[tatar-l] Question of a common Turkish language
- QUESTION OF A COMMON TURKISH LANGUAGE
by Timur Kocaoglu
Three messages and one reply:
1) On 19991128 Yahya M wrote in message:
>> There is considerably greater mutual comprehension between2) On Sun, 28 Nov 1999 12:41:35 -0800 Paul Davidson wrote:
>> dialects of spoken Arabic than there is between the Chinese
> True. I believe there are about 160 million Arabic speakers, and3) On Mon, 29 Nov 1999 22:34:13 -0500 H. Mark Hubey wrote:
> although this is fragmented into various dialects, all (or nearly
> all) know Standard Arabic (which is used in media throughout the
> Arab world).
> How did this standard Arabic come about, and can it beThe standard Arabic first initiated in the pre-Islamic period Arabia
> done for Turkic languages?
known as the "al-jahiliyya" ('the period of ignorance' as called
later by the Muslim Arab intellectuals). In ancient (pre-Islamic)
Arabia, every Arabic tribe had its own dialect "as spoken language",
but there evolved a "common dialect" used by the poets which helped
the mutual intelligibility between various Arabic tribes speaking in
different dialects (actually different Arabic languages). Later, the
Holly Qur'an was orally transmitted in this "common dialect" of the
prophet Muhammad, and was written after Muhammad's death in this
"common dialect" which was serving as a "common comunicational
language" for the Arabs. The scholars of the Arabic linguistics call
this "common Arabic language" as the Meccan dialect. So, the
Classical Arabic literary language evolved after the 7th century
based on this particular Meccan dialect.
Today, Arabic is the "common standard literary language" of about 160
million people in the Arabic countries of the Arabian peninsula,
Persian Gulf, and the north and central Africa (including Chad).
However, there are many other Arabic languages which are very
different than this "standard literary Arabic" and used as only
"spoken languages" in Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria,
Saudia Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, the Gulf countries (the
Amirates), including Chad in Central Africa (Chadians speak Arabic,
but their language is completely different than any Arabic language).
[see Alan S. Kaye, "Arabic" in The World's Major Languages, ed. by
Bernard Comrie. New York, 1990; pp. 664-667].
The historical reason why today there is only a single Arabic
literary language is that no other "literary languages" evolved from
different Arabic dialects! I guess, first it is Islam and the
language of the Holly Qur'an that helped the development of a common
Arabic classical language despite the fact that there were various
other Arabic spoken languages most of them were mutually
unintelligible (incomprehensive) to each other. Yes, we can say that
the various Arabic spoken languages presently used in the Arab world
are more comprehensive among themselves than the various Chinese
languages to each other (therefore, despite the fact that there is a
"common Chinese" language based on the Beijing Chinese (Mandarin),
the other Chinese languages are considered as seperate languages by
the linguists). See Noam Chomsky, Knowledge of Language: Its Nature,
Origin, and Use. Westport: Praeger, 1986; p. 15.
Yes, the present spoken-Arabic languages are mutuallly more
comprehensive than the Chinese languages to each other. However,
most of the present written- and spoken-Turkic languages of
the world are even mutually more comprehensive than the Arabic
languages to each other. Only, with the exception of Saha (Yakut) and
Chuvash languages which are very far and uncomprehensive to the rest
of the Turkic languages.
Historically, there were two distinct spoken dialects of the
proto-Turkish as the Bulgar (a "r" and "l" dialect) and the
Turkish or "Turkic" (a "z" and "sh" dialect). Two seperate literary
languages developed from this two dialects from the 5th century on
where there is little written works from Bulgar, but much more
written works in Turkish 7th century on up to the present day.
Despite these two main phonetic differences of "r > z" and "l > sh"
consonants when we compare the old written documents of the Volga
Bulgar and Orkhun Turkic we find it highly comprehension between
them. But, the present Chuvash (believed to be the modern language of
the old Bulgar group) is totally incomprehensive to the rest of the
A common Turkish/Turkic literary language have evolved from the 7th
century on despite the existence of various different spoken Turkic
languages as mentioned by the great linguist Mahmud Qashgariy in his
11th century work "Diwanu-lughati't-turk" (Compendium of the Turkic
Dialects). We can speak of a "common Turkish literary language"
between the 8th and 13th centuries belonging to the various Turkic
groups living in distant places such as Turkistan (both Western and
Eastern parts), Idil-Ural (Volga-Ural), northern steppes of the Black
Sea, and the Mamluk Egypt. This common Turkish literary tradition had
the following literary periods: Orkhun Turkish, Old Uyghur,
Karakhanid, Kharazmian, Kipchak (of both Saray "Idil-Ural" and the
However, after the movement of major Oghuz Turks to Iran and Anatolia
and the development of a seperate writing system in Anatolia, a new
Turkic literary language has evolved in Anatolia, later in the
Ottoman Empire which we call today as "Old Anatolian Turkish"
literary language. So, after the 13th century on two different
Turkish literary languages have followed different literary
traditions and writing systems: an eastern Turki (Chagatay and the
similar literary language of the Golden Horde) and the western
Turkish (of Anatolian).
