Kamassian language

Kaŋmažən šəkət
Native toRussia
Extinct1989, with the death of Klavdiya Plotnikova
Language codes
ISO 639-3Either:
xas – Kamassian & Koibal
zkb – Koibal
Kamassian language.png

Kamassian (Kam: Kaŋmažən šəkət) is an extinct Samoyedic language. It is included by convention in the Southern group together with Mator and Selkup (although this does not constitute a subfamily). The last native speaker of Kamassian, Klavdiya Plotnikova, died in 1989. Kamassian was spoken in Russia, north of the Sayan Mountains, by Kamasins. The last speakers lived mainly in the village of Abalakovo. Prior to its extinction, the language was strongly influenced by Turkic languages.

The term Koibal is used as the ethnonym for the Kamas people who shifted to the Turkic Khakas language. The modern Koibal people are mixed SamoyedKhakasYeniseian. The Kamassian language was documented by Kai Donner in his trips to Siberia along with other Samoyedic Languages. But the first documentation attempts started in the 1740s.[1] In 2016 the university of Tartu published a Kamassian e-learning book.[2] The grammar and vocabulary of Kamassian are well documented.[3]


The Kamasins have never been a large group, and they lived a nomadic life, living next to Turkic and Yeniseian tribes. In the middle of the 17th century Sayan Samoyeds started to assimilate into Turkic peoples and Kamassian was the only one to survive until investigators came, such as Castrén and Kai Donner. Due to many hardships in Russia Kai Donner was sure that he will be the last one to investigate the Kamassian language before it went extinct, already in the middle of the 20th century it was thought Kamass had died. However it was later found there was still one speaker of Kamassian left: Klavdiya Plotnikova. The Kamassian speakers also assimilated into the Russians, in the 20th century half of the Kamass people were born to Russian mothers which caused much influence to come from the Russian language. After the Russian Civil War the Kamassian language started to fall drastically.[4]


Kamassian had two dialects: Kamassian (also known as Kamass) and Koibal, the Koibal dialect is very poorly documented and we know only about 600 words of the Koibal dialect. The Kamass dialect also had two sub-dialects, "Fat" and "Eagle", which mainly differed on phonology. The Eagle dialect was the most dominant Kamass dialect[4]

Example of the Eagle and Fat dialect.
Eagle Fat English
kaaʒuk kaaʒok ankle
ʒeedü ćüüʔdü Betula nana
bürüʔgə̑ bürüʔgo half-dark
ʒ́aγa ćaγa river


The phonological account of Kamassian is very basic, due to unclear data labeling by K.Donner and Castren. It is uncertain whether Kamassian had primary vowel length, consonant gemination, and palatal stops or affricates as different phonemes. It varied widely between speakers. However, there are audio recordings of the last native speaker.[5]

Kamassian has both palatalized and palatal phonemes.


Consonants according to Klumpp
Bilabial Dental Post-Aleveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m, mʲ n ɲ ŋ
Plosive p, pʲ, b, bʲ t, d c k, kʲ, g ʔ
Affricate [t͡ʃ]*
Fricative s, sʲ ʃ, ʃʲ h, hʲ
Tremulant r
Glide j
Lateral l, lʲ
Consonants according to Künnap
Bilabial Coronal Palatal Velar Laryngeal
Nasal m n, nʲ ŋ
Plosive p, pʲ, b, bʲ t d k, g ʔ
Affricate t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative s, sʲ, z, zʲ, ʃ, ʒ x, ɣ**
Trill r
Glide w j
Lateral l, lʲ

*the affricates may just be consonant clusters

**ɣ seems to have been an allophone of g for some speakers.

K.Donner also mentioned a sound ϑ (θ) and an f sound that was used in loanwords. Kamassian also had aspiration.[3]


The maximal syllable structure is CVCC. The only type of cluster allowed, in the coda, is ʔC. An example of this would be naʔb (duck).

Palatalization only occurs in front of vowels.

Three consonants do not occur word initially: the trill r, the velar nasal, and the glottal stop.


The last Kamassian speakers had some variations in their speech and a few vowels and consonants were slightly different depending on the speaker, for example:

oo ~ ee

ə ~ ɯ

x ~ k͔´

b ~ β (w)

Examples of Kamassian[7]

(examples in the UPA script)

  • daγaibə sēləbiə̑m, sēlənnə p͑im bɯn ɯštəbiəm.
  • i sharpened my knife, i dropped the sharpening stone into the water
  • ťăbaktǝrla’bǝm ĭmbi popalo
  • i tell what has happened
  • dĭgǝttǝ măna kumbii’ kazān turānǝ
  • Then they took me to Aginskoe
  • dĭn măna kros embii’
  • there they put a cross to me

Examples of the Koibal dialect

  • timɛzǝt = toothless
  • sagǝssǝt = mindless
  • amnuzǝt = hornless

Basic phrases[8]

