Submitted by Jonathan Washington

Kyrgyz (written ‹кыргыз тили› or ‹قىرعىر تىلى›, pronounced [qɯrʁɯz tili], or in English "KER-ghiz", alternatively written "Kirghiz" or "Kirgiz") is a Turkic language spoken in Kyrgyzstan, China, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Its classification within Turkic remains problematic—it essentially belongs to the Kypchak (Northwestern) branch, but shows evidence of early affiliation or convergence with the South Siberian (Northeastern) branch. The Turkic varieties most similar to Kyrgyz are the southern dialects of Altay, though Kyrgyz shows strong parallels to Kazakh that these varieties lack, especially in Kyrgyz's Talas dialects. In southern varieties of Kyrgyz there are also many similarities to Uzbek that other dialects lack.

Kyrgyz is spoken mostly in Kyrgyzstan where it has official status as the national language. Many Kyrgyz speakers in Kyrgyzstan are bilingual in Russian and/or Uzbek, and make up a majority of the population of the country. There are other sizable Kyrgyz-speaking communities outside of Kyrgyzstan, most notably in China (where the Kyrgyz are an officially recognised minority), Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Current estimates of the number of speakers fall around about 4 million. Not all ethnic Kyrgyz speak the language, and not all competent speakers are ethnic Kyrgyz, but there is a very strong correspondence between ethnic identity and knowledge of the language.

Modern Kyrgyz was first recorded in the 19th century (cf. Radloff's translation of the Manas epic in 1885), but wasn't established as a written language (i.e., for use by its speakers) until 1917. It has since used three general orthographies. Currently a Perso-arabic script is used among speakers in China, and a Cyrillic orthography is used among speakers in former Soviet republics (which comprise the vast majority of speakers). There was a latin script used in the 1930s in Kyrgyzstan which underwent several revisions.

Kyrgyz has many features that distinguish it from other Turkic languages. Proto-Turkic sequences of a vowel and a voiced stop have become long vowels both phonetically (1) and phonologically in most dialects (2a), but not all (2b). Kyrgyz has a full front-back vowel harmony system (3), and also a rounding harmony system in which high (4) and low (5) vowels are rounded, except for /ɑ/ after /u/ (6). Kyrgyz also exhibits desonorisation of /l/ after consonants of equal (7b) and lower sonority (7c-d), and desonorisation of /n/ after all consonants (8b-c). Long vowels are created productively in certain verbal forms (9). Most proto-Turkic */m/-initial suffixes are /b/-initial (10).

  1. *tag → [toː]mountain

    1. [toː-su]mountain-pos.3rd

    2. [tow-u]mountain-pos.3rd’ (Talas dialect)

    1. [ʤɑz-dɑ]spring-loc

    2. [ʤez-de]copper-loc

    3. [ʤɑz-dɯ]spring-acc

    4. [ʤez-di]copper-acc

    1. [yj-dy]house-acc

    2. [tœː-ny]camel-acc

    3. [toː-nu]mountain-acc

    4. [uj-du]cow-acc

    1. [yj-dœ]house-loc

    2. [tœː-dœ]camel-loc

    3. [toː-do]mountain-loc

    1. [tuː-dɑ]banner-loc

    2. [uj-dɑ]cow-loc

    1. [ɑj-lɑr]month-pl

    2. [tɑl-dɑr]willow-pl

    3. [qɑz-dɑr]goose-pl

    4. [tɑʃ-tɑr]stone-pl

    1. [toː-nu]mountain-acc

    2. [ɑj-dɯ]moon-acc

    3. [qɑz-dɯ]goose-acc

    1. /ʤɑp+Ip/ [ʤɑːp]close-cnv

    2. /tɑm+Ip/ [tɑːmp]drip-cnv

    3. /œp+Ip/ [œːp]kiss-cnv

    1. [bɑr-bɑ]go-neg

Any verb tense has at least eye-witness (11), evidential (12), and inferred (13) modalities, formed using various morphological strategies. Progressives are formed mostly with the verb /ʤɑt/- ‘lie down’ (14a) and its less literary auxiliary-only form /ɑt/- (14b). Other auxiliaries are also commonly used (15, etc.)

