Manchu Hangs On.

Well, sort of. The Manchu language is essentially dead in its homeland, Manchuria, but the Xibe of Xinjiang speak a variant of it, as Andrew Jacobs explains in a surprisingly good NY Times story (thanks, Eric!):

Two and a half centuries later, the roughly 30,000 people in this rural county who consider themselves Xibe have proved to be an ethnographic curiosity and a linguistic bonanza. As the last handful of Manchu speakers in northeast China have died, the Xibe have become the sole inheritors of what was once the official tongue of one of the world’s most powerful empires, a domain that stretched from India to Russia and formed the geographic foundation for modern China.

In the decades after the revolution in 1911 that drove the Qing from power after nearly 300 years, Mandarin Chinese vanquished the Manchu language, even in its former stronghold in the forested northeast. But the isolation of the Xibe in this parched, far-flung region near the Kazakh border helped keep the language alive, even if its existence was largely forgotten until the 1940s.

For scholars of Manchu, especially those eager to translate the mounds of Qing dynasty documents that fill archives across China, the discovery of so many living Manchu speakers has been a godsend. […]

The Xibe language has gradually evolved from Manchu as it absorbed vocabulary from the Uighurs, Kazakhs, Mongolians and even the Russians who passed through Xinjiang. Unlike Mandarin, which has few borrowed words, Xibe is flecked with adopted nouns like pomodoro (tomato), mashina (sewing machine) and alma (the Uighur word for apple). Scholars say that the phonetic diversity of Xibe, a language thought to be related to Turkish, Mongolian and Korean, allows speakers to easily produce the sounds of other tongues.

“We fought with the other groups, but there were so few of us here and no one else spoke our language, so we had to learn theirs to survive,” said Mr. Tong, an engineer at the county power company who is vice president of the Xibe Westward March Culture Study Association, a local group that promotes Xibe language and history. “That’s why we are so good at learning foreign languages.”

Those linguistic talents have long been an asset to China’s leaders. In the 1940s, young Xibe were sent north to study Russian, and they later served as interpreters for the newly victorious Communists. In recent years, the government has brought Xibe speakers to Beijing to help decipher the sprawling Qing archives, many of them of imperial correspondence that few scholars could read.

“If you know Xibe, it takes no time for you to crack the Qing documents,” said Zhao Zhiqiang, 58, one of six students from Qapqal County sent to the capital in 1975, and who now heads the Manchu study department at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. “It’s like a golden key that opens the door to the Qing dynasty.”

Manchu is a Tungusic language, and there’s a good section on them in S. Robert Ramsey’s invaluable The Languages of China; I’ll provide a few passages from it for background:

The Southern Tungus, represented most notably by the Manchus, live nearer to what was probably the original homeland of the Tungus. They are found dispersed throughout Manchuria and the adjacent coastal areas of the Soviet Union, along the lower course of the Amur River and on the island of Sakhalin, just off the northern tip of Japan. As late as the seventeenth century, tribes of Southern Tungus also lived deep in the northeastern part of the Korean peninsula. Because the Southern Tungus have remained close to the zone of contact with Mongols, Koreans, and Chinese, their languages have generally changed more than the relatively conservative languages of the Northern group. Manchu not only has a very large number of loanwords, but it also has a structure significantly affected by its contact with Chinese. Its relationship to Evenki, the prototypical Northern Tungus language, can be likened to the position that English occupies within the Germanic family, since English structure and vocabulary have also been altered through intense exposure to another culture, namely that of the Norman French. […]

The Xibo or (Sibo) are a Southern Tungus people. Most experts classify their language as a dialect of Manchu, but they have traditionally been considered a separate nationality, and that is how they are still classified today. They call themselves “Shivə,” not “Manju.” […]

The Manchu language is all but extinct. The only people who speak it on a day-to-day basis are the Xibo minority of Xinjiang […] The state of spoken Manchu in Manchuria may be compared to that of Gaelic in the British Isles, an idiom that is also nearing extinction.


  1. J. W. Brewer says

    I saw that story earlier today and also thought it was good, perhaps surprisingly so. It is, as the man said, the soft bigotry of low expectations! I guess “thought to be related to Turkish, Mongolian and Korean” could probably use some qualification, even if only to add “by some/many scholars” after “thought” . . .

  2. slawkenbergius says

    Manchu (thanks in large part to the efforts of Elliott, quoted in the article, who was on my dissertation committee!) has come back in a big way among Qing historians. It’s also making a comeback in China, for similar reasons, and I’ve heard that there’s an emerging movement among descendants of Manchus (not Xibe) to reclaim their heritage within China. There was even a Korean movie recently, “War of the Arrows” (on Netflix!), in which the bad guys speak Manchu–or, at least, a very convincing approximation. While not a living language exactly, Manchu is evolving into something like Latin: you can learn to read it and write it rather easily, and some specialized groups of people (like Vatican-resident clergy) routinely converse in it.

