1902 Encyclopedia > Ural-Altaic Languages

Ural-Altaic Languages

URAL-ALTAIC LANGUAGES. The Ural-Altaic, Finno-Tatar, or "Turanian" languages constitute one of the primary linguistic families (see PHILOLOGY, vol. xviii. p. 779) of the eastern hemisphere, occupying a vast domain, which extends with few interruptions from the Balkan Peninsula, Hungary, and Lapland eastwards to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Arctic Ocean southwards to China proper, Tibet, and the Mediterranean. It thus comprises nearly the whole of Asiatic and a considerable section of European Russia, the northern half of the Chinese empire, a large part of north Persia, by far the greater part of Asia Minor, and extensive tracts in European Turkey, Austria, and Scandinavia, with an area of not less than 10,000,000 square miles and a total population of over 40,000,000. Philologists recognize six well - marked branches, which, wdth their main subdivisions and four outlying doubtful or extinct members of the family, may bs tabulated as under :—_
Yurak and Yenisei, White Sea to the Yenisei. Tavghi, between lower Yenisei and Khatanga rivers. Kamasin, upper Yenisei.
Finnish, Finland, parts of Norway, Lakes Onega and Ladoga.
Lapp, Russian and Scandinavian Lapland. Esthonian and Livonian, south side of Gulf of Finland. Mordvinian and Teheremissian, middle Volga. Permian, Votyak, and Siryenian, between the Vyatka and Petchora rivers, f Ostiak, middle and upper Obi and its eastern affluents. -! Vogul, east slopes of the Ural Mountains. V Magyar, central and south-eastern Hungary. Uigur or East Turki, including Uigur proper of Kashgar, Kulja, and Yarkand; Jagatai of Bokhara, Ferghana, Khiva ; Kara-Kalpak, south-eastern side of Aral Sea; Turkoman (Turkmenian), west Turk-estan, north Persia, and Asia Minor. Seljuk or West Turki or Osmanli, Asia Minor and the Balkan Peninsula; Tchuvash, south-west of Kazan and about Simbirsk. Kipehak (Kapehak): Coman, extinct, formerly current throughout the Kipehak empire from the Altai M ountains to the Black Sea ; Kazan Tatar, middle Volga; Kirghiz, West Siberian steppes, lower Volga, the Pamir, and west slopes of the Altai, Thian-Shan, and Kuen-Lun Mountains; Nogai with Kumuk, Bessarabia, Crimea, Volga delta, Daghestan, Terek valley. Yakut, middle and lower Lena and northern slopes .. of the Sayan Mountains.
jy ( Siberian Tatar: Teleut, Koibal, Soyot, Kotta, Bash-
TuRKic -! ^lr' M^-heryak, and other corrupt Turki dialects
ti i 1 spoken by Tatarized Finn populations from the eommuea. y Altai to the Urals.
Sharra or East Mongolian, Mongolia; Kalmuck, Dzungaria and lower Volga, thence to lower Don ; Burial or Siberian Mongolian, east and west of Lake Baikal.
yj l Tungus proper, from the middle Yenisei to the TuxGiisic 1 Pacific; Lamut, western coast of the sea of Okhotsk; ( Manchu, Manchuria.
VII. JAPANESE, Japan and Riu-Kiu (Lew-Chew) Islands ;
VIII. COREAN, Corea ; doubtful.
IX. and X. ACCAD and ETRUSCAN ; both doubtful and extinct.
In its morphology Ural-Altaic belongs to the agglutinat-ing order of speech, differing from other languages of this order chiefly in the exclusive use of suffixes attached to the unmodified root, and partly blended with it by the principle of progressive vowel harmony, in virtue of which the vowels of all the suffixes are assimilated to that of the root. Thus the typical formula is R + R + R + R, &c, where R is the root, always placed first, and R, E, R . . . the successive postfixed relational elements, whose vowels conform by certain subtle laws of euphony to that of the root, which never changes. These suffixes differ also from the case and verbal endings of true inflecting languages (Aryan, Semitic) in their slighter fusion with the root, with which they are rather mechanically united (agglutin-ated) than chemically fused into a term in which root and relational element are no longer separable. Hence it is that the roots, which in Aryan are generally obscured, blurred, often even changed past the possibility of identi-fication, in Ural-Altaic are always in evidence, unaffected by the addition of any number of formative particles, and controlling the whole formation of the word. For instance, the infinitive element mah of the Osmanli yaz-mak = to wrrite becomes mek in sev-mek = to love (vowel harmony),, and shifts its place in sev-il-meJc = to be loved (imperfect fusion with the root), while the root itself remains un-changed as to form and position in sev-ish-il-mek — to be. impelled to love, or in any other possible combination with suffixed elements. The facility with which particles are in this way tacked on produces an exuberance, especially of verbal forms, which in Osmanli, Finnish, Magyar, Tungus, and Mordvinian may be said* to run riot. This

