Small-scale multilingualism in the Lower Kolyma Tundra



Most theories of language contact assume that the relationship of dominance of one group or one language over another is the decisive factor in determining the structural outcome of language contact. Recent research on multilingualism in indigenous societies casts doubt on this. A number of studies document fully egalitarian small-scale multilingual situations that result in a variety of language contact phenomena. The theoretical significance of this finding is still poorly understood, among other things due to scarcity of data and a small number of relevant case studies.

This project focuses on the linguistic situation in a north-eastern Siberian community at the Lower Kolyma River. This is a multilingual environment in which several cultures have amalgamated to form a new mixed culture. The Lower Kolyma tundra is one of the ethnically most complex areas in the Sub-Arctic zone and is one of the last places in Siberia where the process of linguistic mixture is ongoing and there is still some living memory of the past multilingual structures. The purpose of the project is to document communicative events in this multilingual environment and to investigate the processes and the outcomes of linguistic intertwining. We focus on conversational exchanges in Tundra Yukaghir, Ėven and Yakut, the three indigenous languages spoken in the target area.

The research questions the project addresses promise to contribute to our general understanding of the typology of small-scale multilingualism, different types of language contact at a micro-level, and the structural impact of the phenomena of code-switching and language mixture.


Principal investigator:

Prof. Dr. Dejan Matić


Prof. Dr. Irina Nikolaeva

Maria Pupynina

Evgenia Zhivotova

Dr. Natalia Aralova

     Luciana Cenere

     Alina Wilmer

Project duration: 2021-2024


‘Language and Culture Contact in North-Eastern Siberia’

October 14-15, 2022 in Münster

The workshop ‘Language and Culture Contact in North-Eastern Siberia’ deals with the structural and socio-cultural aspects of multilingualism and cultural intermingling.
For more information and the programme klick here



Funded by DFG, duration 2021-2024