Category Archives: Turkic

o > u in Anatri Chuvash

The Helsinki university library’s copy of the two-volume collection Материалы по чувашской диалектологии (Čeboksary, 1960–1963) has inserted into it András Róna-Tas’s review of it from Acta Orientalia XVIII (1965). I found this passage very important:

It was supposed formerly that the o > u development of Anatri is not a very old feature but we had no chronological evidence. The oldest monuments of the present Chuvash language (Strahlenberg 1730, the first Chuvash grammar 1769) show forms with o. But since Virjal has preserved o till the present the problem has remained unsolved. In this respect it is very important that Kornilov found in the tongue of Bardjaš (Bashkir ASR) the phone u in the same positions as it is present in the Anatri dialect. The inhabitants of this village had come to their present dwelling-place before 1770 and have since this time had no connections with the Chuvash-speaking people of the Chuvash ASSR. This can be a proof that the phoneme u was already present in Anatri in the first half of the 18th-century, and at the same time it is an indirect reason for locating the material of Strahlenberg to a Virjal dialect.

Here Róna-Tas is referring to G. E. Kornilov’s paper “Некоторые материалы для характеристики говора села Бердяш Зилаирского район Башкирской АССР”, pp. 133–161 of the second volume. Kornilov gives forms like вунӑ ‘10’, пулапр ‘we will be’ (cf. Cv. lit. пулаппӑр) and so forth.

All the more of an impetus to read up on the Mari and Chuvash dialects of Bashkiria in studying the prehistory of these languages. I all too often forget that there is a world of dialectal variation outside the borders of these peoples’ titular republics.

Mari and Chuvash potatoes

The series of article collections Диалекты и топонимия Поволжья that the Chuvash state university in Cheboksary published in 1972–1977, is a great resource on language contacts in the Volga–Kama region, and anyone interested should really read all of it now, because the print on these low-quality mimeographs of typescripts is fading so quickly that already many passages are illegible in at least the Helsinki university library’s copies. Two papers in this series deal with the terms for ‘potato’ in Mari and Chuvash respectively. As potatoes reached Eurasia from the Americas only fairly recently, after many languages had already separated into divergent dialects, there is often a colourful array of names for the plant (a similar situation can be found with terms for ‘maize’ in various regions).

As F. I. Gordeev explains in his paper on the Mari terms (vol. 5, 1977, pp. 11–22), potatoes were not cultivated in the Mari lands until the mid 19th century. Therefore, there is no mention of the potato in the earliest Mari vocabularies published in the 18th century. From the 1860s on, however, the crop proved immensely popular (it was certainly the only thing I’ve ever seen planted during my visits to Mari El). Gordeev lists the following terms:

  • Variants of Russian картофель, such as карт, картопка, картофка, etc.;
  • пареҥге, the word in the Mari literary language, or slightly phonetically different forms. This is clearly a loan from Tatar бәрәңге, a word that Gordeev claims is ultimately from Russian Парфён, supposedly the name of a trader who introduced the potato to the region, though this sounds to me like rather an urban myth;
  • рокмын < рок ‘earth’, мыны ‘egg’, lit. ‘egg from the ground’;
  • роколма < рок ‘earth’, олма ‘apple’, lit. ‘apple from the ground’ (cf. French pomme de terre or, as Gordeev points out, Moksha модамарь), this is found in the Hill Mari region;
  • рокома < рок ‘earth’, олма ‘apple’, lit. ‘apple from the ground’, this on the other hand is found in the Meadow Mari region;
  • тури, турти, турицки, for which Gordeev gives no etymology except to point out that the last seems to contain the Russian suffix ‑ски.

Chuvash names for ‘potato’ are treated in a paper by L. P. Sergeev (vol. 1, 1972, p. 53–62). He distinguishes six names for the plant across the Chuvash dialects:

  • ҫӗрулми < ҫӗр ‘earth’, улма ‘apple’;
  • паранкӑ, which Sergeev claims contains an ancient Chuvash suffix ‑кӑ (so the word would be < паран + ‑кӑ) and the compound has been used for other plants like nightshade and found in toponyms, so it must be of Chuvash origin and fairly old;
  • карттохкартахви < Russian;
  • калтток < Russian;
  • кантук < Russian.

The respective papers delineate the exact regions where each of these terms is found. The two different explanations of the пареҥгепаранкӑ presents a mystery, but I suspect that tracking down a similar paper somewhere on Tatar names for ‘potato’ (which would discuss бәрәңге) may shed more light on this.