  • Kăde tănan kăštəliaʔi? = what is your name
  • măna kăštəbiʔi = my name is
  • pasiba = thank you
  • Dărowă/zdărowă = hello
  • naga = isn't
  • jakšə = good
  • ej = no


Kamassian is an agglutinative language and it has many flective markers.[1][4]

Kamassan had 7 cases: Nominative -Ø, Genetive, -(ǝ)n, Accusative -(ǝ)m, Lative/Dative -n(ǝ) ~ -dǝ ~ -tǝ, Locative -Kǝn ~ -gǝn, Ablative -gǝʔ ~ -kǝʔ and Instrumental źəʔ ~ -śəʔ. And the plural endings are: -zaŋ ~ -zeŋ ~ -saŋ ~ -seŋ. However, there are a few irregularities : ešši 'child', esseŋ 'children', bulan 'moose' and genetive "bulaan".

The word "koot" 'rib' conjugated.[7]
Case Singular
nominative koot
genetive koodǝn
accusative koodǝm
lative koottǝ
locative kootkǝn
ablative kootgǝʔ
instrumental kootźǝʔ


There are three tenses and moods in Kamassian: Conditional, Imperative, Future, Present tense, Past tense and Optative.

The Conditional is formed by -na ~ -ne after vowels and -ta ~ -te ~ -da ~ -de after consonants. The second component is -ze which comes after the personal ending.

kandamze ‘I would go’.

  • Imperative is done by adding -ʔ or -Kǝ.
  • Optative ending is -š(ti) in the singular and -Šǝ in the plural and dual.
  • The past tense is done by adding -BiA 1st and 2nd person singular or -Bi in others.
  • The future tense is marked with -LA.


In Kamassian a verb is made negative by adding the word "e ~ i" with the main verb. Examples with the word šo- 'come':

  • ej šoliam = i don't come
  • ej šolial = you don't come
  • ej šobiam = i did not come
  • ej šobial = you did not come
  • em šoʔ = i will not come
  • ellǝ šoʔ = you will not come

Word formation

Factitive verbs have the ending aa: ešši 'child': eššā = make children.

Deverbal nouns have the ending (ǝ)š: am- 'eat': amǝš 'food'.

Instrumental nouns have the ending (p)zan or (p)zǝn: kaj = close, kajzan = lid.


Kamassian was a nominative type language, and the common structure of a Kamassian sentence includes the subject, the object, the adverbial modifier, and a predicate. The subject is in the nominative case. The indefinite object is often expressed by using the nominative but the definite object with the accusative case. The adverbial modifier can also be expressed with adverbs or nouns in the form of local or instrumental cases. The predicate in Kamassian can be preceded by gerundial verb forms, which indicates the manner or tense of an action that is expressed by the predicate. Composite sentences are not used in the Kamassian language. Instead of sentences which are complex Kamassian uses simple sentences with gerundial verbal constructions in which case it has no need to use conjunctions or a sequence of several simple sentences. In Kamassian the subject and predicate must both agree in the person and in number.

Words which typically are used in attributive positions: (demonstrative pronouns, pronominal adjectives, and numerals) can also function as argument expressions. There are also no prepositions in Kamassian, instead postpositions are used and the head of a postposition, usually is marked with a genitive (-ǝn/-n). However, there are also primary postpositions which can govern the lative case. The word order in Kamassian is SOV (subject-object-verb), but the word order VO occurs when using an imperative. Clauses which introduce a situation, the locative adverbial often precedes the subject. In clauses which a new subject appears in a place which is given there is a reverse order. In Kamassian the third person, zero copula predication varies with the usage of the verb i- 'be'. Kamassian direct objects are subject to differential object agreement and to differential object marking. Subordinating conjunctions in Kamassian are kamǝn 'when' and paka 'while', which is a borrowing from Russian (пока).[4][1]



  1. ^ a b c https://www.infuse.finnougristik.uni-muenchen.de/e-learning/kamas/index.html
  2. ^ "Kamas - Integrating Finno-Ugric Studies in Europe - LMU Munich". www.infuse.finnougristik.uni-muenchen.de. Retrieved 2021-01-15.
  3. ^ a b c Donner, Kai (1944). "Kai Donners Kamassiches Wörterbuch nebst Sprachproblem und Hauptzügen der Grammatik". Cite journal requires |journal=
  4. ^ a b c d Ago, künnap (1999). "Kamass": 12. Cite journal requires |journal=
  5. ^ "INEL Kamas Corpus 1.0 - Corpus search page". inel.corpora.uni-hamburg.de. Retrieved 2021-01-21.
  6. ^ Künnap. "Languages of the world, Kamass" (PDF). Kamass. Cite journal requires |journal=
  7. ^ a b c d https://www.infuse.finnougristik.uni-muenchen.de/e-learning/kamas/o1_kamas.pdf
  8. ^ https://inel.corpora.uni-hamburg.de/KamasCorpus/search


  • Britannica, 1984 Edition, Vol. 18, p. 1025.
  • Wixman, Ronald. The Peoples of the USSR. p. 109.

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