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Ket language

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Title: Ket language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Copula (linguistics), Dené–Yeniseian languages, Ket people, Ket, Ostyak (disambiguation)
Collection: Ket People, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Languages of Russia, Yeniseian Languages
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Ket language

Native to Russia
Region Krasnoyarsk Krai
Ethnicity Ket people
Native speakers
210  (2010)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ket
Glottolog kett1243[2]

The Ket [3] language, formerly known as Yenisei Ostyak ,[3] is a Siberian language long thought to be an isolate, the sole surviving language of a Yeniseian language family. It is spoken along the middle Yenisei basin by the Ket people.

The language is threatened with extinction—the number of ethnic Kets that are native speakers of the language had dropped from 1,225 in 1926 to 537 in 1989. Another Yeniseian language, Yugh, is believed to have recently become extinct.


  • Classification 1
  • Documentation 2
  • Phonology 3
    • Vowels 3.1
    • Consonants 3.2
    • Tone 3.3
  • Incorporation 4
  • Ket alphabet 5
  • Literature 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Attempts have been made by Stefan Georg).


The earliest observations about the language were published by P. S. Pallas in 1788 in a travel diary (Путешествия по разным провинциям Русского Государства Puteshestviya po raznim provintsiyam Russkogo Gosudarstva). In 1858, M. A. Castrén published the first grammar and dictionary (Versuch einer jenissei-ostjakischen und Kottischen Sprachlehre), which also included material on the Kot language. During the 19th century, the Kets were mistaken for a tribe of the Finno-Ugric Khanty. A. Karger in 1934 published the first grammar (Кетский язык Ketskij jazyk), as well as a Ket primer (Букварь на кетском языке Bukvar' na ketskom jazyke), and a new treatment appeared in 1968, written by A. Kreinovich.

E. Alekseyenko has written a historical-ethnological treatment of the Kets (Кеты Kety, 1967). Western Washington University historical linguist Edward Vajda offers better substantiated findings into the origins of the Ket people, where DNA claims show genetic affinities with that of Tibetan, Burmese, and others.[4] Edward Vajda spent a year in Siberia (2005–2006) studying the Ket people, and finds a relationship of Ket language to that of Native American Na-Dene languages, and also suggests the tonal system of the Ket language is closer to that of Vietnamese than any of the native Siberian languages.[5] His (2004) monograph Ket is the first modern scholarly grammar of the Ket language in English. (Lueders 2008)



Front Central Back
Close i ɨ u
Mid ɛ1 ə ɔ1
Open a 2
  1. The normally open-mid /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ are pronounced as close-mid [e] and [o], respectively, when they have the high-steady tone.
  2. /a/ freely varies between [æ], [a], [ɐ], and [ɑ].


Vajda analyses Ket as having only 12 consonant phonemes:

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop b t d k q
s ç h

There is much allophony, and the phonetic inventory of consonants is essentially as below. This is the level of description reflected by the Ket alphabet.

Bilabial Alveolar Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop p b t d k g q ɢ ʔ
β s ç ʝ (x) ɣ (χ) ʁ h
Flap ɾ
Trill r

Furthermore, all nasal consonants in Ket have voiceless allophones at the end of a monosyllabic word with a glottalized or descending tone (i.e., [m, n, ŋ] turn into [m̥, n̥, ŋ̥]), likewise, [ɮ] becomes [ɬ] in the same situation. Alveolars are often pronounced laminal and possibly palatalized, though not in the vicinity of a uvular consonant. /q/ is normally pronounced with affrication, as [qχ].


Descriptions of Ket vary widely in the number of contrastive tones they report: as many as eight and as few as zero have been counted. Given this wide disagreement, whether or not Ket is a tonal language is debatable,[6] although recent works by Ket specialists Edward Vajda and Stefan Georg defend the existence of tone.

In tonal descriptions, Ket does not employ a tone on every syllable but instead uses one tone per word. Following Vajda's description of Southern Ket, the five basic tones are as follows:[7]

Tone name Glottalized High-Even Rising Falling Falling Rising High-Falling
Tone contour [˧˦ʔ] (34’) [˥] (5) [˩˧.˧˩] (13.31) [˧˩] (31) [˩˧.˥˧] (13.53)
Example [kɛʔt]
[su᷈ːl] ([sǔûl])
"hand sled"
"mallard ducks"

The glottalized tone features pharyngeal or laryngeal constriction, or a full glottal stop that interrupts the vowel.

