Today, out of nearly ten million ethnic Manchus, fewer than one hundred can still speak the language fluently, and it is generally regarded as being on the brink of extinction.
From time to time, we have mentioned Manchu on Language Log, e.g., "Manchu loans in northeast Mandarin" (10/7/13).
We have also noted a related tongue, Sibe (a Manchu language that survives in Xinjiang, the westernmost region of China). Note that linguists generally consider Sibe to be a separate language, not a dialect of Manchu.
In a recent post, we looked carefully at "Spoken Sanskrit" (1/9/16), and this led to lively discussions of language revivals, with Hebrew being cited as a successful example. This leads to a consideration of the possibility that the existence of Sibe in a remote part of Xinjiang, where their ancestors were sent as a military garrison by the Qing government in 1764, might serve as a basis from which to bring Manchu back to life.
It is noteworthy that the Sibe in Xinjiang often serve as multilingual translators.
When I listen to Sibe being sung, it's almost exactly what I imagined Manchu would sound like when I have had occasion to read texts in that language:
I am of the opinion that if enough Manchus have the resolve to resurrect their mother tongue, with Sibe serving as a model on which to base their efforts, it can be done. What is needed are individuals with leadership qualities who are committed to the task.
[h/t Ben Zimmer, Roslyn Blyn, and Stefan Krasowski]