Turkic languages,

group of closely related languages that form a subfamily of the Altaic languages. The Turkic languages show close similarities to each other in phonology, morphology, and syntax, though Chuvash, Khalaj, and Yakut differ considerably from the rest. The earliest linguistic records are Old Turkic inscriptions, found near the Orhon River in Mongolia and the Yenisey River valley in south-central Russia, which date from the 8th century AD. (see also Index: Orhon inscriptions)


The Turkic languages may be classified according to linguistic, historical, and geographic criteria into the following branches:

1. The southwestern, or Oguz, branch includes Turkish (Ottoman Turkish), Gagauz, Azeri (Azerbaijani), Turkmen, and Khorasan Turkic. (see also Index: Southwestern Turkic languages, Turkish language, Gagauz language, Azerbaijani language, Turkmen language)
2. The northwestern, or Kipchak, branch includes Kazak, Karakalpak, Nogay, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Bashkir, West Siberian dialects, Crimean Tatar, Kumyk, Karachay-Balkar, and Karaite. 
3. The southeastern, or Uighur-Chagatai, branch includes Uzbek, Uighur, Yellow Uighur, and Salar (of Oguz origin).
4. The northeastern, or Siberian, branch includes Yakut (Sakha), Dolgan, Altay, Khakas, Shor, Tuvan, and Tofa.
5. Chuvash, a strongly divergent language of the Volga region.
6. Khalaj, a strongly divergent language of central Iran.

The development of distinct Turkic literary languages began in the 8th century in Central Asia. The Uighur literary language flourished in the 9th-14th century, and the Qarakhanid literary language came into existence in the 11th century. Khwarezmian (13th-14th century) and Chagatai (15th-16th century), the latter with its postclassical products of the 17th-19th century, were the antecedents of the modern Uzbek and Uighur (New-Uighur) literary languages. In the Oguz group, Turkish has the most significant literary tradition. Its antecedent is the Ottoman Turkish language, which developed from the Old Anatolian Turkish literary language (13th-15th century) of the Seljuq Turks, the first Turkish conquerors of Anatolia (11th century).

The Arabic script was generally used by all Turkic peoples writing Turkic languages until the early 1920s, when the Latin script began to be introduced to the Turkic peoples of the Soviet Union. After 1939 the Latin script was almost completely replaced in the Soviet Union by modified forms of the Cyrillic alphabet. Turkey officially adopted a Latin script in 1928. Currently, the Arabic alphabet is used only by Turkic peoples living in China, Iran, and the Arab countries.

Linguistic characteristics.

One notable characteristic of the Turkic languages is vowel harmony. The vowels are of two kinds--front vowels, which are produced at the front of the mouth (e,i,ö,ü), and back vowels, produced at the back of the mouth (a,i,o,u). Purely Turkic words can contain only all front or all back vowels, and all suffixes and affixes must conform to the vowel of the syllable preceding them in the word. Thus, Turkish kül 'ash,' kül-ler 'ashes,' kül-ler-i 'its ashes,' kül-ler-in-den 'from its ashes,' as opposed to kul 'slave,' kul-lar 'slaves,' kul-lar-i 'his slaves,' kul-lar-in-dan 'from his slaves.' Besides this "palatal harmony," most Turkic languages also adopt a "labial harmony" between syllables with respect to rounded and unrounded vowels. Only rounded vowels may occur after an initial rounded vowel in a word, with the same pattern holding true for unrounded vowels--e.g., Turkish pul-u 'his stamp,' versus pil-i 'his battery.' These harmony rules vary considerably across the various languages. Due to foreign influence, harmony is phonetically differently realized, though far from lost, in the Karaite, Gagauz, and Uzbek languages.

The morphology of the Turkic languages is agglutinative; i.e., it offers rich possibilities of expanding word stems by means of relatively unchangeable suffixes, many of which designate grammatical notions. For example, the word evlerimde 'in my houses' is composed of ev 'house,' ler = plural suffix, im = possessive suffix 'my,' and de = locative suffix 'in.' When attached to a word with back vowels, such as oda 'room,' these suffixes change their vowels according to the law of vowel harmony but retain their meaning: odalarimda 'in my rooms.'

The Turkic languages mostly lack subordinative conjunctions and relative pronouns, using verbal nouns, participles, and converbs instead. Thus the sentence 'I know that the person who had come went away' is rendered in Uzbek Kelgän kisining ketgänini bilämän, literally 'Having-come person-of having-gone-his know-I.'


Afghanpedia Table of Content