Various Turkic–Mongolic etymological observations

Preparing to study Mongolian from Krueger’s An Introduction to Classical (Literary) Mongolian (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 3rd edition 1993), I’ve been re-reading the Routledge Language Family Surveys volume The Mongolic Languages ed. Juha Janhunen. Below are some musings on and follow-ups to trivia within.

Examples of some crucial [Khalka] consonant contrasts: ad [at] ‘demon’ vs. at [aʰt] ‘castrated camel’; dal [taɮ] ‘seventy’ vs. tal [tʰaɮ] ‘steppe’.

So modern Mongolian is one of those languages that, instead of a voiced–unvoiced distinction in dentals that I could actually pronounce, has an aspirated–unaspirated distinction that I’ll never get down. That’s a damn shame.

[Turkic borrowings in Mongolic] often show a specialized meaning, whereas the native [Mongolic] words have a more general semantic profile, cf. e.g. Mongolic *xüsün ‘hair’ vs. *kilga.su/n ‘hair of a horse’ ← Bulgharic kïlka = Common Turkic *kïl (qïl) ‘hair’.

The ordinary Chuvash word for ‘hair’ today is ҫӳҫ. However, for Russian конский волос ‘horsehair’, the Skvortsovs’ dictionary gives лаша хӗлӗхӗ. For Cv. хӗлӗх, Fedotov’s Этимологический словарь чувашского языка gives a wide array of Turkic cognates, but they are all glossed as ‘horsehair’, so it’s unclear to me on what grounds Claus Schönig in the passage I’ve quoted believes it ever meant ‘hair’ in general.

In the Common Turkic branch, rhotacism, lambdacism is generally absent, but it is occasionally observed in preconsonantal position, which makes the dating of certain loanwords problematic, cf. e.g. Mongolic *buxas ‘pregnant’ (from Common Turkic *bugaz id.) vs. buxar.la‑ ‘to cut the throat’ (from either Bulgharic or Common Turkic, cf. Common Turkic *bogaz ‘throat’).

That Bulgar Turkic had a cognate word for ‘throat’ showing rhotacism is attested by Chuvash пыр id.

Mongolic ulus ← Common Turkic uluš (later replaced in most Turkic languages by a reborrowing from Mongolic).

There is an informative entry on Common Turkic *uluš/ulus on page 152 of Clauson’s A Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth Century Turkish, which notes that the original Turkic form uluš seems to survive only in Karaim.

Mongolic *kerbish ‘brick’ ← Common Turkic *kärpič

The Common Turkic is the source of Russian кирпич. It must say something of the material poverty and fondess for wooden buildings of the Russians of old, that they had to take the word for ‘brick’ from a population generally associated with yurts.

The early Kipchak source Codex Cumanicus exhibits [Mongolic] borrowings like abaɣa ‘uncle’, čïray ‘face’, ebäk ~ elpäk ‘very much’, yada‑ ‘to get tired’, qurulta ‘assembly, council’, manglay ‘forehead’, nögär ‘follower’, and qaburqa ‘rib’.

For what it’s worth, several of these are commonplace in Tatar as well, namely абый, чырай, бик, маңгай and кабырга.

Mongolic *köper > *köxer ‘proud’ > ‘happy’ vs. Turkic *küpez (> *kübez) ‘proud’, Mongolic *köperge > *köxerge ‘bridge’ vs. Turkic *köprüg (*köbrüg).

Of the first set of words here, I’m tempted to claim some connection to Tatar чибәр ‘beautiful’, with cognates in languages of the Volga region meaning ‘happy’. Could the k‑ of the Mongolic or Bulgar word cited above have shifted to an affricate before a front vowel in some other language that was the source of the Tatar? However, I don’t seem to own any etymological reference that describes this possibility. Äxmat’janov’s Татар теленең кыскача тарихи-этимологик сүзлеге suggests only that the Tatar is borrowed from a Mongolic cegeber ‘white, clean’.

For the second set of words, I’ve long suspected a connection to Greek γέφῡρα, but the entry in Clauson on page 690 mentions no connection between the Turkic and other language families (except the loan in Mongolic), mentioning only morphologically Dev. N. fr. köpür‑ [‘to froth, to foam’] but with no obvious semantic connection. On Greek γέφῡρα, Beekes on page 269 of his Etymological Dictionary of Greek suggests the Greek is borrowed from Hattic hammuruwa ‘beam’, with all instances of the words in Homeric Greek representing ‘beam’ and the meaning ‘bridge’ is attested only later. However, if a meaning ‘bridge’ is attested for this word by the mid 1st millennium BC, would that not give plenty of time for it to be borrowed into an unknown Iranian language of Central Asia and then picked up by Turkic?