  3. Very cool!

  4. What to my mind is remarkable is the fact that this transplanted variety of Manchu (Xibe) has survived while Manchu itself has (almost completely) disappeared in its original homeland. Normally the reverse is what is observed, i.e. the transplanted varieties fail to survive while the language survives in its original homeland.

    How many other Manchu/Xibe-like instances of this phenomenon (language extinction in the homeland and survival of a distant transplanted variety) are there? There exist a number of Native American languages, the ancestors of whose speakers were deported to Oklahoma in the nineteenth century, which as I (very dimly) recall are healthier today in Oklahoma than they are back where their speakers originally lived. There is also Nheengatu in Brazil, now spoken in Amazonia only, very far away from its original homeland along the coast of Southern Brazil. Can anybody think of other examples?

  5. J. W. Brewer says

    For Etienne’s question, is it possible that whatever variety of Low German is spoken in some North American Amish-etc communities is healthier than the equivalent back in the Vaterland where media/schools/modernity have (according to some accounts I’ve seen) led to the kids basically just speaking Hochdeutsch with a little bit of a regional accent? And of course there are examples of perfectly healthy languages whose present geographical range does not include the Urheimat (sometimes conjectured, sometimes known reasonably well as a matter of the historical record), so the question may depend in part on how many centuries a language needs to be in its current location before it’s no longer a “transplant.” Has it been long enough for Magyar to be “native” to present-day Hungary? How about for Navajo to be “native” to the American southwest?

  6. Yiddish in the U.S. and Israel.

  7. Dan Milton says

    Garifuna in Central America, a somewhat creolised insular Carib language, which are extinct in the islands.
    It happens with words as well as languages. I’m writing this from the rim of the highly saline Lonar Lake in Maharashtra. Somehow the Persian “namak” has become the Hindi word for salt. I’ve only encountered “lonar” for salt in a book on the Romani of San Francisco.

  8. J. W. Brewer says

    Trying to sort out Sinitic language varieties with any precision gets you into all sorts of lumper/splitter problems, but if you think “Hokkien” is the right level of generality it may be doing somewhat better these days on Taiwan (not really older there than, for example, English is on the island of Manhattan) than across the water on the mainland whence it sprang, because of the different political environment.

  9. There are ten million people in China who identify themselves as Manchus (even though they have been Chinese speakers for 4 generations at least, while some groups, like Manchus of Hebei, spoke it for centuries).

    Also, there was widespread intermarriage with Han Chinese women since the conquest, so technically speaking, Manchus today could easily claim Han Chinese identity if they wished so.

    But apparently they don’t and it is quite surprising.

    What makes people to keep their ethnic identity for so long when culture, religion or language of absolute majority of their neighbours are absolutely the same?

    Scots overseas have distinctive surnames at least, but Manchus no longer do.

  10. And while English and Spanish are far from dead in England and Spain, most of the speakers, even the native speakers, of both languages live elsewhere.

  11. the question may depend in part on how many centuries a language needs to be in its current location before it’s no longer a “transplant” …How about for Navajo to be “native” to the American southwest?

    I think some of us committed glottochronology on Southern Athabaskan once and decided that only about a thousand years separates it from Northern Athabaskan, clearly the homeland. (If that’s wrong I apologize; it’s been a long time.) In any event, as far as the peoples themselves are concerned, they came up out of the ground right where they are now. So what counts? Surely not historical memory of the people involved. You can probably find Americans tucked away somewhere who don’t know we came from England.

  12. George Gibbard says

    I was struck by the claim that the Xibe alphabet has 121 letters. Following the link to Omniglot, it appears there are 7 vowels and 28 consonants, but that the form of these may depend on what letters precede and follow. Also, assuming it’s like standard Manju, sometimes the vowel harmony class of the surrounding vowels is expressed on the consonant, so that’s what should be going on with variant forms for t and for d. I tried to count how many characters you would need for typesetting and got 135, so I’m not sure how the figure 121 is arrived at.

  13. George Gibbard says

    Since a number of the vowel symbols could be considered digraphs or trigraphs, I’ve got it down to 124. For the forms given in Oniglot it almost but not quite works to call the three forms of ŋ digraphs, but if it worked you would have 121.

  14. SFReader: Coolness points. Being ethnic Chinese is boring.

  15. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    There exist a number of Native American languages, the ancestors of whose speakers were deported to Oklahoma in the nineteenth century, which as I (very dimly) recall are healthier today in Oklahoma than they are back where their speakers originally lived.

