Khitan language

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Khita-i small.png
Native to northeastern China, southeastern Mongolia
Region Northern
Extinct c. 1243 (Yelü Chucai, last person known who could speak and write Khitan)
  • Khitan
Khitan large script and Khitan small script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 zkt
Glottolog kita1247[1]

Khitan or Kitan (Khita-i.png in large script or Khita-i small.png in small, Khitai;[2] Chinese: t 契丹, Qìdānyǔ), also known as Liao, is a now-extinct language once spoken by the Khitan people (4th to 13th century). It was the official language of the Liao dynasty (907–1125) and the Qara Khitai (1124–1218).


Khitan appears to have been related to the Mongolic languages;[3] Juha Janhunen states, "[T]he conception is gaining support that Khitan was a language in some respects radically different from the historically known Mongolic languages. If this view proves to be correct, Khitan is, indeed, best classified as a Para-Mongolic language."[4]

Alexander Vovin (2017)[5] notes that Khitan has many Koreanic loanwords, pointing to intensive contact between Korean and Khitans. A possible shared origin of Khitan and Koreanic is possible. Both of the Korean's Goryeo dynasty and Kihtan's Liao dynasty claimed themselves to be successors of Goguryeo, thus it is possible to assume the Koreanic words in Khitan were derived from the language of Goguryeo.


Khitan was written using two mutually exclusive writing systems known as the Khitan large script and the Khitan small script.[4] The small script, which was a syllabary, was used until the Jurchen-speaking Jin dynasty (1115–1234) replaced it[clarification needed] in 1191.[6] The large script was logographic like Chinese.


The History of Liao contains a volume of Khitan words transcribed in Chinese characters titled "Glossary of National Language" (國語解). It is found in Chapter 116.[7][8][9][10]

The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty erroneously identified the Khitan people and their language with the Solons, leading him to use the Solon language to "correct" Chinese character transcriptions of Khitan names in the History of Liao in his Imperial Liao-Jin-Yuan Three Histories National Language Explanation (欽定遼金元三史國語解) project.

The Liao dynasty referred to the Khitan language with the term Guoyu 國語 "National language", which was also used by other non-Han Chinese dynasties in China to refer to their languages like Manchu of the Qing, Classical Mongolian during the Yuan dynasty, Jurchen during the Jin, and Xianbei during the Northern Wei. Even today, Mandarin is referred to in Taiwan as Guoyu.


There are several closed systems of Khitan lexical items for which systematic information is available.[11] The following is a list of words in these closed systems that are similar to Mongolic. Mongolian equivalents are given after the English translation:


Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation
heu.ur spring qabur havar
ju.un summer jun zun autumn namur namar
u.ul winter ebül övöl


Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation
*omc one onca 'unique' onts (unique) second jirin 'two' jirin (two), jiremsen (double/pregnant) third gurba 'three' gurav, gurvan, guramsan (triple)
durer/duren fourth dörben döröv, dörvön
tau five tabun tav, tavan fifth tabu-daki tav dahi
*nil six jirgugan zurgaa (innovation "jir'gur" or 2x3) seventh dologa 'seven' doloo
nyo.i eight nayim 'eight' naim
*is, onyo nine yesü yüs, yüsön
jau hundred jagun zuu, zuun
ming thousand minggan myanga, myangan

Compared with Khitan, The Tungusic numerals of the Jurchen language differ significantly: three=ilan, five=shunja, seven=nadan, nine=uyun, hundred=tangu.


Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation
te.qo.a chicken taqiya tahia
ni.qo dog noqai nohoi bird sibuga shuvuu
em.a goat imaga yamaa rabbit taulai tuulai
mo.ri horse mori mori
uni cow üniye ünee
mu.ho.o snake mogoi mogoi


Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation
ud.ur east doruna dorno left jegün züün
bo.ra.ian right baragun baruun
dau.ur.un middle dumda dund
xe.du.un horizontal köndelen höndölön
ja.cen.i border jaqa zasan, zaag


Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation
suni night söni shönö
un.n/un.e now,present önö önöö

Personal relations[edit]

Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation blood cisu tsus
mo ku female eme em
deu younger brother degü düü friend nayija naiz uncle nagaca nagats
s.ia/s.en good sayin sain
g.en.un sadness, regret genü='to regret' in the letter of Arghun Khan) genen, gem
ku person kümün hün, hümün

Tribal administration[edit]

Khitan Translation Mongolian script
cau.ur war cagur, as in "tsa'urgalan dairakh"
nai/nai.d heads, officials "-d" is a plural suffix=noyan, noyad for plural
t.em- to bestow a title temdeg 'sign'
k.em decree kem kemjiye 'law/norm' letter üseg
ui matter üile
qudug blessed qutug part, section, province keseg military unit of thousand minggan

Basic verbs[edit]

Khitan Translation Mongolian script
p.o become bol-
p.o.ju raise(intr.) bos- fall una- transfer kür-ge-
u- give ög-
sa- to reside sagu-
a- be a- 'live', as in "aj ahui"

Natural objects[edit]

Khitan Translation Mongolian script modern Mongolian pronunciation
eu.ul cloud egüle üül dew sigüderi shüüder
sair moon sara sar
nair sun nara nar
m.em/ silver mönggö möng

The Liaoshi records in Chapter 53:


In the national (Khitan) language this day (5th day of the 5th lunar month) is called 'Tao Saiyier'. 'Tao' means five; 'Saiyier' means moon/month.

'Tao Saiyier' corresponds to Mongolian 'tavan sar' (fifth moon/month).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kitan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ "Khitan" at Omniglot.
  3. ^ Herbert Franke, John King Fairbank, Denis Crispin Twitchett, Roderick MacFarquhar, Denis Twitchett, Albert Feuerwerker. The Cambridge History of China, Vol. 3: Sui and T'ang China, 589–906. Part 1, p.364
  4. ^ a b Janhunen 2006, p. 393.
  5. ^ Vovin, Alexander (June 2017). "Koreanic loanwords in Khitan and their importance in the decipherment of the latter". Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 70 (2): 207–215. doi:10.1556/062.2017.70.2.4. ISSN 0001-6446. 
  6. ^ Janhunen 2006, p. 395.
  7. ^ 遼史/卷116 卷116.
  8. ^ pp. 123-125 Howorth, H. H.. 1881. “The Northern Frontagers of China. Part V. The Khitai or Khitans”. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 13 (2). Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 121–82.
  9. ^ Wilkinson, Endymion Porter (2000). Chinese History: A Manual. Volume 52 of Harvard Yenching Institute Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard-Yenching Institute monograph series (illustrated, revised ed.). Harvard Univ Asia Center. p. 864. ISBN 0674002490. ISSN 0073-084X. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  10. ^ Heming Yong; Jing Peng (14 August 2008). Chinese Lexicography : A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911: A History from 1046 BC to AD 1911. OUP Oxford. pp. 382–. ISBN 978-0-19-156167-2. 
  11. ^ Kane, Daniel The Kitan language and script 2009, Leiden, The Netherlands


Juha Janhunen (2006). The Mongolic Languages. Routledge. p. 393. ISBN 978-1-135-79690-7. 

Further reading[edit]

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