Friday, November 20, 2015

Turkic Languages: From Ainu to Western Yugur, Part 1

Just one month ago we dedicated a post to the Celtic languages, a small yet fascinating language family that includes Welsh, Breton, and Irish. Today we thought we'd look at a significantly larger language family that is used throughout Europe and Asia: the Turkic languages.

There are between 30 and 40 Turkic languages, depending on whether you classify certain varieties as languages or dialects. While linguistic classification is always a tricky thing, it is generally accepted that these languages can be divided into six branches, which is how we're going to look at them today and next Monday.

The Oghuz Languages

Ertu─črul Gazi Mosque in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
There are seven Oghuz languages, also known as the Southwestern Turkic languages. This group includes Turkish, the world's most spoken Turkic language. There are over 70 million native speakers of Turkish in the world, with the majority of them residing in Turkey. This represents over a third of the world's total speakers of Turkic languages!

The next largest Oghuz languages are Azerbaijani and Turkmen. There are about 25 million native speakers of Azerbaijani's two major varieties: North Azerbaijani, which is spoken in Azerbaijan, and South Azerbaijani, which is used in Iran. Turkmen, on the other hand, has about 7.5 million native speakers worldwide, including nearly 3.5 million in Turkmenistan, where it is the official language.

The four final Oghuz languages are Qashqai, Khorosani Turkish, Balkan Gagauz Turkish, and Gagauz. The first two languages are primarily spoken in Iran, with about 1.5 million speakers of Qashqai and 400,000 speakers of Khorosani Turkish. Balkan Gagauz Turkish is used by over 300,000 people in Turkey, while over 100,000 people in Moldova speak Gagauz.

The Kipchak Languages

The Northwestern Turkic languages, also known as the Kipchak languages, are the largest branch of the Turkic language family. In terms of speakers, the most important language that belongs to this group is Kazakh, which boasts over 12 million native speakers. It is primarily spoken in Kazakhstan, where it is an official language. Kyrgyz, an official language of Kyrgyzstan, earns the second spot in this language group, with about 4 million native speakers.

Several of the Kipchak languages are primarily spoken in Russia. It is home to over 5 million native speakers of the Tatar language, as well as 1.2 million speakers of Bashkir, which has official status in the Republic of Bashkortostan. Four other Kipchak languages used in Russia are Kumyk, Karachay-Balkar, Siberian Tatar, and Nogai, which all have under 400,000 native speakers.

Kipchak languages are also spoken in Ukraine, Georgia, and Uzbekistan. There are about 400,000 native speakers of Crimean Tatar in Ukraine, while the Urum language is spoken by about 190,000 people in Georgia and Ukraine. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, is home to about 400,000 native speakers of the Karakalpak language.

Finally, there are two endangered languages used by Jewish ethnic groups that have been heavily influenced by Hebrew. There are thought to be around 200 Krimchak speakers in Ukraine, as well as about 50 Karaim speakers in Lithuania.

Check back on Monday to learn about rest of the Turkic languages, including the Karluk and Siberian branches of this language family!

Part 1 | Part 2