Baskakov, Nikolaj Alexandrovich

Baskakov, Nikolaj Alexandrovich / Никола́й Алекса́ндрович Баска́ков (March 9 (22), 1905 — August 26, 1996)

Recipient of the PIAC Medal in 1980


  • 3rd Meeting 1960, (scheduled for participation, but could not attend) “Karaimisch-russisch-polnisches Wörterbuch” (contribution together with A. Zajączkowski)
  • 11th Meeting 1968, “Origin of some verbal forms common to Turcic and Mongolian languages”
  • 12th Meeting 1969, “Ареальная консолидация древнейших наречий и генетическое родство алтайских языков”
  • 13th Meeting, 1970: L’âme dans les anciennes croyances des Türks de l’Altaï (en russe)
  • 14th Meeting 1971, “On the Common Origin of the Categories of Person and Personal Possession in the Altaic Languages
  • 15th Meeting 1972, “Некоторые аффиксы словообразования функциональных форм глагола общие для алтайских языков”
  • 19th Meeting 1976, “Периодизация истории развития и формирования тюркских языков”
  • 23rd Meeting 1980, PIAC Medal awarded
  • 29th Meeting 1986, “Огузский ареал тюркских языков в истории консолидации и контактирования его с адстратными и субстратными языками”


In Memory
Nikolaj Alexandrovich Baskakov (1905-1996)
by Edward Tryjarski
received by the PIAC 09/18/97

The sad news of the passing of Professor Nikolaj Alexandrovich Baskakov caused heart-felt sorrow among his colleagues and disciples. He was linked with many people in numerous countries having made long-lasting ties of collaboration and friendship.

Born on March 9 (22) 1905 at Solvychegotsk (on the Vologda River, tributary of Dvina) he died after a long life on August 26, 1996 in Moscow. His body was cremated. He originated from a family belonging to the Russian “inteligentsija” and his father was an office holder. In 1929 he graduated from the History and Ethnology Faculty of the State Moscow University, then, until the Autumn of 1931, he organized a Philological Section in the Scientific Research Institute at Turkul, in the Karakalpak Autonomous Republic. In 1934 he became candidate of sciences and, in 1951, he received a Doctorate in Philology. In 1934 he was nominated Assistant Professor and, in 1946, Senior Researcher. In the years 1941-1943 he was sent to the Gorno-Altajsk area to help the local scholars. This gave him a good opportunity to widen his knowledge of the language and culture of the Turkic peoples.

He acknowledged academician V. A. Gordlevskij (1876-1956), prominent philologist and historian, as his master in Turkic studies. Though fascinated by the many areas of study in this field, he chose to specialize: though on several occasions he encroached on domains of largely conceived Altaic problems including ethnology, the study of beliefs and political history. He remained the Turcologist par excellence showing at the same time, an interest in Ottoman studies and the language of modern Turkey. He had the ability not only to analyze old and new linguistic phenomena but also to formulate bold hypotheses which only a few of his opponents considered too bold. His scientific activity based on a deep erudition, along with his eagerness to formulate and record his opinions in print (his personal bibliography, up to 1974, embraces 361 items, among them several books; he continued publishing new texts up to his very last illness) determined his leading position in Russian human studies and in professional Turcological centers abroad. He was a member of many societies and organizations such as: “Societas Uralo-Altaica,” “Polish Oriental Association,” “Societas Orientalis Fennica,” “Türk Dili Kurumu,” and others. He attended numerous congresses and conferences, he was also a member and a decided supporter of the PIAC (I will come back to this topic later).

Prof. N. A. Baskakov enjoyed a full approbation in many countries and became a model of the Orient researcher (difficult, it is true, to be imitated) for several generations of students. For many years he was not engaged in regular university teaching being a scientific research worker at the Institute of Linguistics at the Academy in Moscow, however, he played an important role in the education of young Turcologists. Active in various commissions for post­ graduate and doctoral promotion, he prepared programs of study valid not only in Moscow but also in many other republics. He was closely linked with specialists from Karakalpak Republic, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan who, in their turn, highly appreciated his achievements and bestowed upon him diplomas and other distinctions.

