Proto-Turkic language

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Reconstruction ofTurkic languages
RegionProbably Mongolia
Erac. 500 BCE

Proto-Turkic is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Turkic languages that was spoken by the Proto-Turks before their divergence into the various Turkic peoples. Proto-Turkic separated into Oghur (western) and Common Turkic (eastern) branches. One estimate postulates Proto-Turkic to have been spoken 2,500 years ago in East Asia.[1]

The oldest records of a Turkic language, the Old Turkic Orkhon inscriptions of the 7th century Göktürk khaganate, already shows characteristics of Eastern Common Turkic and reconstruction of Proto-Turkic must rely on comparisons of Old Turkic with early sources of the Western Common Turkic branches, such as Oghuz and Kypchak, as well as the Western Oghur proper (Bulgar, Chuvash, Khazar). Because early attestation of these non-easternmost languages is much more sparse, reconstruction of Proto-Turkic still rests fundamentally on the easternmost Old Turkic of the Göktürks.



The consonant system had a two-way contrast of stop consonants (fortis vs. lenis), k, p, t vs. g, b, d. There was also an affricate consonant, ç; at least one sibilant s and sonorants m, n, ń, ŋ, r, ŕ, l, ĺ with a full series of nasal consonants.

The sounds denoted by ń, ĺ, ŕ refer to palatalized sounds and have been claimed by Altaicists to be direct inheritances from Proto-Altaic. The last two can be reconstructed with the aid of the Oghur languages, which show /r, l/ for *ŕ, *ĺ, while Common Turkic has *z, *š. Oghuric is thus sometimes referred to as Lir-Turkic and Common Turkic as Shaz-Turkic.

However, an alternate theory holds that Common Turkic is closer to the original state of affairs and reconstructs Proto-Turkic *z, *š. The glottochronological reconstruction based on analysis of isoglosses and Sinicisms points to the timing of the r/z split at around 56 BCE–48 CE. As A. V. Dybo puts it, that may be associated with

the historical situation that can be seen in the history of the Huns' division onto the Northern and Southern [groups]: the first separation and withdrawal of the Northern Huns to the west has occurred, as was stated above, in 56 BC,... the second split of the (Eastern) Huns into the northern and southern groups happened in 48 AD.[2]

Dybo suggests that during that period, the Northern branch steadily migrated from Western Mongolia through Southern Xinjiang into the north's Dzungaria and then finally into Kazakhstan's Zhetysu until the 5th century.[2]

There was no fortis-lenis contrast in word-initial position: the initial stops were always *b, *t, *k, the affricate was always () and the sibilant was always *s. In addition, the nasals and the liquids did not occur in that position either.[3]

Bilabial Dental or
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives and
Fortis *p *t *⟨ç⟩ t͡ʃ *k
Lenis *b *d *g
Sibilants *s *h
Nasals *m *n *⟨ń⟩ nʲ
Liquids Lateral(s) *l *⟨ĺ⟩ lʲ
Rhotic(s) *r *⟨ŕ⟩ rʲ
Semivowel *j

The velars /k/ and /g/ seem to have had back and front allophones ([q] and [k], [ɢ] and [g]) according to their environments, and the lenis stops /b/, /d/ and /g/ may have tended towards fricatives intervocalically.[4]


Like most of its descendants, Proto-Turkic exhibited vowel harmony, distinguishing vowel qualities a, e, ı, o, u vs. ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, as well as two vowel quantities. Here, macrons represent long vowels. The existence of a mid back unrounded *e is not accepted by all scholars,[5] nor is that of a mid front unrounded .[6] The phonemicity of the distinction between the two close unrounded vowels, i.e. front and back , is also rejected by some.[6]

front back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
high *ï, *ï̄ /i/ *ü, *ǖ /y/ *ı, *ī /ɨ/ *u, *ū /u/
mid *ë, *ë̄ /e/ *ö, *ȫ /ø/~/œ/ *e, *ē /ə/ *o, *ō /o/
low *ä, *ǟ /ɛ/ *a, *ā /ä/ -


This section deals mainly with Róna-Tas (1998). However, some of his reconstructions of Proto-Turkic have some Common Turkic features like substituting *-z for palatalized *-ŕ.


Plural of nouns are formed by the suffix *-lAr, however, the Chuvash plural -sem <-сем> seems to be a late replacement. Reconstructable possessive suffixes in Proto-Turkic includes 1sg *-m, 2sg *-ŋ, and 3sg *-(s)i, plurals of the possessors are formed by *-z in Common Turkic languages.


The reconstructable suffixes for the verbs include:

  • Aorist: *-Vr
  • Past: *-dI
  • Negative suffix: *-mA
  • 1sg: *-m < *-män < *bän
  • 2sg: *-n < *sän
  • 3sg: *-∅ <
  • 1pl: *-mïz/*-bïz < *bïz
  • 2pl: *-sïz < *sïz

Proto-Turkic also involves derivation with grammatical voice suffixes, as in cooperative *körüš, middle *körün, passive *körül, and causative *körtkür.