    Isn’t it just that so few speakers remained in the original areas after the resettlement that they couldn’t form a viable community of speakers any longer, though? I’d distinguish the case where almost all the population moves/is (likely, forcibly) resettled and the case where a part of the population emigrates to some place else with enough speakers left in the original homeland. The Lemko dialect in Poland is an example of the first type of situation: once spoken in the mountains in the far south-east, now scattered across northern Poland (though I’m not sure to what extent it’s been replaced by Polish and standard Ukrainian), in the lands from which Germans were removed.

  16. @Dan Milton: ‘salt’ in standard Slovak Romani is ‘lon’.

  17. @Ken Miner: None of my ancestors came from England (in spite of my name).

  18. There certainly were people in Appalachia before about the 1920s who had never seen anyone from outside their immediate vicinity, and did not know that their ancestors had crossed the sea.

  19. All Amerind languages would fit the definition.

    They are thriving (sort of) in Americas, while their original homeland of Beringia is now underwater…

  20. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says

    Indo-Iranian languages – originated somewhere in the steppes of eastern Europe/Central Asia, now mostly spoken in S and SW Asia – the steppe tribes assimilated into Turkic and Slavic peoples.

  21. Celtic (in the traditional theory*1)) – originated on the continent, survive (more or less) on the fringes of the British Isles.
    *1) I think even the “Atlantic Celts” theory has them originating on the Atlantic shore of the continent, but I’m not totally sure.

  22. Oh, sorry, I forgot about the Bretons – so Celtic would fit if you follow the traditional theory (Celtic origins in Central Europe), but not if you follow the “Atlantic Celts” theory.

  23. Well, you just have to push things further back: nobody argues that pre-Proto-Celtic originated anywhere but on the continent, surely?

  24. Alon Lischinsky says

    @Hans: well, Breton is an insular Celtic language brought back to the continent, rather than a continental survivor, so it’s not much of a counterexample

  25. Ugric languages are spoken by fifteen million people in Hungary and neighbouring countries and only ten thousand people in Urals where they originated.

  26. J.W. Brewer says

    If Breton were healthier than Welsh, it *might* be a good example, but I don’t think anyone would claim that it is? I guess it’s healthier than Cornish, though!

  27. There was a time not too long ago when Breton had more speakers than Welsh.

  28. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sure (and the situation is of course in flux . . .) what the current ratio of L1 Aramaic speakers currently living in the language’s historical territory in the Middle East is to those living in diaspora. But even if the diaspora has a current advantage I wouldn’t bet on the language being retained in subsequent generations. However, it may be worth noting that the small pockets of the Middle East where it has remained common are, if not “transplant” areas at least very marginal/rural places, with the descendants of the old population of the major urban centers of Aramaic having mostly assimilated to Arabic many centuries ago. I also think the center of gravity of Aramaic-speaking in the Middle East is probably no longer in ancient “Aram,” but the transplantation to the territory of what’s now Iraq occurred somewhere between 2500 and 3000 years ago, so Magyar in Hungary is a recent arrival by comparison.

  29. marie-lucie says


    All Amerind languages would fit the definition.
    The word “Amerind” can be misleading. Greenberg used it to mean “all American Indian languages except the Na-Dene and Eskimoan families”. Fine as a designation for the group if taken in a geographical sense, but G meant that all those languages are related, which is unlikely to be true.

    … their original homeland of Beringia is now underwater…
    Perhaps SOME, rather than ALL, the ancestors of North and South American natives spent time in Beringia. I am convinced that the history is more complex and that SOME ancestors travelled to America by boat, at different times.

  30. Jim (another one) says

    “I think some of us committed glottochronology on Southern Athabaskan once and decided that only about a thousand years separates it from Northern Athabaskan, clearly the homeland. (If that’s wrong I apologize; it’s been a long time.) In any event, as far as the peoples themselves are concerned, they came up out of the ground right where they are now.”

    They have neighbors and those neighbors call bullshit on that Navajo claim to indigeny. Likewise the date of their arrival in the SW is not really very controversial – a thousand years ago at the earliest. That doesn’t date the split from Northern Athapaskan; it could well be earlier.

  31. As slawkenbergius mentioned, the Korean film War of the Arrows (2011) featured Manchu dialogue quite heavily, albeit performed by Korean actors who had learned the lines phonetically. At least I read that they took care to make the Manchu lines as authentic as possible, though I wonder how native Manchu/Xibe speakers would judge their efforts. You should be able to find short clips on Youtube if you search for “Manchu language” and “Korean film”.

