Turkic Languages

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Turkic Languages


the languages spoken by many peoples and nationalities of the USSR and Turkey, as well as by part of the population of Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, China, Bulgaria, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and Albania. In 1970, according to census data, there were 23 Turkic languages in the USSR, spoken by approximately 25 million people. Turkic languages are the native languages of the majority of the population of the Azerbaijan, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Turkmen, and Uzbek SSR’s, the Bashkir, Chuvash, Kara-Kalpak, Tatar, Tuva, and Yakut ASSR’s, and the Gorno-Altai and Khakass autonomous oblasts. Turkic languages are also spoken by the Kumyks and Nogai of the Dagestan ASSR, by the Balkars, Karachais, and Nogai of the Kabarda-Balkar ASSR and the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast, by the Nogai and Trukhmens (Caucasian Turkmens) of Stavropol’ Krai, by the Gagauz of the Moldavian SSR, by the Azerbai-janis of the Nakhichevan ASSR, by the Karaites of the Lithuanian and Ukrainian SSR’s, by the Urums of Donetsk Oblast, Georgian SSR, and by the Krymchaki of the Crimea and other areas.

The Turkic languages, together with the Mongolian, Manchu-Tungus, Korean, and Japanese languages, belong to the Altaic family of languages. In 1730 the Swedish scholar F. Stralenberg suggested that the Altaic and Uralic (Finno-Ugric and Samoyed) languages were related. In the late 19th century, as philological methods came to demand evidence in the form of phonological laws and morphological and syntactic correspondences, the hypothesis of an affinity between the Altaic and Uralic languages was shaken; the notion of a Uralic language family came to be regarded, however, as an indisputable fact. By the middle of the 20th century, most scholars recognized an established relationship only within each of these two families. The Hungarian Turkic scholar G. Németh has argued for the existence of a Ur-alic-Turkic linguistic relationship; he regards the relationship between the Uralic-Turkic languages and the Mongolian-Tungus languages as highly probable, though not immediately apparent. Further study is required before it can be determined whether the Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus languages are related to Korean and Japanese.

Several classifications of the Turkic languages and their dialects were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries by V. V. Rad-lov, F. E. Korsh, A. N. Samoilovich, G. J. Ramstedt, L. Ligeti, M. Räsänen, K. H. Menges, and others. These classifications are based mainly on the genesis of phonetic and morphological features. The Soviet scholar S. E. Malov has proposed a classification of the Turkic languages based on chronological features, suggesting the categories “most ancient, ” “ancient, ” “recent, ” and “most recent.” The Soviet linguist N. A. Baskakov was the first to classify the Turkic languages according to phonetic features with regard to the features’ historical and geographic distribution.

The most characteristic phonetic features of the Turkic languages are synharmony, the absence of the resonants r, I, m, and n in initial position, the absence of geminates (double consonants), and the presence of two-consonant clusters in a single syllable in initial and final position. Turkic morphology is governed by agglutination in the building of forms and words. Turkic languages lack grammatical gender, prefixes, and prepositions, although they do have postpositions. There is one type of declension and conjugation. In syntax, the attribute precedes the noun. The virtual absence of conjunctions is compensated by highly developed participial and adverbial-participial constructions and deverbative forms; the few conjunctions existing in the modern Turkic languages, with the exception of a few conjunctive words, are borrowed from other languages. The Turkic languages have few modal words, but equivalent meanings are expressed by means of special verbal forms.

The oldest examples of Turkic writing, written in the Orkhon-Enisei alphabet, date from the seventh to 11th centuries. Most have been discovered in burial sites in northern Mongolia, Kirghizia, the upper course of the Enisei, and the Talas Valley. Ancient writings in the Brahmi and Sogdian alphabets have been found in Sinkiang and Central Asia. Turkic writing systems in the Uighur and Arabic alphabets subsequently developed in the east—in Kashgar, Central Asia, the territory of the Golden Horde (including the Volga region and the southern Russian steppe)—and in the west—in the Seljuk Empire (Asia Minor), Azerbaijan, Turkey, Mameluke Egypt, and other areas.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s the Turkic-speaking peoples of the USSR used the Latin alphabet; in the late 1930’s a new alphabet based on the Cyrillic was introduced. The Latin alphabet was adopted in Turkey in 1928.


Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 2: Tiurkskie iazyki. Moscow, 1966.
Baskakov, N. A. Vvedenie v izuchenie tiurkskikh iazykov. Moscow, 1969.
Kononov, A. N. Istoriia izucheniia tiurkskikh iazykov v Rossii: Dooktiabr’skiiperiod. Leningrad, 1972.
Kryms’kyi, A. E. Tiurky, ikh movy ta literatury, part 1. Kiev, 1930. (Bibliography.)
Menges, K. H. The Turkic Languages and Peoples. Wiesbaden, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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