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Manchu language

ᠮᠠᠨᠵᡠ ᡤᡳᠰᡠᠨ manju gisun
Native to China
Region Heilongjiang
Ethnicity 10.7 million Manchus (2000 census)
Native speakers
18  (2007)[1]
  • Southern
    • Manchu group
      • Manchu
Manchu alphabet (Mongolian script)
Language codes
ISO 639-2 mnc
ISO 639-3 mnc
Glottolog manc1252[2]

Manchu (Manchu: ᠮᠠᠨᠵᡠ
manju gisun) is an endangered Tungusic language spoken in Northeast China; it was the native language of the Manchus and one of the official languages of the Qing dynasty (1636-1911). Most Manchus now speak Mandarin Chinese and there are fewer than 70 native and semi-speakers of Manchu out of a total of nearly 10 million ethnic Manchus. Although the Xibe language, with 40,000 speakers, is in almost every respect identical to Manchu, Xibe speakers, who live in far western Xinjiang, are ethnically distinct from Manchus.[3] Manchu language sources have two main uses for historians of China, especially for the Qing dynasty. They supply information that is unavailable in Chinese and, when both Manchu and Chinese versions of a given text exist, they provide controls for understanding the Chinese.[4]

Manchu is an agglutinative language that demonstrates limited vowel harmony. It has been demonstrated that it is derived mainly from the Jurchen language though there are many loan words from Mongolian and Chinese. Its script is vertically written and taken from the Mongolian alphabet (which in turn derives from Aramaic via Uyghur and Sogdian). Although Manchu does not have the kind of grammatical gender that many Indo-European languages do, some gender-related words in Manchu are distinguished by different stem vowels; in such cases, "a"s are sometimes used to indicate masculine ones, as in ama "father", and "e"s are sometimes used to indicate feminine ones, as in eme "mother".


  • Writing system 1
  • Teaching 2
  • Names 3
  • History and significance 4
    • Studies of Manchu in Qing China 4.1
    • European scholarship 4.2
    • Current situation 4.3
  • Dialects 5
    • Beijing dialect of Manchu 5.1
  • Grammar 6
    • Syntax 6.1
    • Manchu cases 6.2
  • Phonology 7
    • Consonants 7.1
    • Vowels 7.2
    • Loanwords 7.3
    • Vowel harmony 7.4
  • In popular culture 8
  • Further reading 9
  • References 10
    • Footnotes 10.1
  • External links 11

Writing system

The Manchu language uses the Jurchen, used the Jurchen script, which is derived from the Khitan script, which in turn was derived from Han characters. There is no relation between the Jurchen script and the Manchu script

Chinese Characters can also be used to transliterate Manchu.[5] All the Manchu vowels, and the syllables commencing with a consonant, are represented by single Chinese characters, as are also the syllables terminating in i, n, ng, and o; but those ending in r, k, s, t, p, I, m, are expressed by the union of the sounds of two characters, there being no Mandarin syllables terminating with these consonants. Thus the Manchu syllable am is expressed by the Chinese characters a-muh (8084, 7800) (阿木 a mù), and the word Manchu is, in the imperial Manchu dictionary, spelt in the following manner: Ma (7467) -a (8084) gan (2834) { 瑪阿安 mǎ ā ān} —Man; —choo (1303) a (11767) { 諸烏 zhū wū} chu; —Manchu.[6]


The Manchus, like the Mongolians, taught their script as a syllabary and divided them into twelve classes of syllables, based on the ending phoneme of each syllable. Foreigners on the other hand learn Manchu script like an alphabet.

Despite the alphabetic nature of its script, Manchu was not taught phoneme by phoneme per letter like western languages are, rather, Manchu children were taught to memorize all the syllables in the Manchu language separately as they learned to write, like Chinese characters. Manchus when learning, instead of saying I, a---la; I, o---lo; &c., were taught at once to say la, lo, &c. Many more syllables than are contained in their syllabary might have been formed with their letters, but they were not accustomed to arrange them otherwise than as they there stand. They made, for instance, no such use of the consonants I, m, n, and r, as westerners do when they called them liquid; hence if the Manchu letters s, m, a, r, t, be joined in that order as a Manchu would not able to pronounce them as English speaking people pronounce the word smart.[7]


The Qing dynasty referred to the Manchu language in Chinese as "Qingwen" 清文, which means the "Qing language", and also referred to the Manchu language as Guoyu 國語, which means "national language", which was used by previous non-Han dynasties to refer to their languages, such as Mongolian during the Yuan dynasty, Jurchen during the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), Khitan during the Liao dynasty, and Xianbei during the Northern Wei. In the Manchu language version of the Treaty of Nerchinsk, the term "Chinese language" (Dulimbai gurun i bithe) referred to all three Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol languages, not just one language.[8]

History and significance

Plaque at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, in both Chinese (left, qián qīng mén) and Manchu (right, kiyan cing men)
A symbol of the Manchu people
Official designation for China in Manchu, reads "Dulimbai gurun".