Perso-Arabic vocabulary in Tatar

The great thing about learning Tatar vocabulary is that, with a little effort at finding out the different spellings, you often get Farsi and Tajik vocabulary (and Arabic, Turkish, a lot of Caucasian languages…) for free. Here’s a list of just a few recent things I’ve acquired:

Tatar Farsi Tajik
игътибар ‘attention’ اعتبار
хөрмәт ‘respect’ حرمت хурмат
һөнәр ‘specialization, focus’ هنر ҳунар
дәрәҗә ‘rank, authority’ درجه дараҷа
табигать ‘nature’ طبيعت табиат
дәвам ‘duration’ دوام ‘durability, endurance’ давом ‘duration’
шигар ‘slogan’ شعار

There may well be Tajik cognates for the two missing items, but unfortunately I never managed to buy a Tajik-Russian dictionary, and I can’t figure these out with my Russian-Tajik dictionary.

The Volga Bulgarian inscription of Tatarskoe Shapkino

The palatalization of Proto-Turkic /č/ to /č́/ and then the weakening of the affricate’s initial stop to give /š́/ or /š/, is a notable areal feature extending from the Volga–Kama region into Kazakhstan. In the second volume of Róna-Tas and Berta’s Western Old Turkic (Harrassowitz, 2011), which reconstructs the ancestor of Volga Bulgarian and Chuvash on the basis of loanwords into Hungarian, the authors mention how the Tatars, whose own language would soon undergo the same evolution, were confronted by this change already almost complete in Volga Bulgarian:

Important is the bilingual inscription of Tatar Šapkino. In the Arabic inscription containing Volga Bulgarian words, the name of the deceased lady is written as J̌eker, and should be read as /č́eker/, while on the other side of the same stone, the same name is written as Šeker. What was perceived as /č/ by the Volga Bulgars was heard by the Kipchak Tatars as /š/.

Tatarskoe Shapkino is a village in south-central Tatarstan. A description of the Arabic portion of this inscription can be found in Khakimzjanov’s Язык эпитафий волжских булгар (Moscow: Nauka, 1978) on pages 158–159:

هو الحى الذى لا يموت
هذه روضة مستورة
المطهرة الصَّالحة الصائـنة الطيفة
شكر الجى بنت عثمان البلفارؾ
الهم ارحمها رحمة واسعة توفيت
الى رحمة الله تعالى فى اليوم الرابع و العشريں

Huwa-l-xäjji-l-läzi lä jämutu wä küllü häjjin säjämutu. Haẕihi rawḍatu-l-mästüräti-l-muṭahhiräti-ṣ-ṣalixäti-ṣ-ṣa’inäti-ṭ-tajfäti Šäkär-älči bint Gos̱man äl-Bolɣari. Äl-lähummä ärxämha räxmätän wäsigätän. Tuwufijjat ilä-r-räxmäti-l-lahi tägali fi-l-jawmi-r-rabigi wä-l-gišrinä

He lives who does not die, but every living thing dies. This is the plot of the chaste, devout, pious, caring, compassionate Šeker-elči, daughter of Osman the Bulgarian. God, have mercy on her with your great mercy. She was entrusted to the mercy of God the Most-High on the twenty-fourth day.

A photgraph of the Volga Bulgarian inscription of Tatarskoe Šapkino

The monument lies in the village cemetery and has dimensions of 160×60×23 cm. It has been inscribed in two languages: on the obverse there is an Arabic-language inscription written in relief in the Thuluth style of calligraphy, while on the reverse a Turkic text has been inscribed in the Bulgarian variant of the Kufic style. There is also relief writing on the sides of the monument.

A piece of pottery is lying nearby with writing on both sides (but it has not been successfully deciphered). This may give the date of the inscription in question.

Close in the Common Turkic vowel system

Here I present a translation of pp. 18–23 of the Фонетика volume of the Сравительно-историческая грамматика тюркских языков ed. E. R. Tenišev (Moscow: Nauka, 1984). This is a work which I appreciate more and more as time goes by, and I hope to bring further portions of it into English in future.

