Is Turkic a Language? What are Turkic Languages?


Turkish refers to Turkish people who have their origins in Turkey and Turkic refers to an ethnic group of people who have their ancestral origins in Central Asia.

As a Turkish and a Turkic, I feel that Turkic languages are not much known. In this blog, I will try to shed light on facts on Turkic Languages.

Turkic is a term that defines ethnicity as well as a language family. Turkic is a language family which includes Turkish and other Turkic languages of Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, Kyrgyz people.

It is debatable if Turkic languages are one language or a group of languages. I believe some Turkic languages could be considered dialects of each other. For example, as a Turkish native speaker, I feel the Azerbaijani language is more like a dialect of Turkish rather than a separate language.

In fact, as an Istanbul dialect speaker, it is sometimes easier for me to understand Azerbaijani than some dialects of Turkish.

Turkic Languages in Brief

All Turkic languages come from the Proto-Turkic language, which was the spoken language of Turkic people 3000 years ago around 1000 B.C.

This ancient Turkic language evolved into Turkish, Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic languages.

There are 4 main subgroups of Turkic Languages. These are

  • Oghuz languages with 125,400,000 native speakers.
  • Karluk languages with 38,000,000 native speakers.
  • Kipchak languages with 28,300,000 native speakers.
  • Siberian Turkic languages with 1,200,000 native speakers.

There are around 193,700,000 native speakers of Turkic languages.

Hungarian is also being accepted Turkic Language by the Organization of Turkic States and Hungary. More on this later.

Map of Turkic Languages and Groups – Red: Oghuz Subgroup – Orange: Karluk Subgroup – Green: Kipchak Subgroup – Blue: Siberian Subgroup Source

If you are interested in learning the Turkish language, this is the book that most of my friends use. You can check the book on Amazon.

History of Turkic Languages diagram prepared by linguist Robert Lindsay. Source

Here is the map for all world language groups in the world.

The gray areas in Siberia, Central Asia, and around Turkey are all the places where Turkic languages are spoken as the majority language. Source
Turkic Countries and Regions
Map showing where Turkic Languages are spoken as the official language (blue), regional language (light blue), and minority language (red dot) Source

Minority Languages does only account native population in this map. Austria, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, and Germany are also home to a sizable Turkish/Turkic Diaspora.

What is the difference between Turkish and Turkic Languages?

The Turkish Language is not the same language as Turkic Languages. Turkish belongs to the Oghuz branch of the Turkic Languages. The other languages in the Oghuz branch are Azerbaijani and Turkmen languages.

Turkish is the most spoken Turkic language. Out of 193.000 native speakers of Turkic Languages, 83,000,000 speak the Turkish language.

What are the most Turkic Spoken Turkic Languages?

There are around 35 documented Turkic Languages but because Turkic languages spread wide geography with a dialect continuum model, it is hard to differentiate dialects and languages.

As a result geographical proximity also helps the mutual intelligibility between Turkic Languages. Here are the most spoken Turkic Languages.

LanguageNumber of SpeakersCountries with Majority of SpeakersAlphabet
Turkish83 MillionTurkey, North CyprusLatin
Azerbaijani33 Million Azerbaijan, IranLatin, Perso-Arabic (in Iran)
Uzbek27 MillionUzbekistanLatin
Kazakh14 Million KazakhstanLatin
Uyghur11 MillionChina (semi-autonomous Uyghur region)Perso-Arabic
Turkmen7 MillionTurkmenistanLatin
Tatar5,5 MillionRussia (Tatarstan Federal Republic)Cyrillic
Kyrgyz 5 Million KyrgyzstanCyrillic
Major Languages Spoken by Turkic people. Source

Languages spoken in Turkey and Languages spoken in Istanbul are good guides to learn more about languages spoken in Turkey.

What is the easiest Turkic Language?

Turkish is the easiest Turkish language among Turkic languages. The Turkish language uses the Latin alphabet with minor regional dialect differences. The Turkish language was reformed extensively around the 1920s, for this reason, it is highly standardized with minor grammar irregularities.

The main Turkish dialect spoken by the Turkish people is the Istanbul dialect. Istanbul dialect is the most spoken dialect among Turkic Languages.

