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Nivkh
Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language

by Hidetoshi Shiraishi
associate professor, Sapporo Gakuin University
Director, Sound Materials of the Nivkh Language
The World’s Largest Sound Archive of the Nivkh Language on the Web

Nivkh men, 1902

Nivkh men, 1902

Nivkh (also called Gilyak) is an isolated language spoken on the island of Sakhalin and in the lower reaches of the Amur River in the Russian Far East. Of the total population of approximately 5,000 (2,500 in Amur, 2,500 on Sakhalin), the number of speakers is estimated to be less than 100. The speakers are above the age of 60 and they are all bilingual with Russian. Nivkh is still used among this elder generation. The UNESCO Red Book on endangered languages describes the sociolinguistic situation of Nivkh to be “nearly extinct” in the Amur area and “seriously endangered” on Sakhalin.
Access to speakers was very limited before the Perestroika. Fieldwork was practically impossible for Western researchers. The first fieldtrip to Sakhalin by a group of Western researchers was realized only in 1990. Hidetoshi Shiraishi (Sapporo Gakuin University, Japan) has been engaged in the language documentation project of Nivkh since 2000.

Village of Nekrasovka in Sakhalin, Russia, where Nivkh speakers live (photograph by Shiraishi Toshi )

Village of Nekrasovka in Sakhalin, Russia, where Nivkh speakers live (photograph by Shiraishi Toshi )