Altaic Linguistics in the USSR—A Brief Survey

Permanent International Altaistic Conference Newsletter, No. 7, April 1972

Altaic Linguistics in the USSR—A Brief Survey

A. N. Kononov

The Altaic languages in the USSR are represented by three families of languages: Turkic (23 languages), Mongolian (Buryat), Kalmuk, and other dialects), and Tunguz-Manchu (Evenki, Even, Negidal, Nanai, Ulch, Orok, and Udegei). Speakers of the Altaic languages occupy second place in the USSR and are outnumbered only by Speakers of Slavic. Among the Altaic languages of the USSR the Turkic languages occupy first place and are the official languages of five of the Union Republics: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Turkmenia, and Uzbekistan; of six of the Autonomous Republics: Bashkiria, Karakalpakia, Tataria, Tuva, Chuvashia, and Yakutia; and of two of the Autonomous Regions: Gorno-Altai and Khakass. There are also Turkic-speaking peoples in the following localities: Daghestan ASSR (Kumyks, Nogais), Kabardino-Balkar ASSR and Karachaevo-Cherkess Autonomous Region (Balkars, Karachais, Nogais), Stavropol Krai (Nogais, Türkhmen), Moldavian SSR (Gagauz), and Nakhichevan ASSR (Azeris). Turkic is also spoken by the Karaim (Lithuanian SSR and Ukrainian SSR), by the Urums (Donets Region, Georgian SSR), and by the Krymchaks (Crimea and other regions).

I. Turkological Research.

The following special scientific research institutes study various aspects of Turkology:

At the Academy of Sciences, USSR: Institute of Oriental Studies (founded in 1818), Institute of Philology, Institute of Ethnography (Moscow-Leningrad), Institute of World Literature (Moscow), Institute of History, Language, and Literature (Kazan, Makhachkala, Ufa), Institute of History, Philology, and Philosophy (Novosibirsk), Institute of Literature and History (Yakutsk).

In the Academies of Science of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kasakhstan, Kirghizia, Turkmenia, and Uzbekistan, special institutes have been established which do research on Problems of philology, history, ethnography, and literature of various peoples, including the Turkic-speaking peoples.

At the scientific research institutes of languages, literature, and history in the Gorno-Altai Region, Tuva, Khakasia, and Chuvashia, research is being done in the languages, literatures, and ethnographies of the peoples of these regions.

Turkic languages are taught and studied at all the universities of the Soviet East: Alma-Ata, Ashkhabad, Baku, Kazan, Samarkand, Tashkent, Ufa, Yakutsk, etc., as well as at the numerous pedagogical institutes of the Turkic-speaking Republics and Regions.

The Universities of Leningrad, Moscow, and Tbilisi also train qualified Turkologists.

The most important subjects of research in Russian Turkology (established long ago) are the following:

  1. Phonetics, phonology.
  2. Morphology, Syntax.
  3. Lexicography, lexicology.
  4. Dialectography, dialectology.
  5. Study and publication of Turkic literary monuments.
  6. Description of Turkic manuscripts.

Mention should be made of a methodological feature which has been characteristic of Soviet Turkology for the past twenty years, i.e. the phonetic and grammatical structure of the Turkic languages are studied by comparative and comparative-historical methods.

Research in Turkic phonetics is as a rule carried on with the aid of the latest technical achievements in the field. Experimental research in phonetics covers practically every Turkic language in the Soviet Union. Listed below are several works in the field.

S. Azamov, Radiographs of the Pronunciation of Uzbek Phonemes, 1960.

S. Sadykhov, Characteristics of Azeri Consonantal Phonemes According to Experimental Data, 1961.

T. K. Akhmatov, The Phonetic Structure of the Modern Kirghiz Literary Language. Experimental Research in Phonetics, 1968.

M. M. Isabekov, Qualitative Features of Vowels in the Modern Kirghiz Literary Language. Experimental Research in Phonetics, Frunze Academy, 1971, 23 pp.

