The Manchu language

Soon  there will be no one who knows this language. A culture will be forever lost.

Manchu language uses modified Mongolian writing system and it goes from left to right and up to down.

Manchu language uses modified Mongolian writing system and it goes from left to right and up to down.

Once an imperial language in China during the Qing Dynasty, Manchu language is now spoken by fewer than twenty old people as their native language. Most of those remaining native speakers live in Sanjiazi Village in Heilongjiang Province, China.

One of the last old people who speaks Manchu languageOne of the last old people who speaks Manchu language

Manchu language, an agglutinative language, is native to the Manchu people in China. It is a Tungusic language that belongs to the Altaic language family. This language might disappear when the last generation of old people who speak Manchu language as their native language pass away.

A Manchu family with traditional clothesA Manchu family with traditional clothes

How did it become endangered?

  • There were never many speakers.  Although Manchu language was the imperial language of China during the Qing Dynasty, it was restricted to the Manchu ethnic people. The number of speakers started to decrease during the middle of the Qing Dynasty, and the last emperor could not speak Manchu fluently.
  • Because the Manchus were in charge of China during Qing, they made up most of the military. They lost population by wars.
  • After the Qing Dynasty, the Han people that were suppressed by Manchus were in charge of China again. The Manchus were then afraid of speaking Manchu language so others do not know their ethnicity.
  • Just like English in the U.S. and many other parts of the world, Mandarin Chinese in China is so prevailing that people need to know it to get a job. Manchu language was then not as useful and people do not want to teach their kids the language.


Conservation efforts

  • Many online textbooks are available for free. Click here for an online textbook from wikibooks
  • Manchu classes offered in some universities.
  • Governmental helped build a primary school that teaches Manchu language in Sanjiazi Village, the village with Manchu native speakers.
  • Foreign scholarship: Many European and Japanese scholars have studied the language and helped with conservation.

A Manchu language class in Sanjiazi Primary SchoolA Manchu language class in Sanjiazi Primary School

Manchu culture significance

  •  The traditional Manchu clothing has already become part of traditional Chinese clothing now.

Women with traditional Manchu clothesWomen with traditional Manchu clothes

  • Many Manchu words have made their way into the Chinese language and become an integrated part of daily Chinese that people speak now.
  • Manchu language is essential in the study of history and culture of the Qing Dynasty. When there is no native speaker left, it will be harder for scholar to learn the language to read archives from the Qing Dynasty.

Old books in Manchu scriptOld books in Manchu script

Here is a song in Manchu language. Parents sing it to babies to make them go to sleep. You can get a sense of how Manchu language sounds like which enjoying the music at the same time.

Need to reach me?

Zhiyu “Wendy” Deng  ‘15

Topics of interest:

- Natural history

- Endangered species conservation and habitat restoration

- Sustainability and agriculture

- Wildlife-friendly constructions

- Cellular and molecular biology

- Geology and earth science

- Comparative and historical linguistics



More Perspectives… 

More about linguistics of Manchu language

Manchu alphabet