Manchu began as a primary language of the Qing dynasty Imperial court, but as Manchu officials became increasingly sinicized, many started losing the language. Trying to preserve the Manchu identity, the imperial government instituted Manchu language classes and examinations for the bannermen, offering rewards to those who excelled in the language. Chinese classics and fiction were translated into Manchu, and a body of Manchu literature accumulated. [9] As the Yongzheng Emperor (reigned 1722–1735) explained, "If some special encouragement … is not offered, the ancestral language will not be passed on and learned."[10] Still, the use of the language among the bannermen was in decline throughout the 1700s. Historical records report that as early as 1776, the Qianlong Emperor was shocked to see a high Manchu official, Guo'ermin, not understand what the emperor was telling him in Manchu, despite coming from the Manchu stronghold of Shengjing (now Shenyang).[11] By the 19th century even the imperial court had lost fluency in the language. The Jiaqing Emperor (reigned 1796 to 1820) complained about his officials being good neither at understanding nor writing Manchu.[10]

By the end of the 19th century the language was so moribund that even at the office of the Shengjing (Shenyang) general, the only documents written in Manchu (rather than Chinese) would be the memorials wishing the emperor long life; at the same time period, the archives of the Hulan banner detachment in Heilongjiang show that only 1% of the bannermen could read Manchu, and no more than 0.2% could speak it.[10] Nonetheless, as late as 1906–1907 Qing education and military officials insisted that schools teach Manchu language, and that the officials testing soldiers' marksmanship continue to conduct an oral examination in Manchu.[12]

The use of the language for the official documents declined throughout the Qing history as well. Especially at the beginning of the dynasty, some documents on sensitive political and military issues were submitted in Manchu but not in Chinese.[13] Later on, some Imperial records in Manchu continued to be produced until the last years of the dynasty,[10] which was overthrown in 1912. A large number of Manchu documents remain in the archives, important for the study of Qing-era China. Today, written Manchu can still be seen on architecture inside the Forbidden City, whose historical signs are written in both Chinese and Manchu.

Another limited use of the language was for voice commands in the Qing army, attested as late as 1878.[10]

Studies of Manchu in Qing China

The Qianlong Emperor commissioned projects such as new Manchu dictionaries, both monolingual and multilingual like the Pentaglot. Among his directives were to eliminate directly borrowed loanwords from Chinese and replace them with calque translations which were put into new Manchu dictionaries. This showed in the titles of Manchu translations of Chinese works during his reign which were direct translations contrasted with Manchu books translated during the Kangxi Emperor's reign which were Manchu transliterations of the Chinese characters.

The Pentaglot was based on the Yuzhi Siti Qing Wenjian 御製四體清文鑑 ("Imperially-Published Four-Script Textual Mirror of Qing"), with Uyghur added as fifth languge.[14] The four language version of the dictionary with Tibetan was in turn based on an earlier three language version with Manchu, Mongolian, and Chinese called the 御製滿珠蒙古漢字三合切音清文鑑 ("Imperially-Published Manchu Mongol Chinese Three pronunciation explanation mirror of Qing"), which was in turn based on the 御製增訂清文鑑 ("Imperially-Published Revised and Enlarged mirror of Qing") in Manchu and Chinese, which used both Manchu script to transcribe Chinese words and Chinese characters to transcribe Manchu words with fanqie.[15]

European scholarship

A number of European scholars in the 18th century, frustrated by the difficulties in reading Chinese, with its complicated writing system and the classical writing style, considered Manchu translations, or parallel Manchu versions, of many Chinese documents and literary works as a great help to understanding them. Among them was de Moyriac de Mailla (1669–1748), who benefited from the existence of the parallel Manchu text when translating the historical compendium Tongjian Gangmu (Tung-chien Kang-mu; 《通鑒綱目》); Amiot (1718–1793) consulted Manchu translations of Chinese works as well, and wrote that the Manchu language "would open an easy entrance to penetrate … into the labyrinth of Chinese literature of all ages."[16]