A. K. Alekperov, The Phonematic System of Modern Azeri, Baku, 1971, 96 pp.

A. M. Shcherbak, Comparative Phonetics of the Turkic Languages.

Research in the grammar of modern Turkic languages is being carried out on a large scale and all the Turkic languages of the USSR are now described in monographs which deal with their morphological and syntactic structures. Regrettably, lack of space will not allow a complete enumeration of the many books which deal with research in the morphology and syntax of the Turkic languages. We shall mention here only a few:

E. V. Sevortyan, Verb-Forming Affixes in Azeri, Moscow, 1962; and Noun-Forming Affixes in Azeri, Moscow, 1966.

V. N. Khangil’din, Grammar of the Tatar Language, Kazan, 1959 (in Tatar) .

A. A. Yldashev, Analytical Forms of the Verb in the Turkic Languages, Moscow, 1965.

M.S. Mikhaylov, Studies in Turkish Grammar. Periphrastic Forms of the Verb, Moscow, 1965.

B. Charyyarov, Tenses of the Verb in the Southeastern Group of the Turkic Languages, Ashkhabad, 1969 (in Turkmen).

N.Z. Gadzhieva, Basic Developments in the Syntactic Structure of the Turkic Languages (Doctoral dissertation, in manuscript).

E. I. Korkina, Conjugation of Verbs in Yakut, 1970; also, Grammar of the Turkmen Language, Part 1, Phonetics and Morphology, Ashkhabad, 1970, 503 pp; also, Grammar of the Azeri Language; Phonetics, Morphology, and Syntax, Baku, 1971, 413 pp.; also, The Modern Tatar Literary Language: Syntax, Kazan 1971, 311 pp.

F. P. Zeynalov, Auxiliary Parts of Speech in Modern Turkic Languages, Baku, 1971, 312 pp. (in Azeri).

For a review of the phonetics and grammar of the Turkic languages of the USSR and for a comprehensive bibliography, see The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR, Vol. II, Moscow, 1966.

Great emphasis is at present being given to the comparative study of the Turkic languages as is evident from the special series Research in the Comparative Grammar of the Turkic Languages, Vols. I–IV.

Turkic lexicography in the USSR, which has a long and magnificent history (V.I. Verbitskiy, L.Z. Budagov, V.V. Radlov, E.K. Pekarskiy, N.I. Ashmarin, K.K. Yudakhin), has of late been supplemented by the following great dictionaries: Kirghiz-Russian, Turkmen-Russian, Uzbek-Russian, Tatar-Russian, and Uighur-Russian. All the Turkic languages of the USSR now have their own dictionaries. The large Turkish-Russian and Russian-Turkish lexicons have been completed, and the Compilation of the large Kazakh-Russian dictionary will soon be finished. Work is continuing on the large Azeri-Russian dictionary, etc. Complete Azeri, Kazakh, and Turkmen dictionaries have been published, and a complete Tatar dictionary is ready for publication. Many dialect and phraseological dictionaries as well as dictionaries of Synonyms have also been published.

Special mention should be made of the Old Turkic Dictionary (Leningrad, 1969) which was compiled from the monuments of the 8th to 13th centuries.

A Karaim-Russian-Polish Dictionary has been compiled through the joint efforts of Soviet and Polish Turkologists (edited by A.A. Zayonchkovskiy and N.A. Baskakov), and a Gagauz-Russian-Moldavian Dictionary was compiled by co-workers of the Institute of Language and Literature of the AS, Moldavian SSR, and the Institute of Lingv.istics of the AS USSR (edited by N.A. Baskakov).

During the past few years there have been developments in one of the most difficult branches of lexicography: the Compilation of etymological dictionaries of the Turkic languages. These works include:

An Etymological Dictionary of the Chuvash Language, by V.G. Egorov (1964);

A Short Etymological Dictionary of the Kazakh Language, compiled by a writers’ collective (1966);

An Etymological Dictionary of the Turkic Languages, by E.V. Sevortyan, Part I, 65 pp. (soon to be published);

An Etymological Dictionary of the Uzbek Language, by A.G. Gulyamov, is now being compiled.

