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Turkic

Turkic (tûrˈkĭk) [key], group of languages forming a subdivision of the Altaic subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languages). The Turkic group of languages has a total of some 125 million speakers in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and parts of Russia and China. Turkish, the official language of Turkey, is the most important of these tongues and has the largest number of speakers, some 50 million, chiefly in Turkey. Other major Turkic languages include Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Tatar, Kazakh, Uigur, Turkmen, Chuvash, and Kyrgyz. The Turkic languages have been assigned to various groupings, an acceptable arrangement being the division into Southern (Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen, and Chuvash), Eastern (Uzbek and Uigur), and Western (Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tatar, and others). Such a classification is tentative, and more definite grouping awaits the results of further research. Like the other Uralic and Altaic languages, the Turkic tongues are characterized by agglutination and exhibit vowel harmony. They are also noted for an abundance of participles and gerunds. Several different scripts were used in the distant past by the Turkic-speaking peoples, but following their association with Islam in the 9th cent. A.D., they largely turned to the Arabic alphabet. After 1939, however, the Turkic-speaking peoples in the republics of the former USSR used modified versions of the Cyrillic alphabet. In the mid-1990s a number of the newly independent republics (Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) began to switch to Roman script; Kazakhstan began moving toward use of the Latin alphabet in 2006. The Russian republic of Tatarstan began its own switch in 2000, but Russian law subsequently mandated use of Cyrillic-based alphabets. Turkic-speakers in Chinese territory also use the Roman alphabet. In Turkey proper the change to a modified Roman alphabet was made in 1928.

See N. A. Baskakov, The Turkic Languages of Central Asia (1954); G. L. Lewis, Turkish Grammar (1967); K. H. Menges, The Turkic Languages and Peoples: An Introduction to Turkic Studies (1968).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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