Sirenik Eskimo Language
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Sirenik Eskimo Language
Sireniki Eskimo
Native toRussia
RegionBering Strait region, mixed populations in settlements Sireniki and Imtuk
EthnicitySirenik Eskimos
with the death of Valentina Wye
  • Eskimo
Transcribed with Cyrillic in old monographs (extended with diacritics), but new publications may appear also romanised
Language codes
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Sirenik Yupik,[3]Sireniki Yupik[4] (also Old Sirenik or Vuteen), Sirenik, or Sirenikskiy is an extinct Eskimo-Aleut language. It was spoken in and around the village of Sireniki () in Chukotka Peninsula, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia. The language shift has been a long process, ending in total language death. In January 1997, the last native speaker of the language, a woman named Vyjye (Valentina Wye) (Russian: ?), died.[5][6][7] Ever since that point, the language has been extinct;[5] nowadays, all Sirenik Eskimos speak Siberian Yupik or Russian.

[si'n?x] is the endonym for the eponymous settlement of Sireniki.[8][9] The endonym for the people itself is [si'n'm?:?ij] "Sirenikites"; the singular form is [si'n'm?:?a]).[9][10]

This article is based on Menovschikov (1964),[11] with cited examples transliterated from Cyrillic transcription to the International Phonetic Alphabet.

The Yupik settlement of Sireniki (the red and yellow dot)




Some argue that the Sirenik language is a remnant of a third group of Eskimo languages, in addition to Yupik and Inuit groups[6][7][12][13][14] (see a visual representation by tree and an argumentation based on comparative linguistics[15][16]). In fact, the exact genealogical classification of Sireniki language is not settled yet,[6] and some others regard it belonging to the Yupik branch.[17][18]

Many words are formed from entirely different roots than in Siberian Yupik.[19] Also, the grammar has several peculiarities compared to other Eskimo languages, and even compared to Aleut. For example, dual number is not known in Sireniki Eskimo, while most Eskimo-Aleut language have dual,[20] including even its neighboring Siberian Yupik relatives.[21] The peculiarities amounted to mutual unintelligibility with even its nearest language relatives. This forced Sirenik Eskimos to use Chukchi as a lingua franca when speaking with neighboring Eskimo peoples.[22] Thus, any external contacts required using a different language for Sireniki Eskimos: they either resorted to use of lingua franca, or used Siberian Yupik languages (being definitely a mutually unintelligible, different language for them, not just a dialect of their own).[23] This difference from all their language relatives may be the result of a supposed long isolation from other Eskimo groups:[24][25] Sireniki Eskimos may have been in contact only with speakers of unrelated languages for many centuries in the past, influenced especially by non-relative Chukchi.[22]


Although the number of its speakers was very few even at the end of the nineteenth century, the language had at least two dialects in the past.[5]


As for its morphological typology, it has polysynthetic and incorporative features (just like the other Eskimo languages).


Some notes (very far from being a complete description):


Like all other Eskimo languages, the morphology is rather complex. A description grouped by lexical categories follows.

Nominal and verbal

Although morphology will be treated grouped into a nominal and a verbal part, many Eskimo languages show features which "crosscut" any such groupings in several aspects:

  • the ergative structure at verbs is similar to the possessive structure at nouns (see section #Ergative-absolutive);
  • a physical similarity exists between nominal and verbal personal suffix paradigms, i.e., in most cases, the respective person-number is expressed with the same sequence of phonemes at:
  • nomenverbum-like roots, becoming nominal or verbal only via the suffix they get;
  • Eskimo texts abound in various kinds of participles (see section #Participles);

Common grammatical categories

Some grammatical categories (e.g. person and number) are applicable to both verbal and nominal lexical categories.

Although person and number are expressed in a single suffix, sometimes it can be traced back to consist of a distinct person and a distinct number suffix.[26]


Paradigms can make a distinction in 3rd person for "self", thus the mere personal suffix (of the verb or noun) can distinguish e.g.

a nominal example
"He/she takes his/her own dog" versus "He/she takes the dog of another person".
a verbal example
"He/she sees himself/herself" versus "He/she sees him/her (another person)"

Thus, it can be translated into English (and some other languages) using reflexive pronoun. This notion concerns also other concepts in building larger parts of the sentence and the text, see section #Usage of third person suffixes.


