Category Archives: Tatar

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.

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.

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.

Tuqay in Volga-Kama languages

One Tatar book being prominently displayed in Kazan bookshops is a slim volume of poems by the Tatar national poet Ğabdulla Tuqay: Габдулла Тукай, Стихотворение (Казань: Татарское книжное издательство, 2011), ISBN 9785298020398.

Remarkably, the 20 poems in this volume appear not only in Tatar and Russian translation, but also in Bashkir, Mari, Chuvash and Udmurt. This is a nice show of solidarity with other minority peoples of Russia. I’ve often bought a Russian translation of Ivanov’s Chuvash work Narspi as a gift for Mari friends as my contribution to дружба народов, but this little book allows one to present Tatar poetry to others in their own language. I’m not sure if the poems were translated into the Finno-Ugrian languages through Russian or not, though I imagine plenty of minority-language activists in this region know something of Tatar.

I’d like to give an example of one of these poems in several languages, but I don’t want to type too much, so I’ve chosen his two-line ‘Kazan’ from 1913:

Tatar

Ут, төтен, фабрик-завод берлә һаман кайный Казан;
Имгәтеп ташлап савын, сау эшчеләр сайлый Казан.

Russian

Огнем заводов дни и ночи людей ты жжешь, Казань.
Здоровых погубив рабочих, ты новых ждешь, Казань.

Bashkir

Ут, төтөн, фабрик-завод менән һаман ҡайнай Ҡазан;
Имгәтеп ташлап һауын, һау эшселәр һайлай Ҡазан.

Chuvash

Заводсен вучӗпе ир те каҫ ҫынсене ҫунтаран эс, Хусан.
Чире ярсан сыввисене, ҫӗннисене кӗтетӗн эс, Хусан.

Udmurt

Тыл но ӵын заводъёсад адямиез сутэ, Казань…
Кужмоез бырем бере, егит борды кутскод, Казань?

Meadow Mari

Еҥлам йӱд-кече йӱлалтет завод тул ден, Озаҥ.
Таза пашазе-влакым пытарен, бучет эше, Озаҥ.

Minority-language books in Kazan

If you visit Kazan and want to buy books in Tatar, the place to go is the intersection of Bauman (ул. Баумана) and Astronimičeskaja (ул. Астрономическая) streets. It’s unassuming from the outside, but if you open the door and walk down a flight of stairs, you’ll encounter a large selection of Tatar poetry, prose, school textbooks and dictionaries. There are unfortunately no textbooks (on both my 2008 and 2011 visits, the shopkeeper seemed annoyed that I even asked), but as pretty much every Tatar textbook can be found online at pirated linguistics books sites, that’s not a major problem.

The shop also sells some minority-language publications from surrounding regions. For Mari, I was able to buy two of the three volumes of Sergei Chavain’s complete works. Chuvash is represented mainly by dictionaries and cookbooks. Considerably more shelf space is dedicated to Bashkir, but as one northern Kipchak language is frustrating enough for me right now, I didn’t have a detailed look at those offerings.

Udmurt and Tatar days of the week

A couple of years ago I wrote a post comparing the Mari and Chuvash names for the days of the week. They are very similar, dating from the time Volga Bulgar was the prestige language of the region. Udmurt also fell within the orbit of the Volga Bulgars, and its system is along the same lines.

Udmurt days of the week
Monday vordiśkon ‘birth’
Tuesday pukśon ‘sitting day’
Wednesday virnunal ‘blood day’
Thursday pokčiarńa ‘small holiday’
Friday udmurtarńa ‘Udmurt holiday’
Saturday kösnunal ‘dry day’
Sunday arńa nunal ‘holiday/week day’

Tatar’s system contrasts strongly with these neighbours, as it established stronger ties with the Muslim world. Its days of the week are taken wholesale from Persian, not even bothering to translate the traditional system that counts the number of days from Saturday.

