14th Meeting Szeged, 1971: Report by E. I. Fazylov

Source: Sovetskaya Turkologiya 1971 (5) pp. 129–133

XIVth International Forum of Altaicists

On 22–28 August 1971, the XIVth Meeting of the PIAC (Permanent International Altaistic Conference) was held in Szeged, Hungary, with more than a hundred participating scholars.

The Soviet delegation consisted of: A. N. Kononov (head of the delegation), A. S. Tveritinova, S. K. Kenesbaev, G. D. Sanžeev, N. Z. Gadžieva, O. P. Sunik, V. I. Cincius, K. M. Musaev, T. A. Bertagaev, S. N. Muratov, E. A. Novgorodova and E. I. Fazylov.

As it is known, it was decided at the XXIVth International Congress of Orientalists (September 1957, Munich) to hold regular seminars on the issues of theoretical and methodological research of the Altaic language community, and the comparative study of vocabulary, grammar, and phonetics of the Türkic, Mongolian, and Tungus-Manchu languages.

The first International Meeting of Altaist scholars was held in Mainz (Germany) from 25–28 June 1958. At that meeting Prof. W. Heissig (Germany) was elected Secretary General of the PIAC for a term of five years. Since 1963 up to the present, Prof. D. Sinor (USA) has been the Secretary General of the PIAC.

The participants decided to meet annually to discuss problems of Altaic Studies and exchange information on the issue.

The second PIAC meeting was also held in Mainz from June 23–26, 1959, the third was in Burg Liebenstein (FRG) from June 26 to July 1, 1960, the fourth was in Cambridge (England) from June 12 to 16, 1961; the sixth was in Helsinki (Finland) from 4 to 8 June 1963; the seventh was in De Pietersberg (Netherlands) from 29 August to 3 September 1964, the eighth in Wahlscheid (Germany) from 30 August to 3 September 1965, the ninth in Ravello (Italy) from 26 to 30 September 1966, the tenth in Manchester (England) from 26th June to 30th June 1967 and the eleventh in Hørsholm (Denmark) from 2nd to 6th June 1968; the twelfth in Berlin, GDR, from 29 August to 2 September 1969, and the thirteenth in Strasbourg, France, from 25 to 30 June 1970. The results of these meetings have already been published.1

At the opening of the Meeting in Szeged, a welcome address was delivered by the President of the Meeting, Academician L. Ligeti, Vice-President of the Department of Language and Literature of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Academician M. Szaboczy, Rector of József Atilla University, Prof. M. Marti and the Mayor of Szeged, G. Papp.

The PIAC Meeting began with an exchange of information about recent work on the study of Altaic languages, new research carried out in Holland (E. Hovdhaugen), England (Prof. G. Clauson), France (A. Tretiakoff), USA (D. Sinor) and other countries.

A. N. Kononov, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, presented a report on the work of Soviet Altaistics that was met with great interest. He described the main directions of the ongoing scientific research and its results, [130] dwelt on the priorities and prospects of the work carried out in the centres of Altaic studies in Leningrad, Alma-Ata, Tashkent, Baku, Ashkhabad, Frunze, and other cities.

The conference was held in three sections: 1) “Historical relations among the Altaic languages: Altaic theory, historical phonology; lexicology, morphology, syntax”; 2) “History and ethnography of the Altaic peoples”; and 3) “Turish Studies”. More than 60 reports and communications on the research of Altaic languages and literatures, folklore, history, ethnography, and art were presented at section meetings.

The Soviet delegation submitted 13 reports to the conference.

In his report “La théorie altaique et la lexico-statistique [The Altaic Theory and Lexicostatistics]”2 presented at the general plenary session, Acad. L. Ligeti stated:

“The question of the kinship of the Altai languages, for more than a hundred years has been a subject of lively discussion which has often led to heated debates, and even in our days the debate is still quite controversial. Viewpoints are polar opposites: Supporters of the Altaic language kinship, who have adopted an a priori view, now consider it superfluous to present new evidence; opponents of the Altaic language kinship have closed in steady denial and admit only two possibilities — ‘accidental matching’ and ‘incorrect convergence’ in relation to any correspondences.

