Little is known about the Xyzyl language (pronounced ‘hizzle’), originating from the Republic of Xakasia (or Khakassia). With only 50 to 60 speakers in the Xyzyl territory in Siberia to the northwest of Mongolia, it is a critically endangered language. Like most other dialects in the region, the decline in use of Xyzyl can be attributed to the standardisation of Russian as a national language.
It is recognised as an official dialect of the Khakas (also spelled ‘Xakas’) languages, which originated from the southern Siberian Khakas Republic. However, the Xyzyl people assert that it is a separate language altogether. A linguistic analysis undertaken by researchers in the 2012 ‘Enduring Voices’ expedition demonstrated similarities between some words of the Xyzyl and Khakas languages. For example, the word for ‘ice’ is phonetically similar: it is pus in Khakas and mus in Xyzyl. However, certain words in both languages do not correspond – such as ‘woman’, which is ipchi in Khakas and xat in Xyzyl. Both languages are written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Research has shown that Xyzyl is effectively different from other Khakas dialects – enough to warrant a different set of materials from the standardised register of Khakas available. Preservation efforts are being made in response to its precariously endangered status and lack of written records. Mikhail Tabatkin, for example, is a native Xyzyl speaker who has spent the past decades preserving words and tales in his language. Scan from Khakas book Bukvar (1934)
A Tajik traditional yurt in Pamir mountains, Tajikistan