Today on the ELAR blog, Natalia Aralova and Brigitte Pakendorf intervew four of their consultants in the Far East of the Russian Federation. Natalia and Brigitte’s documentation project is Documentation of Negidal, a nearly extinct Northern Tungusic language of the Lower Amur.
We interviewed four of our Negidal speakers individually, and then compiled their answers to each question and translated the responses into English. Daria Ivanovna Nadeina (DIN) was born in 1942; she worked in the village kindergarten and primary school, as a shopkeeper, as the head of the village administration, and as a teacher of Negidal for children and adults. Galina Ivanova Kandakova (GIK) is the sister of Daria Nadeina; she was born in 1945; she worked in the village club and library, and at the post-office. Alexandra Egorovna Truba (AET) was born in 1947; she worked as a nurse, as a shopkeer, and as the head of a workshop that produced indigenous artefacts. Antonina Vasil’evna Kazarova (AVK) was born in 1950; she worked in the village kindergarten and primary school, and later as a teacher of Negidal. –Natalia & Brigitte
- Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your language?
DIN: I was born in 1942. My mother worked in the bakery, my father worked as the head of the village administration. He died when he was 72 years old. He used to speak Negidal fluently, even though his stepfather was an Evenk. But his mother was a Negidal.
GIK: My maiden name is Nadeina, I was born in 1945, after the war. One could say that I practically didn’t have any childhood, because the times were very hard. We helped our parents. My father always worked in responsible positions – first as the head of the collective farm, then as the head of the village administration. My mother, on the other hand, was a simple worker – first she worked in the bakery, then in the school. And we children helped them. We always used to speak in our language [i.e. Negidal], from our childhood our parents spoke with us in this language, and until now I speak in my language.
AET: I was born in Vladimirovka, a true Negidal. And I have spoken Negidal since birth, you might say. My father was half Evenk, half Yakut. But everyone only spoke Negidal, and my father learned to speak Negidal. I love my language. It is soft, easy to pronounce. In my language, you can say everything you want, especially concerning the beauty of nature.
AVK: Currently, I am a pensioner, I am 67 years old, haven’t worked for about seven years. My service record is more than 40 years. Here in our village basically all people are Evenks and Negidals. The languages have already become a bit similar. In the Evenk National District and further to the north, there the language is already different from the local language, which developed out of the merger [of Evenki] with Negidal. That has resulted in shared words and shared forms.
- What is your favourite word or phrase in your language? And why?
DIN: I have many favourite words, but I always remember the words of my father. He frequently showed us the path of truth by saying just such Negidal aphorisms. I frequently repeat his words okinda bəjəβə osat əkəsun gunə, gunɟiŋadukkaj osat tətəm iktəβəj kekesenkasun, əmənti ikəjiβe … nimŋeʨaːgəʨinməj: “Never say anything bad about people, rather than saying something bad, clench your teeth hard, as if you were crushing a bone”. He often said that, because he worked in very difficult times. And he always admonished us that one should never say anything bad about others.
GIK: ikaːmi ikaːkal, hokmi hokkəl, iɲemi iɲekəl, okinda əkəl əmŋəjə taj koldekanma iʨetnakan buŋatβi “If you sing – sing, if you dance – dance, if you laugh – laugh, (but) don’t forget when looking at butterflies that you will die [i.e. life is short].” I say this to my [grand]children, because one shouldn’t live light-heartedly. Why is a person born? In order to leave a trace on earth. That is why I always [say that].
AET: I love the words “dawn, star in the sky”. I love the expression: siβun siβunelʨaː naːilʨa bugаlti “the sun rises and it has turned bright on earth”. Our life, existence on earth is linked to the dawn. Everything wakes up – people and nature. Life begins.