is particularly the case when the numerous modal forms become further complicated by incorporating the direct pronominal object, as' in the Magyar varjak = they await him, and the Mordvinian palasa = I embrace him. Thus arise endless verbal combinations, reckoned in Turki at nearly 30,000, and past counting in the Ugrian group.
Another marked peculiarity of the Ural-Altaic, at least as compared with the inflecting orders of speech, is weak subjectivity, the subject or agent being slightly, the object of the action strongly accentuated, so that "it was done by him" becomes " it was done with him, through him, or in his place" (apud eum). From this feature, which seems to be characteristic of all the branches, there follow some important consequences, such as a great pre-ponderance of locative forms in the declension,—the nomi-native, and often even the possessive, being expressed by no special suffix. Hence also the object normally precedes the subject, while the idea of possession (to have) is almost everywhere replaced by that of being (to be), so that, even in the highly developed Osmanli, " I have no money" becomes "money-to-me not-is" (AkcheMm yok-diir). In fact the verb is not clearly differentiated from the noun, so that the conjugation is mainly participial, being effected by agglutinating pronominal, modal, tem-poral, negative, passive, causative, reciprocal, reflexive, and other suffixes to nominal roots or gerunds : I write = writing-to-me-is. Owing to this confusion of noun and verb, the same suffixes are readily attached indifferently to both, as in the Osmanli jdn = soul, jdn-ler = souls, and ydzdr = he will write, ydzdr-ler = they will write. So also, by assimilation, the Yakut kbtordbr kbtollbr = the birds fly (from root kbt = flying), where kbtol stands for kbtbr, and dor for lor, the Osmanli ler, or suffix of plurality.
But, notwithstanding this wealth of nominal or verbal forms, there is a great dearth of general relational elements, such as the relative pronoun, grammatical gender, degrees of comparison, conjunctions, and even postpositions. Byrne's remark, made in reference to Tungus, that "there is a great scarcity of elements of relation, very few conjunctions, and no true postpositions, except those which are given in the declension of the noun," is mainly true of the whole family, in which nouns constantly do duty for formative suffixes. Thus nearly all the Ostiak postpositions are nouns which take the possessive suffix and govern other nouns in the genitive, precisely as in the Hindi: oZdmi-ki-tdrdf (men) ffdycl = man-of-direction (in) I went = I went towards the man, where the so-called, postposition taraf, being a feminine noun = direction, requires the preceding possessive particle to be also feminine (ki for he).
As there are thus only two classes of words,—the roots, which always remain roots, and the suffixes, which always remain suffixes,—it follows that there can be no true composition or word-building, but only derivation. Even the numerous Magyar nominal and adjectival compounds are not true compounds, but merely two words in juxtaposition, unconnected by vowel harmony and liable to be separated in construction by intervening particles. Thus in aran-sinii = gold-colour = golden, the first part aran receives the particle of comparison, the second remaining unchanged, as if we were to say " gold-er-colour" for "more golden"; and ata-fi = relative becomes ata-m-fi-a = my relative, with intrusion of the pronominal m = my.
and even of the Aryan family, so that, great as is, for instance, the gap between English and Sanskrit, that between Lapp and Manchu is still greater.
After the labours of Castren, Csink, Gabelentz, Schmidt, Boht-lingk, Zenker, Ahnqvist, Radloff, Munkacsi-Berat, and especially Winkler, their genetic affinity can no longer be seriously doubted. But the order of their genetic descent from a presumed common organic Ural-Altaic language is a question presenting even greater difficulties than the analogous Aryan problem. The reason is, not only because these groups are spread over a far wider range, but because the dispersion from a common centre took place at a time when the organic speech was still in a very low state of development. Hence the various groups, starting with little more than a common first germ, sufficient, however, to give a uniform direction to their subsequent evolution, have largely diverged from each other during their independent development since the remotest prehistoric times. Hence also, wdiile the Aryan as now known to us represents a descending line of evolution from the synthetic to the analytic state, the Ural - Altaic represents on the contrary an upward growth, ranging from the crudest syntactical arrangements in Manchu to a highly agglutinating but not true