    Not to spoil anything, but a couple of the Korean characters turn out to speak some Manchu as well, which made me wonder about how plausible this was for their backgrounds. There certainly were Koreans who were trained by the government as professional interpreters who learned Manchu by the time that the Qing dynasty took over China. And Koreans had interacted with the southern Jurchens (broadly speaking, precursors to the Manchus) in the northern frontier for several centuries leading up to the formation of the Manchus. The founder of the Joseon/Chosŏn dynasty (founded 1392) had numerous Jurchen allies from his time as a general in the northern frontier and kept Jurchen bodyguards. So at least in this period, it seems plausible that some Koreans who interacted with the Jurchens in the frontier regions would have picked up their language.

    The Koreans competed with Ming China for influence over the Jurchens, but they eventually ended up as vassals of the Ming and not Joseon. But Joseon expanded their northern borders at the expense of Jurchen tribes and expelled or forcibly assimilated them. Any tribe that seemed to be gaining strength were brutally put down and their villages torched. Apparently, remnants of the Jurchens (known as the Jaegaseung/Chaegasŭng, literally “lay monks”) could still be found within Korean borders at least up to the 20th century (it is however not a settled question whether they represent a community that was continuously present or were introduced from across the border after the Manchu invasions). They had lost their Jurchen language by then, instead speaking a Korean dialect with some divergent vocabulary. So I wonder when they lost their original language, and how many Jurchens who ended up on the Korean side of the border had kept their language by the time of the Second Manchu invasion of Korea in 1636, the setting of the film.

    The Manchu language apparently also features (less heavily) in a few other works from Korea like the film Heaven’s Soldiers (2005) and the TV series Cruel Palace: War of Flowers (2013), but I haven’t seen these.

  32. That reminds me of Kobayashi’s Human Condition trilogy, which featured Mandarin dialog delivered by Japanese actors – and even my untrained ears could tell that it didn’t sound very convincing. The films are definitely worth watching, though.

  33. @John Cowan, Alon Lischinsky: Well, I don’t know whether the original remark required that the speakers in the “old homeland” cannot be from a variety that spread to that homeland later.

  34. Scots overseas have distinctive surnames at least, but Manchus no longer do.

    Certainly some do, notably the royal family, whose polysyllabic surname is 愛新覺羅 Aisin Gioro. I was going to paste the vertically-written Manchu spelling from Wikipedia, but (alas!) it is a graphic. It’s true that some family membrers have adopted the Chinese surname Jin ‘gold’ instead, which is what aisin means.

  35. And thus exchanging a Manchu connotation for a Korean one.

  36. Greg Pandatshang says

    OT: I’ve often wished that the founding Zionists had chosen Aramaic as the spoken language for ʾArʿā Qaddūš. In comparison to Aramaic, Hebrew is in no danger of being forgotten due to its religious significance.

    I’m aware that Syriac is also a liturgical language, however (I could be wrong, but) I don’t have the impression that Syriac Christians are assertive as Jews are about ensuring that children have some exposure to the language. Of course, I’m aware that most goyaphone Jews never develop much command of Hebrew, but some develop some. There seems to be the admirable ideal that in a perfect world all practicing Jews would understand Hebrew, however far the reality is from the ideal.

  37. Garifuna and Yiddish are good examples of what I was fishing for -thanks to Y and Dan Milton. I should have made two points explicit: first, I was thinking of individual languages, not of language families (in the latter case it would not be difficult to find examples, if one is willing to look far enough that is); and second, I was thinking of instances where the variety in the homeland is replaced by a clearly distinct encroaching language, and not by a dialect/standardized form thereof. I know, I know, there’s no hard dividing line…

    Here’s another example of what I had in mind: Inuktitut. Its original homeland was almost certainly in Alaska, from whence it spread all the way to Greenland. If present trends continue Inuktitut will be extinct in Alaska and the Yukon within a generation or two and will only survive in Greenland and Eastern Canada.

  38. Maltese might count as an example. It is descended from the Siculo-Arabic dialect brought to Malta by settlers from neighbouring Sicily. Siculo-Arabic is extinct in Sicily and Calabria, but Maltese is now the national language of Malta.

  39. Also, the Phoenician language seems to have survived a bit longer in its Punic form outside its original homeland. Augustine of Hippo refers to Punic being spoken in his region (North Africa) in the 5th century AD.

  40. When the Vandals arrived in North Africa, Punic was probably still spoken there. Just imagine: Phoenician meets East Germanic. I wish I could be there to see the encounter.

  41. Add Ladino, which was flourishing outside Spain until the 20th century.

    There are quite a few more examples of languages where most of the speakers have lived outside their homeland. What’s unusual about Garifuna, Yiddish and Nheengatu is that they are relatively stable in their new locations, in different sociolinguistic circumstances than those of their homelands.

