The largest region in Asia is also its least populous and speaks the fewest languages per square kilometer of anywhere outside of Antarctica. Maybe you think its very name just sounds cold, remote, bleak, but did you fail to consider that here is home to fuzzy bears? And a rich linguistic history? Today we meet, many of us for the very first time, the languages of Siberia. This world is full of languages with histories, and I'm here for that. I asked patrons to vote on unanimated geographies, areas that we haven't covered yet in an animation. The responses surprised me. See, I'd been reading in French about Bantu noun classes and now during quarantine in Spanish and English about Mayan linguistics. So the language part of my brain was unprepared when the votes swung north. Far north to the Arctic... and to Siberia. "Siberian languages". These two words aren't about a language family but a language area. So let me pocket my family trees and start by pulling out a map and thinking about the land first, then by the end we can navigate the languages of this taiga a bit more confidently. Oh, but let me turn it the way you're used to. North is up, right? So what on here counts as Siberia? Well, it's fuzzy, not just its bears, its borders. Today's lines on maps tell me this vast area is in Russia, north of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. Along the edges are also Korea, Japan and Alaska. The Ural Mountains draw a line at the western edge of Siberia. All the rest is bounded by ocean. Which ocean? The one to the East. And the other one to the North. But not all Siberia's water is salty. For many peoples of Siberia, life is lived along a river, including the Ob', the Yenisei, the Lena, the Amur, and the Kolyma. Let's fill in the map even more: Lake Baikal north of Mongolia, the mountainous East Siberian system, all the way to Chukotka and down to the tall active volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The biome is largely taiga, with low precipitation. Of course it has a reputation for cold, and on that front winters do not disappoint, but summer might. Sibera is about extremes. There are towns here that sink well below freezing for five months, but then in the summer days are up in the 20s (or 70s Farenheit), winning it the award for biggest cold-to-warm swings on the planet! Here's another extreme: it's extremely sparsely populated, especially if you wander away from its southern edge. So I was unsurprised to see one linguist use a database of Earth's 7000 languages to count Siberia as "the least linguistically diverse place in the world." Nonetheless, despite first impressions, there is actually a lot of talk to talk about here. Siberia is home to some forty languages from about ten language families. Hardly a linguistic wasteland. Now, there's an old and messy distinction based on which families originate or have homelands "inside" versus "outside" of Siberia. We'll start with the larger "external" families and travel roughly west to east. First, Indo-European, from the Slavic branch: you hear Russian throughout. Now, я плохо говорю по-русски, but I can tell if you want to start reading about this area, consider brushing up on your Russian. Siberia is outside the three historical dialect areas of Russian, which all evolved out west before expanding. Siberia's Russian mainly has northern features but it might be a compromise or mix. And it's making a big impact on the other languages in Siberia. Another large language family has a long presence here: Turkic, spoken all across Siberia and in two branches. South and West, there is Kipchak, the same branch that includes Kazakh. North and East you'll find one of Siberia's most spoken languages, Sakha, part of Siberian Turkic. Historically, Old Uighur is in the same branch, and it's responsible for the script later adopted by the Mongols. So the earliest writings in the whole family are from Siberian Turkic. Another language spoken by a community of hundreds of thousands is one you'll remember from my article about Mongolic: Buryat centered around Lake Baikal. There's actually even more Mongolic spoken along both sides of the southern edge of Siberia, including Mongolian and Dagur. In my article about how Hungarian builds its long words, we panned over to meet its closest linguistic relatives living near the Ob River. These are members of the widespread Uralic family. Internal Uralic classification is a tricky topic I'm very happy to dodge this time, but to the north Nenets, Selkup and related languages belong to that same family. You'll know the outsider's name for another big family if you watched the one about the Altaic controversy. (Lots of NativLang tie-ins today, I love it!) Tungusic includes, in the south, the Jurchen tongue and its descendant Manchu, and Xibe, and Nanai along the Amur River. Up north, the Evenki and Even have been a major cultural and linguistic bridge throughout eastern Siberia. The people are famous as reindeer herders and even reindeer riders. Oh, while we're here, the creation of this autonomous area in Russia brought in a more recent Indo-European language, too, in the form of Yiddish. One more large family gets represented here. Skip to the edge of this region, and let me circle Chukotka. Right along the coast and now split between two countries the native language is Siberian Yupik, a part of Yupik-Inuit-Unangan across Alaska, Canada and Greenland. Another relative, Sirenik, lived here until the passing of its last voice in the late 1990s, dimming a source of knowledge for a language that's been hard to classify within this family. Ok. So you've met five extensive language families with some members native to Siberia. And then there are Paleo-Siberian languages, an imperfect term that groups together indigenous families entirely inside of Siberia. Typically, they have fewer speakers than in the past. Typically, just a fraction of the people speak their own language. Even so, these languages remain important to their people and continue to fascinate linguists in and outside of Siberia. The westernmost is Yeniseian, traditionally spoken along an extensive north-south stretch. Today, Ket might be its sole living descendant. Judging from comments and suggestions, the thing that interests most language enthusiasts is the proposed link between Yeniseian and Diné in the Americas. But this tongue itself is worth appreciating. It's so full of interesting features, I heard and read legends of its quirks before I knew the full story. Yukaghir is the outsider's name for a family native to lands west of Chukotka, including around the Lena River. Today there remain two languages with perhaps a few hundred speakers between them. Grammatically, it is most often called out for its unusual and far-reaching focus system, which can be a challenge for linguistic theories to explain. Nivkh is a range of dialects from the Amur River to Sakhalin. They undergo initial mutations somewhat similar to Celtic languages like Welsh and Irish. Now the Wikipedia article tells you their vowels are oddly lopsided and gappy. However, this expert disagrees: no, Nivkh vowels form a typical triangle. Consolation, though, it's one of the rare tongues where you have to tell a voiced trill r apart from a voiceless trill r̥ But their most striking feature might be their numbers, which are actually counting words that sort nouns into many, many classes. That brings us right back to the edge. Native to the whole northeastern reaches of this land, east across the peninsula to the Bering Sea, south to the Kuril Islands, is a family linguists label Chukotko-Kamchatkan. (And I want to hear you repeat that five times!) Hmm, here's something unique from Lygh'orawetl'en jilyjil, called Chukchi by outsiders: a basic noun has a reduplicated stem, while plurals and other cases use a simple stem. Yes, so, a grammatical switcheroo: more basic is more complex. And just south, at the edges there's another NativLang tie-in, the story of Ainu told last time, a language today associated with Japan, and also traditionally native to Siberia. We can keep going; there's so much more to share, from the interactions at the edges to language-nerdier questions like do we have evidence for Siberia as a unique language area? (Is there a "Siberian type" language?) But time is getting away, and animating extra minutes takes nearly as long as a Siberian winter. For now we part with a better understanding of this remote but hardly linguistically desolate part of the world, its people and its languages. I hope you are well and stay well. Stick around and subscribe for language.