Category Archives: Kazakh

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.

Furs for a kopek

One of the interesting lexical relationships in languages of the Volga region is that between currency and animal hides.

Meadow Mari ə̂r ‘kopek’ was originally identical to ur ‘squirrel’, though when the word was used in the latter sense it did not undergo the sporadic reduction of high vowels in Mari.

This equivalency exists also in Tatar, where tijen means both ‘squirrel’ and ‘kopek’. As Ähmät’jänov’s etymological dictionary explains, ‘борынгы заманнарда тиен тиресе вак акча функциясен үтәгән [in ancient times squirrel hides functioned as a low-value monetary unit]’.

Chuvash doesn’t connect its term for the kopek to ‘squirrel’. However, Cv. pus ‘kopek’ is, according to Fedotov’s etymological dictionary, derived from Persian پوست post ‘animal skin’, though used purely in the sense of currency.

I suspect that Volga Bulgar was the first language in the area to have a relationship between these two concepts, as a Chuvash loan from Persian unreflected in Tatar must predate the arrival of Kipchak. Tatar must have developed this relationship during the period of Kipchak unity, because Kazakh has tıyın ‘kopek’ and tiyin ‘squirrel’ (variation in vowel harmony suggesting one is a loanword). Mari must have picked up the equivalency before 1500–1600 when high vowels began to reduce, calquing it almost certainly on the Tatar.

Specifics of Tatar vowel rotation

The phenomenon of vowel rotation in Volga Tatar – the reduction of original high vowels and the raising of original mid vowels to fill their place – is evident to anyone who knows any other Turkic language. In fact, especially troublesome for this language learner are such reversals as Tat. iske ‘old’ ~ Turkish eski or Tat. ike ‘2’ ~ Kazakh eki.

But there are some exceptions to the straightforward flip-flop of original mid and high vowels which I haven’t yet seen explicitly sketched out. Often one need go no further than Kazakh for comparison, as Kazakh preserves (at least graphemically) the height of the Proto-Kipchak vowels. One finds that in Tatar original round high vowels failed to reduce in words of the type CV or VC. For the Proto-Kipchak CV demonstrative pronoun *bu ‘this’ Tatar shows bu instead of the expected ˟bo. However, in the oblique stem, the vowel is indeed reduced: compare Tatar’s genitive monïŋ to Kazakh bunïŋ. The Proto-Kipchak VC word *ul ‘son’, cf. Kazkah ul, is maintained as such in Tatar instead of showing the expected reduction ˟ol.

For words of CV and VC shape with original /ü/, examples are few, but the Tatar verb root üz-давать ростки’ ~ Old Turkic üz offers support.

However, in words of the type CV and VC original mid vowels did raise. For the former, compare the Kazakh reflexive pronoun öz to Tat. üz, and for the latter the Kazakh 3 sg. personal pronoun ol to Tat. ul.

Turkic cities

I’ve encountered two different Turkic terms for ‘city’, spread rather haphazardly across the Turkic languages. Initially I knew Chuvash хула xula (which was borrowed into Mari as ola e.g. Yoshkar-Ola ‘Red City’). In Kazakhstan one quickly learns the obvious cognate қала qala.

Crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan revealed a completely different word here on the streets of Bishkek, шаар šaar. This, it turns out, is found elsewhere among Turkic languages, with Azeri having şəhər and Turkish şehir. After doing some web searches, I found a helpful comparative Turkic glossary that shows which languages have what, but I’m still wandering what the original semantic connotations of each word were and what happened to the other word in languages that prefered either *qala or *šaɣar.

Almaty acquisitions

I arrived in Almaty two days ago and have had much better luck acquiring Kazakh language resources than on my last visit.

My first find was Тіл ұстарт: қазақ тілі/казахский язык учебный комплекс. (Almaty: Жибек жолы, 1996) ISBN 5-7667-3819-6. This is yet another one of those annoying textbooks that seem so common in the former Soviet Union where it is assumed that the reader already has some basic proficiency in the language, hearing it from childhood. The exercises also do little to develop practical speaking ability, being often more interested in helping you appreciate the etymology of toponyms and terms of endearment. I bought it for 500 tenge in a used bookstore.

A considerably more helpful introduction is Самоучитель казахского языка: 1500 слов и сочетаний (Almaty: Аруна Ltd., 2005) ISBN 9965-26-047-8. This has a great number of exercises that help the reader quickly absorb useful everyday vocabulary, but it is less effective at teaching morphology. It cost 290 tenge. I bought it in the basement bookshop of the large media store next to Iubilennij on ul. Golgol.

The most substantial of the textbooks currently on the market seems to be Казахский язык для всех (Almaty: Атамұра, 2004) ISBN 9965-05-910-1. It weighs in at over 700 pages, has an audio portion (which I’ve not yet found), and combines rigorous grammatical presentation with extremely worthwhile exercises. The title page boasts that it is recommended by the Kazakh Ministry of Education. It cost only 1125 tenge. I also got it at the bookshop on ul. Golgol.

Great free Kazakh textbook on the web

I enjoyed learning what I could of Kazakh while I was in Almaty in the summer, and now in Helsinki I’ve found a Kazakh immigrant willing to do a Kazakh-English exchange. Finding a textbook was a bit difficult, as while my department has the old Indiana University manuals of Tatar, Yakut, Bashkir, and so forth, there is no Kazakh entry in the series.

I was delighted, however, to find a textbook available at no cost on the web. The Kazakh Language Course for Peace Corps Volunteers in Kazakhstan was commissioned by the U.S. government and is therefore freely downloadable. It is quite well-written, and since it has abundant exercises it certainly beats a dry old introduction like IU manuals. A pity that it is only a PDF scan of the book instead of a fully electronic version, though.