  42. Modern Israel was founded by West Germanic speakers who switched to close relative of Phoenician

  43. Maybe it’s time to bring the curious case of Khakas and Fuyu Kirgiz.

    The story goes like this: Yenisei Kirgiz were deported from their homeland in south Siberia into Dzungaria (modern Xinjiang) by Dzungar Mongols in 1704. Vacated Kirgiz territory was immediately occupied by Russians and neighbouring Siberian Turkic tribes (related to Yenisei Kirgiz which makes the story even more complicated).

    In 1756, Dzungar Khanate was conquered by Qing China with total genocide of the population. Some surviving captive Kirgiz managed to use the chaos and flee to their original homeland, where they mixed over next century with these other Siberian tribes to form new nation of Abakan Tatars.

    Later in 20th century, direct continuity with Yenisei Kirgiz was proclaimed and Abakan Tatars were renamed to Khakas (term encountered in Han dynasty records referring to ancient ancestors of Yenisei Kirgiz).

    Now, in 1760, another group of captive Kirgiz was moved by Qing authorities and resettled in northern Heilongjiang province in Manchuria, near the modern day Harbin. These people are called now Fuyu Kirgiz and still speak a language which is believed to be the last remnant of Yenisei Kirgiz language.

    While Khakas and Russian/Soviet linguists usually claim that the Khakas IS the Yenisei Kirgiz, comparison with Fuyu Kirgiz seems to indicate that this is not really the case. The Khakas appear to be mostly descendants of other closely related Turkic Siberian tribes, who mixed with Yenisei Kirgiz refugees and appropriated their glory and fame.

  44. Re: Choson dynasty of Korea (1392-1910)

    The founder of this dynasty was also know under Mongol name Agibatur, his father was named Ulus-Bukha, his grandfather was called Bayan Temur.

    Makes one wonder how Korean they really were.

    By the way, the previous Goryo dynasty has been marrying Mongol princesses for over a century, so their Koreanness is also in doubt.

  45. Punic and Maltese are excellent examples too, thank you Jongseong Park.

    Y, I wouldn’t consider Ladino to be a good example, because the evidence I know of indicates that before 1492 Spanish Jews were not linguistically different from the Christians among whom they lived. Meaning that you cannot treat Spain as the homeland of Ladino. It is a language which arose through dialect mixture among the expelled Spanish Jews, through language contact with various other languages, and through reduced or non-existent contact with Spain. Had the Spanish Jews not been expelled, Ladino would never have existed.

    Piotr, I strongly suspect Punic and Vandal speakers in North Africa would have communicated in Latin/Romance, and indeed I dimly recall that a scholar has argued that the Vandals had already shifted to Latin/Romance before reaching North Africa.

  46. I am not sure if Daur counts.

    They originally lived on Amur river, but were caught in the middle of bitter Qing-Russian conflict in 17th century. So in 1650s, the Qing authorities had deported them en masse into Heilongjiang province of Manchuria where (and in neighbouring Inner Mongolia) they still live today.

    Group of Daurs were resetted by Qing in Xinjiang after 1760 in the same wave of colonization which brought the Xibe. Daur language is still spoken in one Xinjiang village near the Kazakh border.

    Long way from Amur.

  47. For a decade or so (1944-1957), all the surviving speakers of Chechen, Ingush and other languages of the Caucasus were in exile in Central Asia and Siberia.

  48. In 1856 the whole population of Pitcairn was resettled on Norfolk Island, bringing the Pitkern/Norfuk creole with them. A few returned to Pitcairn, though Norfolk has had the larger population ever since.

  49. I wondered what language they speak there and discovered

    Norfuk (increasingly spelt Norfolk) or Norf’k[2] is the language spoken on Norfolk Island (in the Pacific Ocean) by the local residents. It is a blend of 18th-century English and Tahitian, originally introduced by Pitkern-speaking settlers from the Pitcairn Islands. Along with English, it is the co-official language of Norfolk Island.[3][4]

    Examples of Pitkern

    Whata way ye? How are you?
    About ye gwen? Where are you going?
    You gwen whihi up suppa? Are you going to cook supper?
    I nor believe. I don’t think so.
    Ye like-a sum whettles? Would you like some food?
    Do’ mine. It doesn’t matter. I don’t mind.
    Wa sing yourley doing? What are you doing? What are you up to?
    I se gwen ah big shep. I’m going to the ship.
    Humuch shep corl ya? How often do ships come here?
    Cum yorley sulluns! Come on all you kids!
    I se gwen ah nahweh. I’m going swimming.
    Lebbe! Let it be!
    Cooshoo! Good!

