Xibe language

Last updated

sibe gisun
Pronunciation [ɕivə kisun] [1]
Native to China
Region Xinjiang [2]
Ethnicity189,000 Sibe people (2000) [3]
Native speakers
30,000 (2000) [3]
  • Southern
    • Manchu group
      • Sibe
Sibe alphabet (variant of the Manchu alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 sjo
Glottolog xibe1242
ELP Xibe

The Sibe language (Xibe : ᠰᡳᠪᡝ ᡤᡳᠰᡠᠨ, romanized: sibe gisun, also Sibo, Xibe) is a Tungusic language spoken by members of the Sibe minority of Xinjiang, in Northwest China.



Sibe is conventionally viewed[ by whom? ] as a separate language within the southern group of Tungusic languages alongside the more well-known Manchu language, having undergone more than 200 years of development separated from the Tungusic-speaking heartland since Sibe troops were dispatched to the Xinjiang frontiers in 1764. Some researchers such as Jerry Norman hold that Sibe is a dialect of Manchu, whereas Xibologists such as An Jun argue that Sibe should be considered the "successor" to Manchu. Ethnohistorically, the Sibe people are not considered Manchu people, because they were excluded from chieftain Nurhaci's 17th-century tribal confederation to which the name "Manchu" was later applied. [4]


Sibe is mutually intelligible with Manchu, [5] although unlike Manchu, Sibe has reported to have eight vowel distinctions as opposed to the six found in Manchu, as well as differences in morphology, and a more complex system of vowel harmony. [6]


Labial Alveolar Retroflex (Alveolo-)
Velar Uvular
Plosive voiceless p t k q
Affricate voiceless t͡s ʈ͡ʂ t͡ɕ
aspirated t͡sʰ ʈ͡ʂʰ t͡ɕʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ʂ ɕ x χ
voiced v ʐ
Nasal m n ŋ
Rhotic r
Approximant w l j


Front Central Back
High iyu
Mid əo
Low-mid ɛœ
Low a


Sibe has seven case morphemes, three of which are used quite differently from modern Manchu. The categorization of morphemes as case markers in spoken Sibe is partially controversial due to the status of numerous suffixes in the language. Despite the general controversy about the categorization of case markers versus postpositions in Tungusic languages, four case markers in Sibe are shared with literary Manchu (Nominative, Genitive, Dative-Locative and Accusative). Sibe's three innovated cases - the ablative, lative, and instrumental-sociative share their meanings with similar case forms in neighboring Uyghur, Kazakh, and Oiryat Mongolian. [8]

Case NameSuffixExampleEnglish gloss
Genitive-iɢazn-iof the village
Dative-Locative-də/-tɢazn-tto the village
Accusative-f/-vəɢazn-vəthe village (object)
Ablative-dəriɢazn-dərifrom the village
Lative-ćiɢazn-ćitowards the village
Instrumental-Sociative-maqɢazn-maqwith the village


The general vocabulary and structure of Sibe has not been affected as much by Chinese as Manchu has. However, Sibe has absorbed a large body of Chinese sociological terminology, especially in politics: like gəming ("revolution", from 革命) and zhuxi ("chairperson", from 主席), [9] and economics: like chūna ("cashier", from 出纳) and daikuan ("loan", from 贷款). Written Sibe is more conservative and rejecting of loanwords, but spoken Sibe contains additional Chinese-derived vocabulary such as nan (from ) for "man" where the Manchu-based equivalent is niyalma. [4] There has also been some influence from Russian, [10] including words such as konsul ("consul", from консул) and mashina ("sewing machine", from машина). [4] Smaller Xinjiang languages contribute mostly cultural terminology, such as namas ("an Islamic feast") from Uygur and baige ("horse race") from Kazakh. [4]

Writing system

Sibe is written in a derivative of the Manchu alphabet. [6] The Sibe alphabet diverges from the Manchu alphabet in that the positions of the letters in some words have changed, Sibe lacks 13 out of 131 syllables in Manchu, and Sibe has three syllables that are not found in Manchu (wi, wo, and wu). [4]

The table below lists the letters in Sibe that differentiate it from Manchu as well as the placement of the letters. Blue areas mark letters with different shapes from Manchu, green areas marks different Unicode codes from Manchu.

Letters Transliteration (Paul Georg von Mollendorf/Abkai/CMCD) Unicode encodingDescription
ᡞ᠊ Mongol i head.jpg ᠊ᡞ᠊ Mongol i middle1.jpg ᠊ᡞ Mongol i tail2.jpg i185EThe second row for the shape after a vowel;
The third for the shape after b, p, and feminine k, g, h;
The fourth row for the shape after dz/z
᠊ᡡ᠊᠊ᡡū/v/uu1861Appears only after masculine k, g, h
ᡢ᠊᠊ᡢng1862Only occurs at the end of syllables
ᡣ᠊ Mongol q head.jpg ᠊ᡣ᠊ Mongol q middle.jpg k1863The first row for the shape before a, o, ū;
The third row for the shape before e, i, u;
The second row for the shape at the end of syllables.
Mongol k head.jpg ᠊ᡴ᠌᠊ Mongol k middle.jpg
ᡪ᠊ Mongol j1 head.jpg ᠊ᡪ᠊ Mongol j1 head.jpg j/j/zh186AOnly appears in the first syllable
ᠷ᠊᠊ᠷ᠊ Mongol r1 middle.jpg ᠊ᠷr1837Native Sibe words never begin with r
ᡫ᠊᠊ᡫ᠊f186B"F" in Sibe has only one shape. No shape change like Manchu occurs.
ᠸ᠊ Mongol w head.jpg ᠊ᠸ᠊ Mongol w middle.jpg w1838Can appear before a, e, i, o, u
ᡲ᠊᠊ᡲ᠊j/j''/zh1872jy is used for Chinese loanwords (zhi as in Pinyin)

