Amuric—A New Source for Altaic Studies
(65th Meeting Astana, 2023)
The paper will summarize recent results concerning the significance of the Amuric languages, also known as Ghilyak or Nivkh, to the areal and comparative analysis of the neighbouring language families of Northeast Asia traditionally classified as ”Altaic”, especially Tungusic, but also Mongolic, Koreanic, and even Turkic. Progress made in the field of the internal and external reconstruction of the Amuric languages confirms that they have a long history of interaction with their ”Altaic” neighbours, with both structural and lexical influences moving in both directions. There are indications that an early form of Amuric was once the dominant language in part of protohistorical south-central Manchuria, most probably in the context of the kingdom of Puyŏ (Buyeo), from where lexical influences were transmitted to Proto-Tungusic and Proto-Mongolic. Amuric also seems to have been the Manchurian language family that was most intimately connected with the maritime environment, which is why a number of maritime lexical items in Tungusic and Mongolic may be analysed as borrowings from Amuric. Later, during the northward expansion of Tungusic along the Sungari-Amur basin, Amuric was subjected to Tungusic structural influence, which resulted in a partial “Altaization” of Amuric grammar, especially morphosyntax. At the same time, the Tungusic languages that spread to former Amuric speaking areas on the Lower Amur underwent structural influence from Amuric, especially in the phonology. Even so, the Amuric languages remain in many respects typologically different as compared with the prototypical “Altaic” languages. There are, however, features, both structural and lexical, which suggest the possibility of an early connection between Amuric and Koreanic. All of this demonstrates the importance of the Amuric languages for Altaic Studies.