The Turkmen Language
Submitted by Ejegyz Saparova
During the Mongol conquest of Central Asia in the 13th century, the Oguz tribes who had remained in the Aral sea region between the Ural and Syrdarya rivers after the split with the Saljuks were pushed farther into the Garagum desert and along the Caspian sea, an area sparsely inhabited until that time. In the 14th – 16th centuries, the Turkmen reformed into the tribal groups which exist today. (Find more information in Larry Clark’s Turkmen Reference Grammar, pp.2-7).
The modern standard Turkmen language was formed in the Soviet period primarily on the basis of the dialect spoken by members of the Teke tribal group in the Ahal and Mari provinces of Turkmenistan. Prior to 1917, literate Turkmen used the classical literary language of Central Asia called Chagatay written in Arabic script. After 1917, reforms of this script were taken in 1922 and in 1925 for the purpose of bringing it closer to the pronunciation of Turkmen. The main outlines of standard Turkmen were formulated in the period 1928-1940, when it was written in a Latin alphabet. The First Linguistic Congress of Turkmenistan held in 1936 refined standard Turkmen in Latin script. By 1939, as with the other Turkic languages of the Soviet Union, measures were in effect to switch Turkmen from the Latin to the Cyrillic alphabet. In 1993, the Turkmen government resolved to switch the standard language to a Latin-based script. The new Turkmen alphabet marks a departure from the past, rather than a continuation or reform of the “Unified Turkic Latin Alphabet” used to write standard Turkmen and other Turkic languages in the years 1928-1940. This is evident in the modified forms of a number of letters which were not used in that alphabet.
Turkmen is spoken not only in Turkmenistan, but also in Afghanistan and even in Iran, where the Turkmen are an important ethnic minority. But one should remember that different scripts are used in these countries: Turkmen people who live in Turkmenistan use, as mentioned above, a modified Latin script, while in Iran and Afghanistan the Arabic script is used.
By learning Turkmen you will not only get to know the Turkmen people, immense yourself in the rich cultural heritage, but Turkmen can be a gateway language to accessing the Turkic languages spoken by millions of people who live in the regions of vital strategic importance. The closest relatives of the Turkmen language are Azerbaijani and Turkish.
Turkmen has the following linguistic features in common with other Turkic languages:
• It is a verb-final language and a subject-object-verb word-order is observed in Turkmen.
• It is an agglutinative language, with exclusive suffixation.
• Nouns are inflected for cases. There are 6 cases in Turkmen: nominative, genitive, accusative, dative, locative and ablative.
• Various verbal structures, such as passive, causative, reflexive, negative, conditional are formed by affixes added to the verb.
• Instead of prepositions, postpositions are used.
• There is a strong vowel harmony, the feature lost in some Turkic languages.
• Various participles and verbal nouns replace relative clauses found in English.
• There is no gender.
Teaching Turkmen in the USA
The Summer Workshop in Slavic, East European and Central Asian Languages (SWSEEL) at Indiana University offered intensive courses of Turkmen for 16 summers (1994 – 2009). There were years when 2 levels of Turkmen were offered during the summer.
The material used while teaching Turkmen was prepared by the members of The Turkmen Language Project which was carried out at Indiana University under the direction of Dr. Larry Clark. The Director of the project Dr. Larry Clark prepared and in 1998 published Turkmen Reference Grammar which can be very helpful for learners of any Turkic language.
There was no opportunity to publish the Turkmen Language Course at the time of its completion in early 1995. Only in 2007 the Basic Turkmen textbook and a volume containing the transcripts, structural notes, glossary and audio-visual discs that accompany this textbook were published by Dunwoody Press. The Basic Turkmen textbook and its accompanying materials represent a revision of the Turkmen Language Course that was produced in 1993-1995. At the same time changes taking place in Turkmenistan demanded updating the material of the Course. That material was written in Cyrillic and had to be transformed to the new Latin-based alphabet. It is obvious that publication of the course can be of value to the field of Turkic language teaching and learning materials since it incorporated effective methodology not often used in that field and also demonstrates ways in which useful materials might be composed for other Turkic languages.
For more information, visit their website at http://www.indiana.edu/-swseel
There is very small but growing number of language learning resources for Turkmen. The most useful ones were prepared by the members of The Turkmen Language Project carried out at Indiana University.
1. Larry Clark. Turkmen Reference Grammar. Harrassowitz Verlag – Wiesbaden, 1998
2. Suzan Oezel & Ejegyz Saparova. BASIC TURKMEN Textbook. Dunwoody Press, 2007
3. Turkmen – English Dictionary by Allen J. Frank and Jeren Touch-Werner. Dunwoody Press, Kensington, Maryland, U.S. A., 1999
4. Turkmen Newspaper Reader by Allen J. Frank. 1995
5. English – Turkmen Dictionary by A. Almamedov and R. Nazarov. Magaryf - Ashgabat, 1989
6. Hanser, O. Turkmen Manuel: Descriptive Grammar of Contemporary Literary Turkmen. Vienna, Austria, 1977