Proto-Turkic/History of Proto-Turkic language

Xiong-nu languageEdit

The history of the Proto-Turkic language is mostly written from the Xiong-nu period, which we have not yet reached from the first-hand sources, but which we can obtain from the second-hand sources past the Chinese written sources.

The Xiong-nu state is still considered complex in terms of its ethnic structure, it is a common view that it is multinational[1]. It is controversial whether the rulers are Mongolic, Turkic or Tungusic, and it is a federation that it somehow accepts as the ancestor of all of them. It is also associated with European Huns due to their different pronunciations. Professor C. Atwood continued using the term “xwn” to establish phonological equivalence with Chinese Xiongnu, Sogdian Xwn, Sanskrit Hūna, Greek Ounnoi, and Latin Hunni[2]. The French Orientalist Joseph de Guignes first proposed in 1756 that the ancestors of the mysterious Huns were the Xiongnu of Northeastern Asia, as based on the phonetic resemblance of the ethnonyms of the two peoples.[1] It is believed by some historians that the Oghurs founded the European Hun state when they migrated to the west. But the identity of European Huns is not clear either.

Reading of “匈”
Preclassic Old Chinese sŋoŋ
Classic Old Chinese ŋ̥oŋ
Postclassic Chinese hoŋ
Middle Chinese xöuŋ
Modern (Beijing) reading xiōng

Xiong-nu language in Chinese inscriptionsEdit

Xiong-nu language texts in Chinese sources are limited. Let's take a look at these limited resources.

撑犁 (Chēng lí)Edit

撑犁 term in Chinese inscriptions is associated with the old Turkic tengri. Tengri means sky.[4]

Pu Liben, quoting Perhier (Pelliot 1944), pointed out that the word chēng lí, which many think is related to the Huns and Turkic languages, actually constitutes the pronoun tärim in Turkish. There are also variants of this word. The fact that it is undecided in both Turkic and Mongolian languages indicates that the Hunnic word chēng lí may be a borrowed word.[5]

头曼 (Tóu màn)Edit

头曼 means ten thousand. This word is also found in Mongolic and Tungusic, and it is a word that is most likely taken from each other.

In addition, the name of the founder of the Xiong-nu state was Tóu-màn[6].

瓯脱 (Ōu tuō)Edit

瓯脱 has many meanings.

The most common is known as the room or chamber, suggesting that it may be a borrowing from the word *otag.[7], also reconstructed as *ōtag. Although linguists concentrate on *otag, since long vowels are not preserved in languages that need to be protected, there are also those who claim that it is derived from the Proto-Turkic word *ōt which means fire(see Proto-Turkic Vocabulary lesson). *otag means tent or room, but also fireplace is suggested.

But 瓯脱 was used in many meanings other than "room" and was more likely borrowed from Proto-Turkic *ordu/*ortu, which is also the root of English horde. *ordu/*ortu means palace and was also used in Old Chinese to denote the Xiong-nu people.[8]


  • 居次 (jū cì) means girl, daughter. Compared to Proto-Turkic *kï̄ŕ (girl).
  • 冒顿 (mò dú) is a Chanyu from Xiongnu state. Compare to Turkic Mete.
  • 熐蠡 (mì lǐ) explains Xiongnu villages. Compared to Proto-Turkic *bialïk (city).
  • 径路 (jìng lù)

First Turkic inscriptionsEdit

Yenisei inscriptionsEdit

The written monuments concentrated along coast of the river Yenisei are named "Yenisei inscriptions".[9] Nevertheless, Yenisei inscriptions are short inscriptions that belong the Turkic world, old Turk states, namely times of "the Kirghiz state" on historical aspect,[9][10] and which are not of historical importance, but consist of simple sentences that are important in terms of language. It is inevitable that the inscriptions will remain in the shadow of the inscriptions that shed light on important historical events in the Second Göktürk Khaganate[11].

Orkhon inscriptions[12][13]Edit

The Orkhon inscriptions have been found in Altai, Khangai, Sayan, Khentii mountains, Gobi desert and along the rivers Orhon, Selenge, Tuul, Ongin, Kerulen, Onon, Hanui, Hunui, Tes, Hovd and lakes Huvsgul, Hyargas Nuur, Har Us Nuur, Uvs Nuur. Inscriptions of Göktürks are everywhere in territory of Mongolia - from east to west, from north to south. The most important of these are the Tonyukuk, Kül Tigin and Bilge Kagan monuments, which are the khanate monuments. It is estimated that the Kül Tigin inscription was erected in 732, Bilge Kagan was erected in 735, Tonyukuk was erected between 716-734. Inscriptions are called as Orkhun because it is located around the Koça-Çaydam lake in Central Mongolia, near the Orkhon river.

Kül Tigin inscriptionEdit

In this inscription erected by Bilge Kagan, the elder brother of Kul Tigin, II. The struggles of the heroes who founded the Eastern Turkic Khaganate and their sons to protect their lives and countries are mentioned.

Bilge Kagan inscriptionEdit

It is an inscription that is estimated to have been erected by Bilge Kagan's son, Tengri Kagan, on September 24, 735, upon the death of his father on November 25, 734. He explained the services of Bilge Kagan and stated that he was a Khan for a nation that was scattered and fragmented, and that he resurrected and fed the dying nation with the grace of God.

