The Mansis live in Khanty-Mansiysky Autonomous Okrug of Tyumenskaya Oblast (8459 thousand people).
The self-designations are maan's'i and maan's'i maahum, meaning 'people of the Mansi'. The eastern tribes also use man's. The language is called maan's'i latyng. The original meaning of the self-designation is a human being or a man. Previously the Mansi were better known by the name of Voguls, their name in the Komi (and Khant) language. The Zyryan Komis were once guides for the Russian troops in the area of the River Ob, and through the Russian the term of Voguls spread in other languages as well.
The Mansis were first mentioned in written records in 1396 in Russian chronicles as Voguls. Earlier records, starting with G. Rogovich from Novgorod (1096), did not differentiate between the Jugra people, i.e. the Khants and the Mansis. In Russian sources the term Mansi came into use in 1785, and from the 1920s it became common in the Soviet Union. The remainder of the world still knows the Mansis as Voguls.
The Mansis live in the Khanty-Mansi National District belonging to the Tyumen region in north-western Siberia. The area is vast - 523,100 square kilometres, - but the population density is low. The Mansi villages are usually situated in the river valleys (Konda, Lozva, Pelym, Sosva, Tavda) which range from the Ural mountains to the lower reaches of the Ob. In former times the habitat of the Mansi reached the areas west of the Urals, and their onetime settlements have been discovered in the vicinity of Perm and in the neighbourhood of the Kama and Pechora rivers.
Anthropologically the Mansi belong to the Uralic race. They are short, they have high cheekbones and slit eyes and their eyes and hair are dark. In comparison with the other Finno-Ugric peoples, the Mansi exhibit significantly more Mongoloid characteristics. These characteristics are more evident in the southern Mansi.
The Mansi language belongs to the family of Finno-Ugric languages. Together with the Khant and the Hungarian languages they form the Ugric group of the family; the Mansi and the Khant languages form the Ob-Ugric subgroup. Khant is the closest kindred language of Mansi. The Mansi and the Khant languages began branching off their common Ob-Ugric roots in about the 13th century.
Due to the large distribution area, the Mansi language has splintered into numerous dialects. The major ones are the northern, the eastern, the southern, and the western dialects. The differences are marked and hinder communication between speakers of different dialects.
There were attempts to create the Mansi literary language in the 19th century already. "The Gospel According to Matthew" was translated into the Mansi language by G. Popov and published by the British Bible Society in London, in 1868; Bishop Nikonor published a primer in 1903, but the efforts of the missionaries were not enough. The Mansi received their literary language in 1931. On the basis of the material collected by V. Chernetsov and I. Chernetsova on their expeditions to the dialect areas of the Mansi in 1930--31, the phonemes of the Mansi language were fixed in the Research Association of the Institute of the Nordic Peoples in Leningrad, the alphabet was formed on the basis for the literary language and the orthographic rules were fixed. The Mansi literary language is based on the Sosva dialect. The whole thing was started from the outside, and its main purpose was to influence the Mansi ideologically. In 1932 V. Chernetsov published a new primer (A new way. Elementary instruction in the Mansi language). Several textbooks on the elementary level and children's books have also been published (there was a complete gap in publishing in 1957--71). Fiction has also been published in the Mansi language and a Mansi poet Yuvan Shestalov (b. 1937, lives in Leningrad) is known not only in his national territory.
In 1937 the Latin alphabet was replaced with the Cyrillic one. Considering the adequate expression of the sounds in the Mansi language, it was a mistake. The Latin alphabet makes it possible to convey different quantities of sounds, the cases of palatalization etc.; the Cyrillic is unsuitable for that.