kids encyclopedia robot

Turkic languages facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Ethnicity: Turkic peoples
Central Asia
East Asia
North Asia
Western Asia
Eastern Europe
Southern Europe
Linguistic classification: One of the world's primary language families
Proto-language: Proto-Turkic
Shaz Turkic (Common Turkic)
Lir Turkic (Oghur)
ISO 639-5: trk
Turkic Languages distribution map.png
The distribution of the Turkic languages

The Turkic languages are a language family of at least 35 documented languages, spoken by the Turkic peoples of Eurasia from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe to Central Asia, East Asia, North Asia (Siberia), and Western Asia. The Turkic languages originated in a region of East Asia spanning from Mongolia to Northwest China, where Proto-Turkic is thought to have been spoken, from where they expanded to Central Asia and farther west during the first millennium. They are characterized as a dialect continuum.

Turkic languages are spoken natively by some 200 million people, and the total number of Turkic speakers, including second language speakers, is over 230 million. The Turkic language with the greatest number of speakers is Turkish, spoken mainly in Anatolia and the Balkans; its native speakers account for about 38% of all Turkic speakers.

Characteristic features such as vowel harmony, agglutination, subject-object-verb order, and lack of grammatical gender, are almost universal within the Turkic family. There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility, upon moderate exposure, among the various Oghuz languages, which include Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Qashqai, Chaharmahali Turkic, Gagauz, and Balkan Gagauz Turkish, as well as Oghuz-influenced Crimean Tatar. Although methods of classification vary, the Turkic languages are usually considered to be divided equally into two branches: Oghur, the only surviving member of which is Chuvash, and Common Turkic, which includes all other Turkic languages including the Oghuz sub-branch.

Turkic languages show many similarities with the Mongolic, Tungusic, Koreanic, and Japonic languages. These similarities have led some linguists to propose an Altaic language family, though this proposal is widely rejected by Western historical linguists. Similarities with the Uralic languages even caused these families to be regarded as one for a long time under the Ural-Altaic hypothesis. However, there has not been sufficient evidence to conclude the existence of either of these macrofamilies, the shared characteristics between the languages being attributed presently to extensive prehistoric language contact.



Kuli Chur inscription
Old Turkic Kul-chur inscription with the Old Turkic alphabet (c. 8th century). Töv Province, Mongolia

The homeland of the Turkic peoples and their language is suggested to be somewhere between the Transcaspian steppe and Northeastern Asia (Manchuria), with genetic evidence pointing to the region near South Siberia and Mongolia as the "Inner Asian Homeland" of the Turkic ethnicity. Similarly several linguists, including Juha Janhunen, Roger Blench and Matthew Spriggs, suggest that modern-day Mongolia is the homeland of the early Turkic language. Relying on Proto-Turkic lexical items about the climate, topography, flora, fauna, people's modes of subsistence, Turkologist Peter Benjamin Golden locates the Proto-Turkic Urheimat in the southern, taiga-steppe zone of the Sayan-Altay region.

Extensive contact took place between Proto-Turks and Proto-Mongols approximately during the first millennium BC; the shared cultural tradition between the two Eurasian nomadic groups is called the "Turco-Mongol" tradition. The two groups shared a similar religion system, Tengrism, and there exists a multitude of evident loanwords between Turkic languages and Mongolic languages. Although the loans were bidirectional, today Turkic loanwords constitute the largest foreign component in Mongolian vocabulary.

Some lexical and extensive typological similarities between Turkic and the nearby Tungusic and Mongolic families, as well as the Korean and Japonic families has in more recent years been instead attributed to prehistoric contact amongst the group, sometimes referred to as the Northeast Asian sprachbund. A more recent (circa first millennium BC) contact between "core Altaic" (Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic) is distinguished from this, due to the existence of definitive common words that appear to have been mostly borrowed from Turkic into Mongolic, and later from Mongolic into Tungusic, as Turkic borrowings into Mongolic significantly outnumber Mongolic borrowings into Turkic, and Turkic and Tungusic do not share any words that do not also exist in Mongolic.