Although other Eskimo languages know more than the familiar two grammatical numbers (by having also dual), Sireniki uses only singular and plural, thus it lacks dual. As mentioned, Sireniki is peculiar in this aspect not only among Eskimo languages, but even in the entire Eskimo-Aleut language family,[20] even its neighboring Siberian Yupik relatives have dual.[21]

Building verbs from nouns

Suffix -/?un/- meaning "to be similar to sth":

Root Becomes verbal by suffix[27] Indicative mood, singular 3rd person
/m?tlux/ /m?tlux-?un/- /m?tlux-?un-t?-?/
raven to be similar to a raven he/she is similar to a raven
Predicative form of a noun

Predicative form of a noun can be built using suffix -/t ?/-:[28]

Root Predicative form Examples
Singular 2nd person Singular 3rd person
/ju?/ /ju t ?/- /ju t ?t?n/ /ju t /
man to be a man you are a man he/she is a man
Verbs built from toponyms
  • /imtuk/ (a toponym: Imtuk)
  • /imtux-t?q-t?-?/ (I travel to Imtuk.)[29]

Nominal lexical categories

Grammatical categories

Not only the grammatical cases of nouns are marked by suffixes, but also the person of possessor (use of possessive pronouns in English) can be expressed by agglutination.

Excerpt from cases and personal possessive form of /ta?a?/ (child)[30]
Sing 1st person Sing 2nd person
Absolutive /ta?aqa/ (my child) /ta?an/ (your child)
Ablative / Instrumental /ta?amn/ (from my child) /ta?a?p?n/ (from your child)
Dative / Lative /ta?amnu/ (to my child) /ta?a?p?nu/ (to your child)
Locative /ta?amni/ (at my child) /ta?a?p?ni/ (at your child)
Equative (comparative) /ta?amt?n/ (like my child) /ta?a?p?t?n/ (like your child)

It is just an excerpt for illustration: not all cases are shown, Sirenik language has more grammatical cases. The table illustrates also why Sirenik language is treated as agglutinative (rather than fusional).

There is no grammatical gender (or gender-like noun class system).


Sireniki is an absolutive-ergative language.

Cases (listed using Menovikov's numbering):

  1. Absolutive
  2. Relative case, playing the role of both genitive case and ergative case.
  3. Ablative / Instrumental, used also in accusative structures.
  4. Dative / Lative
  5. Locative
  6. Vialis case, see also Prosecutive case, and "motion via"
  7. Equative (comparative)

To see why a single case can play such distinct roles at all, read morphosyntactic alignment, and also a short table about it.

Some finer grammatical functions are expressed using postpositions. Most of them are built as a combinations of cases

  • lative or locative or ablative
  • combined with relative (used as genitive)

in a similar way as we use expressions like "on top of" in English.

Verbal lexical categories

Also at verbs, the morphology is very rich. Suffixes can express grammatical moods of the verb (e.g. imperative, interrogative, optative), and also negation, tense, aspect, the person of subject and object. Some examples (far from being comprehensive):

Phonology Meaning Grammatical notes
Person, number of Mood Others
subject object
/a?a-t?q-t?-mk?n/ I lead you Singular 1st person Singular 2nd person Indicative
/a?a-?uk-?-m?i/ Let me lead you Singular 1st person Singular 2nd person Imperative[31]
/n-s?-s?n/ Don't you see me? Singular 2nd person Singular 1st person Interrogative Negative polarity[32]

The rich set of morphemes makes it possible to build huge verbs whose meaning could be expressed (in most of widely known languages) as whole sentences (consisting of more words) . Sireniki - like the other Eskimo languages - has polysynthetic and incorporative features, in many forms, among others polypersonal agreement.

Grammatical categories

The polysynthetic and incorporative features mentioned above manifest themselves in most of the ways Sirenik language can express grammatical categories.


For background, see transitivity. (Remember also section #Ergative-absolutive.)

See also.[33]


Even the grammatical polarity can be expressed by adding a suffix to the verb.