true inflecting state in Finnish. No doubt Manchu also, like its congeners, had formerly possessive affixes and personal elements, lost probably through Chinese influ-ences ; but it can never have possessed the surprisingly rich and even superabundant relational forms so characteristic of Magyar, Finn, Osmanli, and other western branches. As regards the mutual relations of all the groups, little more can now be said than that they fall naturally into two main divisions—Mongolo-Turkic and Finno-Ugro-Samoyedo-Tungusic—according to the several methods of employing the auxiliary elements. Certainly Turkic lies much closer to Mongolia than it does to Samoyedic and Tungusic, while Finno-Ugric. seems to occupy an intermediate position between Turkic and Samoyedic, agreeing chiefly in its roots with the former, in its suffixes with the latter. Finno-Ugric must have separated much earlier, Mongolic much later, from the common connexion, and the latter, which has still more than half its roots and numer-ous forms in common with Turkic, appears on the wdiole to be the most typical member of the family. Hence many Turkic forms and words can be explained only by reference to Mongolic, which has at the same time numerous relations to Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic that have been lost in Turkic and Tungusie. It may therefore be concluded that the Finno-Ugric migrations to the north and west and the Tungusic to the east had been completed while the Turkic and Mongolic tribes were still dwelling side by side on the Altai steppes, the probable cradle of the Ural-Altaic peoples.
How profoundly the several groups differ one from the other even in their structure is evident from the fact that such assumed universal features as unchangeable roots and vowel harmony are subject to numerous exceptions, often spread over wide areas. Not only is assimilation of final consonants very common, as in the Osmanli bulun-mak for the Uigur bulul-mak, but the root vowel itself is frequently subject to umlaut through the influence of suffixed vowels, as in the Aryan family. Thus in the Surgut dialect of Ostiak the long vowels of nominal stems become modified before the possessive suffix, a and e to I and o to u (Castren). It is still more remarkable to find that the eastern (Yenisei) Ostiak has even developed verbal forms analogous to the Teutonic strong conjugation, the presents labdq', abbatag'an, and elatpaq' becoming in the past tobdq', abbatog'an, and datpiyaq' respectively ; so also taig, torg, and targ, present, past, and imperative, are highly sug-gestive of Teutonic inflexion, but more probably are due to Tibetan influences. In the same dialects many nouns form their plurals either by modifying the root vowel, in combination with a suffixed element, or by modification alone, the suffix having disappeared, as in the English foot—feet, goose—geese. So also vowel harmony, highly developed in Finnish, Magyar, and Osmanli, and of wdiich two distinct forms occur in Yakutic, scarcely exists at all in Tchere-missian, Votyak, and the Bevel dialect of Esthonian, wdiile in Mord-vinian and Siryenian, not the whole word, but the final vowels alone are harmonized. The unassimilated Uigurio kilur-im answers to the Osmanli kilur-um, while in Manchu the concordance is neglected, especially when two consonants intervene between the root and the suffixed vowels. But too much weight should not be attached to the phenomenon of vowel harmony, which is of com-paratively recent origin, as shown in the oldest Magyar texts of the 12th century, which abound in such discordances as haldl-nek,

tiszla-seg, for the modern haldl-nak, tiszta-sag. It clearly did not exist in the organic Ural-Altaic speech, but was independently developed by the different branches on ditl'erent lines after the dispersion, its origin being due to the natural tendency to merge root and suffix in one harmonious whole. The principle being thus of a purely psychological character, and necessarily an after-growth, it is not surprising to find no traces of it in the oldest and even in the later Accad texts, as seen by comparing the old idi bar-mun-sib wdth the more recent igi muii-sib-bar.
Finnish Magyar Mordvinian . Siryenian .. Osmanli.... Mongolian
This progressive vocalic harmony has been compared to a sort of progressive umlaut, in which the suffixed vowels are brought by assimilation into harmony with those of the root. All vowels are broadly divided into two categories, the guttural or hard and the palatal or weak, the principle requiring that, if the root vowel be hard, the suffixed must also be hard, and vice versa. But in some of the groups there is an intermediate class of "neutral" vowels, which do not require to be harmonized, being indifferent to either category. In accordance with these general principles the vowels in some of the leading members of the Altaic family are thus classified by L. Adam—

