Many of these languages are in direct and immediate danger of going extinct. Some, such as Tofa and Ket, are moribund, with very few speakers, and in these cases efforts like documentation are important to collect as much linguistic information as possible before the language dies out. In cases where a language may have thousands of speakers, focus should go to encouraging usage and livelihood of the language: education, culture, and provision of economic opportunities for speakers.
Preservation efforts for seriously endangered languages began in earnest in the 20th century. Back then, ethnologists would record language samples, typically songs, on portable recorders, and the recordings would be submitted to archives and studied, and linguists would study the sounds and structure of the language. Additionally, researchers of Siberian origin like Nivkh linguist Galina Otaina would do field work in preserving their own languages (Brenzinger & de Graaf). Nivkh today shows almost no usage among people under 40, and so recording and study were and still are major priorities. One complicating factor is dialectal variation: in such small populations over large geographical areas, dialectal splits are exceedingly common, meaning that each dialect must be studied on its own. Nivkh, for example, is split between the island of Sakhalin and mainland Asia, and dialects have developed in each area which require separate study.
In larger languages, cultural survival and opportunity to use the language take precedence. As mentioned with Tofa, songs are an ideal way to do this. Most Siberian cultures pass down their lore and history orally, and as a result have rich traditions of vocal music. Recording and disseminating this music then presents a good opportunity to preserve language and culture.
This is a song by the Chukchi musical ensemble Ergyron, meaning “Dawn” in Chukchi. They started in Soviet times and became popular quickly, and have toured throughout Asia, Europe and the world, as well as appearing at numerous folk music festivals. They would later be officially recognized as a “valuable object of cultural heritage of the peoples of Chukotka Autonomous District” (transl. from “Из истории ансамбля «Эргырон»”). The success of artistic groups like Erygron can be greatly beneficial for language preservation by not only strengthening the identity of their own people, but increasing their visibility on the world stage.
This is a song by the Tuvan group Yat-Kha. Yat-Kha has been active since the early 90s, and combined influences from western rock and punk music (which were in vogue in the rest of Russia at the time) with traditional Tuvan music. Vocalist-guitarist Albert Kuvezin began the project as a collaboration with Russian experimental musician Most notably, Kuvezin uses several Tuvan string instruments (a yat-kha is a type of central Asian zither) and the Tuvan throat-singing technique. Throat singing produces two simultaneous tones in the throat, and is linked to the pastoral lifestyle as it can be heard over great distances (“About Tuvan Throat Singing”). Though the Tuvan language is not endangered as the closely related Tofa is, throat singing plays a major role in the culture of both peoples. As noted in the discussion of the Tofa, suppression of songs was very damaging to the culture and survival of the language, and so preservation of music is crucial to the future of a language.