Ös (Chulym)

The Ös Documentation Project 

Ivan Skoblin, Ös consultant

The Ös people were dropped from census statistics as a distinct ethnic group after 1959, regaining separate ethnic identity only in 1999. A priority for this project is the creation of a web-accessible digital archive to make Ös data accessible to scholars and, of greater importance, to the native community itself in the future. Beyond documentation, we will take steps to support the Ös community in their efforts to preserve their language and culture. This includes for example training of speakers in the use of modern media.

The first ever book in Ös currently under production under the direction of Living Tongues, with the proto-type field-tested during the summer, 2005. The Ös documentation project was generously funded from 2005-2008 by a major documentation grant MDP0096 (based at Swarthmore College) to Dr. Gregory D. S. Anderson and Dr. K. David Harrison from the Hans Rausing Endangered Language Program, based at SOAS, University of London.

Living Tongues Institute takes its cue from the community itself in setting priorities for further community-based output and other measures to improve the language ecology. In July 2003, we met with the Chulym tribal council to discuss our proposed research. The council issued a written invitation to us to work in the community and collect data and to assist in the development of a standardized orthography.

A pilot version of a book based on stories we collected in a modified native orthography has been developed and this will be combined with an ‘ABC’ book for Ös in the near future. The native orthography is the development of Living Tongues Institute consultant Vasilij Gabov.

Ös (Middle Chulym) Language

The indigenous people of the middle Chulym river basin (ö:s kizhiler ‘Ös people’, pisting kizhiler,‘our people’) speak one of the most critically endangered of native Siberian languages. The Ös language is a divergent Turkic speech variety now mostly used by elderly speakers who live in small, isolated villages in Tomsk Oblast’ and Krasnoyarsk Kray in central Siberia.

The present-day Ös people are descended from non-Turkic peoples of Yeniseic and Uralic stock, who lived as fishers and hunter-gatherers primarily along the Chulym river. Their history—including multiple waves of colonization and linguistic assimilation first into Turkic, and now into Russian—is reflected in substrate structures of their language that distinguish it significantly from other Siberian Turkic tongues.

Middle Chulym or Ös has become endangered in part as a result of open hostility from the state during the twentieth century. Unlike most native Siberian languages, it was never committed to writing. In the 1940s, with the establishment of the ‘second mother tongue’ policy, children were rounded up into boarding schools and forbidden to speak their mother tongue. This led to rapid abandonment of the language.

In addition, Ös [Chulym Turkic] people were dropped from census statistics as a distinct ethnic group after 1959, regaining separate ethnic identity only in 1999. In the 1970’s, they were forcibly consolidated into larger, Russian-speaking settlements, thus losing their population base and traditional language milieu.

According to an ethnographic survey conducted by V. P. Krivonogov (1998), in 1997 there were 115 self-reported ‘fluent speakers’ of which only 11 claimed to use Chulym as the primary language of spoken communication, while 24 reported that they spoke Chulym as often they spoke Russian. However, our pilot field survey, conducted in July 2003, suggests that the total number of actual speakers, including semi-speakers, is less than 40.

In July, 2003, we undertook a pilot investigation to the Middle Chulym region. We focused on villages where the greatest concentrations of Ös live: these are Belij Yar, Novoshumilovo, Ozyornoe, and Tegul’det, in eastern Tomsk Oblast’ and Pasechnoe in western Krasnoyarsk Kray.

A second expedition took place in June-July 2005. Some of the findings of the expeditions to date include that there appears to be now under 25 speakers of the language, and fewer than 10 who are capable as serving as consultants or language teachers. The third Chulym trip took place in 2008 and many new texts were recorded. We are currently working on these for publication.

There also appear to be two varieties of the language. A Middle Chulym variety and an Upper Chulym variety which, as might be expected, shares features with Xyzyl or Kyzyl (Xakas), the next variety further upriver into Krasnoyarsk Kray. We also became aware of an indigenous Ös orthographic tradition for this unwritten language.

Indigenous Ös Orthography

The last work done in the Chulym region was in the early 1970’s by R.M. Biryukovich and earlier in the 1940’s and 1950’s by A. P. Dul’zon. Their results were published in Russian mostly in various local journals. These studies have a large amount of data from the Tatar-like or Tatar-ized Lower Chulym language. In fact, the two so-called Chulym varieties are so different that Ös speakers profess Lower Chulym forms to be completely unrecognizable.

Chulym_notebook40A priority for this project is the creation of a web-accessible digital archive to make Ös data accessible to scholars and, of equal importance, to the native community itself in the future. Digitized audio/video recordings are being housed at the Siberian Languages Laboratory in Tomsk and at the ELAR archive in London.

Community ownership of Middle Chulym intellectual property is a primary consideration in all our work. Digital recordings housed at Tomsk and SOAS must remain under the auspices of the Chulym community itself, which will grant permission (both individually and collectively) for their scholarly use and dissemination.

Because the Middle Chulym community itself is not yet connected to the Internet, we consider it a priority to produce and disseminate materials in alternative media (e.g., print, audio tape, VHS video tape) so that community members who wish to see and hear the language spoken may do so readily.

Ös Video Clips

Ös Project Photos

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Ös Book Project

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Related Publications

Turkic Languages 2003
Turkic Languages 2006
 Turkic Languages Article
Shaman and Bear 2004
 Anderson & Harrison

Languages of Central Siberia 2004
 Central Siberia 2004

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