"Iitənmən"—"the one who exists": Sociolinguistic life of the Itelmen in Kamchatka, Russia in the context of language loss and language revitalization

The Pacific coast of Russia on the Kamchatka peninsula is home to a small indigenous group of traditional fishermen who call themselves Itelmens. The total population of Itelmens is a little over 3,000 people. Over the last three decades Itelmens have been successful in revitalizing their culture and maintaining traditional subsistence activities, cuisine, crafts, and dance. Sadly, this cannot be stated about the Itelmen language—a severely endangered language—which has about 5 native speakers left. Despite the language revitalization measures that have been actively undertaken by Itelmen language specialists since the 1980s, Itelmens continue to lose their speakers with no new speakers appearing.

This sociolinguistic research aims to analyze the history of language loss, contemporary state of the language, spaces that the language is taught and practiced, and the circumstances that work for or against the active language revitalization among Itelmens. The intellectual merits of this study include gaining a better understanding of the nature of the reversing language shift processes and language vitality that occur in communities with a small number of speakers.

The ultimate goal of this community-oriented research was to search for language revitalization initiatives that might work in the Itelmen case under the given social, political, and economic circumstances. Therefore, this study is offering multiple language revitalization initiatives that should be implemented both in rural and urban areas for fruitful development of the Itelmen language. These initiatives include the participation of all generations in the process and the introduction of multi-media and technology.


Tatiana Degai


Benedict Colombi




College of Social and Behavioral Sciences