The Dolgan 多爾干人

The name Dolgan means ‘people living on the middle reaches of the river’. Other names were used, including “toa / toalar / toakihi / toakihilär (‘people of the wood’), toatagolar (‘nomadic people’), and tagal / tägäl (‘a tribe, a people’)” (Dolgan(Дулҕан / Һака), n.d.). According to Ziker, the Dolgan is one of the 26 indigenous ethnic groups in the Siberian North, “the total population of all 26 groups is about 160,000; Dolgans number about 6,000” (2002: 183). A more precise estimation according to the 2002 census data was 7,330 persons (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 186).

dolgan geographic distribution

Language map of “Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation”

The Dolgan people live sparely from each other. Most of them live in the northernmost federal subject of Russia, or the Taymyr Dolgan-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (Russia: Таймы́рский Долга́но-Не́нецкий автоно́мный о́круг). More specially, they live in the south and east of the autonomous Okrug (a governmentally designated district). As Dudinka is its administrative center, it is home for many Dolgan people. At the same time, a small Dolgan diaspora live in the neighboring Sakha (Yakutia) Republic at the Anabar District (Nuttall 2004: 505). The Dolgan people is the most numerous ethnic group in Taymyr Peninsula, consisting 10 per cent of the total population (Nuttall 2004: 505). In particular, there are around 5,500 Dolgan living on the Peninsula, but no reliable numbers available on the percentage of native speakers among them (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 192).

Concerning Dolgan’s genealogical affiliation, it belongs to Turkic language family. The closest relative of Dolgan language is Yakut (Sakha). Whether Dolgan is a dialect of Yakut is not settled; in Turcology from Western Europe, Dolgan is commonly classified as a dialect of Yakut. However in Russia, Dolgan and Yakut are classified as two separate languages due to political reasons (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 192). Like Finnish, Hungarian, and Turkish, Dolgan has vowel harmony and is agglutinative, and has no grammatical gender.

In terms of the religion for the Dolgan people in Russia, 60 per cent is Christianity and 35 per cent is ethnic religion. The primary religion subdivision is Orthodox (Dolgans in Russia, n.d.). Dolgan was first written with Latin alphabet in the 1920s. Since the 1940s the Cyrillic alphabet similar to the one used for Yakut had been adopted (Dolgan(Дулҕан / Һака), n.d.). The first book in the Dolgan language was published in 1973 with the Yakut alphabet. In 1984, the first Dolgan language primer was published (Dolgan, n.d.).

In regards of the vitality of Dolgan language, it is relatively less endangered as the Enets language, at the same time it can be categorized as threatened with the tools from Fishman’s Assessment Grid (Dolgan language, n.d.). It is less endangered because Dolgan language is taught to children and it enjoys special status as a regional lingua franca in the Taimyr region. However scholars point out that it is unclear whether this situation can continue, given the percentage of ethnic Dolgan people who consider their mother tongues as Russian increased to 35 percent (Grenoble and Whaley 2006: 72).

Two examples are given as follows as an attempt to utilize Fishman’s Assessment Grid for Threatened Languages to access Dolgan. First, the situation of how Dolgan transmitted through education system various from place to place. Researchers noted that in the district capital Dudinka (where a large Dolgan diaspora currently lives) the language is still not taught regularly despite several isolated attempts during the last two decades. At the higher secondary level, Dolgan is taught at the Dudinka college, but only optional (Siegl and Rießler 2015: 198). Second, the position of Dolgan in the media is weak in both local and central levels. The empirical study shows that Dolgan language was used in radio broadcasts on weekdays “about three times a week and lasts about 30 minutes. In fall 2006, an attempt to broadcast weekly news in Dolgan on the local TV station was started, but this was stopped only a few weeks later when the announcer quit his job. In 2008, the same announcer was re-hired and the service is currently running again.” (ibid).


Dolgan(Дулҕан / Һака). (n.d.). In Omniglot: the online Encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. Retrieved from

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Dolgans in Russia. In Joshua Project. Retrieved from

Grenoble A. L. & Whaley J. L. (2006). Saving Languages: An Introduction to Language Revitalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siegl, Florian & Rießler, Michael (2015). Uneven Steps to Literacy. In H.F. Marten Heiko, M. Rießler, J. Saarikivi and R. Toivanen (Eds.), Cultural and Linguistic Minorities in the Russian Federation and the European Union: Comparative Studies on Equality and Diversity. (pp. 189-232). London: Springer.

Ziker, P. John (2002). Peoples of the Tundra: Northern Siberians in the Post-Communist Transition. Love Grove, IL: Waveband Press.