Altaic Languages

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Altaic Languages


a family of languages uniting three language groups: the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungus-Manchurian. The Altaic languages also include the Korean language. The Turkic and the Tungus-Manchurian languages are farthest removed from each other.

The existence of kinship between the Altaic languages cannot be taken as definitively proved. Despite protracted scientific work on the Altaic problem, even today there are linguists who uphold the theory of the common origin of the Altaic languages (G. J. Ramstedt, N. Poppe, E. D. Polivanov, and others) and those who attempt to account for the material similarity of the Altaic languages in terms of linguistic interaction (V. Kotwicz and others). The Uralo-Altaic hypothesis put forward by N. Räsänen and others combines the Altaic languages with the “Uralic” languages (Finno-Ugric and Samoyed).

The stem in the Altaic languages is characterized by stable phonology and independence (it constitutes a full word). Word formation and word changes take place through the agglutination of affixes to the root (stem). Affixes, as a rule, have a single meaning. Prefixes are not typical of Altaic languages. Formal joining of the root and affixes into a single unit is achieved by the assimilation of the phonology of these affixes to the phonology of the stem—that is, synharmonism, which is common in almost all the Altaic languages. The category of gender is absent in the Altaic languages. The grammatical category of possessiveness, expressing the person of the possessor (first, second, and third persons of the singular and plural) by special possessive affixes, is highly developed in most of the Altaic languages. The degree of comparison is usually expressed in the Altaic languages by using the ablative case of the noun designating the object to be compared. One characteristic feature of Altaic languages is the widespread use of nonper-sonal forms of the verb—participles and verbal adverbs—in those cases where the Indo-European languages frequently use the personal forms of the verb. In Altaic languages, the subject is placed at the beginning of the sentence and the predicate at the end. The word order in the sentence is governed by a general rule: the dependent term precedes the term on which it depends, while the attribute stands before the constituent modified, and the object stands before the constituent to which it refers. Added to this is the fact that Altaic languages lack prepositions and instead use postpositions. (Since the noun is dependent on the postposition which governs various cases of the noun, the noun must precede the postposition.) Sometimes the term “Altaic languages” is used to designate the languages of those peoples living in the Altai area (the Altai, Khakass, Tuva, and other peoples).


Ramstedt, G. J. “Vvedenie v altaiskoe iazykoznanie.” Morfologiia. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from German.)
Ramstedt, G. J. Kalmückisches Wörterbuch. Helsinki, 1935.
Shcherbak, A. M. “O kharaktere leksicheskikh vzaimosviazei tiurkskikh, molgol’skikh i tungusko-man’chzhurskikh iazykov.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1966, no. 3.
Illich-Svitych, V. M. “Altaiskie dental’nye t, d, s.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1963, no. 6.
Illich-Svitych, V. M. “Altaiskie gutturnal’nye *kc, *k, *g.” Etimologiia, 1964. Moscow, 1965.
Illich-Svitych, V. M. “Sootvetstviia smychnykh v nostricheskikh iazykakh.” Etimologiia, 1966. Moscow, 1968.
Dolgopol’skii, A. B. “Gipoteza drevneishego rodstva iazykovykh semei Severnoi Evrazii s veroiatnostnoi tochki zreniia.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1964, no.2.
Sinor, D. Introduction à l’étude de I’Eurasie Céntrale. Wiesbaden, 1963.
Poppe, N. Vergleichende Grammatik der altaischen Sprachen, vol. 1. Wiesbaden, 1960.
Poppe, N. Introduction to Altaic Linguistics. Wiesbaden, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The authors of the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages (EDAL) consider Altaic a language family of great time-depth, extending back to the fifth millennium B.C., older than Indo-European by at least a thousand years.
Budenz' correspondences, the number of correspondences Hungarian shares with the Altaic languages (and Yukaghir) in fact nearly match the number of correspondences Hungarian shares with the (Finno-) Ugric/Uralic languages, according to modern knowledge.
* 11 words are recognised as being of Uralic origin, but they also have a parallel in the Altaic languages and/or Yukaghir according to UEW (items number 1, 2, 8, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30);
Of course, in many other languages nominalizations even at more advanced stages of deverbalization and substantivization processes may display a reduced case paradigm or semantic peculiarities in the use of case markers (see, e.g., Cheremisina 1986 on idiosyncrasies of "predicative declension" of participles in Altaic languages).
This process of "emphatic reduplication" is widespread in Altaic languages, which raises the question of whether it might be a reflex of an archaic genetic trait of Altaic.
This alphabet was not particularly well suited for writing Altaic languages like Old Uighur and Mongolian; it was unable to make several important phonological distinctions and was especially unsuited for the rich vocalism of both these languages.
Marcantonio concludes that a number of the lexical items shared between Uralic and Yukaghir are found in Altaic languages as well, making it impossible to decide on the question of borrowing vs.
Many of them are common for Uralic (especially Samoyed), Paleosiberian (Paleoasiatic) and Altaic languages. Possibly this area extends itself to the south-eastern Asia (e.g.
Genial typological similarities allegedly detected between Japanese and languages such as Chadic or Tibetan are frequently invoked to "explain history"; sometimes also such references to Altaic languages slip in (e.g., p.
When this word was borrowed from Chinese into any of the Altaic languages, and/or, at the earliest period, into either the original Altaic Ursprache or some still largely undifferentiated linguistic entity resembling that of Ursprache, it would of course have been a form or forms close in shape to (1) that would have been taken over.
He studied the Chinese dialects of northern China and noticed the further north one traveled in China, the more the Chinese dialects began to resemble the Altaic languages that bordered them.
Some kind of division of words into two series, one of which is characterized by palatalization and the other by velarization or pharyngealization is a common phenomenon all over the Eurasian continent and is found commonly in Altaic languages spoken in areas bordering on Chinese?