Kalmyk language of Witsen’s material
(60th Meeting of the PIAC, Székesfehérvár 2017)
The Kalmyk vocabulary published in Nicolaes Witsen’s (1641-1717) Noord en Oost Tartaryen in 1692 (and later in the revised edition in 1705) is the earliest corpus of considerable size that contains specifically Oirat or Kalmyk data. Witsen probably used several different sources and informants when compiled his vocabulary and this is also proved by some characteristic features of his wordlist: inconsistent spelling of words, different systems of transcription, occurrence of the same words multiple times with different meanings and transcriptions, occasional traces of a Cyrillic script original etc.
Since the material mostly consists of single words and much less sentences, it is rather suitable for examining the phonological system and vocabulary of the 17th-century Kalmyk/Oirat, but the couple of short sentences and suffixed forms of the headwords may also shed some light on the morphology and syntax, too. A comparative study that also covers similar sources of the same period (e.g. Fischer, Strahlenberg, and also Witsen’s misnamed Daur vocabulary in the same book which is probably based on a Western Mongolian dialect) and colloquial texts written in the Oirat script allows to make valid observations on the Oirat/Kalmyk language of the 17–18th centuries.