- Yukaghir texts ed. by Elena Maslova
Bands of Yukaghir hunters lived across much of northeast Siberia for uncounted centuries before the Russians penetrated this area in the seventeenth century. Today only two isolated groups remain, and each preserves a distinct dialect. According to a 1987 census, Tundra Yukaghir had fewer than 100 native speakers; Kolyma Yukaghir, fewer than 30. Work on this understudied microfamily is obviously of urgent significance.
Of the fifteen texts in this collection, ten represent Tundra and five Kolyma Yukaghir. Surprisingly, this book is actually the first extensive description of Yukaghir language material to appear outside the former Soviet Union, and linguists should take note of it for several reasons. Traditionally regarded as a ‘Paleosiberian’ language, Yukaghir appears to be distantly related to Uralic and may hold the key to understanding much of the linguistic picture of prehistoric North Asia. Typologically, it contains an extremely interesting system of focus marking affixes (cf. Bernard Comrie, ‘Focus in Yukaghir (Tundra dialect)’, The non-Slavic languages of the USSR, ed. by Howard Aronson, 55–69, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).
Unlike previous volumes in the series Tunguso-Sibirica, this book is written in English rather than German. The editor, Elena Maslova, has carried out fieldwork with speakers from both groups of Yukaghir over the past decade and has also written more extensive English-language descriptions of each dialect: Tundra Yukaghir (Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2003) and A grammar of Kolyma Yukaghir (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003). Together, this triple collection is the most thorough treatment this vanishing language is likely to receive.
Yukaghir texts begins with introductory descriptions of the Yukaghir people and language (1–8). Ten texts in Tundra Yukaghir follow (9–66). Each appears in transcription with sublinear morpheme glosses. The literal English translation is not placed beneath each line but appears in an entirely separate section (66–90) with sentence numbering providing the only link; this makes the texts somewhat complicated to follow visually. After the literal translation is a lexical stem index (91–111), then an index of grammatical and derivational morphemes (113–21). The five Kolyma texts follow in the same format, with transliteration and morpheme glosses (123–50) appearing before the literal translations (151–62), and finally a lexical (163–74) and morphemic index (175–79). Appendices provide a glossary of grammatical terms and other notational devices (181–86), several sample verb and noun paradigms (187–92), and an index of grammatical categories listed alphabetically by their English names, such as ‘action nominalizer’, ‘accusative’, and so on. Finally, there is an alphabetized list of the Yukaghir morphemes themselves (193–98) which usefully supplements the brief remarks on the grammar found in the book’s introduction. Dialectal variations are marked T for ‘Tundra’ or K for ‘Kolyma’ so the beginnings of a comparative morphology are achieved.
The reference section is limited to a single page (199) but does include the classic Russian-language treatment (Jukagirskij jazyk, Moscow-Leningrad: Nauka, 1958) written by Erukhim A. Krejnovich, the first modern pioneer in Yukaghir linguistics.
This new collection is potentially valuable for typologists and other linguists seeking examples of data from less-frequently cited languages. But those who wish to use it will have to undertake careful study of M’s format and grammatical terminology before being able to do so with any facility.