Proto-Turkic language

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The Proto-Turkic language is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Turkic languages. It 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, with verb-initial b- becoming h- still in Proto-Turkic. There was also an affricate consonant, č; 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. This, as A. V. Dybo puts it 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.

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]

Bilabial Dental or
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosives and
Fortis *p *t *k
Lenis *b *d *g
Sibilants Voiceless *s *š (?) *h
Voiced *z (?)
Nasals *m *n
Liquids Lateral(s) *l *ĺ (?)
Rhotic(s) *r *ŕ (?)
Semivowel *j


Like all of its descendants, Proto-Turkic exhibited vowel harmony, a feature sometimes also ascribed to the so-called Proto-Altaic, distinguishing vowel qualities e, i, o, u vs. ë, ï, ö, ü besides a, as well as two vowel quantities.

front back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
high *i, *iː *ü, *üː *ï, *ïː *u, *uː
mid *e, *eː *ö, *öː *ë, *ëː *o, *oː
low *a, *aː




Proto-Turkic Turkish Chuvash
I *bẹ-n ben e-pĕ, man-
you *sẹ-n sen sĕn-
he/she/it *i-n- o (not cognate) un-
we *biz biz pir-
you (plural) *siz siz sir-
they *i-n- on-lar vĕsen-


Proto-Turkic Turkish Chuvash
1 *bir bir pĕr
2 *ėki iki ikĕ
3 *üč üç viśĕ
4 *tȫrt dört tăvată
5 *bēš beş pilĕk
6 *altï altı ultă
7 *yeti yedi śičĕ
8 *sekiz sekiz sakăr
9 *tokuz dokuz tăhăr
10 *on on vună
20 *yėgirmi yirmi śirĕm
30 *otuz otuz văḍăr
40 *kïrk kırk hĕrĕh
50 *elig elli allă
60 *altmïš altmış utmăl
70 *yetmïš yetmiş śitmĕl
80 *sekizon seksen sakărvun
90 *tokuzon doksan tăhărvun
100 *yǖz yüz śĕr


  1. ^ Janhunen, Juha (2013). "Personal pronouns in Core Altaic". In Martine Irma Robbeets; Hubert Cuyckens. Shared Grammaticalization: With Special Focus on the Transeurasian Languages. p. 223. 
  2. ^ Dybo, A. V.; "Chronology of Turkic languages and linguistic contacts of early Turks"; Moscow, 2007; p. 770 [1] (in Russian)


  • Antonov, Anton; Jacques, Guillaume (2012). "Turkic kümüš ‘silver’ and the lambdaism vs sigmatism debate". Turkic Languages. 15.2: 151–170. 
  • Gyula Décsy. The Turkic Protolanguage: A Computational Reconstruction (1998).
  • Gerard Clauson. Etymological dictionary of pre-thirteenth-century Turkish. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.
  • Vilhel Gronbech. Preliminary Studies in Turkic Historical Phonology (Uralic & Altaic), Curzon: Routledge, 1997, ISBN 0-7007-0935-5.
  • András Róna-Tas. ‘The Reconstruction of Proto-Turkic and the Genetic Question’, in The Turkic Languages. Edited by Lars Johanson and Éva Csató. London: Taylor & Francis, 1998, pp. 67–80. ISBN 0-415-08200-5.