An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

    Altaic encompasses the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic families. This grouping is controversial as well as the possible inclusion in it of Japanese and Korean. The supporters of the unity of Altaic regard the Altaic peoples as the traditional inhabitants of the Central Asian steppes and think that the protolanguage originated in the vicinity of the Altai Mountains where Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan and China meet. The Turkic peoples are considered the long-term inhabitants of the western Altaic region, the Mongols of its centre and the Manchu-Tungus of its eastern portions. The problem is compounded by the absence of early data. The first Turkic sources are from the 8th century while the first Tungusic and Mongolic documents are, respectively, from the 12th and 13th centuries.

    Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic share some general features. They all have various types of vowel harmony and an agglutinative morphology based exclusively on suffixing (no prefixes or infixes). Word order in them is Subject-Object-Verb with modifiers preceding their head. They employ numerous non-finite verb constructions. Besides these phonological and morpho-syntactic features, there are some lexical similarities between Turkic and Mongolic, and between Mongolic and Tungusic but few between Turkic and Tungusic which can be explained by diffusion from one language group to another instead of true genetic relatedness.

    The Altaic affiliation of Japanese and Korean is even more controversial. A number of sound correspondences and etymologies has been established between them but for most authors this hypothesis is too speculative.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -Introduction to Altaic Linguistics. N. Poppe. Harrassowitz (1965).

  2. -Einführung in die altaische Sprachwissenschaft 1–2. G. J. Ramstedt. Helsinki: Société Finno-Ougrienne (1952–1957).

  3. -Japanese and the other Altaic Languages. R. A. Miller. The University of Chicago Press (1971).

  4. -'The Relationship between Turkish and Mongolian'. G. Clauson. In Studies in Turkic and Mongolic Linguistics, 133-154. Routledge Curzon (2002).

  5. -'Turko-Mongolic Relations'. C. Schönig. In The Mongolic Languages, 403-20. J. Janhunen (ed). Routledge (2003).

  6. -'Altaic Languages'. R. I. Binnick. In Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite (2011).

  7. -'Altaic Languages'. L. Johanson. In Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World, 30-32. K. Brown & S. Ogilvie (eds). Elsevier (2009).

  8. -Monumenta Altaica: Altaic Linguistics. Ilya Gruntov. Available online at:


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Altaic Languages

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