« back


The Selkup language is presumably spoken by more than 1.500 people. The speakers live in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Tomsk Oblast and the Krasnoyarskiy Kray in the Russian Federation.

Selkup belongs to the southern subbranch of the Samoyedic languages. Samoyedic forms a top level constituent of the Uralic language family.

The Selkup language is divided into four dialect groups: 1) Northern Selkup, 2) Central Selkup, 3) Southern Selkup and 4) the Ket' dialect group.

There is no single selfdesignation that covers all Selkup groups: The Northern Selkup call themselves šöljqup, the Central ones čuməl qup, the Southern ones süsöqə(j) and the Ket' Selkups süs(s)ü qum.

Selkup is also known under the name of 'Ostyak'.

Selkup has been a literary language since the early 1930s. Since the 1990s it has been reintroduced in some schools.

The Proto-Samoyedic vowel system has been preserved best in Selkup. Selkup has an extensive vocalism. The vowels outnumber the consonants by far: 25 vowels against 16 consonants.

As a rule the position of stress is located on the last long vowel of the word. If there are no long vowels the accent is placed on the first syllable.

The consonant system is characterised by a series of palatalised consonants.

Selkup is an agglutinative language, i.e. it uses grammatical affixes, which do not merge with each other or with the stem and which mostly bear only one grammatical meaning.

Selkup morphology is prevalently suffixing.

Nominal and verbal morphology are characterised by stem alternation.

Nouns and verbs have three numbers: singular, dual and plural.

Nouns have 13 cases: nominative, genitive, accusative, instrumental, caritative, translative, co-ordinative, dative-allative, illative, locative, elative, prolative and vocative.

Adjectives do not agree with their head nouns.

The verb has three kinds of conjugation: the subjective, the objective and the reflexive conjugation. Intransitive verbs only have the subjective conjunction, transitive verbs can be inflected by the subjective and the objective conjuction, reflexive verbs take the reflexive conjuction and transitive reflexive verbs can have all three conjugations.

The verb exhibits various moods: indicative, inferential/latentive (refers to events the speaker did not witness himself), auditive (refers to events experienced by hearing), conditional (indicates real conditions in present and future), subjunctive (indicates unreal conditions and consequences in the past), debitive (qualifies events in the future as obligatory), optative (qualifies future events as desirable) and imperative.

There are three tenses: present, future and past narrative. These tenses are distinguished only in the indicative and inferential moods.

The verbs are categorised into perfective and imperfective verbs.

The unmarked word order in simple transitive sentences is SOV. Attributes usually precede the head noun.

The Selkup language exclusively uses postpositions.

Co-ordination of clauses is often achieved by asyndetic juxtaposition. The Selkup language has no genuine co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Originally subordinate clauses were formed with non-finite verb forms. Due to Russian influence subordinate clauses with finite verbs and conjunctions have come into use. Conjunctions either have been borrowed from Russian or are native words whose function has been altered.

The Selkup lexicon is riddled with words of foreign origin. The older layers of loan words are the following ones: Turkic loans, Ob-Ugric loans, Yeniseic loans, Tungusic loans and early Russian loans. More recent loans are mainly of Russian origin.

Bernhard Scheucher

« back