Close in the Common Turkic vowel system

This problem arises in the reconstruction of Proto-Turkic vocalism, and its solution depends on solving the question of how many cardinal vowels there were in Proto-Turkic: 8 or 9. Theoretically the following hypotheses are possible:

  1. the Proto-Turkic system had ä (wide) and (narrow);

  2. there was a qualitative and quantitative opposition of these vowels, i.e. ä versus ẹː (wide short versus narrow long);

  3. there was ä (short) and äː (long): this variation of the reconstruction is actually very similar to the second if one takes into account that phonetically a long vowel is usually more close than the corresponding short one;

  4. there were äː and (wide long and narrow short);

  5. there were ä, äː, and ẹː;

  6. at an early stage Proto-Turkic had ä̂, äː, ä and ệ, ẹː, , but in Common Turkic (with the exception of Chuvash) ä̂ and ệ fell together into ä̂, while ä and fell together into ä (cf. variant 5).

All of these variants have been discussed in specialist literature.[1]

First of all, one must observe that in the modern Turkic languages there are not two (open and close) but several phonetic variants of phonemes which can be presented in transcription as æ, ä, ɛ, e. Furthermore, in each specific system or type of system they have their own particular origin and status.

Thus in languages of the Kipchak type (Kazakh, Karakalpak and Nogay), where a comparatively regular raising of mid vowels occurred, the variant e was established, which could have originated in ɛ or . In Tatar and Bashkir, this e (< ä, ) shifted to i, but in the affixal subsystem it is represented by ä (a front variant of a).[2] Tatar and Bashkir also developed a secondary ä from a in the environment of dorsal j, z, , ž, š, ǯ, č, ž and both ä fell together:

ä/ä in suffixes } ä
ä (vowel harmony variant of a)

In Turkish (taking its dialects into account) there resulted ɛ and e and even ä, e, , though in the literary language ɛ and e did not develop into independent phonemes.

In Turkmen a new opposition between ɛ and äː arose, whereas earlier , apparently through a stage ei, gave . The stage e was preserved in the Khorezm dialects of Uzbek: eːr ‘early’ (~ Turkmen iːr), and in Turkmen dialects (eːr ‘early’, eːl ‘country’, beːl ‘small of the back’, geːč ‘late’).

The opposition of long and short e (ɛ vs. ) can be found in Azeri, but now it is not quantitative (ä vs. ) but qualitative (äl ‘hand’ vs. el ‘country’; Azeri er ‘early’, bel ‘small of the back’, geǯ ‘late’ ~ Turkmen iːr ‘country’, biːl ‘small of the back’, giːč ‘late’).

Apart from this, in Azeri (and Turkmen) a shift ä > e took place in the environment of j, attested already in ancient languages, and also in rare instances of assimilation before a following i (ä > e): Azeri jet‑ ‘arrive, reach’, jer ‘earth’, cf. Old Turkic jetirü ‘until’ and jer ‘earth’ in the Brahmi texts, Azeri ešik ‘door’, Turkmen iːšik ‘door’[3], but Azeri dämir ‘iron’ (Turkish demir), gämi ‘boat’, where there is no influence from i.

In Yakut the quantitative and qualitative opposition between ɛ and changed into an opposition between ɛ and i͜e[4], i.e. between a relatively short vowel and a diphthong: än ‘you’ versus i͜en ‘width’. Furthermore, there is also a dialectal variation i ~ e (is‑ ~ es‑ ‘wade’, ilt‑ ~ elt‑ ‘lead’, iliː ~ eliː ‘hand’) and ä, e > i under the influence of j (> ǯ > č > s): sir‑ ‘reject’, sit‑ ‘reach, attain’, and also i of a following syllable: tirit‑ ‘sweat’ (< tär ‘sweat’), tiriː ‘leather, hide, skin’ (< *täriɣ), diriŋ ‘deep’ (< *däriŋ), timir ‘iron’ (< *tämir).

In Chuvash ɛ is of recent origin. It is a substitution for Tatar ä in loanwords and the front variant of the wide vowel in suffixes.

In Chuvash a and i correspond to the Common Turkic phoneme e (ɛ and ). Thus since a can be found instead of the mid variant of the vowel, i.e. ɛ > ä > a[5], and i is usually found instead of high (ẹː) or a diphthong, one could imagine that Chuvash reflects more accurately the ancient qualitative opposition between ä (äː) and e (ëː ?). For every case of a in Chuvash, at an earlier stage of Common Turkic there must have been ä (or äː), and wherever Chuvash has i earlier Common Turkic had e ().