Tatar days of the week
Monday düšämbe cf. Tajik dušanbe
Tuesday sišäbe Taj. sešanbe
Wednesday čäršämbe Taj. čoršanbe
Thursday pändžešämbe Taj. panjšanbe
Friday džomga Taj. jum’a
Saturday šimbä Taj. šanbe
Sunday yakšämbe Taj. yakšanbe

Two mullahs and a peasant

The following story comes from Poppe’s Tatar Manual:

Борын-борын заманда ике мулла белән бер мужик юлга чыкканнар. Барганнар-барганнар да туктаганнар болар бер кунаклыкка, туктагач, ботка пешергәннәр. Ботканың уртасын чокырайтып, күп итеп май салганнар. Ашарга утыргач, муллаларның берсе, кашыгын алган да:

— Дип-шәригать юлы менә бола-а-а-й килә, — дип, ботка уртасындагы майны үз ягына агызып җибәргән. Икенче мулла, моны карап торган да:

— Безнең әтинең тегермәне менә бу акка таба әйләнә торган иде, — дип, майны үз язына агызган.

Мужик, карап-карап утырган да:

— Менә, муллалар, дөнья дигәнең гел үзгәреп тора, киләчәктә дөньянең менә шулай асты-өскә килер, — дип, табактагы ботканы бөтенләй болгатып бетергән. Муллалар бу юлы мужикны алдый алмаганнар.

Ярар. Икенче көнне болар тагын кунарга туктаганнар. Боларның бер пешкән казлары булган. Кичен йокларга ятканда үзара сөйләшкәннәр.

— Кем дә кем иң яхшы төш күрә, иртәгә казны шул ашар.

Иртән торгач, болар үзләренең төшләрен сөйли башлаганнар. Башта беренче мулла сөйләгән:

—Мин,— дигән — төшемдә яшел чапан, ап-ак чалма киеп, хаҗга киттем,— дигән.

Аның төшен яхшыга юраганнар. Аннары икенче мулла сөйләгән:

—Мин,— дигән — зур аккош булып, кыйбла ягына очып киттем,— дигән.

Моның төшен дә яхшыга юраганнар. Инде мужикка чират җиткән. Мужик әйткән:

— Сезнең берегез яшел чапан, ап-ак чалма киеп хаҗга китте, икенчегез аккош булып очып китте. Мин: «Болар тиз генә кайта алмас инде, каз бозылып әрәм булыр», дип куркып, аны ашадым да куйдым,— дигән.

Long, long ago two mullahs and a peasant set off on the road. They went along and stopped at an inn. Once they had stopped, they cooked porridge. They made a hole in the porridge and set a great deal of butter in it. When they sat down to eat, one of the mullahs picked up his spoon.

The path of shariah law goes this way, he said, and scooped the butter in the middle onto his own portion. The second mullah watched him do this.

Our father’s mill used to turn in this direction, the second mullah said, and he scooped the butter onto his portion.

The peasant sat watching this and said:

The world, mullahs, is constantly changing, he said. In the future, the world might turn upside down like so, and he mixed the bowl of porridge up. The mullahs couldn’t fool the peasant.

Well then, on the second day they again stopped somewhere to spend the night. They had cooked a goose. In the evening as they laid down to sleep, they said to themselves:

Whoever has the best dream can eat the goose tomorrow.

In the morning they got up and began to tell each other about their dreams. One of the mullahs went first:

In my dream I was wearing a green robe and a pure white turban, and I had set off on the hajj, he said.

They thought this dream was pretty good. Then the second mullah spoke:

I was a great swan, he said. And I flew off towards the Qiblah.

This dream was also pretty good, they thought. Then they turned to the peasant.

One of you wore a green robe and a pure white turban and set off on the hajj, said the peasant. The other flew off as a swan. So I thought, well, they’re not going to come back right away, and I was afraid the goose was just going to spoil, so I ate it and that was that.

I don’t get it.