In fact, the kinship, i.e. origin from one common Altaic language of the Turkic, Mongolian and Tungus-Manchu languages (not to mention Korean) has not yet received an indisputable proof up to this day. The Altaic linguistic community has not been proven as it has been done for the Indo-European or Finno-Ugric languages, for example. There are two reasons for that: either, indeed, the so-called Altaic languages do not originate from a common Proto-language and therefore they are not related; or, in contrast, they are related languages, but their present state (or older state) is the result of such a special and uneven evolution that their relationship can not be proven in accordance with the known models (Indo-European, Finno-Ugric languages, etc.), and nothing points to us with any certainty on the path leading to the Proto-language commonality.

If the so called Altaic languages are really related, their kinship can only be proven by irregularity, as irregular as their development was, and only in that way can the difficult, but otherwise impracticable, recognition of their kinship be achieved.

The Altaic languages do not have written sources as numerous and ancient as the Indo-European languages. The written history of Altaic languages is not at all as long as that of Indo-European languages, neither are these language groups equal in degree of differentiation of their numerous representatives. Altaic languages are even poorer in number of their offshoots than Finno-Ugric languages, and they are scattered over a huge territory. Last but not least, these languages and their speakers have been in constant contact for two millennia (or perhaps even longer), as the written sources attest. These contacts, while mutually enriching the Altaic languages, inevitably leveled their possible common prelanguage heritage. According to historical sources, the most intense relations were established between Türks and Mongols, on the one hand, and between Mongols and Tunguso-Manchu, on the other hand.

All these difficulties manifest themselves with unusual force in the study of vocabulary. Each of the so-called Altaic languages made extensive use of the opportunities offered by internal vocabulary renewal and created a system of word production that was formed from the available root vocabulary. A study of the role of taboo in this development has been attempted many times, but the problem has never been discussed in its entirety. It is still not clear why and since when in Turkic there are so many derivatives among the names of body parts. Interestingly, in some Eskimo dialects the names of body parts are taboo. Throughout contact, the languages studied have transferred and borrowed a significant number of words (the proportions of borrowing and giving, of course, were never identical). Borrowings have more than once pushed elements of the core vocabulary to the periphery of the language, from which they soon disappeared. This process can be illustrated by modern examples. Thus, for example, it was noticed that many ancient Mongolian words disappeared from Mongolian and gave way to their Tajik equivalents, among which, in addition to the original Iranian words, stand out lexemes of Turkic or other origin.

And, finally, we must not forget that the so-called Altaic peoples throughout their long history, which is impossible to verify from written sources, may have been in contact, and therefore a substratum or superstratum in their languages should be reckoned with. The question of linguistic substratum has already been raised in relation to the Tungus-Manchur languages. Furthermore, special attention should be given to the extinct Paleo-Asiatic languages. It should be considered that Samoyed languages were spoken since at least since the VI c. in the Yenisei headwaters area; their presence in this area is confirmed not only by the Chinese sources, but also by the toponymic materials. The ancient history of the Mongolian and Manchu languages, in turn, cannot be reproduced without taking into account the Korean language.

For my part, I believe that a very large number of correspondences represented by the vocabulary of the so-called Altaic languages are in the main attributable to borrowings. But we should be wary of approaching this huge topic with a single measure of ‘borrowing’. Borrowings do not date to the same era. Almost every significant period of contact two thousand years ago had its own lexical structure. The chronology (sometimes only a relative chronology) of these layers of borrowings could only be established through careful and persistent research. The older and less powerful of these layers would certainly have in its composition the traces of a common vocabulary of Altaic protolanguage — if only that existed. As for the size of this layer, one can make no mistake about it.