In the remaining Turkic languages one must consider the qualitative opposition between ä and e to be lost and explain the various reflexes of these vowels as traces of a quantitative opposition, i.e.:

Azeri ä < ä, e; e in many cases < äː,
Turkmen e < ä, e; < äː,
Yakut ä < ä, e; i͜e < äː, , etc.

Analysing Chuvash examples, we find that Chuvash a reflects ä from Common Turkic and ä, and also from ä in some loanwords.

  1. Turkmen giːč ‘late’ (gẹːč), Turkish geč, Azeri g’eǯ, Yakut ki͜ehä ~ Chuvash kas’; Turkmen ber‑ ‘give’, Turkish dial. beːr‑, Yakut bi͜er‑ ~ Chuvash par‑; Turkmen ‘width’, Yakut i͜en, Azeri en ~ Chuvash an; Turkmen iːn‑ ‘go down’, Azeri en‑ ~ Chuvash an‑[6];

  2. Turkmen ek‑ ‘sow’, Azeri äk‑ ~ Chuvash ak‑ (cf. Hungarian eke ‘plow’ < Bulgarian); Turkmen θeθ ‘voice’, Azeri säs ~ Chuvash sas̬ə;

  3. Turkish eš‑ ‘trot’ ~ Chuvash aš‑ (i.e. the shift e‑ > ä‑ > a‑ took place even in relatively late loans).

The reflex i in single-syllable roots in Chuvash is found instead of Common Turkic e, but also e < ä, including early and late loans:

  1. Turkmen eẟ‑, Azeri äz‑, Tatar iz‑ ~ Chuvash ir‑ ‘crush’; Azeri jet‑ ‘arrive’, Turkmen jet‑, Tuvan čeʰt‑, Tatar ǯ́it‑, Bashkir jët‑ ~ Chuvash s’it‑; Azeri g’äl‑ ‘come’, Turkmen gel‑, Tuvan, Yakut kel‑, Tatar kil‑ ~ Chuvash kil‑;

  2. Azeri sez‑ ‘feel’, Tatar siz‑, Bashkir hiẟ‑ ~ sis (< Tat.); Turkmen em ‘medicine’, Tat., Bashkir, Khakas im ~ Chuvash im (< Tat.); Kyrgyz, Altay, Tuvan er ‘use’, Bashkir ir (Tat. irlə̈) ~ Chuvash ir ‘use, gain’ (< Tat.).

One finds instances where Common Turkic e < ä (next to j) gives ə̈ in Chuvash (as in Bashkir): Turkmen, Turkish, Azeri jer ‘earth’, Kyrgyz ǯer, Tuvan čer, Tat. ǯ́ir, Yakut sir, Bashkir jə̈r ~ s’ə̈r ‘earth’; Turkish jen‑, Turkmen jeŋ‑, Kyrgyz ǯeŋ‑, Tat. ǯ́iŋ‑, Khakas čiŋ‑, Bashkir jə̈ŋ‑ ‘defeat’ ~ s’ə̈n‑.

In a number of Chuvash words the vowel i corresponds to Common Turkic (~ Turkmen , Yakut i͜e): Turkmen bäːš ‘5’, Yakut bi͜es, Turkish, Azeri beš, Tat., Bashkir biš ~ Chuvash pilə̈k; Turkmen, Yakut biːl ‘small of the back’, Azeri, Kyrgyz bel, Tat. bil, Khakas pil ~ Chuvash pilə̈k; Turkmen ir ‘early’, Azeri er ~ Chuvash ir.

According to Doerfer, the last example illustrates the assumption that Chuvash i goes back to Common Turkic e, as in Mari we find the word er ‘morning, early’ which was borrowed from Chuvash. Mari e represents an earlier stage of development (in Hill Mari e > i).

Turkic borrowings in Mari like el ‘country’ (~ ? Chuvash jal), en ‘most’, ertäš ‘go past’, pelčän ‘sow thistle (genus Sonchus)’, teŋə̈z ‘sea’, terə̈s ‘manure, fertilizer’, terke ‘plate’, keremet ‘evil spirit’, seŋäš ‘defeat’, s’erə̈p ‘heavy’ show that the raising of e > i involved words not from Ancient Chuvash but rather representing a general Turkic stock in the Middle Volga that goes back to a single source.

