The self-designation is ket 'man' (plural deng 'men, people'). The Kets who live on the Kas, Sym and Dubches rivers use the name jugun for themselves. The Russians, who did not much differentiate between the Siberian peoples in the 17th century, called them Ostyak. Later, they became known as the Enisei-Ostyak because of their habitat on the middle reaches of the Enisei river. The designation Ket was officially recognized in the 1930s when the self-designations of the peoples came into use.
The first written records of the Kets date from the 17th century when the Russians came to areas inhabitated by some of their tribes (Inbak, Zemchak, Bogden).
The Ket inhabit the Enisei Basin (Sym, Kureika, Yeloguy, Podkamenaya Tunguska) in East Siberia. This area, in the middle reaches of the Enisei (about 1,000-1,500 km from north to south), is administratively in the Turukhansk and Baikit districts of the Krasnoyarsk Region in the Russian Federation.
Anthropologically the Ket belong to the Mongoloid North-Asian race, although some features of the Uralic race are also observable. Compared to Mongoloid people, the colour of their skin and eyes is lighter, but in comparison with the Uralic people their skin is darker, their nose is more protrusive and their beard growth poorer. Their face is broad and flat, with high cheekbones. They are short and stout. In 1843 A. Th. von Middendorff gave the following description: "the Kets are plump with thin legs and a staggering walk, flitting eyes and a jerky talk. In spite of their Mongoloid features they look quite alike the Finns".
The Ket language belongs to the Ket Assan (Yenisey) group of the Paleo-Asiatic languages. Kott (Kot), Arin, Assan (Asan) also belong to this group but these people have been assimilated by either the Khakass, Evenks or Russians. The Kets are the only living people of the western Paleo-Asiatic group. The generic origin of the language is not clear, but it is assumed that it is related to the Sino-Tibetan or North-Caucasian languages.
Two dialects are distinguishable: the Sym dialect (a score of speakers in 1968) and the Imbat dialect (spoken by most of the people). The Imbat dialect has several subdialects (Surgut, Suloma, Kureika) of which the differences are mainly phonological.
The Ket language may be distinguished from other Siberian languages because of its category of gender and the distinction between animate and inanimate.
The Kets possess a rich vocabulary in regard to traditional spheres of life (for example, floraflora, faunafauna, hunting, weather). Relations between the Kets and their neighbouring peoples are revealed through language loans. The older loans have been made from the Evenk, Turkic or Samoyedic languages (for example, reindeer terminology was borrowed from the Samoyedic language). Russian loans began flooding the language when a written script was created and the radical social reforms of the 30s were initiated. Words to denote socio-political, technological and cultural phenomena were adapted, translated and directly absorbed into the Ket language. In the late 1930s the replacement of the Ket language by Russian began. Prestige was attached to the Russian language because it was the language for education and of culture and administration. The use of Russian is widespread and it is growing still. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of the native tongue.
History. The roots of the present-day Kets seem to have been further south than their present habitat. The Kets were probably formed on the basis of the people from the Sayan mountains and the people indigenous to the River Yenisey. Ket tradition has it that their ancestors were driven northwards by the "mountain people" and that they had to cross ranges of mountains before they came to Siberia.
Today, Russian-Ket bilingualism is disappearing and Russian monolingualism is gaining ground. The Kets have retained only their anthropological distinction. In 1986 a revived written Ket language came into existence and it remains to be seen what its effect will be in the national revival.
The Russian Orthodox missionaries did not attempt to create a written language for the Kets, that happened only in the Soviet period. The script was based on an alphabet common to the people of the North. In 1934 the Ket ABC book, Bukvar (Букварь на кетском языке), compiled by N. Karger, was published. The Ket literary language had no other records but the primer and some educational material used in primary education. After a long pause a new Cyrillic Ket alphabet with 32 letters was created by E. Kreinovich in 1986. The written language is based on the Suloma and Kellog dialects. Unfortunately, the Russian orthography cannot accommodate the Ket phonemes in spite of some diacritical marks being used.
The first notes on the Ket language were published by P. S. Pallas (Путешествия по разным провинциям Русского Государства) in 1788. The fact that the Ket language differs from the surrounding languages has attracted scholarly attention. In 1858 the Finn, M. A. Castrйn, published the first grammar and dictionary of the Ket language (Versuch einer jenissei-ostjakischen and kottischen Sprachlehre) also containing some material on the Kot language. In the 19th century the Kets were mistaken for a Finno-Ugric people, that is, for a tribe of the Khants. Later, their origins were clarified by G. Ramsted (1907), K. Donner (1920, 1930), K. Bouda (1957), O. Tailler (1959), etc. and their language compared to Japanese, Basque, Sino-Tibetan and Ibero-Caucasian languages. Its generic origin and links have not been clearly revealed.
In culture of kets some types of dwellings are allocated. Earth-house is the basic version of constant dwelling, it was square, had a wooden skeleton which from above was covered by logs and turf. It was heated by means of kind of hearth - chuvash. The food was also prepared on it.