When considering the history of the Altaic languages, which are characterized by large movements, the lexicostatistical tabulation naturally helps to detect irregularity: it is in the case of genetic relatedness that different Altaic languages should have given an extremely low percentage of common elements in the Altaic ‘basic vocabulary’ and an extremely high percentage of elements related to the post-separation vocabulary.

In my opinion, it is not lexicostatistics or glottochronology that will determine the future of Altaic studies. And even if one day we have to discard the hypothesis of genetic relationships between the so-called Altaic languages, there would be no reason to stop Altai studies: in that case their goal would be to illuminate the intense contacts between these languages and the underlying regularities that neither Turkologists, nor Mongolists, nor specialists in Tungus-Manchu languages, per se, can even come close to.”

In the report “The foreign elements in early Turkish” by Prof. G. Clauson, who holds the opposite viewpoint just outlined, the results of applying lexicostatistical methods to the evaluation of the Altaic theory were presented and the issue of borrowings in the Old Turkic language was highlighted. The speaker came to the following conclusions:

  1. “In the course of history Mongolian languages have been exceptionally resistant to changes, and Turkic languages are super resistant;
  2. Turkic and Manchu languages are obviously not genetically connected, as their basic vocabularies do not coincide;
  3. After elimination of the words that for sure can be ranked as borrowed, the common elements in the Turkic and Mongolian main vocabularies will not exceed 2% of their main vocabularies, and the presence of these common words is easier to explain by borrowing, rather than by genetic connections;
  4. after necessary eliminations, common elements in Mongolian and Manchu core vocabularies would not exceed 3.5 % of their lexical composition, and the presence of these words is also easier to explain by loanwords rather than by genetic relations.

Even if one assumes that minimal correspondences between Mongolian and Manchu basic vocabularies are some evidence of their genetic relationships, Mongolian cannot be genetically related to both, if only because Turkic languages are not related to Manchu.

Hence, the Altaic theory is incorrect.”

The section meetings also featured presentations on the comparative study of the phonology of the Altai languages, of individual groups of the Altai languages — Turkic, Mongolian, Tungus-Manchu — the reconstruction of the ancient archetype of the phonetic structure of the Altai languages.

Informative reports were made by O. P. Sunik («Губные согласные в алтайских языках» [Verbal Consonants in the Altai Languages]), V. I. Cincius («О праалтайской системе согласных» [About the Proto-Altaic Consonant System]), T. Tekin (“Further Evidence for Zetacism and Sigmatism”), R. A. Miller (“Japanese—Altaic Lexical Evidence and Proto-Turkic ‘Zetacism—Sigmatism’”), A. Tretiakoff (“Comparaison des lois de succession des voyelles en turc et en mongol” [Comparison of Vowel Chain Patterns in the Turkic and Mongolian Languages]), O. Schütz (“Remarks on Initial d in the Kipchak Languages”), L. Hřebíček (“The phonetic structure of the first syllable in several Turkic languages”), F. Mártonfi (“On some problems of Sino-Korean phonology”) and J. Lotz (“The Turkish vowel system and phonological theory”). Those reports attempted to establish the ancient forms of vowel and consonant systems, presented results of computer application in studies of sound chains of Turkic and Mongolian languages, and gave their comparative characteristics.

The reports by S. K. Kenesbaev («Казахско-монгольские лексические параллели (на материале терминов родства и наименований частей тела)» [Kazakh-Mongolian lexical parallels (on the material of kinship terms and names of body parts)]), K. M. Musaev («О некоторых названиях растений в алтайских языках» [About some names of plants in the Altai languages]), B. Scherner (“Probleme arabischer and neupersischer Lehnwörter im Tatarischen” [Problems of Arabic and New Persian Borrowings in the Literary Language of Bulgarian Turks]), D. Gongor («Социальное значение этнонима ‘халха’» [The Social Meaning of the Ethnonym ‘Khalkha’]), I. Cirtautas (“Uzbek female folk-healers”), H. P. Vietze (“Die Bedeutung rückläufiger Wörterbücher für altaische Studien” [The Value of Reverse Dictionaries for the Study of Altai Languages]), G. Uray (“Pferdefarben als Stammeskennzeichen” [Equine coat colours as distinctive tribal signs]). In these reports, the ancient Turkic-Mongolian linguistic links and contacts were identified on the material of different groups of Altaic languages, and the issues of borrowings were highlighted.