Turkic languages also show some Chinese loanwords that point to early contact during the time of Proto-Turkic.

Robbeets (et al. 2015 and et al. 2017) suggest that the homeland of the Turkic languages was somewhere in Manchuria, close to the Mongolic, Tungusic and Koreanic homeland (including the ancestor of Japonic), and that these languages share a common "Transeurasian" origin. More evidence for the proposed ancestral "Transeurasian" origin was presented by Nelson et al. 2020 and Li et al. 2020.

Early written records

Irk bitig 07
The 10th-century Irk Bitig ("Book of Divination") from Dunhuang, written in Old Uyghur language with the Orkhon script, is an important literary source for early Turko-Mongol mythology.

The first established records of the Turkic languages are the eighth century AD Orkhon inscriptions by the Göktürks, recording the Old Turkic language, which were discovered in 1889 in the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia. The Compendium of the Turkic Dialects (Divânü Lügati't-Türk), written during the 11th century AD by Kaşgarlı Mahmud of the Kara-Khanid Khanate, constitutes an early linguistic treatment of the family. The Compendium is the first comprehensive dictionary of the Turkic languages and also includes the first known map of the Turkic speakers' geographical distribution. It mainly pertains to the Southwestern branch of the family.

The Codex Cumanicus (12th–13th centuries AD) concerning the Northwestern branch is another early linguistic manual, between the Kipchak language and Latin, used by the Catholic missionaries sent to the Western Cumans inhabiting a region corresponding to present-day Hungary and Romania. The earliest records of the language spoken by Volga Bulgars, the parent to today's Chuvash language, are dated to the 13th–14th centuries AD.

Geographical expansion and development

Yuntai Uyghur east wall
Yuan dynasty Buddhist inscription written in Old Uyghur language with Old Uyghur alphabet on the east wall of the Cloud Platform at Juyong Pass

With the Turkic expansion during the Early Middle Ages (c. 6th–11th centuries AD), Turkic languages, in the course of just a few centuries, spread across Central Asia, from Siberia to the Mediterranean. Various terminologies from the Turkic languages have passed into Persian, Hindustani, Ukrainian, Russian, Chinese, Mongolian, Hungarian and to a lesser extent, Arabic.

The geographical distribution of Turkic-speaking peoples across Eurasia since the Ottoman era ranges from the North-East of Siberia to Turkey in the West. (See picture in the box on the right above.)

For centuries, the Turkic-speaking peoples have migrated extensively and intermingled continuously, and their languages have been influenced mutually and through contact with the surrounding languages, especially the Iranian, Slavic, and Mongolic languages.

This has obscured the historical developments within each language and/or language group, and as a result, there exist several systems to classify the Turkic languages. The modern genetic classification schemes for Turkic are still largely indebted to Samoilovich (1922).

The Turkic languages may be divided into six branches:

  • Common Turkic
    • Southwestern (Oghuz Turkic)
    • Southeastern (Karluk Turkic)
    • Northwestern (Kipchak Turkic)
    • Northeastern (Siberian Turkic)
    • Arghu Turkic
  • Oghur Turkic

In this classification, Oghur Turkic is also referred to as Lir-Turkic, and the other branches are subsumed under the title of Shaz-Turkic or Common Turkic. It is not clear when these two major types of Turkic can be assumed to have diverged.

With less certainty, the Southwestern, Northwestern, Southeastern and Oghur groups may further be summarized as West Turkic, the Northeastern, Kyrgyz-Kipchak, and Arghu (Khalaj) groups as East Turkic.

Geographically and linguistically, the languages of the Northwestern and Southeastern subgroups belong to the central Turkic languages, while the Northeastern and Khalaj languages are the so-called peripheral languages.

Hruschka, et al. (2014) use computational phylogenetic methods to calculate a tree of Turkic based on phonological sound changes.