By the mid-16th century, the western Turkish literary language
evolved into further two distinct literary languages of Ottoman
Turkish of Istanbul and the Azerbaijani Turkish of the Caucasus and
Iran. Thus, between the 16th and 19th centuries there were three
distinct Turkish literary languages of Ottoman Turkish, Azerbaijani,
and the Turki (in both Central Asia, Kazan, and Crimea). Of course,
there have been always many Turkic spoken languages (between 20 to
25) in the 8th century, in the 11th century (as recorded by
Kashgariy), and the mid-19th century (as recorded by Radloff), but
there was mainly threeTurkic literary languages until the mid-19th
century. As a result of the long Russian domination of the Turkic
lands between the 1551 (Kazan) and the 1917 and later the Soviet
colonialism (1920-1991), seperate Tatar, Kazak, Turki (Sart),
Turkmen, Yakut, Chuvash, other Turkic languages started to be
evolved, but it was only in the Soviet period that about 21 seperate
Turkic literary languages were hastly created between 1920 and 1935
with very distinct features from each other. The alphabet changes
from Arabic to Latin, and later to Cyrillic (1938-1940) have also
helped to isolate each Turkic language from each other.
[See Timur Kocaoglu, "Turk Diline Sosyo-Politik Bir Bakis"
Turk Dili (Ankara), Sayi: 548 (August 1997); pp. 113-121;
Attila Jorma, Hazar Berisi: Karadeniz Kultur Cevresinde Turk Dili.
Haarlem: SOTA, 1999].
As Prof. Uli Schamiloglu has correctly stated in his recent posting
to the Tatar-l (Nov. 29): "In the 1910s-1920s Tatar, Uzbek, Turkish,
Azeri, etc. in Arabic script (sometimes even Kazak) were liberally
using the grammatical forms of each other's languages, since literary
norms for each separate literary language had not yet developed at
that time (quite different norms were established only later in the
Soviet period)." [from Uli Schamiloglu].
If the Soviet Union was not created and the Turkic peoples were free
to form their own national states after the end of the Czarist
empire such as the states of Idil-Ural (Tatars & Bashkirs together),
Crimean-Tatar, Turkistan (including the Chinese Turkistan), a kind of
federation in the Caucasus between the Turkic and other peoples, and
if the majority of the Turks have followed the path of Gaspirali
Ismail Bey "Tilde, ishde, fikrde birlik!", there would be more
possibility to form a "common Turkic literary language" for the
majority of the Muslim Turks, excluding the Chuvash, Siberian Turkic
languages, and Yakut. However, the political developments in the
first half of the 20th century have not allowed such development.
Therefore, history has provided more kind (favorable) conditions to
both Arabic and Chinese languages that they could evolve into a
"common Arabic" and a "common Chinese" languages, but not the Turkic
languages although there was a period of "common Turkish literary
language" between the 8th and the 13th centuries.
However, there should not be a kind of hard feeling among the members
of the Turkic peoples today. We have to accept and understand this
historical development for the present 21 Turkic literary languages
in the world (with many more spoken Turkic languages in Iran,
China, Siberia, etc.). Despite these "negative" developments in the
view of a "common Turkic language", Tatars, Bashkirs, Ozbeks,
Uyghurs, Qazaqs, Qirghiz, Turkmens, Karays, Karachay-Balkars, Kumuks,
Nogays, Azerbayjanis, Turkey Turks could understand each other to
various levels depending on their mutual comprehension. As an Ozbek,
I have no problem to read and understand the literary texts from
Uyghur to Tatar, from Qazaq to Azerbaijani. Why should I hold myself
from reading Tatar literature? I don't want to miss not only the
beautiful literary expressions of the Tatar language, but the ideas &
thoughts of the Tatar intellectuals as follows:
(The capital letter "I" is used for the back vowel "i" = hard i,
and the capital "L" is used for normal "l" letter when there is
capital "I = hard i" letter before or after it):
"Xezér Idél tamagInda da xörriyet kanat ceya, örkétélgen,
mingéreületélgen tatar kabat uyanIrga, yaralarIn devalarga kImshana
bashlagan iken, digen xeberler kile. Niche diste éldan song bérénché
mertebe sabantuy beyremé uzdIrILgan, bish-altI avIL mektebénde atnaga
ikésher segat tatar télé-edebiyatI ukItIrga kéréshélgen, ölke
üzegénde Tatar medeni cemgIyeté korIgan, éshné tagIn da kingrek ceép
ciberérge bélgéchler citéshmi. Estérxan yagI zur ömétler bélen
Tatarstanga karIy: savIgIrga, térneklenérge Kazan yardem itermé?
Belki shushI bérdemlik xisé bézge xerabeler arasInnan kalkIp
chIgarga, tarixi vatanIbIznIng her tarafInda yanga matur binalar
korIrga, chechkeler üstérérge mömkinlék birer? Küz kurkak, kul batIr
- monga xalkIbIznIng küp gasIrLI tarixi da shahit - béz indé niche
mertebe köl bulgannan song göl bulgan xaLIk labasa!"
from Teüfik Eydi, "Yörte Bézné YazmIshlar" Kazan: "Avaz", 1999;
Associate Professor of Central Asian Studies
College of Arts & Sciences
Cayir Cad. 5, Istinye 80860, Istanbul, Turkey
Office Phone# (90-212) 229-3006 (Ext. 422)
Office Fax# (90-212) 229-0680
Home Page: http://home.ku.edu.tr/~kocaoglu/