In iranianized Uzbek dialects we find e (narrow) and æ (a very wide variant of the vowel e).

In Uyghur, which has the so-called i-umlaut, we find wide ä and e (e and ë) secondary in origin, originating from ä and under the influence of a following i.

Close and open variants of e ( and ɛ) are apparently found in the language of the Yenesei runic inscriptions, as e is depicted by a special grapheme. A distinction was made between these two variants also in the texts in the Brahmi script. Worth noting are the Brahmi-Azeri parallels ket‑ ‘leave, go away’ ~ g’et‑ (Turkmen gider ‘he goes out’), keŋ ‘wide’ ~ g’en (Turkmen giːŋ), ber‑ ‘give’ ~ ver‑ (Yakut bi͜er‑), beš ‘5’ ~ beš (Yakut bi͜es), el ‘tribe’ ~ el (Turkmen iːl), which confirm that in a portion of words Azeri e reflects the quantity of the Proto-Turkic vowel.

E (as a variant of ä) before and after j is found in Turkish dialects, Azeri, the Brahmi texts, Yakut, etc. Cf. e.g. Brahmi jel ‘wind’ ~ Azeri jel; Brahmi jer ‘earth’ ~ Azeri jer ~ Yakut sir; Azeri jet‑ ‘arrive’ ~ Yakut sit‑; Azeri jerik ‘cravings of a pregnant woman’ ~ Yakut sir‑ ‘reject’, etc.

In Yakut this (short) narrowed to i (sir, sit‑).

Because combinatory and positional variation of the type ä ~ ɛ ~ e and e ~ i, and thus ä ~ ɛ ~ ~ i is typical of many modern-day Turkic languages and dialects, one can assume it also for earlier stages of their development. Nonetheless one cannot neglect the rich attestations of dialect mixing, reflected in many (if not all) Turkic vowel systems, cf. e.g. the systems of Chuvash, Khakas and West Siberian Tatar dialects. Both of these factors have led (including in the literary standards) to irregular correspondences: Turkmen lit. bäːš ‘5’, dial. beš, Azeri beš (< beːš) ~ Chuvash pilə̈k; Turkmen äːr ‘man’, Azeri är, Tat., Bashkir, Khakas ir ~ Chuvash ar (on the basis of the Chuvash and Azeri forms one can reconstruct *är); Turkmen mäːẟ ‘gland’, Turkish, Kyrgyz, Kumyk bez ~ Chuvash par (Azeri väz) (on the basis of the Chuvash form one can reconstruct *bär); Turkmen gäːt‑ ‘break off, away’, Turkish get‑ (gedik), Kyrgyz ket‑, Tat. kit‑ ~ Chuvash kat‑ (on the basis of the Turkish and Chuvash forms one can reconstruct *kaːt‑). Thus Turkmen äː corresponds to Common Turkic ä and ẹ̈ː.

Also noteworthy are correspondences between Chuvash and Common Turkic: Chuvash alək ‘gate, door’ (< *äːlik), cf. Turkish, Azeri ešik (where ä > e under the influence of a following i?), Tat., Bashkir išə̈k, Khakas dial. izə̈k, Khakas ə̈zə̈k; but Turkmen iːšik (< *eːšik); Chuvash at‑ ‘do’ (< *ät‑) (cf. Turkmen eder ‘he does’), where d < t after an initial long vowel), but Azeri et‑ points to a protoform *eːt‑; Chuvash ilt‑ ‘hear’ (< *elit‑), Turkmen, Azeri ešit‑, Turkish išit‑ (e > i under the influence of i), Tat., Bashkir išə̈t‑, Yakut ihit‑; Chuvash i, Azeri e point to Common Turkic *e.

Thus an ancient qualitative opposition of ä and e is reflected in the Chuvash system, where we have a < ä and i < e. Only traces remain of a quantitative opposition ẹː > i, cf. pilə̈k ‘5’. Significantly more frequently long and short ä are reflected as a: kas’ ‘evening’ (< *käːč < *kẹːč); ak‑ ‘sow’ (< äk‑).

The whole Common Turkic map is tainted with subsequent dialect mixing and positional-combinatorial variation of the vowels ä, e, i.