It is no easy task to characterize the rich scientific output of the late Professor. Generally speaking it could be observed that there is nearly no branch of Turc studies on which N. A. Baskakov would not have left important traces of his scientific investigation. He devoted much of his interest and time to such topics as: (a) transcription and transliteration – either common for all Turkic languages, or designated for particular languages, mainly those having not possessed any written literature; orthoepy and terminology; (b) classification of Turkic languages based on a specification of two supposed basic units: Eastern – and Western Hunnish branches of Turkic languages; this proposal was accepted by relatively numerous specialists; (c) bilingualism and multilingualism; (d) onomastics, especially anthroponymy and oronymy; (e) methodology of linguistic research from the historiotypological standpoint; agglutination, grammaticalization; word and phrase structures, aspects, voices etc. Important both from scientific and practical points of view are his descriptions of separate Turkic languages – Altaic, Nogay, languages of the South Siberian group. His veritable opus magnum has become his monography Karakalpak Language, in four volumes, in Russian (Vol. 1,1951. Vol II 1952; in a letter dated Sept. 5th, 1995, N. A. Baskakov informed me that in Nuksus Volumes III. and IV would be soon printed). It is a work without parallel in the world of Turcological literature. With much interest and approbation was received his compendium Turkic Languages (1960), in Russian; in a slightly different form entitled Introduction to the study of Turkic Languages (1952) in Russian, not only an instrumental book for teaching history and construction of those languages but also a text containing new scientific proposals concerning classification and terminology.

N. A. Baskakov’s merits in lexicology and lexicography cannot be overstated if one takes into consideration the fact that almost none of the Turkic dictionaries published in the ex-Soviet Union during several decades could do without his personal collaboration as author, co-author, reviewer or editor. Suffice it to cite here such dictionaries as, Uighur-Russian, Karakalpak-Russian, and many others. Quite original and useful, the Karaim-Russian-Polish Dictionary (1974) was the result of a collaboration of the Russian, Polish and Lithuanian Turcologists (N. A. Baskakov, A. Zajączkowski, and M. Seraja Shapshal).

Much attention was given by the late Professor to the contacts between Russian and Turkic languages. This interest resulted in his studies on Russian surnames of Turkic origin, Turkic elements in the names of Moscow streets etc. Educated not only as a philologist and linguist but also as an anthropologist, N.A. Baskakov studied related questions such as: Soul in Ancient Beliefs of Altai Turks (1970), Relics of the Taboo Totemism in the Languages of the People of the Altai (1975), Abodes of the Ilim Kazakhs (1971) and others. A year before his death he succeeded in printing two papers, viz. those on the history of Karakalpak theater and literature. He also wrote obituary notices devoted to his colleagues V. V. Minorsky, A. Zajączkowski, V. I. Filonienko, A. Bombaci, and Sir Gerard Clauson.
He much appreciated the idea of the PIAC and its yearly meetings. He started to attend them relatively late (I remember his participation in the following meetings: 12th PIAC, Berlin 1969, 19th PIAC Helsinki 1976, 29th PIAC Tashkent 1986, but probably he was present during other meetings), we should not forget, however, how difficult it was for Soviet scholars to attend meetings abroad. Once having attended personally the meeting (earlier he was able only to deliver his reports by post), he became enthusiastic of that “informal organization.” Good-humored, he came to the conclusion that the PIAC should absolutely possess an anthem of its own, and soon after he authored one himself composing both the music and facetious words. He offered the whole to the PIAC and delivered it to the Secretary General who published it in the PIAC Newsletter No. 19 (February 1990) and also again in Newsletter No. 23 (February 1995) with Turkish lyrics by Prof. A. Temir.

He was awarded the Indiana University Prize for Altaic Studies (PIAC Medal) in 1980.

He was a reliable letter-writer and witty joke-teller.

After a creative and fruitful life Prof. N.A. Baskakov departed at the age of ninety.

Lux perpetua luceat ei.

(Source: Permanent International Altaistic Conference Newsletter No. 27, October 2002, pp. 8–9)