сер. ист. Т. 8]. pp. 109–119.
  16. ^ Awrorin W. A.; et al. (1932). Sikun pokto. Leningrad: Uєpedgiz. pp. 63–64.
  17. ^ Petrowa T.I. (1934). Nanaj həsəwəni taceoceori daŋsa (PDF). Leningrad, Moskwa: Ucpedgiz. p. 30.
  18. ^ Революция и национальности. — 1937. — № 4.
  19. ^ Бурыкин А. А. (2000). "Изучение фонетики языков малочисленных народов Севера России и проблемы развития их письменности (обзор)" (PDF) (Язык и речевая деятельность ed.). pp. 150–180.
  20. ^ Письменные языки мира: Языки Российской Федерации. Vol. 2 (1000 экз ed.). М.: Academia. 2003. p. 312. ISBN 5-87444-191-3.
  21. ^ a b Заксор 2002, p. 121.
  22. ^ Москалев А. А. (1992). Национально-языковое строительство в КНР (80-е гг.). М.: Наука. p. 121. ISBN 5-02-017074-7.
  23. ^ "Gospel of Luke in Nanai Language, 2002". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2006-12-20.
  24. ^ An 1986, p8-10
  25. ^ An 1986, p13-15
  26. ^ An 1986, p11-13
  27. ^ a b Tolskaya 2001, p24
  28. ^ An, p7-11
  29. ^ An, p17
  30. ^ Lewis 2009, Udihe


Further readingEdit

General worksEdit

  • Avrorin, Valentin Aleksandrovich (1959). Грамматика нанайского языка, т.1. М. (in Russian). Soviet Academy of Sciences.
  • Avrorin, Valentin Aleksandrovich (1961). Грамматика нанайского языка, т.2. М. (in Russian). Soviet Academy of Sciences.
  • Putintseva, A.P. (1954). Морфология говора горинских нанай. (in Russian).
  • Putintseva, A.P. (1969). О производственной лексике горинских нанай // Ученые записки ЛГПИ (in Russian).
  • Stolyarov, A.V. (1997). Нанайский язык: социолингвистическая ситуация и перспектива сохранения // Малочисленные народы Севера, Сибири и Дальнего Востока. Проблемы сохранения и развития (in Russian). St. Petersburg.
  • Sunik, O.P. (1958). Кур-урмийский диалект (in Russian).
  • Doerfer, Gerhard (1973). "Das Kur-Urmische und seine Verwandten". Zentralasiatische Studien (in German). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz (7): 567–599.
  • Doerfer, Gerhard (1975). "Ist Kur-Urmisch ein nanaischer Dialekt?". Ural-Altaische Jahrbücher (in German) (47): 51–63.
  • Kazama, Shinjiro (March 1994). "ナーナイ語の「一致」について (On 'agreement' in Nanay)". 北大言語学研究報告 (in Japanese). Sapporo: Faculty of Letters, Hokkaido University (5).
  • Zhang, Yang-chang; Bing Li; Xi Zhang (1989). 赫哲语 (The Hezhen Language) (in Chinese). Changchun: Jilin University Press.
  • Nanai alphabet on Omniglot

Texts in NanaiEdit

  • Avrorin, Valentin Aleksandrovich (1986). Материалы по нанайскому языку и фольклору (in Russian).
  • Нанайский фольклор: Нингман, сиохор, тэлунгу (in Russian). Новосибирск. 1996.
  • Samar, E. (1992). Манга покто/Трудные тропы (in Russian). Khabarovsk.
  • Samar, E. (2000). Кондонкан даламдини/Кондонский староста (in Russian). Khabarovsk.
  • Passar, A. (2002). Ми урэхэмби нингмансал/Сказки моего детства (Fairy Tales of my Childhood) (in Russian). Khabarovsk.
  • Khodzher, A. (2000). Михорангоари/Поклонение природе (in Russian). Khabarovsk.
  • Marshak, S.Y. (1990). Двенадцать месяцев/Дёан дюэр биа (in Russian). Translated by Valentin Avrorin. Khaborovsk.
  • Bel'dy, G. (1980). На найни: Стихи (in Russian). Khabarovsk.
  • Kazama, Shinjiro (1993). "ナーナイ語テキスト (Nanay Texts)". Publications on Tungus Languages and Cultures (in Japanese). Otaru, Japan: Center for Language Studies, Otaru University of Commerce (4).
  • Kazama, Shinjiro (1996). "ナーナイの民話と伝説2 (Nanay Folk Tales and Legends 2)". Publications on Tungus Languages and Cultures (in Japanese). Tottori, Japan: Faculty of Education, Tottori University (8).
  • Kazama, Shinjiro (1997). "ナーナイの民話と伝説3 (Nanay Folk Tales and Legends 3)". Publications on Tungus Languages and Cultures (in Japanese). Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies (10).
  • Kazama, Shinjiro (1998). "ナーナイの民話と伝説4 (Nanay Folk Tales and Legends 4)". Publications on Tungus Languages and Cultures (in Japanese). China, Japan: Chiba University (12).


  • Onenko, S.N. (1959). Русско-нанайский словарь (свыше 8 000 слов) (in Russian).
  • Petrova, T.I. (1960). Нанайско-русский словарь (около 8 000 слов) (in Russian).
  • Onenko, S.N. (1982). Нанайско-русский и русско-нанайский словарь: пособие для учащихся средней школы (более 3 600 слов) (in Russian).
  • Onenko, S.N. (1989). Словарь нанайско-русский и русско-нанайский: пособие для учащихся средней школы (около 4 000 слов) (in Russian).
  • Onenko, S.N. (1986). Лоца-Наанай Хэсэhкуни/Русско-нанайский словарь (около 5 000 слов) (in Russian).
  • Onenko, S.N. (1980). Нанай-Лоча Хэсэhкуни/Нанайско-русский словарь (12 800 слов) (in Russian).
  • Kile, A.S. (1999). Нанайско-русский тематический словарь (духовная культура) (in Russian). Khabarovsk.

External linksEdit