AVK: In the past, when I was still able to walk well, when I was younger and I had friends, we were on very good terms. We went for walks in the forest, went to gather berries, in winter we went for ice-fishing. We would go…. of course, we would choose a day with good weather – well, the weather was always good in the past, it seems – we would go and look, sit at the fire, boil tea, and generally all of us would say “How beautiful it is around here! How beautiful our home country is!”, ajaː bogat!!
- Is your language still spoken by everyone in your community?
DIN: In Vladimirovka there are perhaps 85 Negidals. Out of this number, only five are speakers of the language – those who know the language, who can speak it fluently, who speak it with each other and teach the children. And the fifth of these is my mother. [Note: the mother is 100 years old and already too weak to speak with us linguists. We were therefore unable to ask her for an interview.] When I was working on the Negidal primer for the first grade and then started to work on the dictionary, I of course asked my mother about most words, because these words aren’t used in everyday life and therefore I forget them, even though I fluently speak both Negidal and Evenki. I speak fluently and understand everything.
GIK: No, not everyone speaks anymore. If one assumes that in our village there are still about 180 Negidals, then among them there are, one might say, no more speakers. Perhaps only those who understand [the language]. There are probably only about ten people who speak it. And that is why I am worried that they don’t teach Negidal in school. From my grandson I know how these “Negidal lessons” are done. He only knows the words bakaldijap [“hello”, lit. ‘we met’] and tudgen-tudgen [“quickly-quickly”], that’s all.
AET: Very few people speak our language, and also Evenki. Only a few adults speak. The language is disappearing with the death of the old people, the older generation. It is a pity that I didn’t teach my children and grandchildren to speak in my language.
AVK: The older generation after us – those [born in the] 1960s and closer to this time, they only understand the language, they don’t speak. They understand, in part. [Those born in] the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, they understand something, but they can’t say anything, because they don’t have any practice.
- What are your hopes for the future of your language?
DIN: There is no hope that the language will live. This generation, the people who still know the language, will die and after that there are no more people [who know it]. Those whom we now teach in after-school classes, they don’t know anything except for the word bakaldijap [“hello”, lit. ‘we met’]. Apart from that they don’t know anything. Even in response to the question on bisis [“how are you?”] they cannot answer ajat bisiβun [“we are well”].
GIK: In 2017, they published a beautiful primer. That gave me the hope that perhaps, even if they don’t teach [the language] in school, somebody among these children will be interested and will start to study the language by himself. I have only that hope.
AET: Now we have a Negidal primer. Perhaps when the young generation will study the primer, they will at least know the translation of some words from Russian into Negidal. But the spoken language, as we now fluently speak, I think the younger generation will not be able to learn it – and they don’t even have such a desire. If at least until 4th grade all subjects, all books were in Negidal, like a native language, the primer, maths and others, as it was in our childhood, maybe the language would stay [alive] and people would be able to speak in their own language. [Note: in the early years of the Vladimirovka primary school, an Evenki primer was used to teach reading and writing, but in the year AET went to second grade teaching was switched to Russian. A Negidal orthography was approved only in 1993, but was never really implemented.] But that is probably very difficult – to start over from scratch. But I do wish that the language won’t disappear, that the inhabitants [of this village] will speak in Negidal, in Evenki.
AVK: Well, of course I would want our people to know their language, but that is already…. I don’t know. I’m even afraid of making any predictions that this language will rise again, that it will reappear. Why do I remember my language? Obviously, my parents taught me. From the day I was born they taught me this language, that is why I cannot forget it. Even though I live alone, but I used to work, and there I spoke with others. Now of course it’s rare to meet those who speak our language, but of course we speak in our language. If only all would speak like that – that would be nice.
Thank you to Brigitte, Natalia, and the Negidal speakers interviewed, Daria Ivanovna Nadeina, Galina Ivanova Kandakova, Alexandra Egorovna Truba and Antonina Vasil’evna Kazarova . If you would like to learn more about the Negidal language, visit the Brigitte and Natalia’s deposit page, found here.
Blog post by Natalia Aralova and Brigitte Pakendorf