LWM 185: Kamass

Artikel-Nr.: ISBN 9783895862304
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Ago Künnap
University of Tartu

Kamass is one of the Samoyed languages, extinct to date, relatively little investigated but of considerable interest from the point of view of historical linguistics. The Samoyed and Finno-Ugric languages together form the Uralic family of languages. The Kamass native speakers lived in Siberia, on the northern slopes of the Sayan mountains. Earlier they were reindeer rearers of shamanistic faith. Up to date they have changed to using Russian or some local Turkic language and become agriculturists.

The first written records about the Kamass language date back to the year of 1721. The author of this outline is the last gleaner of the Kamass linguistic facts whose last informant died in 1989. Kamass is supposed to have had the Koibal dialect, the latter, however, has left us nothing more in writing than about 600 words. Likewise, the main Kamass dialect itself was divided into two subdialects.

The number of the native speakers of Kamass was very small years ago already, perhaps a couple of hundreds only. Kamass never had an alphabet of its own, to say nothing about having its own written language or school instruction.

In Kamass a strong phonetical and lexical influence by the neighbouring Turkic languages can be observed. Due to the scarcity of Kamass written records, it is possible to report only an approximate phonological characterization and a few basic features of syntax. On the other hand, a comparatively good picture can be obtained about its morphology and lexicology, there are also a few longer texts available.

Typologically, Kamass is an agglutinative language with numerous flective markers. Synthetical features predominate over analytical ones. On the whole, Kamass is a rather typical Uralic language. The parts of speech in Kamass are nouns, adjectives, numerals, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, postpositions, conjunctions, particles and interjections. Grammatical gender is lacking. There are three numbers: singular, dual and plural.

The category of case is predominantly expressed by suffixes, there are seven cases. Nouns can be used with possessive suffixes. The tenses can be used mostly by means of suffixes but, occasionally, may also be expressed by verbal aspects. Transitive and intransitive verbs may have different personal suffixes, in part. There are four modes: indicative, conjunctive, optative and imperative. The space orientation is expressed by a trinominal distribution of locatives: to where? where? from where? In case of verbal negation a separate negative auxiliary verb is used. The typical word order is SVAdO. The definite object is usually expressed by a suffixal accusative, the indefinite one by a 0-suffixal nominative. A compound sentence is not typical of Kamass: gerundial constructions can be found instead of a subordinate clause. About one-third of the word-stock has been borrowed from Turkic languages. The outline is the first extensive modern treatment of the Kamass language.

ISBN 9783895862304. Languages of the World/Materials 185. 62pp. 1999.

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