    Simply wonderful! It was discussed on languagehat (of course), but I missed that thread

  50. @SFReader, that’s fascinating regarding the Mongol names of the Joseon/Chosŏn dynasty founder and his immediate ancestors. I have almost certainly read about that before, but I had completely forgotten, so I did some quick research.

    The founder of the Joseon dynasty is Yi Seong-gye/Yi Sŏng-gye (1335 – 1408), who was a military hero for the Goryeo/Koryŏ dynasty before he overthrew it and became King Taejo/T’aejo. His great-great-grandfather was Yi An-sa, who was born in Jeonju/Chŏnju in southwestern Korea. He then moved to Samcheok/Samch’ŏk in the east coast, where he served as a Goryeo official defending it against Mongol and Japanese forces. He then moved further up the coast to what is now Wonsan in North Korea and was entrusted with defending the area against the Mongols. However, he surrendered to the Mongols in 1254 (Goryeo would finally make peace with the Mongols in 1259 after nearly three decades of resistance) and was made noyan (military official) and darughachi (governor) in Nanjing, China in 1255. Later on, he moved to River Tumen in the northern frontier region of Goryeo and died there in 1274.

    Yi An-sa’s son Yi Haeng-ri/Yi Haeng-ni also became noyan and darughachi for the Mongols in the northern frontier region, which was placed under direct Mongol rule and not under Goryeo, which by then had become a vassal state of the Mongols. Yi Haeng-ri’s son Yi Chun/Yi Ch’un also inherited the title of noyan, and with it, took on the Mongol name of Bayan-Temür. He is the grandfather of Yi Seong-gye (King Taejo).

    Yi Chun’s son Yi Ja-chun/Yi Cha-ch’un (King Taejo’s father) was also noyan and darughachi and took the Mongol name Ulus-Buqa. In 1356, when Goryeo took advantage of Mongol weakness to take back the northern frontier region, he defected to Goryeo.

    So Yi Seong-gye/King Taejo’s ancestors served the Mongols for a century over three generations. Which is ironic, because Yi Seong-gye took power as leader of the pro-Ming faction, leading a coup against the pro-Yuan (Mongol) faction that sent him to Liaodong peninsula to fight the Ming, the Chinese dynasty that had driven the Yuan outside of China by then.

    Checking the genealogy, it seems that King Taejo’s ancestors all married women from Korea with Korean surnames, so assuming that Yi An-sa was ethnic Korean to begin with, the family remained fully Korean by blood. But the Goryeo kings (seven of them by my count) certainly married Mongol princesses and took Mongol names for a century after defeat to the Mongols, so that Goryeo became the “son-in-law kingdom” to the Yuan. Conversely, a Goryeo woman became a primary empress of the last Yuan emperor before they were driven out of China. Her son, who became the ruler of the Northern Yuan (as we call them after they were driven out of China), also took a Goryeo consort.

  51. Examples of Pitkern

    These people were all Seventh-Day Adventists, correct? The sect of half my youth, and that of Ben Carson. A sect, incidentally, which prohibited any political activity beyond voting. At least back then.

  52. All 20th century taiji (Mongolian nobility) were descended from Uskhal Khan (that son of Korean empress), so it makes them all a little bit Korean.

    In fact, I think most Mongolian families could probably find a taiji ancestor somewhere in their genealogy.

  53. The island of Jeju/Cheju off the south coast of Korea, site of the last remnant of Goryeo resistance to the Mongols, was directly ruled by the Mongols for a while. They kept horses on the island, and a sizable Mongol garrison was installed bringing a huge influx of Mongols—there was a lot of intermarriage from what I can gather. Even though the island was handed back to Goryeo in 1294, Mongol influences persisted, and to this day several words in the Jeju dialect can be traced to Mongol.

    In 1367, with their rule over China under threat, the Yuan emperor apparently even asked Goryeo if they could move their capital to Jeju island if they were driven out from China, but Goryeo refused. So they retreated to their ancestral homeland of Mongolia instead.

  54. These people were all Seventh-Day Adventists, correct?

    Historically, yes. Today, only about 8 of the 49 resident native Pitcairners actually attend Divine Service regularly, with the others going only on special occasions.

  55. Thank you, John Cowan. The sect is quite interesting. Apparently most of its practitioners live outside the US. I believe Obama’s grandfather was an SDA.

  56. Pitcairn/Norfolk language is a fascinating example of how few men are needed to create new language.

    If I remember correctly, in the end there was only one mutineer left who taught English to Tahitian women and children and now they all speak it in form of Pitkern/Norfuk.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if many languages were created this way.

  57. Yeah. I once thought along these lines: Indian tribes, like Austronesian tribes, fought often and fiercely with each other before the Europeans came (though you’d never know it these days). Whole groups must have been wiped out, leaving occasional groups of children in the early stages of language learning. These children then somehow developed languages on their own. That’s a social motivation, isn’t it? OK, there’s no evidence for this. But then, we haven’t been looking for any.

