/ The Spoken Manchu of Nenjian and Aigun

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I. Introduction

During the past 200 or so years of serious linguistic scholarship in the field of Manchu studies, little work has been done on the dialects of the language. Descriptive linguistic study of the northeastern dialects (i.e. not including Sibe/Xibo spoken in Eastern Turkestan) did not begin on a semi-large scale until the 1980s, when Chinese Tungusologists began investigating the already rapidly deliquescing vernacular and publishing articles, many of which appeared in the journals Minzu Yuwen 民族语文 (Minority Languages) and Manyu Yanjiu 满语研究 (Manchu Language Studies). Several books also appeared, notably Manyu Kouyu Yanjiu 满语口语研究 (A Study of Spoken Manchu) by the Daur scholar Enhebatu (Enkhbat) and Xiandai Manyu Yanjiu 现代满语研究 (A Study of Modern Manchu) by Zhao Jie of Beijing University. The quality and content of these works varies considerably, some being notable achievements to the field (like the latter two), and others regrettably nothing short of insults to modern linguistics.

According to the research of Chinese linguists, modern (i.e. of the last 70 years) oral Manchu language has at least three and possibly even seven distinct dialects. The three major dialects include the Aigun dialect, spoken along the south bank of the Heilongjiang River; the Nenjiang dialect, spoken along the Nenjiang River in western Heilongjiang; and the Sibe (Chin. Xibo 锡伯) dialect, spoken in the Ili region of Xinjiang on the border with Kazakstan. Mu Yejun (穆烨骏) attests the existence of three other dialects, all which have by now fallen into complete desuetude: the Alchuka (阿勒楚喀) dialect, spoken around Acheng County, Heilongjiang; the Lalin (啦林) dialect, spoken in the counties of Wuchang (五常) and Shuangcheng (双城), Heilongjiang; the Bala (巴拉) dialect, spoken at some time by 67 families scattered throughout 11 counties of Heilongjiang province - Shuangcheng (双城), Wuchang (五常), Acheng (阿城), Yanshou (延寿), Shangzhi (尚志), Fangzheng (方正), Mulan (木兰), Hulan (呼兰), Tonghe (通河), Binxian (宾县), and Bayan (巴彦); and the Beijing (北京) dialect, apparently last spoken in the 1930s. According to Daniel Kane there are several other areas where Manchu is still spoken (or was still spoken in the previously defined "modern" timeframe), but it is not clear whether they are home to distinct dialects of the language.

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