Kangxi Emperor's stele near Lugou Bridge, with parallel Chinese and Manchu text

Study of the Manchu language by Russian sinologists started in the early 18th century, soon after founding of the

  • Manchu Swadesh vocabulary list of basic words (from Wiktionary's Swadesh-list appendix)
  • Unicode Manchu/Sibe/Daur Fonts and Keyboards – English
  • Unicode Manchu/Sibe/Daur Fonts and Keyboards – Chinese
  • Manchu language Gospel of Mark
  • Manchu alphabet and language at Omniglot
  • Manchu Test Page
  • Manchu–Chinese–English Lexicon
  • online Manchu–Chinese, Manchu–Japanese lexicon (Chinese)
  • Manchu Wikibook
  • Wikisource copy of "A Manchu Grammar with Analysed Texts" by P.G. von Möllendorff, 1892
  • anaku Manchu Script Creator (Chinese)
  • A Dying Language
  • Contrast In Manchu Vowel Systems
  • Lament for a dying language
  • Manchu Word Of The Day, Open Source Manchu–English dictionary
  • Manju Nikan Inggiri Gisun i Buleku Bithe (Manchu–Chinese–English dictionary)
  • Manchu language guide
  • The Manchu Studies Group
  • Tawney, Brian. "Reading Jakdan's Poetry: An Exploration of Literary Manchu Phonology". AM Thesis (Harvard, RSEA).
  • 清代满族语言文字在东北的兴废与影响

