Manchu: Manju Gisun

Happy Friday, everyone. Today’s post features the letter M, and the Manchu language.


The Manchu language is a Tungusic language spoken now by around 20 people who live in the village of Sanjiazi, in North-east China. UNESCO classifies the language as critically endangered – the 20 speakers are mostly elderly, so it seems that it will die out within the next generation.

Historically, Manchu was the official language of the Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 until 1911. This is what makes it decline seem so strange – it was used in day to day life by a large group of people and was promoted in an official capacity, so it should have thrived. However, the Manchu people were never the majority in China and their close contact with other Chinese people, in particular, the Han ethnic group who now make up 92% of the population, meant that some degree of assimilation was bound to occur. It has been argued that the decline of the Manchu language began at some point in the late seventeenth century, but it was certainly cemented by the early 1900s. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the Manchu people began to assimilate even more rapidly, until the point now, where many Manchu feel no different to the Han.

There are some revitalisation efforts underway for the Manchu language, but none have seemed to be especially effective. Classes have been set up, but few people seem interested in them, as Mandarin Chinese is the language used in day to day life. It seems that Manchu is a language that will die out in the next few decades, if not sooner; but there is still hope. Another Chinese ethnic language, Xibo, is spoken by around 30,000 people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and this language is mutually intelligible with Manchu. Hopefully Xibo will be able to be saved, even if Manchu is not.

Resources for learning Manchu

The Wall Street Journal: Manchu Revival in China
Wikibooks: Manchu
Wikisource: A Manchu Grammar

Sources/Further Reading

Ethnologue: Manchu
Wikipedia: Manchu language
The Economist: The last of the Manchus – Et tu, Manchu?
China Daily: Race Against Time to Save Manchu Language
Omniglot: Manchu alphabet and language

Here’s a list of the languages I’ll be looking at for week three:

Saturday 16th August: N – Navajo
Monday 18th August: O – Occitan
Tuesday 19th August: P – Piame
Wednesday 20th August: Q – Queyu
Thursday 21st August: R – Rarotongan
Friday 22nd August: S – Stoney

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