Book: Materials of Spoken Manchu

Following Zev Handel’s comment on an earlier post, we have now obtained Materials of Spoken Manchu from Seoul National University Press.

Though the book is written in English, it appears not to be available from SNU’s English website and is only listed on the Korean site. I had it sent over by a Korean friend, but I imagine that it could be obtained by contacting Seoul National University Press by email.

The book:


This book offers spoken Manchu data and a brief linguistic description of spoken Manchu used in Sanjiazi village, Fuyu county in China. This book is a report of our fieldwork research that we carried out as part of the research project — REAL (Researches on Endangered Altaic Languages) — of the Altaic Society of Korea.

Manchu language is spoken by less than 10 speakers, who are over 70 years old. This language is classified as a ‘nearly extinct language.’ In May, 2005 and in February, 2006, we interviewed our consultant Mr. Meng Xianxiao. He learnt Manchu from old people at the village. Based on our questionnaire, we have recorded about 1,800 items, 340 conversational sentences and 370 sentences for grammatical analysis. As Manchu is a nearly extinct language, we could find many common phenomena which dying languages share. 

Recently Manchu is educated at an elementary school in Sanjiazi village. A combination of local education authorities’ effort and students passion for reading their texts in their native tongue would lead us to have a hope for the survival of Manchu.

It is presented very nicely as a hardcover with considerable detail on how Manchu is being spoken now in Sānjiāzi. Four chapters (Introduction, The phonological system of Manchu, Word-formation and vocabulary, and Grammar) cover 47 pages. The remainder of the book’s 218 pages are occupied with the appendices, which include a list of 344 conversational expressions, 379 sentences for grammatical analysis (all with Chinese and English translations) and Manchu-English (with IPA and Chinese) and English-Manchu glossaries. 

Perhaps most telling about the situation of Manchu is the researchers’ choice of ‘consultant’ for their second trip – the trip on which it appears the above mentioned sentences and expressions were recorded (Introduction, page 5):

Mr Meng Xianxiao had a very good memory and linguistic sense. When he was a child, he used Manchu only for very basic conversation. He began to learn Manchu with relative intensity from the age of 12. Although his native language is Chinese, he was the best available Manchu speaker. So we selected him as our consultant.

So the best Manchu speaker, available to the researchers, was not a native speaker. It’s also clear from the book that the language recorded by these researchers has, not surprisingly, already deviated considerably from the written language of the Qing dynasty.  

Anyway, Randy has had the good fortune to meet Mr Meng and some of the other Manchu speakers in Sānjiāzi and I’m looking forward to his report.

I’m sure anyone with an interest in the Manchu language will find plenty to satisfy their curiosity in Materials of Spoken Manchu. It’s listed as the first publication in a Seoul National University Press series on Altaic Languages and sets a standard for further publications to follow.

One thought on “Book: Materials of Spoken Manchu”

  1. 讓滿洲走向世界 讓世界了解滿洲“To help the Manchus find their place in the world and to introduce the Manchus to the world.



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