External links

  1. ^ Lague, David (16 March 2007). "China's Manchu speakers struggle to save language". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Manchu". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Ma, Yin: Die nationalen Minderheiten in China, p. 250. Verlag für fremdsprachige Literatur, Beijing, 1990, ISBN 7-119-00010-1.
  4. ^ Fletcher (1973), p. 141.
  5. ^ Asiatic journal and monthly miscellany. PRINTED BY J. L. COX AND SONS, 75, GREAT QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S-INN FIELDS: Wm. H. Allen & Co. MAY-AUGUST, 1837. p. 197. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  6. ^ Asiatic journal and monthly miscellany. PRINTED BY J. L. COX AND SONS, 75, GREAT QUEEN STREET, LINCOLN'S-INN FIELDS: Wm. H. Allen & Co. MAY-AUGUST, 1837. p. 198. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  7. ^ Meadows 1849, p. 3.
  8. ^ Zhao, Gang (January 2006). "Reinventing China: Imperial Qing Ideology and the Rise of Modern Chinese National Identity in the Early Twentieth Century". Volume 32 (Number 1). Sage Publications. p. 12.  
  9. ^ von Möllendorff (1890).
  10. ^ a b c d e Edward J. M. Rhoads, Manchus & Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928. University of Washington Press, 2000. Pages 52–54. ISBN 0-295-98040-0. Partially available on Google Books
  11. ^ Yu Hsiao-jung, Manchu Rule over China and the Attriion of the Manchu Language
  12. ^ Rhoads (2000), p. 95.
  13. ^ Manchu Language Lives Mostly in Archives, by Davind Lague. The New York Times, March 17, 2007
  14. ^ Yong, Heming; Peng, Jing (2008). Chinese Lexicography : A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911: A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911. Oxford University Press. p. 398.  
  15. ^ Yong, Heming; Peng, Jing (2008). Chinese Lexicography : A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911: A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911. Oxford University Press. p. 397.  
  16. ^ a b Anonymous, "Considerations on the language of communication between the Chinese and European governments", in The Chinese Repository, vol XIII, June 1844, no. 6, pp. 281–300. Available on Google Books. Modern reprint exists, ISBN 1-4021-5630-8
  17. ^ Liliya M. Gorelova, "Manchu Grammar." Brill, Leiden, 2002. ISBN 90-04-12307-5
  18. ^ a b История золотой империи. (The History of the Jin (Jurchen) Dynasty) Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch. Novosibirsk, 1998. 2 ISBN 5-7803-0037-2. Editor's preface (Russian)
  19. ^ Hauer (1930), p. 162-163.
  20. ^ Chinese Village Struggles to Save Dying Language, By David Lague. The New York Times, March 18, 2007
  21. ^ Liaoning News: 29 Manchu Teachers of Huanren, Benxi Are Now On Duty (simplified Chinese)
  22. ^ China News: A High School Opens Manchu Class in Liaoning (simplified Chinese)
  23. ^ Sina Education: Manchu Class Comes Into A Middle School Class of Jilin For the First Time (simplified Chinese)
  24. ^ a b c Ian Johnson (2009-10-05), "In China, the Forgotten Manchu Seek to Rekindle Their Glory", The Wall Street Journal, retrieved 2009-10-05 
  25. ^ China Nationality Newspaper: the Rescue of Manchu Language (simplified Chinese)
  26. ^ iFeng: Jin Biao's 10-Year Dream of Manchu Language (traditional Chinese)
  27. ^ Shenyang Daily: Young Man Teaches Manchu For Free To Rescue the Language (simplified Chinese)
  28. ^ Beijing Evening News: the Worry of Manchu language (simplified Chinese)
  29. ^ Northeastern News: Don't let Manchu language and scripts become a sealed book (simplified Chinese)
  30. ^ Beijing Evening News: 1980s Generation's Rescue Plan of Manchu Language (simplified Chinese)
  31. ^ Möllendorff, Paul Georg von (1892). A Manchu Grammar: With Analysed Texts (reprint ed.). Shanghai: Printed at the American Presbyterian mission Press. p. 1. Archived from the original on Oct 26, 2007. Retrieved 1 April 2013. [1]
  32. ^ Gorelova, Liliya M., ed. (2002). Manchu Grammar, Part 8. Volume 7 of Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 8 Uralic and Central Asian Studies. Brill. p. 77.  
  33. ^ Cahiers de linguistique: Asie orientale, Volumes 31-32. Contributor Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales. Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l'Asie orientale. Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Centre de recherches linguistiques sur l'Asie orientale. 2002. p. 208. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  34. ^ SHIROKOGOROFF, S. M. (August 1929). "Reading and Transliteration of Manchu Lit.". Archives polonaises d'etudes orientales, Volumes 8-10. Contributors Polskie Towarzystwo Orientalistyczne, Polska Akademia Nauk. Komitet Nauk Orientalistycznych. Państwowe Wydawn. Naukowe. p. 122. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  35. ^ SHIROKOGOROFF, S. M. (August 1929). "Reading and Transliteration of Manchu Lit.". Rocznik orientalistyczny, Volumes 9-10. Contributors Polskie Towarzystwo Orientalistyczne, Polska Akademia Nauk. Komitet Nauk Orientalistycznych, Polska Akademia Nauk. Zakład Orientalistyki. p. 122. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  36. ^ Tawney, Brian. "Reading Jakdan's Poetry: An Exploration of Literary Manchu Phonology". AM Thesis (Harvard, RSEA).
  37. ^ Li (2000), p. 17.
  38. ^ Austin, William M., "The Phonemics and Morphophonemese of Manchu", in American Studies in Altaic Linguistics, p. 17, Nicholas Poppe (ed.), Indiana University Publications, Vol. 13 of the Uralic and Altaic Series, Bloomington IN 1962
  39. ^ Wikisource copy


  • Gorelova, Liliya M. 2002. Manchu Grammar. Brill Academic Publishers ISBN 90-04-12307-5
  • Elliott, Mark (2013). "Why Study Manchu?". Manchu Studies Group. 
  • Fletcher, Joseph (1973), "Manchu Sources", in Leslie Donald, Colin Mackerras and Wang Gungwu, Essays on the Sources for Chinese History, Canberra: ANU Press 
  • Haenisch, Erich. 1961. Mandschu-Grammatik. Leipzig: Veb Verlag Enzyklopädie (German)
  • Hauer, Erich (1930). "Why the Sinologue Should Study Manchu". Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 61: 156–164. 
  • Li, Gertraude Roth (2000). Manchu: A Textbook for Reading Documents. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawai`i Press.  
  • Möllendorff, Paul Georg von. 1892. A Manchu Grammar: With Analysed Texts. Shanghai.[39]
  • Norman, Jerry. 1974. "Structure of Sibe Morphology", Central Asian Journal.
  • Norman, Jerry. 1978. A Concise Manchu–English Lexicon, University of Washington Press, Seattle.
  • Norman, Jerry. 2013. A Comprehensive Manchu–English Dictionary, Harvard University Press (Asia Center), Cambridge ISBN 9780674072138.
  • Ramsey, S. Robert. 1987. The Languages of China. Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey ISBN 0-691-06694-9
  • Tulisow, Jerzy. 2000. Język mandżurski (« The Manchu language »), coll. « Języki Azjii i Afryki » (« The languages of Asia and Africa »), Dialog, Warsaw, 192 p. ISBN 83-88238-53-1 (Polish)


