The Enduring Voices Project strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots—the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages—and documenting the languages and cultures within them.
By Gregory Anderson of the Enduring Voices Project
The 2012 Enduring Voices expedition to the Siberia Language Hotspot has allowed us to explore the current state of the Xyzyl (pronounced hizzle) language from the Republic of Xakasia (pronounced ha-KAH-see-ya, also spelled “Khakasiya”).
We traveled across the birch-covered hills of southern Siberia and into the wind-swept steppe dotted with ancient burial mounds until we reached the Xyzyl territory northwest of Mongolia. We visited five villages and identified fifty to sixty total speakers and semi-speakers.
Xyzyl is an unrecognized “hidden” language officially considered a dialect of the Xakas language. Xyzyl people we interviewed insist theirs is a separate language and our linguistic analysis supports this. Below you can see some examples that show both some similar sounding words such as those for “I hear” and some drastically different ones such as those for “woman.”
Xyzyl is critically endangered, most speakers being sixty or older. In the main Xyzyl village Sarala, we met the self-taught linguist Mikhail Tabatkin, who has been toiling his entire life to preserve words and stories in his language.
In one village, Ustinkino, we were suprised to meet an eleven year old girl living with her grandmother, who speaks to her only in Xyzyl. This girl is at least forty years younger than the next youngest speaker we met. We will be working with the Xyzyl people to create a talking dictionary and grammar to help them preserve their ancient tongue.
See Photos and Videos From Previous Expeditions
Explore a Map of Endangered Language Hotspots
Listen to Rare Languages in the Talking Dictionaries