An example for negative polarity: the negation form of the verb /a?a?-/ (to go):

  • /ju? a?a?-t?q-t?-?/ (the man walks)
  • /ju? a?a?-?-t?-?/ (the man does not walk)[32]

Grammatical aspect:

  • /aftal?a-q?sta?-/ (to work slowly) and /aftal?a-q?sta?-t?q-t?-?/ (he works slowly),[34] from /aftal?a-/ (to work)

Also linguistic modality can be expressed by suffixes. Modal verbs like "want to", "wish to" etc. do not even exist:[35]

Suffix -jux- (to want to):
/aftal?a?-/ (to work) /aftal?a?-jux-/ (to want to work)[35]
/aftal?a?-t?q-t?-?/ (I work)[36] /aftal?a?-jux-t?q-t?-?/ (I want to work)[35]

The table illustrates also why Sirenik is treated as agglutinative (rather than fusional).


Four grammatical voices are mentioned in:[37]

confer -/?i/- that variant of Siberian Yupik which is spoken by Ungazigmit[38]
middle (medial)
/malikam a?a?-?a?-t?q-t?-?a k?tu?i qur?i-nu/ (Malika makes Kitugi go to the reindeer.)[37]

all of them are expressed by agglutination, thus, no separate words are required.


A distinction between two kinds of participles (adverbial participle and adjectival participle) makes sense in Sireniki (just like in Hungarian, see határozói igenév and melléknévi igenév for detailed description of these concepts; or in Russian, see and ).

Sireniki has many kinds of participles in both categories. In the following, they will be listed, grouped by the relation between the "dependent action" and "main action" (or by other meanings beyond this, e.g. modality) - following the terminology of [11]. A sentence with a participle can be imagined as simulating a subordinating compound sentence where the action described in the dependent clause relates somehow to the action described in the main clause. In English, an adverbial clause may express reason, purpose, condition, succession etc., and a relative clause can express many meanings, too.

In an analogous way, in Sireniki Eskimo language, the "dependent action" (expressed by the adverbial participle in the sentence element called adverbial, or expressed by the adjectival participle in the sentence element called attribute) relates somehow to the "main action" (expressed by the verb in the sentence element called predicate), and the participles will be listed below grouped by this relation (or by other meanings beyond this, e.g. modality).

Adverbial participles

They can be translated into English e.g. by using an appropriate adverbial clause. There are many of them, with various meanings.

An interesting feature: they can have person and number. The person of the dependent action need not coincide with that of the main action. An example (meant in the British English usage of "shall / should" in the 1st person: here, conveying only conditional, but no necessity or morality):

"I" versus "we"
/ma ijaxt?k-t-j?q-ma, ajva?ju?u?t?ki/
If I were a marksman, we should kill walrus

Another example (with a different adverbial participle):

"he/she" versus "they"
/ l?tin?q an, up?u?t?qtij/
when he/she sings, they keep frightening him/her

They will be discussed in more details below.

Reason, purpose or circumstance of action

An adverbial participle "explaining reason, purpose or circumstance of action" is expressed by suffix -/l?/- / -/ l/- (followed by appropriate person-number suffix). Examples:[39]

Persons Sentence
Adverbial participle Verb
1st--1st /j?fk?-l?-ma it-m?-t-?/
(I) having stood up I went in
3rd--3rd /j?fk?-l?-mi it-m?-t?-?/
(he/she) having stood up he/she went in

Another example,[40] with a somewhat different usage:

Adverbial participle Verb
/nitu lku p?j?ka/
To examine him/her2 (another being) he/she1 went
Dependent action ends just before main action begins

Using the adverbial participle -/ja/- / -/?a/-, the dependent action (expressed by the adverbial participle in the sentence element called adverbial) finishes just before the main action (expressed by the verb in the sentence element called predicate) begins.[41]

Dependent action begins before main action, but they continue together till end

It can be expressed by suffix -/in?q a/-.[41] Examples:

/nuk? l?pi?t?am anin?q ami qamtni tim?ra(x)/
the boy, going out [of the house], took his [own] sledge [with himself])


/nuk? l?pi?t?am/
Phonology Syntax Semantics
/nu'k? l?pi?'t?a?/ noun boy
-/?m/ case suffix relative case
/anin?q ami/
Phonology Syntax Semantics
/an/- root go out
-/in?q a/- the suffix of the adverbial participle dependent action begins before main action, but they continue together till end
-/mi/ person-number suffix for adverbial participle in intransitive conjugation[42] subject of singular 3rd person
Phonology Syntax Semantics
/'qamta/ noun sled
-/ni/ possessive suffix for nouns singular, 3rd person, self: "his/her own ..."
Phonology Syntax Semantics
/t'ra?/ verb he/she took something
-/m?/- / -/?m?/- tense suffix past tense (not the "near past" one)

Another example:

/ l?tin?q an, up?u?t?qtij/
when he/she sings, they keep frightening him/her

Dependent action is conditional: it does not takes place, although it would (either really, or provided that some--maybe irreal--conditions would hold). Confer also conditional sentence.

