Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language 3



Hidetoshi Shiraishi and Galina Lok

with preface by Tjeerd de Graaf (Frisian  Academy)


We published the third volume of the series Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language in dec.2004.  This volume contains several fragments of conversation between Vera Eremeevna Khejn (Nivkh name Pygsk) and several other speakers of the Amur dialect.  In this volume, Baba Vera tells us about the Nivkh people who lived on the West-coast of North Sakhalin, how they lived and about various traditions of Nivkh.     



Text (pdf)                                                             Sound files (wma)

    File 0

    File 1                                                                  

    File 2    Pictures                                                    1. How the Nivkh lived in old days (203mb)

    File 3    Pictures                                                        昔ニヴフがどのように暮らしていたか

    File 4    Pictures                                                    2. I came to Sakhalin when I was young (26mb)

    File 5    Introduction                                                    私は若いときにサハリンにやってきた

    File 6                                                                     3. When we went picking cowberry (44mb)

    File 7     Texts                                                              コケモモを摘みに出かけて

    File 8    English translation                                    4. There were only few mushrooms (15mb)

    File 9    Japanese translation                                       キノコはほとんど摘まれていて少ししかなかった

    File 10                                                                    5. Nivkh customs (98mb)


                                                                                   6. Counting in Nivkh (30mb)


                                                                                    7. I yawn (43mb)



In the summer of 2000 Hidetoshi Shiraishi and I spent a few weeks together on the island of Sakhalin, where we were on a fieldwork trip in the Northern village of Nekrasovka with representatives of one of the most important communities of the Nivkh on the island. Together with the first international ethnolinguistic expedition I had been there before in 1990 and it was a fascinating experience to be back and to meet a few of the same people and many others who were our informants and who showed us much about their culture and the use of their language.

 In the beginning of September everywhere in the Russian Federation the traditional ceremony of the first schoolday takes place, so also on the 1st of September 2000 in Nekrasovka. Children with their parents gathered in front of the school, many brought flowers and were dressed in their best clothes. The director of the school gave a speech, music played and children read poems or performed in other ways. As special guests Hidetoshi and I were asked to address the children and their parents and so we did. It was a surprise for them that Hidetoshi spoke Nivkh, the language which at present is mainly used by the older generation. In practice most Nivkh parents use Russian with their children at home and they might still have some passive knowledge of the language. This situation is a direct consequence of the language policy used in Soviet times at the boarding schools which most of them attended: there the use of the own language was suppressed and Russian was introduced as the means of communication.

 Only in limited cases there is a possibility to learn the language, such as in the school we visited in 1990 and afterwards in Nekrasovka. With great enthusiasm the local Nivkh teachers showed us how they are trying to pass elements of the Nivkh language and culture to the young generation. For most of the children the situation is different from earlier times: then the home language was Nivkh and the children heard Russian for the first time at school. Nowadays most of them are brought up in Russian and might hear Nivkh only from their grandparents. This implies that the teachers of Nivkh in the schools, where it is introduced as a subject, like in Nekrasovka, should present it to most children as a second language. For this purpose books and dictionaries have been developed and the teachers use special techniques to motivate the children and also the parents. They were deligthed to hear the words in Nivkh spoken by Hidetoshi and told us how important it is that a young Japanese scholar helps them with this task of motivating members of the Nivkh community to get interested in their own heritage.

 From 20 until 25 October 2003 we organised a conference and teacher seminar on Methods for the Study and Teaching of Nivkh and Uilta at the Sakhalin Museum of Regional Studies in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. This was aimed at the realisation of one of our plans in the framework of the research project Voices from Tundra and Taiga: The creation of a research center on Sakhalin with the participation of teachers and scholars working on the island and involved in the teaching and studying of the local languages. During the seminar several project participants reported on their work and presented special lectures and exercises to about 35 representatives of the local languages. They were instructed about the newest developments and techniques and they could also be used as informants for our projects, in particular for the work on Nivkh by Hidetoshi Shiraishi. Together with Galina Lok he presented the second volume of their Sound Materials for the Study of the Nivkh Language to the participants. The teachers from Nekrasovka and other enthusiastic Nivkh informants attended this meeting and they expressed their admiration for the work of Hidetoshi and Galina Lok, who provided them with special new teaching facilities. Not only the Nivkh texts with Russian translation can be used in their classes, but in particular the sound recordings on the CD are important, for these show the use of the language as it is spoken.

 With this book the third volume of the Sound Materials for the Study of the Nivkh Language will be available, which this time contains a series of conversations with and between Nivkh people. In 2000 I was able to attend one of these recording sessions during the unforgettable meeting at the house of baba Vera (Mrs. Khejn), who had invited us in her cottage near the coast for a nice evening with delicious Nivkh dishes. Hidetoshi was able to record the conversation and he selected the most interesting parts, which not only show the use of the Nivkh language, but also the strong influence of Russian, which appears in the fragments of code switching.