  • von Möllendorff, P. G. (1890). Contributor Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. China Branch. "Essay on Manchu Literature". Journal of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society for the Year ..., Volumes 24-25 (The Branch): 1–45. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Wade, Thomas Francis; Cambridge University Library (1898). A catalog of the Wade collection of Chinese and Manchu books in the library of the University of Cambridge. Compiled by Herbert Allen Giles. University Press. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Cambridge University Library (1898). A Catalogue of the Collection of Chinese and Manchu Books Given to the University of Cambridge. The University Press. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Great Britain. India Office. Library (1872). Descriptive catalogue of the Chinese, Japanese, and Manchu books. Compiled by James Summers. Printed by order of the Secretary of state for India in council. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  • Klaproth, Heinrich Julius (1822). Verzeichniss der chinesischen und mandshuischen Bücher und Handschriften der K. Bibliothek zu Berlin (in German). PARIS: IN DER KÖNIGLICHEN DRUCKEREL. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  • Liu, Jingxian; Zhao, Aping; Zhao, Jinchun (1997). 满语研究通论 (General Theory of Manchu Language Research). Heilongjiang Korean Nationalty Publishing House.  
  • Ji, Yonghai (2011). 满语语法 (Manchu Grammar). Minzu University of China Press.  
  • Aisin Gioro, Yingsheng (2004). 满语杂识 (Divers Knowledges of Manchu language). Wenyuan Publishing House.  
For readers of Chinese
  • Paul Georg von Möllendorff (1892). A Manchu grammar: with analysed texts. SHANGHAI: Printed at the American Presbyterian mission press. p. 52. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  • A. Wylie (1855). Translation of the Ts'ing wan k'e mung, a Chinese Grammar of the Manchu Tartar Language; with introductory notes on Manchu Literature: (translated by A. Wylie.). SHANGHAE: Mission Press. Retrieved 1 March 2012. 
  • Thomas Taylor Meadows (1849). Translations from the Manchu: with the original texts, prefaced by an essay on the language. Canton: Press of S.W. Williams. pp. 54 Retrieved 10 February 2012. 
Learning texts of historical interest

Further reading

In Anthony Trollope's novel The Way We Live Now, the Chinese Emperor, who speaks only Manchu, must eat silently at a state dinner given in his honor in London, as nobody at the table is able to interpret Manchu into English, only Manchu into Chinese.

The Manchu language was spoken in the Korean film War of the Arrows. Ryu Seung-ryong, cast in the role of Jyushinta, and Moon Chae-won, who played Choi Ja-in, speak Manchu often in the film. It was also spoken in the film Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, in which it was called Tartar.

In popular culture

The vowel harmony found in the Manchu language was traditionally described in terms of the philosophy of the I Ching. Syllables with front vowels were described as being as "yin" syllables whereas syllables with back vowels were called "yang" syllables. The reasoning behind this was that the language had a kind of sound symbolism where front vowels represented feminine objects or ideas and the back vowels represented masculine objects or ideas. As a result, there were a number of word pairs in the language in which changing the vowels also changed the gender of the word. For example, the difference between the words hehe (woman) and haha (man) or eme (mother) and ama (father) was essentially a contrast between the front vowel, [e], of the feminine and the back vowel, [a], of the masculine counterpart.

Vowel harmony

Remarkably Manchu was able to absorb a large number of nonnative sounds into the language from Chinese. There were special symbols used to represent the vowels of Chinese loanwords. These sounds are believed to have been pronounced as such, as they never occurred in native words. Among these, was the symbol for the high unrounded vowel (customarily romanized with a y) found in words such as sy (Buddhist temple) and Sycuwan (Sichuan). Chinese affricates were also represented with consonant symbols that were only used with loanwords such as in the case of dzengse (orange) (Chinese: chéngzi) and tsun (inch) (Chinese: cùn). In addition to the vocabulary that was borrowed from Chinese, the Manchu language also had a large amount of loanwords from other languages such as Mongolian, for example the words morin (horse) and temen (camel).


