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The self-designation of the Eskimos living in northeastern Siberia is yuhyt 'people' or yupikhyt 'real people', but yupik is not widely spread. At different times the people have been known by other designations. In the 17th century when the Eskimos were not yet distinguished from the coastal Chukchis they were called 'the sedentary Chukchi' referring to their settled way of life. The 19th century explorers called them onkilon (F. von Wrangel) or namoly (F. Lütke). The terms Eskimo and Asiatic Eskimo date from the end of the 19th century, probably borrowed from US researchers who had adopted the Algonkin name eskimatsik ~ askimeg 'eating raw (meat)'. The name spread and came into common use in the early 20th century. Eventually it was adopted by the Eskimo people themselves.

In 1931 the Asiatic Eskimo received the official name yuity, in accordance with the then prevailing principle that the official name of a people had to be based on their self-designation. The Russian form was evidently based on the word inuit 'people' that used to serve as the self-designation for the American Eskimo. In 1938, however, the previous name Eskimo was readopted and has been current ever since.

The habitat. The Eskimos have retained 16 settlements on the very eastern coast of the Chukchi peninsula. They live on promontories and off-shore islands in the Bering Sea. Administratively they belong to the Bering district, Chukchi Autonomous Territory, Magadan Region, Russian Federation. Here we do not consider the St Lawrence Island that belongs to the USA. In 1935 six Eskimo families (45 people) were resettled to Wrangel Island. The Eskimo have been resettled from the Soviet borders incl. the Ratmanov Island.

Population. The available data is drawn mostly from census statistics:

native speakers
1932ab. 1,100 (V. Bogoraz)
19591,11883.9 %
19701,30860 %
19791,51060 %
19891,71851.6 %

By today a great number of the ethnic Eskimo have been assimilated either by Russians or the Chukchi, culturally as well as linguistically.

Anthropologically the Eskimo belong to the Mongoloid Arctic race. They are characterized by low stature, a stocky build, a relatively dark skin, a high cranium, stiff dark hair and a characteristic eye fold. The nose and the face with its high cheekbones are relatively narrow. There is very little hair growing on the face. Colour-blindness is almost unknown.

The language of the Siberian Eskimo belongs to the Eskimo-Aleut group of the Paleo-Asiatic languages. The Eskimos separated from the Aleuts at least 2,000--3,000 years ago and spread over a vast territory stretching from Northeast Asia across North-America to Greenland. In the course of time dialectal differences have developed into linguistic borders between language groups. At present the language varieties used by the Asiatic Eskimo are treated as three separate languages: Sireniki, Ungasiki or Chaplin, and Naukan which together form the Yupik or Western Eskimo language group. The differences are not extreme and in the 1930s the three languages were considered to be dialects of one and the same language. Most of the Asiatic Eskimo speak Ungasiki, while Sireniki and Naukan are on their way out.

Language. The Eskimos have an extremely rich vocabulary concerning their own traditional spheres of life (nature, weather, sea, fishing, handicraft, etc.). There is also a unique "language of the spirits" used by the shamans that is full of archaic words and metaphoric periphrasis. Beside having close contacts with their eastern kin the Asiatic Eskimo have communicated even more closely with the Chukchi, so that the main features distinguishing their usage from that of the American Eskimo can well be attributed to Chukchi influence. The economic and cultural contacts with the Chukchi are at least 2,000 years old and are strongest in the areas of reindeer breeding and maritime affairs. Even though the Chukchi are more numerous and stronger than the Asiatic Eskimo and their language has more prestige, many an Eskimo element can be observed in the phonology, morphology and semantics of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages.

The Russian influence that first made itself felt in the 1930s has been extensive, continuous and ever growing. The Eskimo language was quickly infiltrated by unadapted Russian loanwords, bilingualism developed and the transition to Russian began. The influx of loanwords has stopped the operation of the flexible derivational system of Eskimo. The schooling, working and living environment is prevalently Russian now. In the 1960s there was a growing number of mixed marriages between Russians and the Eskimo, so the contact with the Russian language has acquired a direct and personal character. Now, in order to save the Eskimo language from complete extinction close and personal contacts with this language are necessary.

History. The Eskimos are the native people of Northeast Asia. About 2,000--3,000 years ago when the forefathers of the Eskimo and the Aleut diverged the Eskimos populated the whole eastern part of the Chukotka peninsula and its northern part up to the Kolyma river. The Chukchi, however, have advanced gradually northwards displacing the Eskimos to the American territories in the East, infiltrating those staying and Chukchianizing part of them.

The first records of the Eskimo people come from Russian conquerors (S. Dezhnev a.o.). In 1649 a fortified settlement (ostrog) in Anadyr was erected as base for the conquering of the Eskimo and Chukchi lands. This was not easy. The Eskimo as well as the Chukchi fought bravely for their freedom and refused to pay any tribute. They have never adopted Christianity. In 1822 their dependence on the state was still only partial. In the middle of the 19th century their contacts with the Russians were still very few.

Trade relations received a boost after 1867 when Russia sold Alaska to the USA and competition arose between the Russian and American merchants. For the Eskimos it meant, first and foremost, access to such vital equipment as boats, guns, ammunition, folding structures, etc. At the same time the Eskimos themselves soon became clever mediators trading with the Chukchis, Koryaks, Russians, eastern Eskimos and Americans. Living on the borderland they were not subjected to the sole authority of either side.

