I recently came across an interesting book, a collection of Sakha (Yakut) texts edited by Otto von Böhtlingk (1815–1904), a scholar remembered for contributions to Indo-European linguistics in its infancy such as a huge Sanskrit dictionary. The foreword added by John R. Krueger to the 20th-century Mouton/Indiana and Routledge reprintings of Böhtlingk’s Über Die Sprache der Jakuten from 1851 explains how this came about:
The noted Siberian naturalist and explorer, Alexander Theodor von Middendorf, returned from his journeys in 1845 and, not being a linguist, turned over the linguistic data he had on the Yakuts to Böhtlingk. Böhtlingk promised him to see to its publication, and had in mind giving it to a colleague. This colleague turned out to be already overburdened, and to fulfill his promise, Böhtlingk had no choice but to work on the Yakut material himself. This would have been a valuable and noteworthy accomplishment in itself, had he not chanced on a Cossack, a Russian named Uvarovskii. This was nothing unusual in St. Petersburg, but Uvarovskii had been born in Yakutia, the son of a Russian official there, and knew Yakut as well as he did his Russian mother tongue.
Not only could this Uvarovskii help Böhtlingk edit the material he was working with, but he even produced new texts in Yakut on his memories of his childhood for inclusion in Böhtlingk’s book. For me this is the most interesting part of the story, as I’ve long been frustrated by meeting ethnic Russians from Mari El, Udmurtia or Chuvashia who not only know nothing of the local language, but often are only dimly aware that it even exists. However, Uvarovskii’s knowledge of the language probably has less to do with a passionate interest on the part of the Russian colonists, and more a lack of Russian among the Sakha people that forced the Russians to meet them halfway.
The format of this collection is the same as e.g. Paasonen’s Gebräuche und Volksdichtung der Tschuwassen with the text at the top half of the page followed by a dividing line and a German translation in the bottom half. Krueger claims that the work can still be profitably used by students of Yakut, but I am curious to see what the Sakha people today would think of it: was Uvarovskii’s command of the language really native, or can one tell that he spoke Yakut like a foreigner?