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Old Turkic

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Title: Old Turkic  
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Subject: Old Turkic alphabet, Tonyukuk, Ilterish Qaghan, Yılgayakh, Elteber, Taspar Qaghan, Muqan Qaghan, Ishbara Qaghan, Yami Qaghan, Toquz Oghuz
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Old Turkic

Not to be confused with Proto-Turkic language.
Old Turkic
Region Central Asia
Era broke up by the 13th century
Language family
Writing system Old Turkic, Brahmi, Aramaic-derived, Uyghur alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Variously:
xqa – Karakhanid
Linguist List

Old Turkic (also East Old Turkic, Orkhon Turkic, Old Uyghur) is the earliest attested form of Turkic, found in Göktürk and Uyghur inscriptions dating from about the 7th century to the 13th century. It is the oldest attested member of the Southeastern (Uyghuric) branch of Turkic, which is extant in the modern Chagatai, Uyghur and Western Yugur languages.

Old Turkic is attested in a number of scripts, including the Orkhon-Yenisei runiform script, the Old Uyghur alphabet (a form of the Sogdian alphabet), the Brāhmī script, the Manichean alphabet, and the Perso-Arabic script.


Sources of Old Turkic are divided into three corpora:

  • the 7th to 10th century Orkhon inscriptions in Mongolia and the Yenisey basin (Orkhon Turkic, or Old Turkic proper)
  • 9th to 13th century Uyghur manuscripts from Xinjiang (Old Uyghur), in various scripts including Brahmi, the Manichaean, Syriac and Uyghur alphabets, treating religious (Buddhist, Manichaean and Nestorian), legal, literary, folkloric and astrologic material as well as personal correspondence.
  • 11th century Qarakhanid manuscripts, mostly written in Arabic script (Qarakhanid Turkic). The Qarakhanid corpus includes a 6,500 couplet poem, Qutaδγu bilig "Wisdom that brings good fortune", an Arabic–Turkic dictionary and Mahmud al-Kashgari's "Compendium of the Turkic dialects". This variety is sometimes referred to as Middle Turkic.


Old Turkic has nine vowel qualities—a, e, ė, i, ï, o, ö, u, ü—distinct only in the first syllable of a word, collapsed into four classes elsewhere—a, e, ï, i.

The consonantal system distinguishes between unvoiced, voiced (with fricative variants) and nasal:

labial: p, v (β), m;
dental: t, d (δ), n;
palatal: č, y, ń;
velar: k (q, χ), g (γ), ŋ;
sibilant: s, š, z;
liquid: r, l.

Old Turkic words do not begin with the sounds C, D, F, G, Ğ, H, J, L, P, R, V, Z.

See also


  • Ö.D. Baatar, Old Turkic Script, Ulan-Baator (2008), ISBN 0-415-08200-5
  • ISBN 90-04-10294-9.
  • M. Erdal, Old Turkic word formation: A functional approach to the lexicon, Turcologica, Harassowitz (1991), ISBN 3-447-03084-4.
  • Talat Tekin, A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic, Uralic and Altaic Series Vol. 69, Indiana University Publications, Mouton and Co. (1968). (review: Gerard Clauson, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1969); RoutledgeCurzon (1997), ISBN 0-7007-0869-3.
  • L. Johanson, A History of Turkic, in: The Turkic Languages, eds. L. Johanson & E.A. Csato, Routledge, London (1998), ISBN 0-415-08200-5
  • M. Erdal, Old Turkic, in: The Turkic Languages, eds. L. Johanson & E.A. Csato, Routledge, London (1998),ISBN 978-99929-944-0-5

External links

  • Old Turkic inscriptions (with translations into English), reading lessons and tutorials
  • Turkic Inscriptions of Orkhon Valley (with translations into Turkish)
  • VATEC, pre-Islamic Old Turkic electronic corpus at
  • A Grammar of Old Turkic by Marcel Erdal
  • Old Turkic (8th century) funerary inscription (W. Schulze)
  • 古代突厥文碑铭研究 - 数字图书馆
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