  58. marie-lucie says

    SFR: in the end there was only one mutineer left who taught English to Tahitian women and children and now they all speak it in form of Pitkern/Norfuk.

    The mutineers settled on Pitcairn, bringing Tahitian women with them with whom they built families on the island. In this context one would expect a mixed language to arise as the men and women attempted to talk to each other and the children and grandchildren ultimately evolved a Tahitianized English. The last man among the original English speakers may have tried to improve the standard of spoken English among the women and children, but he would not have been able to “teach” the language from scratch to a group that now vastly outnumbered him if they had not already been at least relatively fluent.

    KM: These children then somehow developed languages on their own.

    I remember reading something along those lines years ago, as a possible explanation for the diversity of languages in California, an area of very temperate climate and many food resources available year round. But I am very doubtful that this could have happened. Most likely, eventually the orphaned children would have (voluntarily or not) joined the victors’ groups (or those of the victors’ enemies!).

    It is true that there is a lot of language diversity in California, but this is true of the North Pacific coast in general. Besides, how diverse a region is also depends on how its languages are classified. One of the major California groups, labelled “Penutian” in 1918, comprised five different languages (each with dialects): Wintu, Maidu, Yokuts, Miwok and Costanoan. Miwok and Costanoan were soon recognized as a single family (now called “Utian”), and Yokuts has more recently been added to “Utian”, thus “Yok-Utian”. Yokuts in turn has a lot in common with Takelma, once spoken mostly in Southern Oregon with a slight overlap with Northern California. Many features of Wintu also point to a migration from Oregon, and Maidu has commonalities with Klamath, also in Oregon. The “diversity” in California then can be considerably reduced when viewed in a larger perspective.

    Although quite large, the Pacific coast area of North America is what Johanna Nichols dubbed a “refuge zone”, separated from the rest of the continent by mountain chains. Such zones tend to become end-points to migrations, thereby accumulating linguistically different populations. It is not surprising that linguistic evidence for such migrations is found between North and South rather than East and West. In the Penutian case there is one exception: the Eastward extension along the Columbia and Snake rivers, which provided easy avenues of travel into the continent.

  59. Piotr, I strongly suspect Punic and Vandal speakers in North Africa would have communicated in Latin/Romance, and indeed I dimly recall that a scholar has argued that the Vandals had already shifted to Latin/Romance before reaching North Africa.

    There was no reason for them to start adopting Latin until their migration out of Pannonia around 400 AD, and Gaiseric established his Carthaginian kingdom in the 430s, just one generation later. Gaiseric himself was born and bred on the shores of Lake Balaton, and many of his followers must have been native speakers of East Germanic, born in Central Europe. Even if their children and grandchildren gradually shifted to Latin, and if North African Latin was used as a lingua franca (which is not in doubt), the shift would not have been complete so quickly.

  60. David Marjanović says

    For a decade or so (1944-1957), all the surviving speakers of Chechen, Ingush and other languages of the Caucasus were in exile in Central Asia and Siberia.

    Also the speakers of Crimean Tatar and I forgot what else.

    The sect is quite interesting.

    Its founder created modern creationism.

  61. Its founder created modern creationism.

    Do you mean William Miller? Ellen G. White? George McCready Price is the guy we used to read when I was a kid; maybe you mean him.

    I notice that the same ideas now circulate in the Islamic world to some extent.

  62. Punic and Vandal speakers in North Africa would have communicated in Latin/Romance

    Anybody know of recent work on the mystery of why no Romance language survives in North Africa?

  63. J. W. Brewer says

    Romance languages are doing quite well in North Africa as Morocco/Algeria/Tunisia are all dominated by Francophone elites, but in terms of the lack of a _continuous_ indigenous presence for most of the time between say A.D. 600 and A.D. 1800 I assume it’s the same reasons why despite the great historical significance of the North African church (home of Augustine of Hippo among many others) no indigenous Christian presence survived west of Egypt, not even as marginal dhimmis. Arabization (with whatever caveat is needed re survival of Berber etc out in the sticks) and Islamicization were more thoroughgoing at an earlier date than in Egypt and the Levant.

  64. It’s interesting that that trend didn’t extend to Iberia.

  65. As we’ve noted before, Semitic languages readily displace other Afroasiatic languages, but only in North Africa did they displace a Romance language — which suggests to me at least that it was mostly an elite language.

  66. JC, then wouldn’t some writings survive? If it was an elite language?

  67. The elite written language was of course Latin, and plenty of that survived, notably Terence, Apuleius, and Augustine. Like other pre-Romance speakers, the North Africans undoubtedly thought of their spoken language as Latin too.

