Nivkh - Orientation

Identification. The Nivkh live along the lower Amur River, especially near its estuary and on the island of Sakhalin—administratively a part of Russia. They call themselves "Nivkh" (Amur dialect) and "Nighvng" (South Sakhalin dialect), which means "human being, person." The ethnonym "Gilyak" comes from the name of a continental Tungusic group (Kil-, Gil-) that lived near the Nivkh when they were first discovered by the Russians as they were pushing toward the east.

Location. The present-day location of the Nivkh (approximately 53° N, 142° E) has probably been their home since Neolithic times. It is likely that, before contact with the Manchu and the Russians, the Nivkh occupied a larger, inland, area along the lower Amur and perhaps along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Demography. In 1989 there were 4,631 Nivkh. Of these, 1,199 (or 25.9 percent) claimed Nivkh as their first (native) language. About half of the Nivkh live on the continent and half on Sakhalin.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language is an isolate (not demonstrably related to any other). It is classified as Paleosiberian (with Ket, Yukagir, and Chukchee-Koryak-Itelmen), an artificial remainder-group of North Asian languages. There are two main dialects: one spoken on the continent and in the north of Sakhalin and the other in the rest of Sakhalin.

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