Istanbul dialect of Turkish language is also highly mutually intelligible with Azerbaijani language, even for new beginners. Azerbaijani is the second most spoken Turkic language.

When Turkey adopted the Latin alphabet, we also adopted the pronunciation. For this reason, reading and speaking Turkish is actually very easy if you know how to read Italian or Spanish.

If you read Turkish like Spanish or Italian, you will get 80% of the pronunciation right. Some more tips,

  • Foreign letters like Ş is “sh” and Ç is “ch”. 
  • Do not pronounce Ğ, and it is okay. 
  • The sounds you will have trouble with are vowels of Ö, Ü, and İ.  It takes time to get familiar with these sounds; but in the beginning you can pronounce these vowels as O, U, and I.

Locals are very helpful in Turkey, it is a very Turkish thing to treat learners of the Turkish language with extra hospitality. Just try to order your food by pronouncing the Turkish name and you will see the difference.

Uralic and Altaic Languages are often associated with Turkic Languages. Source

Other Languages Associated with Turkic Languages

Mongolic Languages

Mongols are not Turkic people. Turkic and Mongolian people both have their origins in Central Asia, and the Mongolian language is the closest language to the Turkic language family. Mongols even used the old Turkic (Uighur) alphabet to write Mongolian until 1946. Source.

According to Altaic Language, Transeurasian Language theory, Proto-Mongol and Proto-Turkic Languages evolved from the same ancestral language thousands of years ago.

Korean Languages

The Korean language has some similarities with Turkic languages’ grammar structures. Both Korean and Turkic Languages share grammatical features of agglutination, sentence structure, the syntax of adjectives, and nouns, vowel harmony.

Yet, the theories about the connection between Korean and Turkic languages have not been proven.

Japonic Languages

There are several language theories connecting Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, and Turkic languages. Yet, most theories are widely rejected. Source

Turkic Council (Budapest, Hungary 2019) Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyz Republic, Turkey, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan all take part in Turkic Council Organization. Photo Source

Hungarian

Hungary is established by Huns and Huns are accepted as one of the Turkic tribes by Turkic people. For this reason, Hungary and Turkic countries politically are getting more and more aligned.

Despite the similarities between Hungarian and Turkic Languages, the Hungarian Language is distinctly different from other Turkic languages.

Uralic Languages

For a long time, the Uralic Languages of Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian have been associated with Turkic and other Altaic languages.

According to researchers, Finnish and Estonian have similar grammar rules to Turkic languages. Agglutination, suffixation, vowel harmony are shared features of Turkic, Finnish and Estonian languages.

While I have no first-hand experience, my search through forums revealed many learners of these languages, confirming some degree of grammatical similarity.

You can also check my language-related articles on Greek vs Turkish, Persian and Turkish, and Arabic vs Turkish to learn more about the differences between these languages and Turkish.

Is Chinese a Turkic language?

Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language, and very different from Turkic, Uralic, and Altaic Languages. Yet, various Turkic groups live in China. Uyghur language with its 11 Million native speakers, is the most spoken Turkic Language in China.

Additional Reading Suggestion: Languages Similar to Turkish – Is Turkish Mutually Intelligible? and Is Turkish a Language? Origins of the Turkish Language

Are Turkic Languages Easy or Hard to learn?

Turkic Languages may be hard to grasp for English and other Indo-European speakers.

Learning one of the Turkic languages makes it easier to learn the others. The logic and grammatical structure of Turkic languages are very similar.

As a Turkish native speaker, I can attest that I have a limited understanding of some Turkic languages. Yet, the verbs are the backbone of Turkic languages. Turkic verbs have a higher degree of mutual intelligibility through Turkic languages.

For this reason, even if you do not usually understand the other words, you can somewhat grasp the meaning by understanding the verb of the sentence.

My friends also find Uralic and Altaic languages are easier to grasp. As for their experience, Turkish people have an easier time learning Hungarian, Korean, and Japanese than English, German, because their grammatical logic is similar to Turkish.

Efe Genit

I am a father, a passionate traveler, and a Turkish lawyer. You can enjoy my guides and tips about Turkey that only Turkish locals would know.

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