Sireniki Eskimo has several adverbial participles to express that.[43] We can distinguish them according to the concerned condition (conveyed by the dependent action): it may be

  • either real (possible to take place in the future)
  • or irreal (it would take place only if some other irreal condition would hold)

It is expressed with suffix -/q/- / -/k/-, let us see e.g. a paradigm beginning with /a?a-q-ma/ (if I get off / depart); /a?a-q-pi/ (if you get off / depart):

Singular Plural
Person 1st /a?a-q-ma/ /a?a-q-mta/
2nd /a?a-q-pi/ /a?a-q-pi/
3rd /a?a-q-mi/ /a?a-q-m/

Confer counterfactual conditional. Sireniki can compress it into an adverbial participle: it is expressed with suffix -/j?q/- / -/maj?q/-.

The dependent action is expressed with an adverbial participle. The main action is conveyed by the verb. If also the main action is conditional (a typical usage), than it can be expressed with a verb of conditional mood. The persons need not coincide.

An example (meant in the British English usage of "shall / should" in the 1st person: here, conveying only conditional, but no necessity or morality):

/ma ijaxt?k-t-j?q-ma, ajva?ju?u?t?ki/
If I were a marksman, we should kill walrus.

The example in details:

Dependent action:

/ijaxt?k-t-j?q-ma/ (if I were a marksman)
Phonology Syntax Semantics
/i?'?:jaxta/ noun marksman
-/t/- suffix building a verb out of a noun predicative form of noun
-/j?q/- / -/maj?q/- the suffix of the adverbial participle irreal condition
-/ma/ person-number suffix for adverbial participles in the intransitive conjugation subject 1st person

Adjectival participles

There are more kinds of them.

  • /imtu?nu a?aqt? q?m? la? uttm?t?/ (The sledge [that went to Imtuk] returned.)
  • /ju? qav? l ns?m?r?qa/ (I saw [perceived] a sleeping man.)

They can be used not only in attributive role (as in the above examples), but also in predicative role:[44]

  • /ju? qav? l/ (The man is sleeping.)

Adjectival participle -/kajux/ / -/qajux/ conveys a meaning related rather to modality (than to the relation of dependent action and main action). It conveys meaning "able to".[45]

  • /ta?a?a? pij?kajux pij?xt?qt  l?m?n/ (A child who is able to walk moves around spontaneously)



Sireniki is (just like many Eskimo languages) an ergative-absolutive language. For English-language materials treating this feature of Sireniki, see Vakhtin's book,[6] or see online a paper treating a relative Eskimo language.[46]

Usage of third person suffixes

Although the below examples are taken from Inuit Eskimo languages (Kalaallisut), but e.g. Sireniki's distinguishing between two kinds of 3rd person suffixes can be concerned, too (remember section #Person above: there is a distinct reflexive ("own"-like) and an "another person"-like 3rd person suffix).


For a detailed theoretical treatment concerning the notions of topic (and anaphora, and binding), with Eskimo-related examples, see online Maria Bittner's works, especially.[47]


For a treatment of obviation in (among others) Eskimo languages, see online[48] and in more details (also online)[49] from the same authors.