A classification scheme of all the Turkic languages

Other possible relations

The Turkic language family is currently regarded as one of the world's primary language families. Turkic is one of the main members of the controversial Altaic language family. There are some other theories about an external relationship but none of them are generally accepted.

Languages by native speakers

Further information: Lists of endangered languages, List of endangered languages in Russia, and List of endangered languages in China

The Turkic languages are a language family of at least 35 documented languages, spoken by the Turkic peoples. The number of speakers derived from statistics or estimates (2019) and were rounded:

Number Name Branch Status Native Speakers Main Country Main Writing System
1 Turkish language Oghuz languages Normal 76,000,000  Turkey Latin
2 Uzbek language Karluk languages Normal 35,000,000  Uzbekistan Latin
3 Azerbaijani language Oghuz languages Normal 30,000,000  Azerbaijan Latin
5 Uyghur language Karluk languages Normal 25,000,000  China Perso-Arabic
4 Kazakh language Kipchak languages Normal 19,000,000  Kazakhstan Latin
6 Turkmen language Oghuz languages Normal 7,000,000  Turkmenistan Latin
7 Tatar language Kipchak languages Normal 5,500,000  Russia Cyrillic
8 Kyrgyz language Kipchak languages Normal 5,000,000  Kyrgyzstan Cyrillic
9 Bashkir language Kipchak languages Vulnerable 1,500,000  Russia Cyrillic
10 Chuvash language Oghur languages Vulnerable 1,200,000  Russia Cyrillic
11 Qashqai language Oghuz languages Normal 1,000,000  Iran Perso-Arabic
12 Khorasani Turkic language Oghuz languages Vulnerable 1,000,000  Iran Perso-Arabic
13 Karakalpak language Kipchak languages Normal 650,000  Uzbekistan Latin
14 Crimean Tatar language Kipchak languages Severely endangered 600,000  Ukraine Latin
15 Kumyk language Kipchak languages Vulnerable 450,000  Russia Cyrillic
16 Karachay-Balkar language Kipchak languages Vulnerable 400,000  Russia Cyrillic
17 Yakut language Siberian Turkic languages Vulnerable 400,000  Russia Cyrillic
18 Tuvan language Siberian Turkic languages Vulnerable 300,000  Russia Cyrillic
19 Urum language Oghuz languages Definitely endangered 200,000  Ukraine Cyrillic
20 Gagauz language Oghuz languages Critically endangered 150,000 Flag of Moldova.svg Moldova Latin
21 Siberian Tatar language Kipchak languages Definitely endangered 100,000  Russia Cyrillic
22 Nogai language Kipchak languages Definitely endangered 100,000  Russia Cyrillic
23 Salar language Oghuz languages Vulnerable 70,000  China Latin
24 Altai language Siberian Turkic languages Severely endangered 60,000  Russia Cyrillic
25 Khakas language Siberian Turkic languages Definitely endangered 50,000  Russia Cyrillic
26 Khalaj language Arghu Turkic language Vulnerable 20,000  Iran Perso-Arabic
27 Äynu language Karluk languages Critically endangered 6,000  China Perso-Arabic
28 Western Yugur language Siberian Turkic languages Severely endangered 5,000  China Latin
29 Shor language Siberian Turkic languages Severely endangered 3,000  Russia Cyrillic
30 Dolgan language Siberian Turkic languages Definitely endangered 1,000  Russia Cyrillic
31 Krymchak language Kipchak languages Critically endangered 200  Israel Hebrew
32 Ili Turki language Karluk languages Severely endangered 100  China Cyrillic
33 Tofa language Siberian Turkic languages Critically endangered 100  Russia Cyrillic
34 Karaim language Kipchak languages Critically endangered 100  Ukraine Cyrillic
35 Chulym language Siberian Turkic languages Critically endangered 50  Russia Cyrillic
Total Turkic languages Common Turkic languages Normal 179,000,000  Turkey Latin

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Lenguas túrquicas para niños

kids search engine
Turkic languages Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.