Kyrgyz language

Kyrgyz language

nativename= _ky. кыргыз тили, قىرعىز ٴتىلى
region=Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Xinjiang (China)
speakers=3,136,733 (1993)
fam1=Altaic [" [] Ethnologue"] (controversial)
fam3=Eastern Turkic
fam3=Kyrgyz-Altay group
or Kyrgyz-Kypchak group

Kyrgyz or Kirghiz (Кыргыз тили, "Kyrgyz tili", قىرعىز ٴتىلى) is a Turkic language, and, together with Russian, an official language of Kyrgyzstan. It is most closely related to Altay, and more distantly so to Kazakh.

Kyrgyz is spoken by about 4 million people in Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey (Asia), Uzbekistan, Pakistan (Chitral) and Russia. Kyrgyz is written in modified Cyrillic (Kyrgyzstan) and modified Arabic (China) scripts. A Latin script was used between 1928 and 1940 in Kyrgyzstan. After Kyrgyzstan gained independence in 1991, there was a popular idea among some of the Kyrgyz politicians to return Kyrgyz language back to the Latin alphabet, but this plan has never been implemented.


Pre-historic roots

The first people known certainly by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late eighth century. By the time of their destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location.

The forebears of the present-day Kyrgyz are believed by some to have been either southern Samoyed or Yeniseyan tribes who came into contact with Turkic culture after they conquered the Uygurs and settled the Orkhon area, site of the oldest recorded Turkic language, in the ninth century. The discovery of the Pazyryk and Tashtyk cultures show them as a blend of Turkic and Iranian nomadic tribes. Chinese and Muslim sources of the 7th–12th centuries AD describe the Kyrgyz as red-haired with fair complexion and green (blue) eyes.

The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberian population is confirmed on the other hand by the recent genetic studies [ [ The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity (pdf)] ] . Remarkably, 63% of the modern Kyrgyz men share Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) with Tajiks (64%), Ukrainians (54%), Poles (56%) and even Icelanders (25%). Haplogroup R1a1 (Y-DNA) is believed to be a marker of the Proto-Indo-European language speakers. This might explain the reportedly fair complexion and green or blue eyes of early Kyrgyz.

If descended from the Samoyed tribes of Siberia, the Kyrgyz would have spoken a language in the Uralic linguistic subfamily when they arrived in the Orkhon region; if descended from Yeniseyan tribes, they would have descended from a people of the same name who began to move into the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan from the Yenisey River region of central Siberia in the tenth century, after the Kyrgyz conquest of the Uygurs to the east in the preceding century. However, ethnographers dispute the Yeniseyan origin theory because of the very close cultural and linguistic connections between the Kyrgyz and the Kazaks. However, the earliest descriptions of the Kyrgyz in Chinese sources say they have 'red hair and green eyes', typical characteristics of caucasoid Indo-European speaking people of that time, many of whom still lived in Central Eurasia. Moreover, there does not seem to be any specifically linguistic reason to connect the Kyrgyz with either the Uralic or the Yeniseyan language families. It is uncertain if the Kyrgyz of modern times are actually the direct descendants of the early medieval Kyrgyz.


In the period of tsarist administration (1876-1917), the Kazaks and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz "black Kyrgyz" (Turkic groups often used colour terms to show division of the same group based on geography; black referred to southern groupsFacts|date=November 2007). Although the Kyrgyz language is genetically part of the same branch as Altay and other languages to the northeast of Kyrgyzstan, due to convergence with Kazak in recent times the modern language is somewhat similar to Kazak and both are sometimes considered to be part of the Nogai group of the Kipchak division of the Turkic languages. Nevertheless, despite the Kazak influence, Kyrgyz remains much closer to Altay than to Kazak. The modern Kyrgyz language did not have a standard written form until 1923, at which time an Arabic-based alphabet was introduced. That was changed to a Latin-based alphabet, developed by Kasym Tynystanov in 1928 and to a Cyrillic-based one in 1940. In the years immediately following independence, another change of alphabet was discussed, but the issue does not seem to generate the same passions in Kyrgyzstan that it does in other former Soviet republics, perhaps because the Kyrgyz Cyrillic alphabet is relatively simple and is particularly well-suited to the language.

Post-Soviet dynamics

One important difference between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is that the Kyrgyz people's mastery of their own language is almost universal, whereas the linguistic phase of national identity is not as clear in the much larger area and population of Kazakhstan. As in Kazakhstan, mastery of the "titular" language among the resident Europeans of Kyrgyzstan is very rare. In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of President Akayev's staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for "Kyrgyzification" of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. But in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan's parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz and marking a reversal of earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev.



In Xinjiang, a modified Arabic alphabet is used.

Morphology and Syntax


Nouns in Kyrgyz take a number of case endings that change based on vowel harmony and the sort of consonant they follow (see the section on phonology).

In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.

Relative Clauses

To form relative clauses, Kyrgyz nominalises verb phrases. For example, "I don't know what I saw" would be rendered as "Мен эмнени көргөнүмдү билбейм": I what-ACC.DEF see-ing-1st.SG-ACC.DEF know-NEG-1st.SG, or roughly "I don't know my having seen what," where the verb phrase "I saw what" is treated as a nominal object of the verb "to know."

Several nominalisation strategies are used depending on the temporal properties of the relativised verb phrase: -GAn(dIK) for general past tense, -AAr for future/potential unrealised events, and -A turgan(dɯq) for non-perfective events are the most common. The copula has an irregular relativised form экен(дик) which may be used equivalently to forms of the verb бол- "be" (болгон(дук), болоор). Relativised verb forms may, and often do, take nominal possessive endings as well as case endings.

ee also

*Romanization of Kyrgyz

External links

* [ Root Vowels and Affix Vowels: Height Effects in Kyrgyz Vowel Harmony]
* [ Kyrgyz Wiki]
* [ Kyrgyz exercises] (in Japanese)
* [ The Talking Kyrgyz Phrasebook]
* [ Кыргыз тили] - Kyrgyz language resources (in Russian)



* Library of Congress, Country Studies, Kyrgyzstan
* Comrie, Bernard. 1983. "The languages of the Soviet Union". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
* Beckwith, Christopher I. 1987/1993. "The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia." Princeton: Princeton University Press

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