The results of research into the very important problem of reconstructing primary roots of words using internal reconstruction, the etymology of affixes, the genetic commonality of individual forms in the Altai languages, the discovery of new data in the living Altai languages that were not noted in the literature, and the application of new methods in researching modern Altai languages were presented by N. A. Baskakov («О генетической общности категории лица и личной принадлежности в алтайских языках» [On genetic commonalities of person and personality in Altaic languages]), T. A. Bertagaev («Семантические варианты однокорневых слов в алтайских языках» [Semantic variants of single root words in Altaic languages]), S. N. Muratov («Некоторые вопросы закономерности структуры корня в алтайских языках» [Some questions of root structure regularity in the Altaic languages]), S. Buluç (“Irak türk ağızlarında geçen bazi fiil sekilleri üzerine” [About some verbal affixes in the language of the Iraqi Turks]), E. Hovdhaugen (“The Mongolian suffix -lig and its Turkic origin”), N. Yüce (“Einige auffällige Gerundialformen im Türkischen” [Some unusual participial forms in the Turkic language]), M.-L. Beffa and R. Hamayon (“Le nom verbal en mongol” [The verbal names in the Mongol language]).

Some theoretical and methodological issues in the study of the Altai languages, and the genetic links between the languages of the Altai area and the Korean and Japanese languages, due to the particular historical development of the Altai languages, were addressed in N. Z. Gadžieva’s paper («Роль алтайских языков в реконструкции тюркских архетипов» [The role of the Altai languages in the reconstruction of Turkic archetypes]), A. Róna-Tas (“The Altaic Theory and some Middle Mongolian words in the Chuvash language”), D. Sinor (“Tunguz-Uralic Relations”), Sh. Murayama (“Altaic Components in Japanese”), M. Coyaud (“Remarques sur les paires mongol-japonais” [Notes about Mongol-Japanese pairs]), H. Z. Koşay (“Türk dilinin en eski izleri” [The Most Ancient Traces of the Turkic Language]), K. Melles (“Sur la langue et la littérature des Mandchous d’aujourd’hui” [About language and literature of Modern Manchus]). These reports also raised questions of comparative study and reconstruction of syntactic archetypes.

The materials of the Turkic written texts were the basis for the reports by E. I. Fazylov («Труды восточных филологов как источник для истории тюркских языков» [The works of Eastern philologists as a source for the history of Turkic languages]), P. Zieme (“Ein uigurischer Text über die Wirtschaft manichäischer Kloster im uigurischen Reich” [An Uigur text on a Manichean monastery in the Uigur state]), K. Czeglédi (“Notes on Turkic inscriptions”), T. Gökbilgin (“Analyse d’un document original qui permet de donner un aperçu sur les dépenses variées du Sultan Bayezid II pendant l’expedition de Lepanto en 1499” [A study of manuscripts on the history of Sultan Bayazed II connections during the Lepanto expedition in 1499]) and J. Matuz (“Zur Sprache der Urkunden Süleymans des Prächtigen” [On the language of Suleiman’s diplomatic documents]).

Papers on history and cultural history and on historical treatises were given by N. P. Shastina («К вопросу о монгольских и тюркских этнонимах в “Секретной истории монголов”» [On the question of Mongolian and Turkic ethnonyms in the Secret History of the Mongols]), I. Meyer (“Zur chinesisch-uigurischen Übersetzungsliteratur” [A Study of Chinese-Uyghur Translated Literature]), A. M. De Groot (“Diplomatic relations between Holland and the Ottoman Empire 1600–1800”), U. Rättig (“Zu einigen Besonderheiten beim Aufbau des Hochschulwesens in der MVR” [On some features in the higher education system of the Mongolian People’s Republic]), I. Lot-Falk (“Ütügen chez les Yakouts”) and F. Isono (“Dambiijantsan: folklore and history”).