In this vowel system, the "neutral" vowels ([i] and [u]) were free to occur in a word with any other vowel or vowels. The lone front vowel ([e], but generally pronounced like Mandarin /ɤ/ ) never occurred in a word with either of the regular back vowels ([o] and [a]). The relatively rare vowel transcribed [ū] (possibly pronounced [ʊ]) was usually found as a back vowel; however, in some cases, it was found occurring along with the front vowel [e]. Much disputation exists over the exact pronunciation of [ū]. Erich Hauer, a German sinologist and Manchurist, proposes that it was pronounced as a front rounded vowel initially, but a back unrounded vowel medially.[37] William Austin suggests that it was a mid-central rounded vowel.[38] The modern Shibe (Xibe) pronounce it identically to [u].

neutral front back
i o
u ʊ (ū)
e a
Vowels of Manchu.[36]


There is scholarly controversy over whether the velar consonants actually existed in two allophonic forms, a forward palatal set and a rearward uvular set, or whether this was merely a carryover in spelling from earlier alphabets.

The /s/ of the Manchu language is peculiar in that many speakers habitually affricated it, pronouncing it like [ts] in some or all contexts.

Early Western descriptions of Manchu phonology, particularly those made by speakers of languages such as French, in which the primary contrast between "b" and "p", "d" and "t", or "g" and "k" is truly one of presence vs. lack of voicing (rather than lack of vs. presence of aspiration, or lenis vs. fortis), labelled Manchu b as "soft p", Manchu d as "soft t", and Manchu g as "soft k", whereas Manchu p was "hard p", t was "hard t", and k was "hard k". This suggests that the phonological contrast between the so-called voiced series (b, d, g, j) and the voiceless series (p, t, k, c) in Manchu as it was spoken during the early modern era was actually one of aspiration and/or tenseness, as in Mandarin.

Manchu has twenty consonants, shown in the table using the usual transcription conventions (and the IPA values of the consonants where they differ). The consonant /p/ was rare and found mostly in loanwords and onomatopoeiae, such as pak pik ('pow pow'). Historically, many ps appear to have occurred in ancient forms of the language; however, they had been changed over time to f. The phoneme /ŋ/ was also found mostly in Chinese loanwords and onomatopoeiae and there was no Manchu letter to represent it; it was written as a digraph nk using the Manchu letters for n and k. The palatal nasal consonant, [ɲ], is usually transcribed with a digraph, "ni", and has thus often been considered a phonemic sequence of /n/ followed by /j/ though work in Tungusic historical linguistics suggests that the Manchu palatal nasal, like Spanish "ñ" ([ɲ]) has a very long history as a single segment.

  1. romanized as ni
  2. romanized as ng
  3. romanized as c or ch
  4. romanized as j
  5. romanized as š, ś, sh, or x
  6. romanized as h
  7. romanized as y
Labial Dental Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ 1 ŋ 2
Plosive voiceless p t 3 k
voiced b d 4 ɡ
Fricative f s ʃ 5 x 6
Rhotic r
Approximant l j 7 w


Written Manchu was close to being called an "open syllable" language because the only consonant that came regularly at the end of native words was /n/, similar to the situation in Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern Mandarin, Jilu Mandarin and Japanese. This resulted in almost all native words ending in a vowel. In some words, there were vowels that were separated by consonant clusters, as in the words ilha ('flower') and abka ('heaven'); however, in most words, the vowels were separated from one another by only single consonants. This open syllable structure might not have been found in all varieties of spoken Manchu, but it was certainly found in the southern dialect that became the basis for the written language. It is also apparent that the open-syllable tendency of the Manchu language had been growing ever stronger for the several hundred years since written records of Manchu were first produced: consonant clusters that had appeared in older forms, such as abka and abtara-mbi ('to yell'), were gradually simplified, and the words began to be written as aga or aha (in this form meaning 'rain') and atara-mbi ('to cause a commotion').


In addition, there were some suffixes, such as the primarily adjective-forming suffix -ngga/-ngge/-nggo, that appear to have originally been case markers (in the case of -ngga, a genitive case marker), but which had already lost their productivity and become fossilized in certain lexemes by the time of the earliest written records of the Manchu language: e.g. agangga "pertaining to rain" as in agangga sara (an umbrella), derived from Manchu aga (rain).

