Manchu Is Being Preserved in China’s Northwest.

We talked about Sibe (under the alias Xibe) just last year, but this post by Ying Ding and Alan McLean is worth linking to because along with its basic introduction — “The Sibe (锡伯族; Xibozu) are one of China’s officially recognized ethnic minorities, with a populace of nearly 200,000. The Sibe are considered a Tungusic-speaking people, and in essence, the present-day Sibe language is nearly identical to Manchurian, which uses the adapted Mongolian script for writing” — it has samples of the writing, and (what really got me to post) audio samples of the language: four clips, beginning with Geren gucuse, baitakv na? Hosh (i)lahe na? Bi evad gerenofid emudan elhe sian fiansikie [“Hi, everyone, how are you? Greetings from me”]. I love being able to hear snippets of little-known languages. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Sibe is not really Manchu. It’s a related southern Tungusic language, sure, but Manchu it isn’t.

    Also the claim that it evolved from Manchu is dubious. Most probably, ancestors of Sibe never spoke Manchu as a L1 language, but of course they understood it since it was the language they were given commands in the Qing banner armies.

  2. Sibe is really Manchu – participated in every isogloss that distinguishes Standard Manchu from other Manchu dialects, like f < p. The phonological evolution from ATR-RTR system to the front-back system is also shared by the remaining pockets of spoken Manchu in Manchuria.

  3. Don’t know. I’ve read Jin Ning’s “Sibe-English conversations” and the language described it in was definitely not Manchu as described in standard Manchu grammars and dictionaries.

    Maybe it’s because of phonetic transcription used in the book, but the grammar and vocabulary were hard to recognize too.

  4. David Marjanović says

    What front-back system? There aren’t any front vowels in the audio samples, except /i/ (including [æ] for ai and [i̯ɛ] for ia and ie). Even the distinction of u /u/ and ū /ʊ/ seems to be intact if the one occurence of ū is a reliable guide.

  5. David: I was not exactly right to quote from my memory: what remained of the vowel harmony is still ATR-RTR. Much as Southern varieties of Mainstream Mongolian, there is a series of front vowels umlauted from *-i: Sibe døf < Manchu dobi, Sibe ɛmirgi < Manchu amargi. Similarly, in spoken Manchu of Manchuria, Manchu tuci- “go out” gives tɕytɕy- (Sibe čiči-).

  6. “A populace of nearly 200,000”?! Is the slur intended? 🙂

  7. David Marjanović says


    Maybe they got a peever who insisted that population could only refer to the act of peopling an area.

  8. Yeah, I don’t see any slur there either.

  9. marie-lucie says

    Angelos, David M: populace as a slur?

    In English (at least in America) you often see populace as an apparent synonym for population. It used to surprise me, because in French la populace is definitely derogatory (almost like ‘the mob’ – but not referring to the Mafia) while la population is neutral. As for ‘act of peopling’, the French word is le peuplement.

  10. The -ace in English and French is from the pejorative Italian suffix -accio, so the meaning ‘the mob, the crowd, the rabble’ is the oldest, first landing in English in 1572. But by 1609 a neutral meaning ‘the plain people, the non-aristocrats’ appears, and by 1693 we see “the whole populace” glossed by the author as “all the inhabitants of that town”, where it clearly is a synonym for population. The two meanings have coexisted ever since. In addition, a third sense ‘a specific mob, crowd, or throng’ appears in 1823, a natural extension that is also still current.

    Population ‘body of inhabitants’ goes back to Francis Bacon, whereas the sense ‘action/process of populating’ first appears in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: “He [George III] has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.” (There is an older meaning ‘populated place’, now lost.) There is also one citation for population in the sense ‘the working class(es)’, presumably a confusion with the second sense of populace.

    (I’m following the OED3 here, but I am far from sure that they have correctly classified all their citations of populace; some seem to me to belong to other senses than they are listed with. But the editors had access to the full context, and I don’t, or rather I can’t be bothered to find them.)

  11. Bill Poser’s Facebook post:

    I’m watching the Korean movie 남한산성 (“The Fortress”) about the defense of Namhansansoeng fortress against the Qing invaders in 1636. To my amazement, the Qing characters speak Manchu! You hardly ever hear Manchu. I think that the Koreans are the only people who make movies with Manchu dialogue.

  12. I note Glottolog currently divides the Jurchenic languages into the early-attested Jurchen plus parallel “Manchu” versus “Xibe” branches. In at least a few respects the most archaic surviving (or recently surviving) branches would be rather Bala (extinct as of 1982) and Alchuka, which they fold into the Manchu branch. If there are notable archaims in Sibe opposed to all of “Manchuic” (and not just literary Manchu), I’ve not seen them spelled out. As in many cases, it’s possible a differing ethnic identity might make many people expect or assume more linguistic divergence than actually exists.


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