The report by A. S. Tveritinova «Лексический материал как источник для изучения традиций земледелия у османских турок» [Lexical Literature as a Source for Studying the Farming Traditions of the Ottoman Turks] was of considerable interest as it reflected on the link between the language and the history of the people.

In her report «К вопросу об этно-культурных взаимо-отношениях племен Монгольского Алтая» [On the question of ethno-cultural interrelations of Mongolian-Altaic tribes], Е. A. Novgorodova was the first to place a focus on the origin of wheeled transport in Mongolia.

At one of the plenary sessions a round-table discussion on theoretical and methodological problems of Altai studies was held, with speeches by A. N. Kononov, G. D. Sanžeev, A. Róna-Tas, D. Sinor, V. I. Cincius, N. Z. Gadžieva, O. P. Sunik, E. Hovdhaugen, G. Clauson and E. I. Fazylov.

During the days of the PIAC the ceremonial meeting of the Kőrösi Csoma Society was held where diplomas were awarded to the newly elected members of this society for Oriental Studies: N. A. Baskakov, T. Gökbilgin and D. Sinor. The Soviet scholars A. N. Kononov and G. D. Sanžeev were previously elected members of this society.

The Indiana University (USA) Prize for Altaic Studies (short: PIAC Medal) established in 1963 to honor the most outstanding Altaist scholars was awarded to a famous expert on ancient Turkic languages, A. M. von Gabain (FRG).

The previous awardees were A. Mostaert (Belgium, 1963), E. Haenisch (Germany, 1964), B. Rintchen (Mongolian People’s Republic, 1965), G. Németh (Hungary, 1966), M. Räsänen (Finland, 1967), L. Ligeti (Hungary, 1968), G. Clauson (England, 1969) and N. N. Poppe (USA, 1970).

At the last plenary meeting organisational matters were discussed. A new committee for awarding the PIAC Medal was elected; its members were: A. S. Tveritinova, A. M. von Gabain and La Temur [O. Lattimore?]. It was decided that the place and time of the next, i.e. the XV PIAC Meeting, would be announced separately.

Special mention should be made of the clear organization of the work of the 14th Conference of PIAC, which [133] is a merit, first of all, of the conference president, Acad. Ligeti, his Hungarian colleagues from J. Atilla University in Szeged, and especially Professor A. Róna-Tas.

E. I. Fazylov

Translation: raw translation by deepl.com, edited by O. Corff.


1 Permanent International Altaistic conference. Arbeitsbericht 1958 bis 1960 (gedгuckt als Manuskript, 32 s.); Aspects of Altaic civilization. Proceedings of the V meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic conference held а Indiana University June 4–9, 1962, Bloomington, 1963 («Uralic and Altaic series», 23); Sitzungsberichte der 6. Arbeitstagung der Permanent International Altaistic Conference in Helsinki 4–8. 6. 1963, JSFOu, б5, 1, 1964, s. 1–123; Proceedings of the VII meeting of the Permanent International Altaistic conference 29 August–3 September 1964, Central Asiatic Journal, Х, 3–4, 1965, р. 141–338; Asiatische Forschungen: Die Jagd bei den altaischen Völkern. Vorträge der VIII Permanent Internatioпal Altaistic Conference vom З0. 8. bis 4. 9. 1965 in Schloss Auel, Asiatische Forschungen, 26, 1968; Permanent International Altaistic Conference. Newsletter, No. 6, Apri1, 1971.

2 Key points of Acad. L. Ligeti’s report are rendered in fair detail here as they cover the central problems of the ongoing debate of the Altaic hypothesis.