The Structure of the Dictionary
Technical Comments
How to Use the Dictionary


The Nenets (Yurak) and Nganasan (Tawgi) languages are spoken in northwestern Siberia. Along with Enets (Yenisei-Samoyed), they belong to the North-Samoyed branch of languages. The whole group of Samoyed languages is related to the group of Finno-Ugric languages, and the two groups form the Uralic language family. Nenets is spoken in a vast area from the White Sea in the west to the mouth of the Yenisei River in the east, and from the shore of the Arctic Ocean in the north to the edge of the boreal coniferous forest in the south (see the Map). Although the Nenets are nomadic people residing mainly in the tundra, their camps are also found in the forest area along some tributaries of the Ob River and along the Pur River. According to the 2002 census, the number of the Nenets is about 41.000 (their number grew 20 per cent compared to 1989). Up to 77 per cent of them speak Nenets as their mother tongue; this number varies depending on the particular area [for more detailed information see: http://www.gks.ru/PEREPIS].
Nganasan is spoken in the central and northern parts of Taymyr Peninsula. Today the total number of the Nganasan is only 830. Ca. 500 people claim Nganasan to be their mother tongue [see ibidem]. Since the 1960s, the majority of them have resided in three villages - Volochanka, Ust'-Avam, and Novaya. Most Nganasan speakers are multilingual: along with the Native language, they speak Russian. Many of them also have command of Dolgan, a Turkic language. The Dolgan live together with the Nganasan in all the three villages mentioned above. Some Nganasan people can also speak Enets, a third North-Samoyed language. The latter is in a poor condition - very few senior people can speak it today.

In ancient times, the North-Samoyed languages formed a unity with Selkup, Mator, Kamas, and some other languages (see the picture below). The Samoyed language affinity may be imaged as a tree:

According to a widely-assumed hypothesis, this unity split ca. 2.000 years ago. The Nenets and the Nganasan became on their own and moved to the Arctic area approximately in the middle of I millennium A.D. Eventually, the Samoyed people diverged both territorially and linguistically. From the middle of I millennium to the beginning of II millennium, the Samoyed people migrated to the Arctic zone along the Yenisei River and settled the tundra. The Nenets were moving westwards, to Yamal Peninsula and Gydan Peninsula; the Nganasan eastwards, to Taimyr Peninsula and close to the Khatanga River. The Enets settled down between them, right in the mouth of the Yenisei River and to the west of the Taz River basin. At the turn of I and II millennia, the Nenets crossed the Ural mountains in the north and found themselves in Bolshezemelskaya tundra; after that they moved further on to Malozemelskaya tundra, Kanin tundra, and Timan tundra [Helimski 2000b: 28].
According to an alternative theory, in 2-3 centuries A.D., the Samoyed migrated northwards, to the mouth of the Ob River, westwards, to the Irtysh River area, southwards, to the Ob River area, near the modern city of Novosibirsk, and to the Sayan mountains. Under pressure from the Huns, part of the Samoyed people was forced to leave the middle part of the Irtysh River area for the northern forest part of Europe; that was where the European Nenets originated from [Vasil'yev 1994]. This hypothesis explains the difference in pronunciation between western and eastern Nenets, because the former has kept its original form intact, while the latter shows certain traits of the autochthonous languages in the area.
In the same vein, the contemporary Nganasan are descendants, on the one hand, of the Samoyed and, on the other hand, of the northernmost tundra population of Eurasia, caribou hunters. As a separate ethnic group, the Nganasan formed in the Taymyr Peninsula by the second half of the 17th - early 18th century [Gracheva 1994; Gracheva 1983 : 4-9]. It is generally assumed today that the Samoyed language history is parallel to their speakers' ethnic history. This assumption sounds reasonable, since, both ethnically and linguistically, there is an amalgamation of heterogeneous components [Helimski 2000а : 25].
Nenets has two dialects - Tundra dialect and Forest dialect. Most Nenets speak Tundra dialect, while Forest dialect is only spoken by 2.000 (ca.5%) people. A Nenets literacy based on Cyrillic letters was introduced in the late 1930s. Since that time, there have been published a number Nenets primers, text-books, and dictionaries.
There are two dialects of Nganasan, Avam and Vadey, which are very close to each other. 75 per cent of Nganasan speakers, that is, about 300 people, speak Avam dialect. A Nganasan writing system was introduced very recently, in the late 1990s; very few people are literate in their Native language. Some Nganasan text-books and a school dictionary have been published since then. Although very few books have appeared in Nganasan by the present, or maybe due to this fact, there exist several modes of writing in Nganasan, which differ in the shape of some letters. The alphabet used in this dictionary is as follows:

