The Khanty (Ostyak) language belongs to the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic language family. Together with Mansi and Hungarian, they make up the so-called Ugric sub-branch of the language family. Within this sub-branch, Mansi and Khanty constitute a separate group. Due to their speakers' dwelling site along the Ob river, the two are called the Ob-Ugric languages.
The Khanty people live in West Siberia, Russia, along the central and lower courses of the Ob and its affluents. Administratively, their living areas belong to the Tyumen and Tomsk Provinces. The majority of Khanty people inhabit the territory of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District ‒Yugra, part of the Tyumen Province. Others, fewer in number, live to the North of this area, namely in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. A further group, the most distant Eastern group of Khanty, lives on the territory of Tomsk Province (Csepregi 2011: 6). According to the census data from 2010, the Khanty population totaled 30,943 people in that year (PEREPIS 2010). Among those surveyed, 9,584 people said they spoke Khanty. Supposedly, their nationality was also Khanty, but this is not inferable from the statistical data. Based on this data, one can conclude that about one third of the Khanty can speak Khanty (Lewis et al. 2015).
The Khanty people live in minor groups over a large territory, at a considerable distance from each other. Therefore, their dialects display such significant differences on the phonetic, morphological and syntactic level that mutual understanding between remote dialects is rather limited. Khanty dialects are generally divided into three groups: Northern, Southern and Eastern. The Northern group extends from the mouth of the Ob river by and large to the confluence of the Ob and Irtis. The Southern dialects, now extinct, were spoken along the river Irtis and its affluents, Demyanka and Konda. Eastern dialects are spoken along the middle course of the Ob and its affluents. These are the Vakh, Vasyugan and Salym dialects.
The group of Northern Khanty varieties can be divided further into dialects and sub-dialects, such as the Obdorsk, Shuryshkar, Kazym and Central Ob (Sherkal) dialects (Honti 1984: 13‒16, 1988: 148‒149; Csepregi 2009: 7). In some sources, the Sherkal dialect is called Beryozovo Khanty (Nikolaeva 1999a: 3). Synja Khanty is actually a subtype of the latter. Administratively, the Synja Khanty people live in the Shuryshkar Region of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, in the valley of the Synja river. The center of the area is a village called Ovgort (Ruttkay-Miklián 2011).
In 2011, the number of Synja Khanty in the river area amounted to 1429 people, or 79% of its inhabitants. Those living there are engaged in fishing and reindeer husbandry, keeping their livestock in the woods around the villages in winter and driving them to the Ural Mountains in summer. In summer, then, the villages become empty, as the other inhabitants move to the fishermen’s settlements on the Ob riverside (Csepregi 2009: 8; Ruttkay-Miklián 2011).
It is the Mush and Kunovat varieties that come closest to the Synja dialect (Sipos 2013). It is important to mention that the systematization of the Northern Khanty dialects is problematic. However, the varieties spoken in the separate villages likely constitute a kind of continuum (Ruttkay-Miklián 2009: 187, Sipos 2013).
Like the other Khanty scripts, written Synja Khanty is based on the Russian orthographic model, i.e. uses Cyrillic letters, enhanced, however, with additional graphemes. The development of an independent Synja Khanty writing system is still in progress (Csepregi 2009: 8). The Synja Khanty linguist Sofiya Onina has proposed the establishment of an orthographic standard in several papers (2009, 2011). (For information on the transcription used in our database, see the menu point “Instructions”.)