Word order

See also.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Sireniki Eskimo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Old Sirenik". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ OLAC resources in and about the Sirenik Yupik language
  4. ^ Sireniki Yupik Sea-Ice Dictionary
  5. ^ a b c Vakhtin 1998: 162
  6. ^ a b c d Linguist List's description about Nikolai Vakhtin's book: The Old Sirinek Language: Texts, Lexicon, Grammatical Notes. The author's untransliterated (original) name is "?.?. Archived 2007-09-10 at the Wayback Machine".
  7. ^ a b Support for Siberian Indigenous Peoples Rights ( ? ? ) Archived 2007-11-03 at the Wayback Machine - see the section on Eskimos Archived 2007-08-30 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ ? 1964, p. 7
  9. ^ a b ? 1964, p. 195
  10. ^ ? 1964, p. 31
  11. ^ a b ? 1964
  12. ^ Vakhtin 1998: 161
  13. ^ . ICC Chukotka (in Russian). Inuit Circumpolar Council.
  14. ^ ? 1997
  15. ^ Representing genealogical relations of (among others) Eskimo-Aleut languages by tree: Alaska Native Languages (found on the site of Alaska Native Language Center)
  16. ^ Ethnologue Report for Eskimo-Aleut
  17. ^ Kaplan 1990: 136
  18. ^ ? 1964, p. 42
  19. ^ a b ? 1964, p. 38
  20. ^ a b ? 1964, p. 81
  21. ^ a b Menovshchikov 1990: 70
  22. ^ ? 1964, pp. 6-7
  23. ^ ? 1962, p. 11
  24. ^ ? 1964, p. 9
  25. ^ Person and number in a single suffix, or in two distinct ones: p. 61 of ? 1964
  26. ^ Suffix -/?un/- meaning "to be similar to sth": p. 66 of ? 1964
  27. ^ Predicative form of a noun (suffix -/t ?/-): p. 66-67 of ? 1964
  28. ^ Verbs built from toponyms: p. 67 of ? 1964
  29. ^ Personal possessive form: p. 44-45 of ? 1964
  30. ^ Imperative: p. 86 of ? 1964
  31. ^ a b Negation form of a verb: p. 89 of ? 1964
  32. ^ a b Nicole Tersis and Shirley Carter-Thomas: Integrating Syntax and Pragmatics: Word Order and Transitivity Variations in Tunumiisut. It treats an Inuit language: not Sireniki, but a relative. Availability: on paper and restricted online.
  33. ^ Suffix -/q?sta?-/ for slow action aspect: p. 72 of ? 1964
  34. ^ a b c Modality: p. 68 of ? 1964
  35. ^ Present tense: p. 61 of ? 1964
  36. ^ a b Grammatical voices: p. 78-80 of ? 1964
  37. ^ ? 1954, pp. 121-123
  38. ^ Adverbial participle -/l?/- / - /l/- "explaining reason, purpose or circumstance of action": pp. 90-91 of ? 1964
  39. ^ Adverbial participle -/l?/- / -/ l/- "explaining reason, purpose or circumstance of action" exemplified in another usage: p. 99 of ? 1964
  40. ^ a b Adverbial participle -/ja/- / -/?a/- (dependent action ends just before main action begins): pp. 91-92 of ? 1964
  41. ^ Intransitive conjugation of adverbial participles -/ja/- / -/?a/-, -/in?q a/-: p. 91 of ? 1964
  42. ^ Adverbial participles conveying conditional dependent action: pp. 92-93 of ? 1964
  43. ^ Attribute versus predicative usage of adjectival participles: p. 95 of ? 1964
  44. ^ Adjectival participle -/kajux/ / -/qajux/ (able to): p. 97 of ? 1964
  45. ^ Bodil Kappel Schmidt: West Greenlandic antipassive
  46. ^ Word Order and Incremental Update. See also the author's Kalaallisut materials.
  47. ^ Maria Bittner and Ken Hale: Comparative notes on ergative case systems. Rutgers and MIT. 1993.
  48. ^ Maria Bittner and Ken HaleErgativity: Towards a theory of a heterogenous class




  • ?, ?.?. (1962). ? . (in Russian). o : ? ?. . The transliteration of author's name, and the rendering of title in English: Menovshchikov, G.A. (1962). Grammar of the Language of Asian Eskimos. Vol. I. Moscow o Leningrad: Academy of Sciences of the USSR.
  • ?, ?.?. (1964). ? . , ?, ? ? (in Russian). o : ? ?. . The transliteration of author's name, and the rendering of title in English: Menovshchikov, G.A. (1964). Language of Sirenik Eskimos. Phonetics, morphology, texts and vocabulary. Moscow o Leningrad: Academy of Sciences of the USSR.
  • ?, ?. ?. (1997). " ?". In ?, ?. ?. ? . (ed.). ?. (in Russian). : . pp. 81-84.
  • ?, ?. ?. (1954). ? (? ?) (in Russian). o : ? ?. The transliteration of author's name, and the rendering of title in English: Rubcova, E. S. (1954). Materials on the Language and Folklore of the Eskimoes, Vol. I, Chaplino Dialect. Moscow o Leningrad: Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

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