The Turkic languages are a language family of at least thirty-five [12] languages, spoken by Turkic peoples from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China. The Turkic languages originated in a region of East Asia spanning Western China to Mongolia, where Proto-Turkic is thought to have been spoken, according to one estimate, around 2,500 years ago, [29] from where they expanded to Central Asia and farther west during the first millennium.

Turkic languages are spoken as a native language by some 170 million people, and the total number of Turkic speakers, including second-language speakers, is over 200 million. [4] The Turkic language with the greatest number of speakers is Turkish, spoken mainly in Anatolia and the Balkans, the native speakers of which account for about 40% of all Turkic speakers.

Characteristic features of Turkish, such as vowel harmony, agglutination, and lack of grammatical gender, are universal within the Turkic family. There is also a high degree of mutual intelligibility among the various Oghuz languages, which include Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Qashqai, Gagauz, Balkan Gagauz Turkish, and Oghuz -influenced Crimean Tatar. [5] 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 subbranch.

The characteristics of the Turkic family also show some similarities to the surrounding East Asian language families of the Mongolic, Tungusic, Koreanic, and Japonic languages, leading to the obsolete Altaic language family. Apparent similarities with the Uralic languages family even caused these families to be regarded as one for a long time under the hypothesis of Ural-Altaic languages. 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.


Turkic languages are null-subject languages, have vowel harmony, extensive agglutination by means of suffixes and postpositions, and lack of grammatical articles, noun classes, and grammatical gender. Subject–object–verb word order is universal within the family. The root of a word is basically of one, two or three consonants.


The geographical distribution of Turkic-speaking peoples across Eurasia ranges from the North-East of Siberia to Turkey in the West, since the Ottoman era (see picture in the box on the right above). [6]


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 religion, 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. The most famous of these loanwords include "lion" ( Turkish: aslan or arslan ; Mongolian: arslan ), "gold" (Turkish: altın ; Mongolian: altan or alt ), and "iron" (Turkish: demir ; Mongolian: tömör ).

Some lexical and extensive typological similarities between Turkic and the nearby Tungusic and Mongolic families, as well as the Korean and Japonic families (all formerly widely considered to be part of the so-called Altaic language family) 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 BCE) 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.

Early written records

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

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, Russian, Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Arabic.


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. [7]

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: [9]

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 actually 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 . [6]

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.


The following isoglosses are traditionally used in the classification of the Turkic languages: [9]

  • Rhotacism (or in some views, zetacism), e.g. in the last consonant of the word for "nine" * toqqız . This separates the Oghur branch, which exhibits /r/, from the rest of Turkic, which exhibits /z/. In this case, rhotacism refers to the development of *-/r/, *-/z/, and *-/d/ to /r/,*-/k/,*-/kh/ in this branch. [12] See Antonov and Jacques (2012) [12] on the debate concerning rhotacism and lambdacism in Turkic.
  • Intervocalic *d , e.g. the second consonant in the word for "foot" *hadaq
  • Word-final -G , e.g. in the word for "mountain" *tāğ
  • Suffix-final -G , e.g. in the suffix *lIG, in e.g. *tāğlığ

Additional isoglosses include:

  • Preservation of word initial *h , e.g. in the word for "foot" *hadaq. This separates Khalaj as a peripheral language.
  • Denasalisation of palatal *ń , e.g. in the word for "moon", *ań

*In the standard Istanbul dialect of Turkish, the ğ in dağ and dağlık is not realized as a consonant, but as a slight lengthening of the preceding vowel.


The following table is based upon the classification scheme presented by Lars Johanson (1998) [12]

Vocabulary comparison

The following is a brief comparison of cognates among the basic vocabulary across the Turkic language family (about 60 words).

Empty cells do not necessarily imply that a particular language is lacking a word to describe the concept, but rather that the word for the concept in that language may be formed from another stem and is not a cognate with the other words in the row or that a loanword is used in its place.

Also, there may be shifts in the meaning from one language to another, and so the "Common meaning" given is only approximate. In some cases the form given is found only in some dialects of the language, or a loanword is much more common (e.g. in Turkish, the preferred word for "fire" is the Persian-derived ateş , whereas the native od is dead). Forms are given in native Latin orthographies unless otherwise noted.