  • initiative – used to indicate the starting point of an action. suffix -deri
  • terminative – used to indicate the ending point of an action. suffix -tala/-tele/-tolo
  • indef. allative – used to indicate 'to a place, to a situation' when it is unknown whether the action reaches exactly to the place/situation or around/near it. suffix -si
  • indef. locative – used to indicate 'at a place, in a situation' when it is unknown whether the action happens exactly at the place/situation or around/near it. suffix -la/-le/-lo
  • indef. ablative – used to indicate 'from a place, from a situation' when it is unknown whether the action is really from the exact place/situation or around/near it. suffix -tin
  • distributive – used to indicate every one of something. suffix -dari
  • formal – used to indicate a simile ("as/like"). suffix -gese
  • identical – used to indicate that something is the same as something else. suffix -ali/-eli/-oli (apparently derived from the word adali, meaning "same")
  • orientative – used to indicate "facing/toward" (something/an action), showing only position and tendency, not movement in. suffix -ru
  • revertive – used to indicate "backward" or "against (something)". From the root 'ca' (see cargi, coro, cashu-n, etc.) suffix -ca/-ce/-co
  • translative – used to indicate change in the quality/form of sth. suffix -ri
  • in. accusative – used to indicate that the touch of the verb on the object is not surely complete. suffix -a/-e/-o/-ya/-ye/-yo

Less used cases:

  • genitive-instrumental – used to indicate possession or means by which something is accomplished. It is marked by the particle i or its allomorph ni that is used after a word ending in -ng. For instance, abka-i cira (the emperor's countenance, literally "the face of heaven") vs. wang-ni moo (the king's tree).
  • dative-locative – used to indicate location, time, place, or indirect object, it is marked by the particle de. In the modern spoken Manchu dialect of the Sibe (Xibe), this particle is normally used to mark the locative, but not the dative.
  • ablative – used to indicate the origin of an action or the basis for a comparison, it is marked by the particle ci. In the modern spoken Manchu dialect of the Sibe (Xibe), this particle is used to mark the dative.
  • prolative – used to indicate the origin of an action, it is marked by the particle deri. This case is used infrequently in Classical Manchu. In the modern spoken Manchu dialect of the Sibe (Xibe), this particle is used to mark the ablative.

In this example, "boots" and "skin" are separately marked with the two forms, and they have different thematic relationships to the verb. In other cases, however, it seems the two forms can be used interchangeably.

tere ba+i niyalma sukū+be gūlha+0 ara+mbi
that place+GEN people skin+ACC boot make+IMPERFECT.FINITE
The people of that place make boots out of skin (lit. make skin into boots).
  • nominative – used for the subject of a sentence, no overt marking
  • accusative – used for the direct object of a sentence, marked by the particle be. Direct objects can sometimes also take the nominative. It is commonly felt that the marked accusative has a definite sense, like using a definite article in English. There are, however, sentences in Classical Manchu that use the accusative and the non-subject nominative for different thematic functions, e.g.:

Manchu has six cases, though one of them occurs only occasionally in Classical Manchu. The cases are marked by particles that can be written either with the noun to which they apply or separately. The particles do not obey the rule of vowel harmony, yet they are also not truly postpositions.

Manchu cases

tere sargan boo ci tuci+fi, hoton de gene+he
that woman house ABL go.out+PAST.CONVERB, town DAT go+PAST.FINITE
That woman, having come out of the house, went to town.
tere sargan boo ci tuci+me, hoton de gene+he
that woman house ABL go.out+IMPERFECT.CONVERB, town DAT go+PAST.FINITE
That woman, coming out of the house, went to town.
tere sargan boo ci tuci+cibe, hoton de gene+he
that woman house ABL go.out+CONCESSIVE.CONVERB, town DAT go+PAST.FINITE
That woman, though she came out of the house, went to town.

These two sentences can be combined into a single sentence using converbs, which will relate the first action to the second. For example,

tere sargan boo ci tuci+ke
that woman house ABL go.out+PAST.FINITE
That woman came out of the house.
tere sargan hoton de gene+he
that woman town DAT go+PAST.FINITE
That woman went to town.

Manchu also makes extensive use of converb structures, and has an inventory of converbial suffixes that indicate the relationship between the subordinate verb and the finite verb that follows it. For example, given the following two sentences (which have finite verbs):

In this example, the postposition emgi, "with", requires its nominal argument to have the genitive case, and so we have the genitive case-marker i between the noun niyalma and the postposition.

bi tere niyalma+i emgi gene+he
I that person+GEN with go+PAST
I went with that person

Manchu uses a small number of case-marking particles that are similar to those found in Japanese, but also has a separate class of true postpositions. Case-markers and postpositions can be used together, as in the following sentence:

Manchu phrases are all head-last. This means that the head-word of a phrase (e.g. the noun of a noun phrase, or the verb of a verb phrase) always falls at the end of the phrase. Thus, adjectives and adjectival phrases always precede the noun they modify, and the arguments to the verb always precede the verb. As a result, Manchu sentence structure is subject–object–verb (SOV). The grammars of Japanese and Korean bear resemblance to that of Manchu, which would, according to the Altaic hypothesis, be due to a genetic relatedness.