Many terminological dictionaries have also been compiled and published, e.g., on cattle breeding, trades, construction, etc.

Long experience in lexicography and the existence of dictionaries in all the Turkic languages have made possible the transition to a new stage of work in this field: lexicology, which is now an important field of activity for Soviet Turkologists. See the symposia The Historical Development of the Vocabulary of the Turkic Peoples, Moscow, 1961; Turkic Lexicology and Lexicography, Moscow, 1971; Dzh. Kagramanov, Modern Azeri: Vocabulary, Baku, 1970, 235 pp. (in Azeri); and T. Zhanuzakov, Kazakh Anthroponomics, Alma-Ata, 1971, 218 pp. (in Kazakh).

Of great importance in the research of Soviet Turkologists is the study of Turkic phraseology and the compiling of phraseological dictionaries. Mention should be made of Sh. Rakhmatulaev’ research in Uzbek phraseology and the compilation of the large Kazakh Phraseological Dictionary, the product of many years’ work by S. K. Kenesbaev.

Dialectographic research is being carried on in the USSR wherever there are Turkic-speaking people. See Problems in the Dialectology of the Turkic Peoples, Vols. I–IV. At present the most important work in this field is the compilation of dialect dictionaries and the collecting and Processing of materials for a dialect atlas of the Turkic languages of the USSR.

The study and editing of Turkic monuments is one of the most important means for the solving of some of the most pressing Problems in Contemporary Turkology: historical phonetics, grammar, and vocabulary of the Turkic languages.

All known Turkic monuments are at present being studied, beginning with the Orkhon-Yenisei inscriptions. Special mention should be made of the intensive study of the Divan-u lugat it-turk by Mahmud Kashgari (11th Century). The fourth Conference of Turkologists which convened in Leningrad on April 2–4, 1970, was in honor of the 900th anniversary of the creation of the famous poem Kutadgu bilig by Yusuf of Balasagun. (Reports read at the Conference were published in the periodical Sovetskaya tyurkologiya, 1970, No. 4). Kayum Karimov has published the Kutadgu bilig in transcription and in Uzbek translation (Tashkent, 1971).

Recent publications on the study of the grammatical structure and vocabulary of the monuments include:

S.N. Ivanov, The Genealogy of the Turks by Abu-l-Gazi Khan, Tashkent, 1969.

E.I. Fazylov, The Old Uzbek Language. The Khwarezm Monuments of the 14th Century, Vols. I–II, Tashkent, 1966, 1971.

E.M. Fazylov, Fragments of an Unknown Old Turkic Monument, Tashkent, 1970, 70 pp.

K. Mukhitdinov, The “Sanglah” of Mirza Mukhammed Mekhdikhan. Research, Commentary, Translation, and Transcription. Academy, Tashkent, 1971, 17 pp.

Ch. Dzhumagulov, The Language of the Syriac-Turkic (Nestorian) Monuments of Kirghizia, Frunze, 1971, 163 pp.

U. Sanakulov, A Study of the Language of the Fifteenth-Century Monument “Muhamat-ul-lugatain,” by Alisher Navoi, Academy, Tashkent, 1971, 20 pp.; and The Ancient Turkic Dialects and Their Reflection in Modern Languages, Frunze, 1971, 195 pp. (symposium).

Sh. Shukurov, From the History of the Verb. Conjugations and Tenses in the Language of the Ancient Turkic Monuments, Tashkent, 1970, 107 pp.

E.N. Nadzhip has completed his multi-volume research of many years on the vocabulary of the Turkic monuments of the 14th Century. The first section of the work, A Comparative-Historical Dictionary of the Turkic Monuments of the 14th Century, has been accepted by the Academy of Sciences for publication.

Kazakh scholars have begun to publish a new series of works entitled Epigraphy of Kazakhstan, the first volume of which has now appeared (Alma-Ata, 1971, 163 pp.).