For showing the ancient quantitative opposition of e sounds, the Turkmen and Yakut data are the most reliable: in Turkmen < ẹː, as a rule, corresponds to the Yakut diphthong i͜e, for example: Turkmen giːč ‘late’ ~ Yakut ki͜ehä ‘evening’, giːŋ ‘wide’ ~ ki͜eŋ (but käŋä‑ ‘widen’), iːn ‘width’ ~ i͜en (but ? äŋäj‑ ‘spread out’), iːt ‘lead’ ~ si͜et‑ ‘take by the hand, by a leash or rope’ (but sätiː ~ si͜etiː ‘leading a blind person’).

The regular nature of these correspondences is undermined by such examples as Turkmen biːl ‘small of the back’ ~ Yakut biːl (and not i͜e), bäːš (and not biːš) ‘5’ ~ bi͜es (but bähis ‘fifth’).

The alternation of i͜e ~ possibly arose within Yakut, cf. also Yakut iːt ‘load a rifle’ ~ ? Turkmen et‑ ‘do’ (< *eːt‑, indicated also by the d in eder ‘he does’); Yakut tiːl ‘calf or colt nursing from an unrelated female’ ~ Kyrgyz tel.

As far as the correspondence bäːš ~ Yakut bi͜es is concerned, it is well known that numerals are often characterized by phonetic peculiarities due to their function in speech, such as emphatic gemination of consonants. It is also well known that in Turkmen dialects one also encounters the phonetic variants beːš, beš. Chuvash pilə̈k and Volga Bulgarian *bielim may also attest to the length and close character of in beːl ~ beš.

Thus the materials we have examined allow us to speak with a high level of probability of the existence in Proto-Turkic of short ä and long ẹː and of the combinatorial variation of ä (ɛ, e) in different phonetic environments at a late stage of the protolanguage and at various points in the history of the modern Turkic languages all the way to the present day.

[1] See e.g. Scherbak 1970, 28–33, which contains a detailed analysis of almost every proposed hypothesis, and Doerfer 1971, 240–247.

[2] If the shift ɛ > e > i had occurred in suffixes, then the variations of some affixes, e.g. ‑di and ‑də̈, could merge, as i in open final syllables tends to be lowered. Indeed, in the Kasimov dialect ä > i even in affixes: bir8in ‘he gave’, bə̈zdi ‘on us’.

[3] Azeri ešik possibly goes back to *eːšik, and not *äšik, though the latter reconstruction is suggested by Chuvash alək ‘door’.

[4] As pointed out by D’jakovskij (1971, 98–99), the second part of the i͜e diphthong is more close than short ɛ.

[5] The shift ä > a occurred after the shift of Common Turkic a > ao > o. Note that in the period of Permian-Bulgarian contacts (8th–9th centuries) Chuvash still retained ä in opposition with e: ban, bam ‘cheek’, but s’i̮l ‘storm’.

[6] Cf. Turkmen äːr ‘man’, Azeri är ~ Chuvash ar, where the long vowel in the Turkmen word points to äː in the protolanguage, see e.g. the reconstructions of Poppe (eːr) and Doerfer (ä̂r or är).

Tatar and Finno-Ugrian separatism real or supposed

The Mari news site MariUver has reposted an interesting article originally published at PolitRUS about a recent political conference in Russia, which I’ve translated from Russian below. There’s an element of conspiracy ravings here; the “expert in Islamic studies” Suleymanov has drawn criticism for his claims of Tatar extremism. The last paragraph reveals something of opinions held within Russia on the Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt emigrants who have been of such help to Finno-Ugrists at European universities.

The West is Evaluating the Possibility of Supporting Islamic Separatists in the Volga Region

The issue of drawing NATO countries’ attention to outbreaks of national separatism and Islamic terrorism in the Volga Region was one of the main themes of the Sixth All-Russian Conference of Applied Studies “Наука молодых” (Study of Youth) which was held on December 18 in Arzamas (Nizhny Novgorod oblast). The conference was organized by the A. P. Gajdar Arzamas State Pedagogical Institute and drew participation from scholars and experts from neighbouring oblasts and republics. Attendees were especially interested in talks by researchers from Tatarstan, where over the last year the situation of religious extremism and national separatism has been sharpened.

As Rais Suleymanov, the director of the Volga Centre for Regional and Ethnoreligious Research РИСИ explained, starting with the “Nurlat episode” (a special forces operation to liquidate a group of armed militants in the Nurlat region of Tatarstan on November 25, 2010), as of December 2012 Tatarstan has been visited by journalists and political analysts from France, the United States, Great Britain, Holland, Poland and other countries. There have even been visitors from Australia and Brazil.