Common meaning Old Turkic Turkish Azerbaijani Qashqai Turkmen Tatar Bashkir Kazakh Kyrgyz Uzbek Uyghur Sakha/Yakut Chuvash
- Father, ancestor Ata Ata Ata Bowa/Ata Ata Äti Ata(y) Ata Ata Ota Ata Ata Atte
Mother Ana Ana/Anne Ana Ana/Nänä Ene Äni Inä(y)/Asay Ana Ene Ona Ana Anne
Son O'gul Oğul/Oğlan Oğul Oğul Ogul Ul Ul Ul Uul Oʻgʻil Oghul Uol Yvăl, Ul
Man Er(kek) Er(kek) Ər/Erkək Kiši Erkek İr İr(käk) Er(kek) Erkek Erkak Er Er Ar/Arşyn
Girl Kyz Kız Qız Qïz/Qez Gyz Qız Qıð Qız Kız Qiz Qiz Ky:s Hĕr
Person Kişi Kişi/Şahıs Kişi/Şəxs Adam Kişi Keshe Keşe Kisi Kishi Kishi Kishi Kihi Şyn
Bride Kelin Gelin Gəlin Gälin Gelin Kilen Kilen Kelin Kelin Kelin Kelin Kylyn Kin
Mother-in-law Kaynana Qaynana Qäynänä Gaýyn ene Qayın ana Qäynä Qayın ene Kaynene Qaynona Qeyinana Hun'ama
Body parts Heart Yürek Yürek Ürək Iräg/Üräg Ýürek Yöräk Yöräk Jürek Jürök Yurak Yürek Süreq Čĕre
Blood Qan Kan Qan Qan Gan Qan Qan Qan Kan Qon Qan Qa:n Jun
Head Baš Baş Baş Baš Baş Baş Baş Bas Bash Bosh Bash Bas Puś
Hair Qıl Saç/Kıl Saç/Qıl Tik/Qel Gyl Şäş/kıl Qıl Qıl Kıl Qil Qil Kıl Śüś/χul
Eye Köz Göz Göz Gez/Göz Göz Küz Küð Köz Köz Koʻz Köz Kos Kuś
Eyelash Kirpik Kirpik Kirpik Kirpig Kirpik Kerfek Kerpek Kirpik Kirpik Kiprik Kirpik Kirbi: Hărpăk
Ear Qulqaq Kulak Qulaq Qulaq Gulak Qolaq Qolaq Qulaq Kulak Quloq Qulaq Gulka:k Hălha
Nose Burun Burun Burun Burn Burun Borın Moron Murın Murun Burun Burun Murun
Arm Qol Kol Qol Qol Gol Qul Qul Qol Kol Qoʻl Qol Qol Hul/Hol
Hand El(ig) El Əl Äl El Alaqan Alakan Ilik Ili: Ală
Finger Barmak Parmak Barmaq Burmaq Barmak Barmaq Barmaq Barmaq Barmak Barmoq Barmaq Pürne/Porn'a
Fingernail Tyrnaq Tırnak Dırnaq Dïrnaq Dyrnak Tırnaq Tırnaq Tırnaq Tyrmak Tirnoq Tirnaq Tynyraq Čĕrne
Knee Tiz Diz Diz Diz Dyz Tez Teð, tubıq Tize Tize Tizza Tiz Tüsäχ Čĕrpuśśi
Calf Baltyr Baldır Baldır Ballïr Baldyr Baltır Baltır Baltır Baltyr Boldir Baldir Ballyr Pyl
Foot Adaq Ayak Ayaq Qeč/Ayaq Aýak Ayaq Ayaq Ayaq Ayak Oyoq Ayaq Ataq Ura
Belly Qaryn Karın Qarın Qarn Garyn Qarın Qarın Qarın Karyn Qorin Qerin Qaryn Hyrăm
Animals Horse At At At At At At At At At Ot At At Ut
Cattle Siyir, İnek Sığır, İnek İnək, Sığır Seğer Sygyr Sıyer Hıyır Sïır Sıyır Sigir Siyir Inax Vylăh
Dog Yt İt, Köpek İt Kepäg It Et Et Ït It It It Yt Jytă
Fish Balyq Balık Balıq Balïq Balyk Balıq Balıq Balıq Balık Baliq Beliq Balyk Pulă
Louse Bit Bit Bit Bit Bit Bet Bet Bït Bit Bit Pit Byt Pyjtă/Put'ă
Other nouns House Uy Ev Ev Äv Öý Öy Öy Üy Üy Uy Öy Av*
Tent Otag Çadır Otaq Čador Otag Otau Oʻtoq Otaq Otu: Čatăr
Way Yol Yol Yol Yol Ýol Yul Yul Jol Jol Yoʻl Yol Suol Śul
Bridge Köprüq Köprü Körpü Pol Köpri Küper Küper Köpir Köpürö Koʻprik Kövrük Kürpe Kĕper
