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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Turkic Language Family

The Turkic language family consists of some thirty languages. Traditionally, the Turkic languages are classified according to the word for foot (Samoilovich 1922), which divides the Turkic language family into two main branches. In the central Turkic languages (of the Oguz, Kypchak and Chagatay subgroups) the word for foot is *ayak, which ultimately developed from an older form *adak. The periferal Turkic languages (the Northeastern Turkic languages, Khalaj and Chuvash), spoken along the outer rim of the Turkic linguistic area, have developed along different lines than the central Turkic languages; they have retained this older form *adak in some way, and did not develop *y from *d. Mostly for geographical reasons, Western Yugur has sometimes been considered a dialect of Modern Uygur, together with Salar. Salar and Modern Uygur, however, both belong to the *ayak branch of Turkic languages.The Turkic languages according to subgroups Subgroup Language Foot Mountain Yellow Oguz Turkish ayak dagh sarï Gagauz ayak dagh sarï Azeri ayag dagh sarï Turkmen ayak daagh saarï Salar ayax tagh sarï Kypchak Kazak ayaq tau sarï Karakalpak ayaq tau sarï Nogay ayak taw sarï Kumyk ayaq taw sari Karachay-Balkar ayaq tau sarï Karaim ayaq tau sarï Tatar ayaq tau sarï Bashkir ayaq tau harï Kyrgyz ayak too sarï Altay ayak tuu sarï Chagatay Modern Uygur ayaq tagh seriq Lop ayaq taq sariq Uzbek oyoq tagh sariq Mogoli ayaq taq sariq Northeast Yakut atax tïa arïï Dolgan atak tïa arïï Tuva *adak dagh sarïgh Tofa *adak dagh sarïgh Khakas azax tagh sarïgh Shor azax tagh sarïgh Chulym azax ... sarïgh Western Yugur azaq thagh sarïgh Khalaj hadaq taag saarugh Chuvash ura tu s'urâ In general, the Turkic language family is fairly homogeneous, and some Turcologists refer to the vernaculars of this family as dialects, rather than as separate languages. Many of the Turkic languages in the table above have been given a separate language status for political and/or geographical reasons, rather than for linguistic ones. The main linguistic criterion for considering two vernaculars as dialects of a single language, rather than as two separate languages, is mutual intelligibility. An obvious problem is that this criterion can be interpreted with some flexibility: two short studies assessing the mutual intelligibility between Turkish and Azeri diverged between 66% and 92% mutual intelligibility!On the level of individual words, mutual comprehensibility can be high. Some basic words occur in nearly all Turkic languages in nearly the same form, and a speaker of Azeri can understand a speaker of Western Yugur when s/he says aht, horse (at in Azeri), or pash, head (bash in Azeri). Other basic words differ: for instance, the Western Yugur word for nose is qarq, from an older Turkic form *kañïrïk, nose or bridge or septum of the nose, while the Azeri word for nose is burun, from an older Turkic form *burun, nose or front. This word survives in Western Yugur as phorn, meaning only front or before. Some words only seem to be similar but are not. For instance, Karakalpak zhoq, no(t), is the equivalent of Turkish yok, and not of Turkish çok, much. Modern Uygur bilen, with, is equivalent to Turkish ile, not to Turkish bilen, knowing.On the level of phrases and texts, however, mutual comprehensibility rapidly decreases, certainly with regard to languages of other subgroups. It will take a speaker of Azeri some time to figure out that Western Yugur senïñ atqa ni tighik-i? means: what is your name?, and s/he may remain puzzled at reading entire Western Yugur texts.Independent from the question of their status, whether language or dialect, the following vernaculars belong closer together. The very similar vernaculars Karachay and Balkar have been grouped together as dialects of one language, although the speakers of these dialects are geographically separated. Kazak and Karakalpak are very similar, but have been given a separate language status. Also Khakas, Chulym and Shor are linguistically closely related, but have been given a separate language status. Dolgan is a diaspora dialect of Yakut, having developed independently for some 300 years. Gagauz, spoken in Bulgaria and Moldavia, developed from a Turkish dialect that spread in the Balkans during the Ottoman conquests, and was greatly influenced by the surrounding Slavonic languages. Uzbek, closely related to Modern Uygur, has been greatly influenced by Persian. Tatar and Bashkir are closely related, as are Tuva and Tofa. Tofa has very recently obtained the status of a separate language. Also Kyrgyz and Altay are more closely related; the Altay language, however, has been influenced by the neighbouring language Khakas.


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