    1. [qɑr ʤɑːwɑtɑt]it's snowing

    2. [qɑr ʤɑːdɯ]it snowed

    1. [qɑr ʤɑːwɑtɑt eken]it seems it's snowing

    2. [qɑr ʤɑːptɯr]it seems it snowed

    1. [qɑr ʤɑːwɑtɑt boluʃ kerek]it must be snowing

    2. [qɑr ʤɑːsɑ kerek]it must've snowed

    1. [ʤep ʤɑtɑt]s/he's eating

    2. [ʤewɑtɑt]s/he's eating

    1. [ʤep ʤyrœt]s/he's going about eating

    2. [ʤeɥej qojdu]s/he [intentionally] stopped eating

    3. [ʤeɥej qɑldɯ]his/her eating came to an end

    4. [ʤep bytty]s/he finished eating

    5. [ʤep bɑrɑtɑt]s/he is in the process of eating

    6. [ʤej ɥeret]s/he keeps eating

Kyrgyz has a four-way second-person pronoun system, with singular informal [sen], singular formal [siz], plural informal [siler] and plural formal [sizder]. The formal pronouns are used with people who are older than the speaker, and between any two people who normally interact in non-casual settings. The pronoun [siler] is also sometimes used as a singular pronoun of intermediate formality. When addressing a single person but referring to a group, the formality of the interlocutor is retained despite the formality that might be used for other people in the group.

There is a five-way demonstrative system. The demonstrative [uʃu(l)] is for things nearby to the speaker that can presumably be seen by all interlocutors, [tiɣi(l)] is for distant things that can be seen, [bu(l)] is for nearby things that can't be seen, [ɑl] is for distant things that can't be seen, and [oʃo(l)] can be used generically in place of any of these and in certain grammatical constructions such as those requiring resumptive pronouns (16). There are emphatic forms of [tiɣi(l)] for super-distant things: [tetiɣi(l)], [teːtetiɣi(l)]. All demonstratives can be used as specifiers or as pronouns, and hence take a whole range of cases and other morphological forms (17). Most of the demonstratives have oblique forms in -/n/ (18), which causes nasal assimilation for [bu(l)] (18b). The demonstratives also have verbal forms in -/t/ and taking front-vowel endings (19).

  1. [qɑndɑj ɑrɑket qɯl-sɑ-ɴ tɑmɑʁ-ɯɴ oʃon-doj dɑm-duː bol-o-t]
    the food will taste as good as the effort you put into it / as much effort as you put forth, that's how good your food will taste

    1. [oʃo-nu]that-acc

    2. [oʃo-ʁo]that-dat’ (‘for that purpose’)

    3. [oʃon-ʧo-luq]to such an extent

    1. [tiɣin-de]there

    2. [mɯn-dɑ]here

    1. [oʃen-t-ip]doing it that way

    2. [ɑn-t-se-m]if I do it like that

    3. [mɯn-t-ken-de]doing like this

There is a certain amount of lexical influence on Kyrgyz from Mongolic and Iranian languages. For example, [tœrœ]- ‘have a child’, [ʃyːdyrym]dew’, [ele]only’, and [topʧu]button’ all appear to be of Mongolic origin, and do not have cognates in e.g., Kazakh. Words such as [dɑrɑq]tree’, [dɑːnɑ]piece’, [nɑn]bread’, [zɯm]wire’, and [dyjnœ]world’ all appear to be most directly of Iranian origin. There are also many Russian words used in Kyrgyz; some were borrowed early and integrated into Kyrgyz phonology, such as [ʤaʃik]box’, [mynœt]minute’, [ytyk]iron (device)’, [zoːt]plant (factory)’, and [ʧerkœː]church’, while most words are simply rendered with near-Russian phonology, such as [maˈʂɨi̯na]car’, [jeˈnɔt]raccoon’, and [zaˈʋɔt]plant (factory)’.

Kyrgyz is in need of further linguistic documentation, as many elements of its grammar—including the elements mentioned here—are understudied and not fully understood.

Recommended sources:

Imart, Guy (1981). Le Kirghiz (Turk d'Asie Centrale Soviétique): Description d'une langue de littérisation récente. Aix-en-Provence: L’université de Provence.

Imart, Guy & Hu Zhen-hua (1989). A Kirghiz Reader, vol. 154 of Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series. Bloomington: Indiana University Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies.

Юдахин, К. К. (1957). Орусча-кыргызча сөздүк. Москва: Государственное издательство иностранных и национальных словарей.

Юдахин, К. К. (1965). Кыргызча-орусча сөздүк. Москва: «Советская Энциклопедия» басмасы.