Arrow Oq Ok Ox Ox/Tir Ok Uq Uq Oq Ok Oʻq Oq Uhă
Fire Ot Od Od Ot Ot Ut Ut Ot Ot Oʻt Ot Uot Vut/Vot
Ash Kül Kül Kül Kil/Kül Kül Köl Köl Kül Kül Kul Kül Kül Kĕl
Water Suv Su Su Su Suw Su Hıw Su Suu Suv Su Uu Šyv/Šu
Ship, boat Kemi Gemi Gəmi Käšti, Qayïq Gämi Köymä Kämä Keme Keme Kema Keme Kimĕ
Lake Köl Göl Göl Göl/Gel Köl Kül Kül Köl Köl Koʻl Köl Küöl Külĕ
Sun/Day Küneš Gün(eş) Gün(əş) Gin/Gün Gün Kön Kön Kün Kün Kun Kün Kün Kun
Cloud Bulut Bulut Bulud Bulut Bulut Bolıt Bolot Bult Bulut Bulut Bulut Bylyt Pĕlĕt
Star Yulduz Yıldız Ulduz Ulluz Ýyldyz Yoldız Yondoð Juldız Jıldız Yulduz Yultuz Sulus Śăltăr
Earth Topraq Toprak Torpaq Torpaq Toprak Tufraq Tupraq Topıraq Topurak Tuproq Tupraq Toburaχ Tăpra
Hilltop Töpü Tepe Təpə Yal Depe Tübä Tübä Töbe Töbö Tepa Töpe Töbö Tüpĕ
Tree/Wood Yağac Ağaç Ağac Ağaĵ Agaç Ağaş Ağas Ağaş Jygach Yogʻoch Yahach Jyvăś
God ( Tengri) Tengri Tanrı Tanrı Tarï/Allah/Xoda Taňry Täñre Täñre Täñiri Teñir Tangri Tengri Tanara Tură/Toră
Sky, Blue Kök Gök Göy Gey/Göy Gök Kük Kük Kök Kök Koʻk Kök Küöq Kăvak/Koak
Adjectives Long Uzun Uzun Uzun Uzun Uzyn Ozın Oðon Uzın Uzun Uzun Uzun Uhun Vărăm
New Yany Yeni Yeni Yeŋi Ýaňy Yaña Yañı Jaña Jañı Yangi Yengi Sana Śĕnĕ
Fat Semiz Semiz Šiš/Čaq Semiz Simez Himeð Semiz Semiz Semiz Semiz Emis Samăr
Full Tolu Dolu Dolu Dolu Doly Tulı Tulı Tolı Tolo Toʻla Toluq Toloru Tulli
White Aq Ak Aq Ak Aq Aq Aq Ak Oq Aq
Black Qara Kara Qara Qärä Gara Qara Qara Qara Kara Qora Qara Xara Xura
Red Qyzyl Kızıl Qızıl Qïzïl Gyzyl Qızıl Qıðıl Qızıl Kızıl Qizil Qizil Kyhyl Hĕrlĕ
Numbers 1 Bir Bir Bir Bir Bir Ber Ber Bir Bir Bir Bir Bi:r Pĕrre
2 Eki İki İki Ikki Iki İke İke Eki Eki Ikki Ikki Ikki Ikkĕ
4 Tört Dört Dörd Derd/Dörd Dört Dürt Dürt Tört Tört Toʻrt Tört Tüört Tăvattă
7 Yeti Yedi Yeddi Yeddi Ýedi Ğide Yete Jeti Jeti Yetti Yetti Sette Şichche
10 On On On On On Un Un On On Oʻn On Uon Vunna
100 Yüz Yüz Yüz Iz/Yüz Ýüz Yöz Yöð Jüz Jüz Yuz Yüz Sü:s Şĕr
Old Turkic Turkish Azerbaijani Qashqai Turkmen Tatar Bashkir Kazakh Kyrgyz Uzbek Uyghur Sakha/Yakut Chuvash

Some Turkic roots

Turkic speakers often use the same basic roots when forming names, so that names like "Aksu" and "Karakul" appear all over central Asia. Spellings vary with the language and transliteration system. Meanings can vary slightly with the language.

  • ak- white
  • altyn- gold
  • gok- blue
  • kara- black
  • kazyl- red
  • konye- old
  • sari- yellow
  • yani- new
  • -bash: head
  • -bulak: spring
  • -dag/-tag: mountain
  • -kalpak: hat
  • -kol: lake
  • -kurgan: tumulus /tower
  • -sakal: beard
  • -su: river
  • -tash: rock
  • -tepe: hill
  • -yar: cliff

See also