In 1923 Chukotka fell under the Soviet jurisdiction. Private trading had to retreat before co-operatives, the fishermen were also joined in co-operatives. In 1931 the first Eskimo kolkhoz called Novaya Zhizn 'New Life' was established. As collectivization proceeded more easily here than with the nomadic tribes 95 % of the Eskimo had become kolkhoz members by 1938 without particular repressions. Beside fishing the collective farms look up reindeer-breeding (with Chukchi herdsmen) and, on the Wrangel Island, fur hunting. Women were organised to work in sewing brigades. Collective farms were made more attractive for the Eskimo bydemonstration of modern technology and its advantages. The hunt for whale, for example, that traditionally used to take 3--4 days could be accomplished in 3--4 hours now by using a motor boat.

Great changes took place in the intellectual sphere. The first schools were opened in 1925. In 1928 centres for political enlightenment were established. These people, who quite unexpectedly had found themselves living in a socialist society were now having the advantages and nature of the new order explained. In 1923 a centre for disseminating literary was founded. After that, however, the people experienced overt colonialism, principally in economic and ethnic relations. Contacts with America (the distance between the Diomede Islands being merely 4 km) continued until 1949 when the border was totally closed. Since then all trade has been monopolized by the state. All essentials are imported from Murmansk, 6,000 km by sea. Nobody asked the opinion of the local inhabitants when Moscow decided to set up a mine, a prison camp or a new settlement. The mining and export of the mineral resources has also proceeded according to Moscow's plans, taking no heed of the environmental conditions or pollution. The Eskimos realized long ago that there is no way to resist this superior power. In 1958 and 1971 a part of the Eskimos were deported inland to ease the work of frontier forces. Now their settlements and local authorities are dominated by immigrants, Russian prevails at school, in hospitals, shops and offices. The Eskimo are tired of being Eskimos. Old customs are forgotten, the young people are passing over to Russian. Finding no suitable jobs they subsist on state emergency aid and are consoled by alcohol.

The overall degeneration and alcoholism are especially conspicuous among the Eskimo. In addition, the effects of the nuclear tests carried out in the region's airspace in the 1950--60s are making themselves felt. The impairment of the immune system by radiation has brought about explosive propagation of chronic ailments (hypertension, parasitic illnesses, tuberculosis, cancer of various organs, etc.). The average life expectancy of the Eskimo is only 45 years. The Eskimo language and culture are disappearing from the Asian mainland and even the physical existence of the people is endangered. (Cf. Chukchi)

Writing. The Eskimo have a centuries-long tradition of pictography. Their walrus tusks all covered with drawings can be read like books. Preconditions for their own spelling system were created in the 1930s when a unified alphabet was developed for the Nordic peoples. The Eskimo literary standard was worked out in 1932 on the basis of the Latin alphabet and the Ungasiki or Chaplin dialect. Yelena Orlova with the help of two students, Bychkov and Leita from the Khabarovsk Technical School for the Northern Peoples, published an ABC-book called Hwangkuta Ihaput 'Our Book'. This was followed by a few schoolbooks for primary school and some translations of political texts from Russian. Yet in 1937 the Cyrillic alphabet replaced the Latin one.

In the 1950s the Eskimo language was used in the first and second form, but then the direction changed towards all classes being conducted in Russian. The pretext was found in the dialectal differences being too big for normal acquisition and use of the literary standard. The sharing of the written language of the American Eskimo was made impossible by the closed border.

In the 1980s some efforts towards reviving the lost written language were made. L. Ainana, G. Nakazik and M. Siginulik are the authors of the first form reader and the ABC-book Anhak 'Sparkle'.

The research of the Eskimo people started in the 18th century. In 1785--93 ethnographic and linguistic material on the "sedentary Chukchi" was collected by G. Saryev and I. Billings and published in 1811. In the second half of the 19th century the Eskimo language was studied by N. Gondatti who is also the author of the first division of the linguistic area into three dialects. From his material the phonological structure of the language was studied by V. Miller who is also the author of a survey of the Eskimos of the Anadyr region, published in 1987.

In the 20th century the collecting of data and research was siren fresh impetus owing to the activities of V. Bogoraz. In 1909 he published a survey on the habitat of the Eskimos, the dialectal division of the Eskimo language and its contacts with the Chukchi. In 1934 he published the first separate study on the language of the Siberian Eskimo. V. Bogoraz was also the central figure in the compilation of the ABC-book, and other schoolbooks and dictionaries. In the post-war period G. Menovshchikov has been notably prolific. He has published a monograph on the Eskimo language (1960), an academic study of the language in two volumes (1962--1967), an Eskimo-Russian Dictionary (1954) and a separate monograph on each of the three Eskimo languages (Sireniki 1964, Naukan 1975, Ungasiki or Chaplin 1980). A Russian-Eskimo Dictionary has already been published by E. Rubtsova (1941). Later, separate collections of linguistic and folklore examples were published by E. Rubtsova and G. Menovshchikov (1987, 1988).


  1. В. Г. Богораз, Юитский (азиатско-эскимосский) язык. -- Языки и письменность народов Севера. Ч. III, Москва -- Ленинград 1934
  2. В. Г. Богораз, Материалы по языку азиатских эскимосов, Москва 1949
  3. Этническая история народов Севера, Москва 1982
  4. Г. А. Меновщиков, Эскимосский язык. -- Языки народов СССР. Т. V, Ленинград 1968
  5. Эскимосы. -- Народы Сибири, Москва -- Ленинград 1956
  6. Палеоазиатские языки. Сборник научных трудов, Ленинград 1986


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