 The work on Nivkh is the research topic of Hidetoshi Shiraishi, who received a PhD scholarship at Groningen University and will finish his dissertation on Sound patterns and acoustic databases of the Northern language of Russia, in particular Nivkh in 2005. He managed to record plenty of linguistic-ethnographic data, including recitations of folktales, legends, songs, natural speech, etc., which will be a part of his book. The material will be used for the study of some fascinating phenomena in the Nivkh language, which are of great interest for the other part of the book, the description of Nivkh phonology, where various linguistic hypotheses will be checked. The results of this research have been reported at the SOAS workshop on Training and Capacity Building for Endangered Language Communities in London in February 2004 and they will be included in the existing Groningen database A Guide to the Languages of Russia (see also


Tjeerd de Graaf

Frisian Academy, The Netherlands

August 2004





This is the third volume of the series Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language.  The content of this volume deviates from the previous two volumes (Shiraishi and Lok 2002, 2003) in that it consists solely of recordings of conversations.  The authors recorded these conversations on two different occasions in different places.  The first session How the Nivkh lived in old days was recorded in the living room of Mrs. V. Khejn’s house in Nekrasovka in 2000.  The second session I came to Sakhalin when I was young was recorded in the city of Okha in 2001.  The participants differ a bit in the two sessions but one speaker, Mrs. V. Khejn was always present.  The title of the current volume Pygsk is her Nivkh name.  Mrs. Khejn was born on the island of Bajdukov nearby the mouth of the river Amur (see map) in 1929.  Her parents, father Ezdanok and mother Ezguk, were both from the village of Langrvo, which lies on Bajdukov.  When Mrs. Khejn was five years old the family moved to Sakhalin.  On Sakhalin they lived in villages as Romanovka and Kryuvo.  When Mrs. Khejn has grown up she moved to the village of Tengi and began to work for the fishery-kolkhoz P’atiletka (Five-Year Plan).  There, she married with Pjotr Khejn.  After some time, she visited her birthplace Bajdukov for the first time in forty years.  She was introduced to her relatives, uncles and aunts.

Mrs. Khejn lived in the village of Romanovka for a long time, where her interest and enthusiasm for traditional handicrafts of Nivkh grew.  She joined several mission of arts and crafts to Moscow as a representative of Sakhalin.  For her contribution to the traditional Nivkh handicrafts Mrs. Khejn was given honorable mention several times.

In recent years Mrs. Khejn helped many researchers and provided them with necessary information about the traditional lifestyle and culture of Nivkh.  Those researchers were not restricted from Russia but from various institutions around the world, including Canada, France, Japan, the Netherlands and the U.S.A.  Currently, Mrs. Khejn lives in the village of Nekrasovka, North Sakhalin.


In August 2000, T. de Graaf (University of Groningen, the Netherlands), G. Lok and H.Shiraishi visited Mrs. Khejn in the Staryj pos'olok (Old village) of Nekrasovka in order to make recordings.  This was done during a linguistic fieldtrip to Sakhalin which was made possible by a larger linguistic project aiming to document the endangered languages of the Pacific Rim, financed by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (see for more information on this project: 

We asked Mrs. Khejn to talk with Lok so that we could record spontaneous speech in Nivkh.  In doing this we did not restrict nor lead the topic in order to circumvent any kind of manipulation on the conversation.  Shiraishi made the only exception at the very beginning when he asked Mrs. Khejn to tell something about the way the Nivkh people lived in Tengi.  But as the conversation proceeded, it soon appeared that this topic was too neutral and had been replaced by other topic which contained more concrete information about common friends and relatives of Mrs. Khejn and Lok.  They talked about who of their common acquaintances lived where and what they did, etc.  Nevertheless, the conversation was interesting even to an outsider since it gave a sketch of lives of those people who still lived in the traditional Nivkh villages which are no longer existent.  Mrs. Khejn told us about the origin of the names of some Nivkh clans and about a struggle between father and son which ended in a bloody murder.

We recorded the second session in October 2001 in the living room of family Jalin’s house in Okha.  In October 19, we invited Mrs. Khejn and her friend Mrs. Anna Latun from Nekrasovka to visit their common friend, the late Mrs. Lena Khengan  who lived in Ekhabi, a small village not far from Okha.  Since we spent long time in Ekhabi, we decided not to go back to Nekrasovka the same day but to stay in Okha at Mrs. G. Jalina’s house.  That night, the guests and Mrs. Jalina started a conversation which was roughly fifty-percent in Nivkh and fifty-percent in Russian.  After a while, Lok eye contacted Shiraishi to record this conversation.  The participants were perhaps aware of the fact that their conversation was being recorded though Shiraishi tried to hide the microphone from their eyes as much as possible.  We could record the largest part of the conversation, which was very informative containing topics of memories of berry-picking, raising of a bear, taboo’s, numerals, classifier’s, etc.  As one can hear from the recordings the atmosphere of this night was very relaxed mainly because the speakers knew each other for a long time and thanks to Mrs. Jalina’s tremendous dinner.

Unfortunately, recording spontaneous speech this way has also disadvantages.  In the first place, we could not devoid of background noise.  In the first session a tall freezer one meter behind the microphone caused constant humming (it was only after this recording that we learned to pull the plug of the fridge before starting the recording).  Parts of recordings have been cut if they contained too much background noise.  In the second place, we did not have much control on the language being spoken.  Speakers often switched to Russian and once this happened it often took quite a long time to switch over to Nivkh again.  We admit that such mixed use of language provides interesting linguistic data but finally decided to cut those parts in which the conversation was mainly in Russian.  Thirdly, since we did not lead the topic of conversation speakers often talked about things which were not suitable for publication for reasons of privacy.  We have carefully chosen speech fragments in order not to hurt people’s feelings but if this is the case we are solely responsible for the content of this publication.

The transcription and translation proceeded as with the previous two volumes.  Shiraishi made a rough transcription of the recordings in Groningen in the summer of 2003.  From October to November 2003, Shiraishi visited Sakhalin to work with Lok in order to check the transcription and make the Russian translation.  This fieldtrip was financed by the Center for Language and Cognition Groningen (CLCG), University of Groningen.  From 29 October till 14 November, the authors stayed at the student house of the Institute of Education in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk where Lok was teaching a course of traditional Nivkh handicraft.  Most of the transcription and translation work was done during that period.  Finally, Shiraishi made the translations in English and Japanese and compiled all the pieces of work back in Groningen.



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