Ėven is a Northern Tungusic language spoken over a vast area of northeastern Siberia, from the Lena-Jana watershed in the west to the coast of the Oxotsk Sea, Chukotka, and Kamchatka in the east. Traditionally, Ėvens are nomadic hunters and reindeer pastoralists. Reindeer, both domesticated and wild, play an important role in their culture and ethnic self-identification. Reindeer herding, however, has become highly endangered throughout the Russian North, which has had extremely negative effects on the Ėvens' self-perception and social relations. Therefore the project will not only seek to document the language, but also the state of reindeer herding among the Ėvens in different regional settings.
Due to the fragmentation of the Ėven communities, several dialects have emerged which are classified into two major dialectal groups: Western and Eastern. These dialects form a continuum with pronounced lack of mutual intelligibility between the extremes. So far, only two variants of one of the dozen or more dialects have been documented to a notable extent; these variants are also the least endangered ones. Other dialects are either on the verge of extinction or moribund.
The project aims at documenting three highly endangered variants of Ėven that currently still have enough fluent speakers to make a comprehensive documentation feasible. These are the dialect spoken in the village of Sebjan-Küöl in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), which is the westernmost Ėven dialect still spoken; the dialect spoken in the village of Topolinoe in Yakutia, which also belongs to the Western dialect group, but is in an intermediate geographic location and the dialect spoken in the Bystraja district on Kamchatka representing the Eastern dialect group. It will be attempted to record speech from as many fluent individuals as are willing to contribute their knowledge to the project, and to cover as wide a range of genres as possible, including folklore, procedural texts, oral life histories, and spontaneous conversations.
Given the importance of reindeer herding for Ėven culture and self-identification, a thematic focus will be the collection of ethnographic and linguistic data pertaining to the domain of reindeer husbandry. To this aim, reindeer terminology will be collected and illustrated photographically, and procedural texts describing various aspects of reindeer husbandry (such as the preparation of leather and the sewing of herders’ garments, the construction of the traditional nomadic yurt, the saddling and harnessing of reindeer) will be elicited. This linguistic focus on reindeer will be mirrored by the ethnographic documentation of the role of reindeer husbandry in the modern Ėven ways of life. A strong focus of the project will be on the collection of comparable data, in order to enable the documentation of cultural and linguistic differences as well as similarities. For this purpose, the elicitation of texts and information dealing with identical topics in all three field sites will be emphasized.
- Natalia Aralova (MPI-EVA)
- Alexandra Lavrillier (Université Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines)
- Dejan Matić (MPI fuer Psycholinguistik, Nijmegen)
- Brigitte Pakendorf (CNRS & Université Lumière Lyon 2, Dynamique du Langage)
- Evgeniya Zhivotova (MPI-EVA)
- Luise Zippel (MPI-EVA)