Khamnigan Mongol is a Mongolic language used as the principal community
language of the Khamnigan, an ethnic group in the Amur source region, in
the borderzone of China, Russia, and Mongolia. The only vigorous community
of Khamnigan Mongol speakers (ca. 2,000 people) today lives in the basins
of the Mergel and Imin rivers of Hulun Buir League, Inner Mongolia, China.
Khamnigan Mongol remained virtually unexplored until the 1950s, when
preliminary field surveys were made of its last speakers in northeastern
Mongolia and Russian Transbaikalia. The Khamnigan community in China,
officially classified as a local group of the Ewenki nationality, was only
identified in the 1980s. The present description is based on the variety of
Khamnigan Mongol spoken by the Khamnigan in China.
As a Mongolic language, Khamnigan Mongol is characterized by exceptional
conservativeness, in that it lacks most of the innovations that separate
the neighbouring Mongolic languages, including Mongol proper, Buryat, and
Dagur, from their Proto-Mongolic ancestor. Khamnigan Mongol is therefore of
considerable importance for the diachronic study of the entire Mongolic
language family. It also provides an interesting case for the study of the
phenomenon of linguistic conservativeness, in general.
Another important property of Khamnigan Mongol is its close and prolonged
symbiosis with the Ewenki language within the Khamnigan community. A large
part of the Khamnigan in China today still speak ethnospecific forms of
Ewenki as their other native language. The two languages have long
interacted at the social and linguistic levels, with various kinds of
interference phenomena as a result.
Due to its conservativeness, Khamnigan Mongol is structurally close to
Middle Mongol, though some of its morphosyntactic features also resemble
Buryat. Like Buryat and Dagur, but unlike most other Mongolic languages,
Khamnigan Mongol has a fully-developed system of personal marking on the
finite predicate. In the phonology, there are properties, including the
vowel system, which show an areal parallelism with Ewenki.
Juha JANHUNEN is professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the
University of Helsinki, Finland.