Among historical-philological studies mention should be made of A.S. Tveritinova’s The Law-Book of Sultan Selim I, Moscow, 1969, 158 pp., which is based on two hitherto unknown works of the same title which Tveritinova discovered in the collection of the Oriental Institute of the AS USSR.

Also worthy of attention is I.V. Stebleva’s research on the Problems of ancient Turkic poetry. This year her new book appeared: The Development of Turkic Poetical Forms in the 11th Century, Moscow, 1971.

A special branch of historical-philological studies is the description of Turkic manuscripts which, along with manuscripts in other Oriental languages, are preserved in the libraries of Leningrad, Moscow, Tashkent, Baku, Kazan, Yerevan, Tbilisi, Dushanbe, Alma-Ata, Ashkhabad, and Makhachkala. In these cities the cultural monuments of the peoples of the East are being systematized, described, catalogued, and published, both in the original and in translation.

Periodicals on Turkology are represented in the USSR by the Russian periodical Sovetskaya tyurkologiya, the first issue of which appeared in April, 1970 (published six times annually); by the Uzbek periodical Uzbek tili va adableti (Uzbek Language and Literature), which has been published in Tashkent since 1957 (published six times annually), and by the Russian periodical Obshchestvennye nauki V Uzbekistane (Social Sciences in Uzbekistan) which has been published in Tashkent since 1956 and appears twelve times annually. There are also the periodicals Narody Azii i Afriki (The Peoples of Asia and Africa), Voprosy yazykoznaniya (Problems of Linguistics), Sovetskaya etnografiya (Soviet Ethnography), published by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, as well as the social Science publications of the Academies of Sciences of the Republics. The Transactions of the various universities and pedagogical institutes also regularly publish works on research in Altaic philology.

II. Research in Mongolistics.

Research in Mongolistics is carried on in the following institutions of the Soviet Union: Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR; Institute of Philology of the AS USSR; Buryat Institute of Social Sciences of the Buryat Branch of the Siberian AS USSR (in Ulan Ude); Kalmuk Scientific Research Institute of Language, Literature, and History (in Elista); and at the Universities of Leningrad and Moscow.

The following works are representative of work being done in the phonetics and grammar of the Mongol languages:

G.D. Sanzheev, Comparative Grammar of the Mongolian Languages.

T.A. Bertagaev, Comparative Syntax of the Mongolian Language; also, Morphological Structure of the Word in the Mongolian Languages; and, A Buryat Grammar.

B.Kh. Todaeva, The Baon Language; and, The Dunsyan Language. Her large monograph, The Monguor Language, is now in press, as is her work, Dialects of the Mongol Languages of China.

I.D. Buraev, The Sound Structure of Buryat.

Ts.B. Tsydendambaev, The Buryat Historical Chronicles and their Language (manuscript).

At the Institute of Oriental Studies of the AS USSR an etymological dictionary of the Mongolian language is being compiled under the direction of G.D. Sanzheev.

The Buryat Institute of Social Sciences is systematically working on Buryat dialects and is compiling a dialect atlas of the Buryat language.

Mongolian literary monuments are being studied both from the standpoint of linguistics and of historical research.

The “Altan Tobchi” by Lubsan Dandzan will soon be published with a Russian translation and commentary by N.P. Shastina. M.N. Orlovskaya is studying the grammatical peculiarities of this chronicle.

The Buryat Institute of Social Sciences possesses one of the largest collections of Mongol, Buryat, and Tibetan manuscripts and xylographs in the world. This collection is being used as a source for An Outline of the Cultural History of the Mongols (in five volumes). The initiator of the work and author of the first two volumes (still in manuscript) was the late Mongolist G. N. Rumyantsev.

The Kalmuk Scientific Research Institute for Language, Literature, and History is at present compiling a large Kalmuk-Russian Dictionary (this is being done by a writers’ collective under the direction of B. Muniev), and research is being done in the phonetics of Kalmuk by D.A. Pavlov and P. Bitkeev, and in Kalmuk folklore by A. Sh. Kichikov and others.