  68. marie-lucie says

    JC: Semitic languages readily displace other Afroasiatic languages, but only in North Africa did they displace a Romance language — which suggests to me at least that it was mostly an elite language.

    I agree that Latin must have been the language of an urban elite, while the majority of the population spoke something like the ancestor of Berber or (T)amazight.

  69. JC, right; I wasn’t thinking at all. What you call a brainfart.

  70. “Anybody know of recent work on the mystery of why no Romance language survives in North Africa?”

    I wasn’t aware there was any mystery. If Coptic couldn’t hang on in Egypt, what chance did Vulgar Latin or whatever it was have of hanging when it was probably only spoken in cities and by what was basically a colonial population?

  71. Jeffrey Heath, D-possessives and the origins of Moroccan Arabic, Diachronica 32(1):1–33 (2015):

    Despite the general view that Berber was the only important substratum for Maghrebi Arabic, Moroccan Arabic (MA) took shape in the 7th–8th centuries AD in Roman cities in which Late Latin (LL) was spoken. The occupation of Morocco was far more tenuous than in other areas conquered during the Arab expansion. Rapid language shift from LL to a contact Arabic introduced by eastern Berber troops left telltale signs in phonology and in morphological simplification. Archaic MA D-possessives di, d- and dyal- reflect Latin and pronominal combinations thereof, and must be dated to the language-shift period. Recognition of this has been delayed by hesitation to recognize the LL/MA relationship and by Arabic-internal explanations of D-possessives that must be rejected in light of what we now know about Maghrebi Arabic dialects.

  72. Fascinating!

  73. A few years ago I submitted an abstract for a talk at a conference on Arabic linguistics: my proposed talk was on (local) Late Latin influence upon (Early) North African Arabic. It was accepted (much to my surprise), but as I could not attend the conference I had to cancel.

    Among the many things which I did mean to discuss in my talk were: 1- The evidence overwhelmingly points to Latin having been much more than an elite language in North Africa: it may or may not have been the majority language, but in many areas I am certain it was the spoken vernacular of all social classes, 2-The evidence that Proto-Berber only expanded across North Africa after the fall of the Roman Empire, and must originally have been spoken outside its political borders (Both the timing and the nature of its spread being oddly reminescent of the spread of Anglo-Saxon to the British isles and of Slavic South of the Danube), and 3-Several instances of Late Latin influence upon North African Arabic, which were to my mind especially convincing because they A-involved changes which were wholly inexplicable through Berber influence, and B-were parallel to instances of foreign influence upon other varieties of Arabic that appear to have been accepted in the scholarly literature.

    That a scholar such as Heath has come to similar conclusions is rather flattering to my ego, I must say.

  74. Oh, and some of the issues brought up here were very nicely discussed here:

    Speaking for myself, I pretty much stand by what I wrote back then.

  75. I’d forgotten that thread, which is full of great stuff.

  76. J. W. Brewer says

    But Coptic didn’t completely die out as a vernacular L1 for some significant portion of the Egyptian population until maybe the 17th C., so approximately a millenium after political domination by Arabic-speakers began. There are suggestions above that Late Latin may have survived in the Maghreb for more centuries after the Arabs arrived than I might have supposed, but still not nearly as long. Presumably the existence of a substantial minority in Egypt which had never converted from Christianity to Islam and who had a specific religious attachment to Coptic helped, but that gets back to the related mystery I mentioned above as to why a Christian minority survived under Islamic rule in Egypt but not in the Maghreb.

  77. J.W. Brewer: I’m not sure the better survival of Christianity in Egypt than in North Africa explains much linguistically: after all, Berber is alive and kicking in North Africa, unlike Coptic in Egypt, despite speakers of the former being mostly Muslim, just like their Arabic-speaking neighbors.

    In turn, of course, this brings up the issue as to why Berber survived in North Africa, unlike Punic and Romance. Hmm. Here’s a thought: Berber, unlike Punic, Romance and Coptic, was spoken by nomadic groups. Here’s another: to what degree is Arabic alone to blame for the extinction of Punic and North African Romance? Couldn’t the expansion of Berber have something to do with it too? In fact, let’s push this further: Could North African mulitlingualism have made the triumph of Arabic easier? Let’s imagine that Berber was expanding in North Africa at the expense of Romance and Punic when Arabic was first transplanted to North Africa: Could it be that Arabic in fact won out (as an acceptable lingua franca) wherever Berber was facing competition with Punic and/or Romance? As a language of nomads, *some* Berber speakers would have been in contact with Romance and Punic speakers, and others not, but as the languages of settled groups, *all* Latin and Punic speakers were in contact with Berber…

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