Phonetic rules, grammatical systems, and a considerable part of the lexicon are very close to each other in all Samoyedic languages, it is especially true for the North-Samoyed branch. However, there are certain phonetic and lexical features, as well as differences in the shape of suffixes, that give grounds to draw a borderline between the languages of this branch. This Comparative Dictionary is to demonstrate this differences for Nenets and Nganasan.
The present Comparative Dictionary is based on the following Nenets and Nganasan School Dictionaries: [Tereshchenko 1982; Kosterkina et al. 2001]. A number of new words were added by Native Nenets and Nganasan speakers in the course of work on a final draft of this dictionary. The corpus of the Dictionary contains about 1.000 frequently used words, viz. the words denoting various everyday activities related to nomadic way of life, reindeer breeding, fishing, hunting; it also contains words for body parts, for details of the dwelling-place, weather, fauna and flora, types of landscapes, and others, including most words from the Swadesh wordlist.
The Dictionary clearly demonstrates that the Nenets and Nganasan are closely related to each other, for example, numerals from one to seven, as well as certain pronouns turn to be the same in the North-Samoyed languages. Most terms for reindeer-breeding activities are also of the same origin. They demonstrate the highly developed branch of reindeer domestication and the specifics of the nomadic way of life which are characteristic of all Samoyed groups, from the Sayan mountains to the White Sea shore. The Dictionary points to some lexical cognates, concentrating, first of all, on words for birds, fishes, and animals, linking them to words denoting related activities (in all examples the first word is in Nenets, the second is in Nganasan), e.g.:

         ""(domesticated) reindeer" (cf. "caribou": илебц' - бахи);
Many words for wild animals are of the same origin:
         but cf.: "polar fox":
(1.3) Birds:
(1.4) Fishes:
  but cf.:
        "omul" (These fishes are not found in the middle Yenisei).

Some words for fishes, in Nenets and Nganasan, are not cognate, which implies that the Nenets population started catching these kinds of fishes rather late, after they had arrived in the area they occupy today, cf.:






(smelling fish)



(sea fish)

"Greenland shark"


(live-in sea athlete fish or bone fish)

Neither the Nenets, nor the Nganasan ate mushrooms, so the words for them differ:
(1.6)  in the same fashion, the words denoting sea birds are different, cf. the words for the "sea-gull": :

Nenets and Nganasan share many structural elements: morphonotactic rules, affixation design, similar nominal paradigms which include possessive and desiderative declensions, three similar conjugation types, etc. The lexicon shows a considerable number of common roots and word stems which, in each language, have been modified in the course of natural language development, for example:
         "eat": one root with the iterative and gerund-infinitive suffixes;
         "badly": one root with the adverbial suffix (which, etymologically, is the prolative marker);
         "sit down" - one root with the gerund-infinitive suffixes;
         "eighth" - the root and the cardinal number marker;
         "quick, fast" (originally, the Present Participle of the verb "be quick, fast"), etc.
Such cognate word stems can be traced as far back as the Proto-Uralic language, or both languages could borrow them simultaneously at a later period:
         "sleeping place",
         "dew, moisture",
         "master, owner".
Most part of such cognates can be found in the etymological dictionary [Janhunen 1977].
Both languages show the relics of syncretism in parts of speech system which is particularly characteristic of Nenets:
(3.1)  "depth"
and   "deep" -
но    "nightly" -
Through the comparison of such cognates, using also material from other Samoyedic languages, proto-forms may be reconstructed, and the regularities of language change may be formulated. It should be noted, at the same time, that the languages in question formed independently, and, besides the common Samoyedic core, they integrated non-Samoyedic components. Lexicon is part of language which is subject to change first of all. It changes due to new subsistence practices, climatic change, migrations, etc. Another important factor of lexical change is language contact. Nenets and Nganasan are no exception here: Nenets (mainly Bolshaya Zemlja sub-dialect) integrated a number of Komi (Komi-Izhemsk dialect) words, Ural and Yenisey sub-dialects absorbed a number of Khanty words. Nganasan intergrated some Evenki (Dolgan) words. A number of Turkic and Russian loan words denoting new activities are also found in both languages.
Evgeniy Helimski points out to a large number (twice as many) of unetymologised noun stems in Nganasan compared to Nenets and Enets [Helimski 2000a : 24].
(3.2)  The Nenets word has two meanings: "1. nose; 2. beak"; but there is a separate word for each meaning in Nganasan:
     The first meaning of the Nenets word "habit, custom" corresponds to the Nganasan form аbut the same word in the adverbial form meaning "generally" corresponds to the word
     The meaning of the Nenets word "hunter" is realized, in Nganasan, in two words: - "the person who hunts" and - "hunter (way of life)".

Using the present Dictionary, one can see that the two languages show a considerable difference in pronunciation. The Nganasan phonology presents the most ancient vocalism system: no other North-Samoyed language has diphtongs. There are also differences in consonant system , rhythmic and prosodic structures, morphonotactics.

The Dictionary may be helpful for students of the Samoyedic (Uralic) historical phonetics and comparative grammar. In future editions of the Dictionary, the material of a third North-Samoyed language, Enets, will be included. The authors will appreciate any comment on the present version of the Dictionary.



  • Gracheva 1983 - Г.Н. Грачева. Традиционное мировоззрение охотников Таймыра. Л. Наука. 1983.