Outlines of the phonetic and grammatical structure or Buryat and Kalmuk are to be found in Volume Five of The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR, Leningrad, 1968, as is related literature.

Both the Buryat and the Kalmuk Institutes also publish Bulletins.

III. Research in Tunguz-Manchu.

The center of this branch of Altaic studies is the Department of Altaic Languages of the Leningrad branch of the Institute of Philology of the AS USSR which deals primarily with Problems in Tunguz and Turkic philology.

After the completion of the Old Turkic Dictionary, Leningrad, 1969, and the Comparative Dictionary of the Tunguz-Manchu Languages, manuscript, 185 pp., the Department concentrated its efforts on research in the basic Problems of Altaic studies: comparative-historical research in vocabulary, morphology, and phonetics of the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tunguz-Manchu languages, also taking into account Korean.

A collective monograph directed by O.P. Sunik, An Outline of Comparative Lexicology of the Altaic Languages, has been completed and gives the results of a comparative study of pronominal suffixes, causative forms, aspect-tense forms, etc.

Another collective monograph, Introduction to Altaic Studies. An Outline of Comparative Phonetics, will contain a brief exposition of the history of Altaic studies and its results as well as the results of the comparative study of the more important phonetic correspondences among the Altaic languages taking into account new material on several Altaic languages which were little studied in the past. This work is expected to be completed in 1971.

The Department expects to continue and expand its research in the field of etymology and comparative grammar of the Altaic languages (1971-1975).

Preliminary results of the Department’s studies were discussed at the First Conference of Altaic Studies in Leningrad in May, 1969. The reports read at the Conference have been published: The Problem of Community of the Altaic Languages, Leningrad, 1969, 88 pp. See also: Problems in Linguistics, No. 6, 1969, and Report of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, No. 10, 1969. The majority of these reports were published in the Symposium The Problem of the Community of the Altaic Languages, Leningrad, 1971, 404 pp.

Among recent works in Tunguz linguistics we may mention studies on the phonetics and grammar of Evenki, Even, Negidal, Nanai, Ulch, Orok, Oroch, and Udegei which appear in Volume Five of The Languages of the Peoples of the USSR, Leningrad, 1968, and the following monographs:

V.D. Kolesnikova, Evenki Syntax, Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.

T.I. Petrova, The Language of the Oroks (Ultas), Leningrad, 1967.

G.M. Vasilevich, The Historical Folklore of the Evenkis. Texts, Translation, Commentary, Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.

V.A. Avrorin and E.P. Lebedeva, Oroch Folktales and Myths, Novosibirsk, 1966.

The following works are ready or will soon be ready for publication:

Nanai-Russian Dictionary (S.N. Onenko).

The Negidal Language (V.I. Tsintsius, O.A. Konstantinova, V.D. Kolesnikova).

The Evenki Vanavar Dialect (B.A. Gortsevskaya).

Evenki Dialects (K.A. Novikova).

The Udegei Language (I.V. Kormushin).

The Ulch Language (Ö.P. Sunik).

The Tunguz-Manchu Languages (comparative studies, now in press)

The co-workers of the Altaic Language Department have for

many years organized field trips for the study of little-known languages and their dialects. They have collected and prepared for publication an enormous amount of material on the dialects of the Tunguz languages of the Soviet Union.

Lack of time does not permit a more detailed description of the present status or the results and achievements of Altaic linguistics in the USSR, but manifest facts such as the breadth of the Problems studied by Soviet Altaic scholars, the introduction on a scientific basis of new, important, and well-systematized materials in all branches of Altaic linguistics, the in-depth and detailed study of phonetics, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary of the Altaic languages on the basis of descriptive, comparative, and comparative-historical research, and the compilation and Publishing of study aids essential to deeper research in the Altaic languages (grammars, dictionaries, etc.), bear evidence to the extent and the basic trends of research in the field of Altaic linguistics in the USSR.

Translated from the Russian by Stanley Frye.