Gutturals. Palatals. 1 Neutrals.
u, o, a u, o, a u, o, a ô, a u, o, a, e u, o, a u, o, a ô, o, a u, o, a ü, ö ä, i ä, i, e ü, ö, e, i ü, ö, ä u, o, a e e, i e, i
e, i u, i
A close analogy to this law is presented by the Irish rule of "broad to broad" and "slender to slender," according to which under certain conditions a broad (a, o, u) must be followed in the next syllable by a broad, and a slender (e, i) by a slender. Obvious parallelisms are also such forms in Latin as annus, perennis, ars, iners, lego, diligo, where, however, the root vowel is modified by the affix, not the affix by the root. But such instances suffice to show that the harmonic principle is not peculiar to the Ural-Altaic, but only more systematically developed in that than in most other linguistic families.
This is not the place to discuss the vexed question of the relation of the Babylonian Accad and Sumirían, or of the Etruscan, wdth the Ural-Altaic linguistic stock. It must therefore suffice to state in a general way that, according to the latest views, both of those long extinct languages were really branches either of the Finno-Ugric or of the Turko-Mongolic division of that family. In reply to the objection that Sumirían was a prefix language, it is pointed out that Neo-Sumirian, extinct some 1600 years before the Christian era, had already become postfixing, so that the nin-gar of the oldest answers to the garra-bi of the later texts, from root gar=to make. Nevertheless the point is far from settled, as may be judged from the fact that such specialists as Dr Zimmern and Dr Hommel are still at issue on the fundamental question of the Ural-Altaic affinities of Accad and Sumirían. The position of Etruscan is much the same, the main outcome of recent controversy being that this primitive Italian language can scarcely have been a member of the Aryan, whatever its relationship to the Finno-Ta tarie family.
Regarding the Japanese and Corean languages, it may be re marked that Winkler agrees with Boiler in unhesitatingly includ ing the former, while doubtfully excluding the latter from this connexion. On the other hand, W. G. Aston (Journ. Roy. Asiat. Hoc, August 1879) considers that both are as nearly related to one another as English and Sanskrit. The probability therefore is that Japanese and Corean are aberrant branches of the Ural-Altaic family, and that they separated at long intervals from the parent stock and at such remote periods that their affinities can no longer be clearly traced.
Paris, 1874.
Bibliography.—Besides the references given above, the chief general treatises
on Ural-Altaic philology are—Kellgren, Die Grundzüge der finnischen Sprachen
mit Rücksicht auf die Ural-Altaischen Sprachstamme, Berlin, 1847 ; Castren, lieber
die Ursitze des finnischen Volkes, Helsingfors, 1849 ; Id., Syrjaen. Gram., Samojed.
Gram., and numerous other comparative grammars, dictionaries, and general
treatises, chiefly on the Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic groups ; W. Thomsen, lieber
den Einfiuss der germanischen Sprachen auf die Finnisch-Lappischen (Germ, trans,
by Sievers, Halle, 1870—a classical work); Abel Rómusat, Recherches sur les
Langues Tartares, Paris, 1820 ; L. Adam, Gram, de la Jungue Mandchoue, Paris.
1872, and Gram, de la L. Tongouse, Paris, 1874; Böhtlingk, Die Sprache der
Jakuten, St Petersburg, 1851; Radloff, Volksliteratur der türkischen Stämme
Sud-Sibiriens, St Petersburg, 1872, and " Remarks on the Codex Coinanicus,"
Bull. St Petersb. Acad. Sc., xxxi., No. 1; Zenker, Gram, der türkischen-tatarischen
Sprachen; Schmidt, Mongol. Gram.; Gabelentz, Gram. Mandchoue, Altenburg,
1833; Csink, Hung. Gram., London, 1853; and Vambéry, Das Türkenvolk,
Leipsic, 1885, and U'igurische Sprach-Monumenle u. das Kudatkü Bilik, Inns-
bruck, Í870. For further particulars relating to the affinities and characteristics
of the various brandies, and of their associated members, see the articles
FINLAND (vol. ix. p. 219). HUNGARY (vol. xii. p. 374), RUSSIA (vol. xxi. p. 79),
TURKS (vol. xxiii. p. (561), MONGOLS (vol. xvi. p. 750), and SIBERIA (vol. xxii.
p. 8). (A. H. K.)


Gen. Prin. of Struct, of Lang., i. p. 391, London, 1885.

" Meine Ansichten werden sich im Fortgange ergeben, so namentlich dass ich nicht entferut die finnischen Sprachen fur flexivische balten kann" (H. Winkler, Uralaltaische Vblker, i. p. 54). Yet even true inflexion can scarcely be denied at least to some of the so-called Yenisei Ostiak dialects, such as Kotta and others still surviving about the middle Yenisei and on its affluents, the Agul and Kan (Castren, Yen., Ostjak., und Kott. Sprachlehre, 1858, Preface, pp. v-viii). These, how-ever, may be regarded as aberrant members of the family, and on the whole it is true that the Ural-Altaic system nowhere quite reaches the stage of true inflexion.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries