[by Ken Lin]

Proto-Turkic is the name given to the common language from which the languages classified today as Turkic languages are derived. Like all proto-languages, modern historians and linguistic scholars do not know the exact structure or patterns of the language, but instead are able to trace the origins of the Turkic languages back to a common one based on grammatical and lexical similarities, in addition to historical factors. Proto-languages thus serve as reconstructions in the form of hypothesis-based models, which can shed further light on the migration and movement of peoples over time and space (Róna-Tas, 67).

It is believed that Proto-Turkic began in the Neolithic Period, placing it around 4500 – 4000 BCE. Proto-Turkic must not be confused with ancient Turkic, which is not a reconstructed language and was in use until 600 CE with the formation of the First Turk Kaghanate. Ancient Turkic, therefore, can be empirically studied due to the amount of documentation available in the language (Róna-Tas, 68).

Based on geographical models of language spread and diversity, along with the historically-documented migration of the Turkic peoples and archeological discoveries, Proto-Turkic is believed to have originated in southern Siberia in the northwestern Altai Mountains near the Irtysh River and Lake Zaisan, areas now known as Novosibirsk Oblast and Altai Krai. This region, which ran along the steppe, proved perfect for raising livestock and traveling by horse. The Sayan Mountains to the east of the area precluded the easy spread of Proto-Turkic due to the presence of the Samoyedic peoples (Historical).

Proto-Turkic divided in three general directions: to the southeast into Mongolia; to the south and west into the Great Steppe; and to the east into the Yenisei basin and Siberia. The early Turkic languages were in use no later than 200 CE (Historical).


Works cited

  • Historical Linguistics by Darkstar. “The Internal Classification & Migrations of Turkic Languages.” Last modified December 2011.
  • Róna-Tas, András. “The Reconstruction of Proto-Turkic and the Genetic Question.” In The Turkic Languages, edited by Lars Johanson and Eva Csato, 67-80. London: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1998.