Kalmyk: Хальмг келн/Xal‘mg keln

Another post in my A to Z of Endangered Languages series, and it’s time for the letter K, and the Kalmyk language.


Kalmyk (or Kalmyk Oirat) is a language officially spoken by over 150,000 people, mainly in the Republic of Kalmykia, Russia, but also in other areas of Russia, Mongolia and China. While it is spoken by a large number of people, the language is recognised by UNESCO as being definitely endangered.

The Kalmyk people originated in Western Mongolia, migrating and officially joining the Russian Empire in the early 1600s. They switched from using their adaptation of the Mongolian script (known as Todo Bichig) for writing their language, to the Cyrillic alphabet in the 1930s, but aside from this major change, it would appear that for the most part, the Kalmyk language and customs had been kept largely intact.

However, in 1943, Stalin issued an order for the mass deportation of the Kalmyk people, driving them out of Russia. Though they were permitted to return in 1957, the people had scattered and because of the conditions of their deportation, many had died. This, along with contact with more dominant cultures, caused an irrevocable shift in the Kalmyk language, heralding the beginning of its decline.

Nowadays, Kalmyk holds a position as one of the official languages (the other being Russian) of the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of Russia. There are Kalmyk communities in France and the USA who are making attempts to promote the language, in an effort to improve its endangered stats.

Resources for learning Kalmyk

Wikivoyage: Kalmyk phrasebook
Freelang: Kalmyk-English dictionary
Omniglot: Kalmyk (Хальмг келн)

Sources/Further Reading

Ethnologue: Kalmyk-Oirat
Page F30: Kalmykia – too weird and unique to remain unknown
Wikipedia: Kalmyk language
Bortsik Net: The Kalmyk Culture and Storytelling Resource Project
Wikipedia: Kalmykia
Kornoussova, Bossia: Language Policy and Minority Languages in Russia – the case study of the Kalmyk language

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