Tonyukuk inscriptionEdit

In the inscription erected by the great statesman of the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate, Vizier Tonyukuk, the historical events of this period, the troubles for independence, the struggles and the successes of Tonyukuk are explained. Bilge Tonyukuk states that he was enthroned by İlteriş and Kapgan khan, and that the state became the state, the nation a nation with them.

Script and transliteration differences between Elegest and Orkhon (Kül Tigin, Bilge Kagan and Tonyukuk) inscriptions[14][15]
Yenisei (Elegest) Göktürk (Orkhon)
I; me 𐰌𐰥 (ben)‎‎ 𐰋𐰤 (ben)‎‎‎, 𐰢𐰤 (men)
not 𐰖𐰆𐰹 (yook) 𐰖𐰸 (yok)
blue 𐰚𐰇𐰝 (köök) 𐰚𐰇𐰚 (kök)

First Oghuric inscriptionsEdit

The key to the Proto-Turkic language is hidden in the Oghur group. Because if they had not migrated to the west and formed a new group, it would not have been possible to go back this far in this language today. That's why inscriptions from the Oghur group are also gold, even if they appeared much later than those of the Shaz group.

Many inscriptions belonging to these groups have been found, but unfortunately they have not been deciphered. The issues that are tried to be resolved are still controversial. So much so that the complexity of the Danubian Bulgar inscriptions was carried to the word of Iranian origin and formed the theory of Iranian Bulgars. The first deciphered inscriptions of the Oghur group that we can understand were given by the Volga Bulgars in Arabic script. Although there are older texts, as we said, it is difficult to analyze them.

Volga Bulgar inscriptions[16][17][18]Edit

Volga Bulgarian texts consist of tombstones that contain many Arabic words. It was written for the same purpose as the Yenisei inscriptions, but the difference is that the Volga Bulgar inscriptions are written from the mouth of the person who wrote it, not the mouth of the deceased. At the same time, the Volga Bulgarian inscriptions give the exact date of the death of the deceased according to the Hijri calendar.

Volga Bulgarian texts dazzle with their proximity to Proto-Turkic. But unfortunately, today's Chuvash language has changed this language a lot. Since the Volga Bulgarian inscriptions are tombstones that give full dates, most of the numbers can be reached. Let's look at the numbers and examine how far Chuvash has moved away from the Volga Bulgar language.

Numbers in Volga Bulgar
Volga Bulgar[19][20][17] Chuvash[21] Proto-Turkic[22]
one بر (bir) пӗр (pĕr) *bīr
two اک (eki) иккӗ (ikkĕ) *ẹki
three وج (več) виççӗ (viççĕ) *üč
four تُوات (tüvet) тăваттă (tăvattă) *tȫrt
five بل (bel), بيال (biyel) пиллӗк (pillĕk) *bẹ̄ĺ(k)
six اَلطِ (altï) улттӑ (ulttă) *altï
seven جىَاتِ (cyeti) ҫиччӗ (śiččĕ) *yẹti
eight ڛَكِڔ (sekir) саккӑр (sakkăr) *sekiŕ
nine طُخِڔ (tuxïr) тӑххӑр (tăhhăr) *tokuŕ
ten وان (van) вуннӑ (vunnă) *ōn
twenty جِيِرم (ciyirim) ҫирӗм (śirĕm) *yẹgirmi
thirty وطر (vutur) вӑтӑр (văt̬ăr) *otuŕ
forty حرح (xïrïx) хӗрӗх (hĕrĕh) *kïrk
fifty الو (ellü) аллӑ (allă) *ellig
hundred جُور (cǖr) ҫӗр (śĕr) *yǖŕ

It should be noted that some Volga Bulgarian texts were written in Shaz Turkic and in all respects they show the characteristics of Shaz Turkic. Presumably, these texts do not belong to the Volga Bulgars, but to the Kipchaks who lived around the Volga river at that time. Although these texts are included in the Volga Bulgarian texts, they cannot be included in the language.

In one of the Volga Bulgarian texts, the prayer part was written in Shaz Turkic, the cause of death and the date part were written in Volga Bulgarian Turkic. The text of the prayer is exactly the same as the prayer in the Kipchak Volga Bulgar inscriptions and it is definitely a quote. This monument can be considered written in Bulgar language only in the part of the cause of death and date.


  1. a b Sun, X. (2020). Identifying the Huns and the Xiongnu (or Not): Multi-Faceted Implications and Difficulties (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
  2. Christopher P. Atwood, “Huns and Xiōngnú: New Thoughts on an Old Problem,” in Dubitando: Studies in History and Culture in Honor of Donald Ostrowski, ed. Brian J. Boeck, Russell E. Martin, and Daniel Rowland, Bloomington: Slavica Publishers, 2012: 27-52.
  4. Prof. Dr. Abdurrahman Güzel, ÜNİVERSİTELER İÇİN TÜRK DİLİ (I- II) DERS KİTABI (Gözden Geçirilmiş Yedinci Baskı) 1
  5. 蒲立本 (E. G. Pulleyblank)著,潘悟云、徐文堪译:<匈奴语>,《上古汉语的辅音系统》[The Consonantal System of Old Chinese](北京:中华书局,1999),页163-167.
  8. 瓯脱 from Chinese dictionary
  9. a b
  16. New Volga Bulgarian Inscriptions F. S. Hakimjanov
  17. a b A Volga Bulgarıan Inscription From 1307 A. Róna-tas
  18. Unpublished Volga Bulgarian inscriptions A. H. Khalikov and J. G. Muhametshin