In the opinion of Suleymanov, such visits are not coincidental: Arriving under the pretext of being reporters, scholars and analysts, our Western guests often come not because of an interest in journalism or research, but in order to gather information about how serious the problem of the Volga Region becoming a hotspot is.

At the same time, in the words of this specialist in Islamic studies, the Western experts that he has met with personally use a special “methodology of communication”. Besides, the very existence of greater interest in this subject and the overwhelming desire to meet with separatists and fundamentalists speaks to the fact that the West is evaluating the possibility of financing and providing informational support to the Islamist underground and nationalists in Tatarstan, Suleymanov stated. He added that in this context one should look to the activities of journalists from the Qatar television network Al Jazeera, which has a branch in Kazan.

In addition to Suleymanov’s talk, his colleague Vasily Ivanov noted that the international terrorist organization Muslim Brotherhood through its agents in Russia has also shown an interest in Finno-Ugrian nationalist movements.

Ivanov gave his own talk titled “Finno-Ugrian separatism in the Volga Region: its ideology, the extent of its spread and foreign influences”. Analysing outbreaks of Finno-Ugrian separatism in Russia at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, the researcher pointed to the support that Mari, Mordvin and Udmurt nationalists receive today from Finland, Hungary and Estonia.

The situation is becoming more serious because anti-Russian propaganda is published on the internet by people studying in institutes of higher education in those countries — undergraduates, graduate students and PhD candidates from the Volga republics at universities in the European Union, Ivanov underlined.

A Polish introduction to Chuvash

Adding to the list of Chuvash resources for foreigners, in a Warsaw bookshop I came across Język czuwaski by Anna Parzymies (Warszawa: Dialog, 2000) ISBN 8388238604. Cover of Anna Parzymies’ Polish-language introduction to Chuvash

This is not a textbook really, but essentially a 30-page introduction followed by a grammar that drily lists paradigms, word-formation tendencies, etc. Still, I’m happy I bought it, because there’s a rich bibliography that mentions some scholarship on Chuvash that I wasn’t aware of before.

North Kipchak loans in South Kipchak

When I began studying the interaction of Uralic and Turkic languages in the Volga-Kama area, I assumed that existence of a feature in both Tatar and Kazakh was sufficient to prove that Tatar inherited it from Common Turkic and did not borrow it one of the languages of the Volga-Kama area. However, it turns out that contact between the Kipchak languages persisted long enough for North Kipchak to contribute some loanwords to South Kipchak.

The first example is Kazakh moncha ‘sauna’. According to Klára Agyagási in Ранние русские заимствования тюркских языков волго-камского ареала Ⅰ (Debrecen, 2005) p. 58, this ultimately derives from Russian баня, borrowed into Ancient Chuvash with the rounding of a typical for early Chuvash and the shift of b > m before nasals typical for Turkic in general, and finally taken up by the South Kipchaks sometime before the North Kipchak vowel shift (cf. Tatar munča).

The second example comes from a paper by András Róna-Tas, “Three Volga Kipchak Etymologies” in Studies in Chuvash Etymology I. (Szeged: Szeged University Press, 1982). He traces Tatar and Bashkir izge ‘holy, good’ back to a Volga Bulgarian form that produced modern Chuvash ïră. Kazakh izgi ‘kindly’ must therefore be a loanword from the Volga Kipchak languages.

Language death and revitalization in Russia

There’s an article at Souciant, an online magazine of politics and culture, discussing the state of Russia’s minority languages. Most attention is given to the Volga region. I must credit the authors for addressing something I’ve often felt, namely that active speakers of these languages are often unwilling to admit that prospects for the future are utterly dire:

Some, however, are dismissive of such concern. Leysan Khasanova, owner of a Tatar music shop in Tatarstan’s capital of Kazan, is confident that Tatar will always be spoken on the streets of Kazan, before pointing out that many young Tatars prefer to speak in Russian amongst each other, and that her own children are not proficient in the language.

I could have done without the pointlesss exoticizing, however (Kabardian – a language that is truly a testament to the dynamism of the human oesophagus). Also, the author makes the dubious claim: The Komi Permian language, for example, has some eighteen noun cases – a kind of grammatical suicide given that no amount of emotional feeling for the language as that of one’s ancestors can provide the linguistic aptitude necessary to learn such a language without any prior knowledge. Since some of these cases are marginal, and people growing up with Russian are already accustomed to noun inflection, I do not believe that Komi’s declension would present that much of an obstacle.