Proto-Turkic Turkish Azeri Turkmen Kazakh Chuvash Karakhanid Uzbek Bashkir Kyrgyz Sakha (Yakut)
I *bë,[7][8] *bän-[9][10] ben, ban- mən men men, ma- e-pĕ, man- men, man- men min men min
you *së,[7][11] *sän- sen, san- sən sen sen, sa-, siz e-sĕ, san- sen, san- sen, siz hin sen, siz en
he/she/it *an-, *o-l on-, o on-, o ol on-, o-l un-, văl an-, ol u ul al kini, ol[12]
we *bïŕ biz biz biz biz pir- biz biz beð biz bihigi
you (plural) *sïŕ siz siz siz sender, sizder sir- siz sizlar heð siler, sizder ehigi
they *o-lar[13] on-lar onlar olar olar vĕsem, vĕsen- olar ular ular alar kiniler, ollor


Proto-Turkic Oghur Turkic Common Turkic
Volga Bulgar Chuvash Karakhanid Turkish Azeri Turkmen Kazakh Uzbek Bashkir Kyrgyz Sakha (Yakut)
1 *bï̄r بر (bir) pĕr bīr bir bir bir bir bir ber bir biir
2 *ëkï اَكِ (eki) ikĕ ikkī iki iki iki eki ikki ike eki ikki
3 *üç وج (več) viśĕ üč üç üç üç üsh uch ös üč üs
4 *dȫrt تُوات (tüvet) tăvată tȫrt dört dörd dört tört to'rt dürt tört tüört
5 *bë̄ĺ(k) بيال (byel) pilĕk bḗš beş beş bäş bes besh biş beş bies
6 *altı اَلطِ (altï) ultă altï̄ altı altı alty altı olti altı altı alta
7 *jëtï جىَاتِ (čyeti) śičĕ yétī yedi yeddi ýedi jeti yetti yete jeti sette
8 *säkïŕ ڛَكِڔ (sekir) sakăr sekiz sekiz səkkiz sekiz segiz sakkiz higeð segiz aаğıs
9 *tokuŕ طُخِڔ (tuxïr) tăhăr tokūz dokuz doqquz dokuz toğız to'qqiz tuğıð toguz toğus
10 *ōn وان (van) vună ōn on on on on o'n un on uon
20 *jëgïrmï جِيِرم (čiyirim) śirĕm yegirmī yirmi iyirmi ýigrimi jıyırma yigirma yegerme jıyırma süürbe
30 *otuŕ وطر (vutur) văḍăr ottuz otuz otuz otuz otız o'ttiz utıð otuz otut
40 *kırk حرح (xïrïx) hĕrĕh kïrk kırk qırx kyrk qırıq qirq qırq kırk -
50 *ällïg اَلُّ (ellü) allă ellig elli əlli elli eliw ellik ille elüü -
60 *ältmıĺ - utmăl altmïš altmış altmış altmyş alpıs oltmish altmış altımış -
70 *jëtmïĺ - śitmĕl yetmiš yetmiş yetmiş ýetmiş jetpis yetmish yetmeş jetimiş -
80 *säkïŕ ōn سكر وان (sekir van) sakărvun seksȫn seksen səksən segsen seksen sakson hikhän seksen ağıs uon
90 *tokuŕ ōn طوخر وان (tuxïr van) tăhărvun toksōn doksan doxsan dogsan toqsan to'qson tuqhan tokson toğus uon
100 *jǖŕ جُور (čǖr) śĕr yǖz yüz yüz ýüz jüz yuz yöð jüz süüs
1000 *bıŋ - pin miŋ bin min müň mıñ ming meñ miñ muñ


  1. ^ Janhunen, Juha (2013). "Personal pronouns in Core Altaic". In Martine Irma Robbeets; Hubert Cuyckens (eds.). Shared Grammaticalization: With special focus on the Transeurasian languages. p. 223. ISBN 9789027205995.
  2. ^ a b Dybo, A. V. (2007). Chronology of Turkic languages and linguistic contacts of early Turks (PDF) (in Russian). Moscow. p. 770. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-03-11.
  3. ^ Róna-Tas 1998: 71
  4. ^ Johanson 1998: 97. History of Turkic. In: Johanson, Lars; Csató, Éva (eds.). The Turkic Languages. London: Taylor & Francis. pp. 81-125.
  5. ^ Róna-Tas 1998: 70
  6. ^ a b Johanson 1998: 90-91. History of Turkic. In: Johanson, Lars; Csató, Éva (eds.). The Turkic Languages. London: Taylor & Francis. pp. 81-125.
  7. ^ a b Georg, Stefan (2004-12-22). "Review of Starostin, Dybo, Mudrak, Gruntov & Glumov (2003): Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages". Diachronica. 21 (2): 445–450. doi:10.1075/dia.21.2.12geo. ISSN 0176-4225.
  8. ^ "Turkic etymology : Query result". Retrieved 2021-09-23.
  9. ^ "Reconstruction:Proto-Turkic/ben", Wiktionary, 2021-08-20, retrieved 2021-09-23
  10. ^ "Proto-Turkic/Pronouns and numbers - Wikibooks, open books for an open world". Retrieved 2021-09-23.
  11. ^ "Turkic etymology : Query result". Retrieved 2021-09-23.
  12. ^ In Sakha (AKA Yakut), kini(ler) is used for animate referents whereas ol(lor) is used for inanimate referents. While the latter is cognate with other third person forms given here, the former descends from Proto-Turkic *gëntü, *këntü '(him/her)self' and is thus cognate, for example, with Turkish kendi.
  13. ^ This pronoun are constructed by adding a plural suffix to *o-l "he/she/it". However, an Oghur language Chuvash uses a completely different plural suffix that lacks vowel harmony, -sem. According to Róna-Tas (1998), -sem is a late replacement to *-lAr.


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