Georg's 2007 description of Ket tone is similar to the above, but reduces the basic number of tonemes to four, while moving the rising high-falling tone plus a variant to a class of tonemes only found in multisyllabic words. With some exceptions caused by certain prefixes or clitics, the domain of tones in a multisyllabic word is limited to the first two syllables.[8]


Ket makes significant use of incorporation. Incorporation is not limited to nouns, and can also include verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and bound morphemes found only in the role of incorporated elements. Incorporation also occurs as both a lexicalized process - the combination of verb and incorporate being treated as a distinct lexical element, with a meaning often based around the incorporated element - and a paradigmatic one, where the incorporation is performed spontaneously for particular semantic and pragmatic effect.[9] Forms of incorporation include:

  • Nominal incorporation, most commonly used to describe the instrumental part of an action, but sometimes used to describe patients instead. Instrumental incorporation doesn't affect the transitivity of the verb (though there are examples where this form of incorporation is used to describe agentless changes of state), while patient incorporation can make a transitive verb intransitive. Patient incorporation is usually used for patients that are wholly effected by an action (such as being brought into existence by it); more generally affected patients are typically incorporated only when significantly defocused or backgrounded.[10]
  • Verbal incorporation, more specifically the incorporation of verbal infinitives (rather than roots) into the verb complex. This form of incorporation is used to signify aspect and form causatives. Incorporated infinitives may bring incorporated elements of their own into the verb as well.[11]
  • Adjectival incorporation, with an incorporated adjective describing the target or final state of an action.[12]
  • Adverbial incorporation, where a local adverb is used to describe the direction or path of a movement.[13]

Ket alphabet

In the 1930s a Latin based alphabet was developed and used:
A a Ā ā Æ æ B b Ç ç D d E e Ē ē
Ə ə F f G g H h Ҕ ҕ I i Ī ī J j
K k L l M m N n Ņ ņ Ŋ ŋ O o Ō ō
P p Q q R r S s Ş ş T t U u Ū ū
V v Z z Ƶ ƶ Ь ь
In the 1980s a new, Cyrillic-based, alphabet was created:
А а Б б В в Г г Г̡ г̡ Д д Е е Ё ё
Ж ж З з И и Й й К к Ӄ ӄ Л л М м
Н н Ӈ ӈ О о Ө ө П п Р р С с Т т
У у Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ
Ә ә Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я


  • Stefan Georg. A Descriptive Grammar of Ket (Yenisei-Ostyak) Part 1: Introduction, Phonology, Morphology. (2007) Folkestone, Kent, UK:Global Oriental Ltd ISBN 978-1-901903-58-4
  • N. K. Karger, Кетский язык. — Языки и письменность народов Севера. Ч. III, Moscow, Leningrad (1934)
  • E. A. Kreinovich, Кетский язык. — Языки народов СССР. Т. V, Leningrad (1968)
  • Edward J. Vajda. Ket Prosodic Phonology. (2000) Munich: Lincom Europa Languages of the World vol. 15.
  • Edward J. Vajda. Ket. (2004) Munich: Lincom Europa Languages of the World vol. 204. ISBN 3-89586-221-5. 109pp.
  • E. Vajda, M. Zinn. Morfologicheskii slovar ketskogo glagola: na osnove iuzhno-ketskogo dialekta. = Morphological dictionary of the Ket verb: Southern dialect / E. Vajda, M. Zinn. (2004)
  • Vajda, Edward J. "Siberian Link with Na-Dene Languages". The Dene–Yeniseian Connection, ed. by J. Kari and B. Potter, 33-99. Anthropological Papers of the University of Alaska, new series, vol. 5. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Department of Anthropology. (2010)


  1. ^ Ket at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Ket". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b Laurie Bauer, 2007, The Linguistics Student’s Handbook, Edinburgh
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Ian Maddieson, "Tone". The World Atlas of Language Structures Online.
  7. ^ Vajda (2004), pp. 8-12
  8. ^ Georg (2007), pp. 49, 56-58
  9. ^ Georg (2007), p. 233, 235
  10. ^ Georg (2007), p.236
  11. ^ Georg (2007), p. 233-234
  12. ^ Georg (2007), p.232-233
  13. ^ Georg (2007), p.233

External links

  • Endangered Languages of the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia – The Ket Language
  • Ket language vocabulary with loanwords (from the World Loanword Database)
  • Filtchenko, Andrei. 2001. Ket Language
  • Georg, Stefan. 2006. (Yenisei-Ostyak).A Descriptive Grammar of Ket Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental. 10-ISBN 1-901903-58-3; 13-ISBN 978-1-901903-58-4
  • Kazakevich, Olga, et al. 2006?. Multimedia Database of Ket Language, Moscow State (Lomonosov) University
  • Lueders, Ulrich. Books: Language Description, Ket: Vajda. Publisher's announcement on LINGUIST List
  • Vajda, Edward J. 2000. Ket and other Yeneseic Peoples
  • Vajda, Edward J. 2006. The Ket People – Google Video
  • The Dene–Yeniseian Connection.Table of contents and ordering information for
  • Notices and news items on Dene–Yeniseian
  • Viikberg, Jüri. Kets. In The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire, NGO Red Book, ISBN 9985-9369-2-2 (WorldHeritage article)
  • Ket basic lexicon at the Global Lexicostatistical Database
  • Silent Extinction: Language Loss Reaches Crisis Levels
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