Cyrillization proposal

There was a proposal in China by 1957 to adapt the Cyrillic alphabet to Sibe, but this was abandoned in favor of the original Sibe script. [11] [12]

CyrillicTransliteration to Sibe Latin IPA equivalent Manchu/Sibe Alphabet Equivalent
А аA aa
Б бB bb
В вV vv
Г гG gg
Ғ ғḠ ḡɢ
Д дD dd
Е еE eə
Ё ёÖ öœ
Ж жZ zd͡z
Җ җJ jɖ͡ʐ, d͡ʑ
З зȤ ȥʐᡰ᠊
И иI ii
Й йY yj
К кK kk
Қ қⱩ ⱪq
Л лL ll
М мM mm
Н нN nn
Ң ңŋ or ngŋ
О оO oɔ
Ө өŪ ūø
П пP pp
Р рR rr
С сS ss
Т тT tt
У уU uu
Ү үW ww
Ф фF ff‍ᡶ‍
Х хH hxᡥ᠊
Ҳ ҳⱧ ⱨχᡥ᠊
Ц цČ čt͡sᡱ᠊
Ч чC̄ c̄ʈ͡ʂᡷ᠊
Ш шS̨ s̨ʂ
ыE ee
Ә ә ?ɛᠶᡝ
І іYi yijiᠶᡳ
Ю юYu Yujuᠶᡠ
Я яYa yajaᠶᠠ
ь-sign of thinness


"Cabcal Serkin" in Sibe script (the name of Qapqal News, the world's only Sibe-language newspaper) CabcalSerkin.svg
"Cabcal Serkin" in Sibe script (the name of Qapqal News, the world's only Sibe-language newspaper)

In 1998, there were eight primary schools that taught Sibe in the Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County where the medium of instruction was Chinese, but Sibe lessons were mandatory. From 1954 to 1959, the People's Publishing House in Ürümqi published over 285 significant works, including government documents, belles-lettres , and schoolbooks, in Sibe. [4] Since 1946, the Sibe-language Qapqal News has been published in Yining. In Qapqal, Sibe-language programming is allocated 15 minutes per day of radio broadcasting and 15 to 30-minute television programmes broadcast once or twice per month. [13]

Sibe is taught as a second language at the Ili Normal University in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of northern Xinjiang; it established an undergraduate major in the language in 2005. [14] A few Manchu language enthusiasts from Eastern China have visited Qapqal Sibe County in order to experience an environment where a variety closely related to Manchu is spoken natively. [15]


  1. Li & Zhong (1986), p. 1
  2. S. Robert Ramsey (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press. pp. 216–. ISBN   0-691-01468-X.
  3. 1 2 Sibe at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gorelova, Liliya. "Past and Present of a Manchu Tribe: The Sibe". In Atabaki, Touraj; O'Kane, John (eds.). Post-Soviet Central Asia. London: Tauris Academic Studies. pp. 327–329.
  5. Gordon (2005) , Xibe
  6. 1 2 Ramsey (1989) , p. 215
  7. Li & Zhong 1986.
  8. Zikmundova, Veronika (2013). Spoken Sibe: Morphology of the Inflected Parts of Speech. Prague: Karolinum Press. pp. 48–69.
  9. Ramsey (1989) , p. 216
  10. Guo (2007)
  11. Zhou, Minglang (2003). Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002. Berlin: Mouten de Gruyter. ISBN   3-11-017896-6.
  12. Ge, Siming 戈思明 (2019). Mǎnwén de chuánchéng: Xīnjiāng Xíbózú滿文的傳承 : 新疆錫伯族[Manchu Heritage: The Sibe of Xinjiang]. Taibei Shi: Xiuwei zixun keji gufen youxian gongsi. ISBN   9789863266815.
  13. Zhang (2007)
  14. Tong, Zhihong 佟志红 (2007-06-06). ""Chábùcháěr bào" – Xíbórén zhǐ shàng de jīngshén jiāyuán" 《察布查尔报》——锡伯人纸上的精神家园 ['Qapqal News' – A 'Spiritual Homestead' on Paper for the Sibe People]. Yīlí wǎnbào伊犁晚报[Yili Evening News] (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2009-04-13.
  15. Johnson, Ian (2009-10-03). "In China, the Forgotten Manchu Seek to Rekindle Their Glory". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-10-05.

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Further reading