The Manchus of Peking (Beijing) were influenced by the Chinese dialect spoken in the area to the point where pronouncing Manchu sounds was hard for them, and they pronounced Manchu according to Chinese phonetics, whereas the Manchus of Aigun (in Heilongjiang) could both pronounce Manchu sounds properly and mimick the sinified pronunciation of Manchus in Peking (Beijing), because they learned the Pekinese (Beijing) pronunciation from either studying in Peking or from officials sent to Aigun from Beijing, and they could tell them apart, using the Chinese influenced Pekinese pronunciation when demonstrating that they were better educated or their superior stature in society.[34][35]

The Chinese Northern Mandarin dialect spoken in Beijing had a major impact on the phonology of the dialect of Manchu spoken in Beijing, and because Manchu phonology was transcribed into Chinese and European sources based on the sinified pronunciation of Manchus from Beijing, the original authentic Manchu pronunciation is unknown to scholars.[32][33]

Many of the Manchu words are now pronounced with some Chinese peculiarities of pronunciation, so k before i and e=ch', g before i and e=ch, h and s before i=hs, etc. H before a, o, u, ū, is the guttural Scotch or German ch.

A Manchu Grammar: With Analysed Texts, [31]

Beijing dialect of Manchu


There are some groups of Manchu language enthusiasts in Beijing and elsewhere in Eastern China who try to revive the language of their ancestors using available dictionaries and textbooks, and even occasional visits to Qapqal, where the related Xibe language is spoken natively.[24] There are also other Manchu volunteers in many places of China who freely teach Manchu in the desire to rescue the language.[25][26][27][28] Thousands of non-Manchu speakers have learned the language through these measures.[29][30]

In recent years, with the help of the governments in Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, many schools started to have Manchu classes.[21][22][23] Various regional governments around China have taken to teaching Manchu in more recent times; it was reported that Heilongjiang University Manchu language research center in no.74, Xuefu Road, Harbin, listed Manchu as an academic major. It is taught there as a tool for reading Qing Dynasty archival documents.[24] The Wall Street Journal reported in 2009 that the language is offered (as elective) in one university, one public middle school, and a few private schools.[24]

In fact, the modern custodians of the language are actually the Xibe (or Sibe) who live near the Ili valley in Xinjiang and were moved there by the Qianlong Emperor in 1764. Modern Xibe is very close to Manchu, although there are a few slight differences in writing and pronunciation. Xibe is taught as a second language by the Ili Teachers' College (Yili Normal College) in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of northern Xinjiang. Occasional television broadcasts in Xibe language are made in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County, and about 1,300 copies of the world's only newspaper in Xibe language, Qapqal News, appear twice a week.

Currently, very few native Manchu speakers remain; in what used to be Manchuria virtually no one speaks the language, the entire area having been completely sinicized. As of 2007, the last native speakers of the language were thought to be 18 octogenarian residents of the village of Sanjiazi (Manchu: ᡳᠯᠠᠨ
; Möllendorff: ilan boo), located in Fuyu County, in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province.[20] A few speakers also remain in Dawujia village in Aihui District of Heihe Prefecture.

"Banjin Inenggi" and Manchu linguistic activity by the government and students in Changchun, 2011

Current situation

In 1930, the German sinologist Eric Hauer argued forcibly that knowing Manchu allows the scholar to render Manchu personal and place names that have been “horribly mutilated” by their Chinese transliterations and to know the meanings of the names. He goes on that because the Manchu translations of Chinese classics and fiction were done by experts familiar with their original meaning and with how best to express it in Manchu, for instance, the Manchu translation of the Peiwen yunfu or the language of difficult Chinese novels. Because Manchu is not difficult to learn it “enables the student of Sinology to use the Manchu versions of the classics . . . in order to verify the meaning of the Chinese text.” [19]

A European author remarked in 1844 that the transcription of Chinese words in Manchu alphabet, available in the contemporary Chinese–Manchu dictionaries, was more useful for learning the pronunciation of Chinese words than the inconsistent romanizations used at the time by the writers transcribing Chinese words in English or French books.[16]

[18] in the 18th century, and existed for a fairly long period.Irkutsk A school to train Manchu language translators was started in [18]

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