  • Gracheva 1994 - Г.Н. Грачева. Нганасане // Народы России. Большая Научная Энциклопедия. М. 1994. C. 242-244.

  • Helimski 2000а - Е.А. Хелимский. Самодийская лингвистическая реконструкция и праистория самодийцев. Компаративистика, уралистика. М. 2000. C. 13-25.

  • Helimski 2000б - Е.А. Хелимский. Очерк истории самодийских народов. Компаративистика, уралистика. М. 2000. C. 26-40.

  • Janhunen 1977 - Ju. Janhunen. Samojedischer Wortschatz (gemeinsamojedisher Etimologien). Helsinki. 1977.

  • Kosterkina et al. 2001 - Н.Т. Костеркина, А.Ч. Момде, Т.Ю. Жданова. Нганасанско-русский, русско-нганасанский словарь. СПб. Просвещение. 2001.

  • Prokofiev 1937 - Г.Н. Прокофьев. Ненецкий язык // Языки и письменность народов Севера. ч. I. Учпедгиз. М-Л. 1937. C. 5-52.

  • Tereshchenko 1982 - Н.М. Терещенко. Ненецко-русский, русско-ненецкий словарь. Л. Просвещение. 1982.

  • Vasil'yev 1994 - В.И. Васильев. Ненцы // Народы России. Большая Научная Энциклопедия. М. 1994. C. 249-253.


The dictionary contains ca. 1.000 most frequent Nenets words with Nganasan parallels and Russian and English translations. The dictionary does not reflect all the nuances of the Nenets and Nganasan words meanings, it mainly points the coincidence between them. The user of the Dictionary can search for information using words of any of these languages. Nenets and Nganasan words are provided with sounding examples pronounced by Native speakers.

The structure of the entry
  [ 1 ] - [ 4 ] Alphabeth lists of words:
     [ 1 ] - Nenets,
     [ 2 ] - Nganasan,
     [ 3 ] - Russian,
     [ 4 ] - English,
  [ 5 ] Nenets word,
     [ 6 ] - the sounding sample,
     [ 7 ] - translation into Russian,
     [ 8 ] - translation into English,
  [ 9 ] comparative Nganasan word,
     [ 10 ] - the sounding sample,
     [ 11 ] - translation into Russian,
     [ 12 ] - translation into English.



1. To use this dictionary no additional fonts are needed for the Nenets and Nganasan languages. The charset of the Nenets-Russian and Russian-Nenets Dictionaries is "Windows-1251", that is page encoding is Cyrillic (Windows).
2. To listen to the audio samples you need an MP3-player for the Internet version and any WAV-media player for the off-line version.
3. The browser's frames support is necessary.

The demo-version of the Dictionary is available in the Internet: http://www.speech.nw.ru/Dictionaries/.


[ 1 ] Choose the language to translate from (see the chart below).
[ 2 ] Select the word from the alphabetical list.
[ 3 ] Get the correspondent Nenets-Nganasan pair.
[ 4 ] Get the translation of both Nenets and Nganasan entry into Russian and English.
[ 5 ] Listen to the sounding examples for Nenets and Nganasan.




Marina Lublinskaya (St. Petersburg Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences) dictionary compilation, audio recording, segmentation, and database inputting
Tatiana Sherstinova (Department of Phonetics, St. Petersburg State University): database development, technical support, design and programming.
The Nganasan part of the dictionary was edited by Valentin Goussev (Institute of Linguistics, Russian Academy of Sciences), besides he recorded the additional list of Nganasan words in 2003 in Volochanka.


The compilers of the dictionary express their deep gratitude to the following Nenets and Nganasan experts and Native speakers: Michail Nenjang, Antonina Nenjang, Valentina Taleeva, Ekaterina Laptander, Anna Latysheva, Nadezhda Kosterkina, Anna and Alexander Momde, Ekaterina Sovalova. Without generous help of these outstanding experts in language and culture, the work on this Dictionary could not be completed.
The studio for recording was provided by the Regional Radio and Television Committee in Dudinka and the Department of Phonetics, St. Petersburg State University.
The Russian Science Foundation for Humanities covered travel expenses during our field work in 1998 and 2000 which allowed to make recordings for the Dictionary.
The Dictionary was created as part of the project "Voices of Tundra and Tajga" supported by the NWO - the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), project co-ordinators are Dr. Тjeerd de Graaf and Dr. Lija V. Bondarko. The final edition of the Dictionary is part of the research program of the Department of Historical and Philological Research, Russian Academy of Sciences "Historical-cultural Revolution, Current State and Prospects for Sustainable Development of Aboriginal Minorities of the Russian North, Siberia and Far East" (project "Minorities Languages of the Russian Federation: Historical, Social, Linguistical and Typology Aspects of Research") and the program "Etnocultural Interaction in Eurasia".



For decoration of the Dictionary the fragments of the picture Ancestral Symbols by the Nganasan painter Motiumiaku Turdagin were used.

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St. Petersburg, 2006.