Kyrgyz Language
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Kyrgyz Language
, ?,
‎, ?‎,
q?rzça, q?rz tili
[q'z ti'li]
Native toKyrgyzstan (official), Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Russia, Xinjiang (China)
Native speakers
4.3 million (2009 census)[1]
Kyrgyz alphabets (Cyrillic script, Perso-Arabic script, formerly Latin, Kyrgyz Braille)
Official status
Official language in


Language codes
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
This chart demonstrates how vowels shift left or right in order to abide by Kyrgyz grammar rules.
Azim, a speaker of the Kyrgyz language, recorded for Wikitongues

Kyrgyz (; , ‎, kyrgyzcha, [q?rzt] or ?, ?‎, kyrgyz tili, [q?rz tili]) is a Turkic language spoken by about four million people in Kyrgyzstan as well as Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Russia and China. Kyrgyz is a member of the Kyrgyz-Kipchak subgroup of the Kypchak languages and modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kazakh and Kyrgyz.

Kyrgyz was originally written in the Turkic runes,[3] gradually replaced by a Perso-Arabic alphabet (in use until 1928 in USSR, still in use in China). Between 1928 and 1940 a Latin-script alphabet, the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, was used. In 1940 due to general Soviet policy, a Cyrillic alphabet eventually became common and has remained so to this day, though some Kyrgyz still use the Arabic alphabet. When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyzstanis to switch to the Latin script, which is still common in some small pockets of the countryside and make the Latin script the country's official national script (taking in mind a version closer to the Turkish alphabet rather than the original alphabet of 1928-40). Although the plan has not yet been implemented, it remains in occasional discussion.[4]


Pre-historic roots

The first people certainly known by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz people were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late eighth century. By the time of the destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 AD, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location.


In the period of tsarist administration (1876-1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz were both referred to as "Kyrgyz", with what are now the Kyrgyz being delineated as "Kara-Kyrgyz" ("black Kyrgyz"; alternatively known as "The Great Kyrgyz"). The modern Kyrgyz language did not have a standard written form until 1923, at which time an Arabic alphabet was introduced. That was changed to a Latin-script alphabet, developed by Kasym Tynystanov in 1928 and to a Cyrillic alphabet in 1940. In the years immediately following independence, another change of alphabet was discussed, but the issue does not seem to generate the same passions in Kyrgyzstan that it does in other former Soviet republics, perhaps because the Kyrgyz Cyrillic alphabet is relatively simple and is particularly well-suited to the language.[]Josip Broz Tito, the leader of post-WWII Yugoslavia reportedly learned to speak Kyrgyz "perfectly" during his sojourn in the Soviet Union.[5] During the long period of Russian rule, the Kyrgyz language was strongly influenced by Russian.

Post-Soviet dynamics

In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing[] the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of President Akayev's staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for "Kyrgyzification" of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. However, in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan's parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz, marking a reversal of the earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev. Nowadays, Russian remains the main language in the main cities, such as Bishkek while Kyrgyz continues losing ground, especially among the younger generations.[6]


Kyrgyz vowel phonemes[7]
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close i y ? u
Mid e ø o
Open (a) ?

/a/ appears only in borrowings from Persian or when followed by a front vowel later in the word (regressive assimilation), e.g. /ajdø?/ 'sloping' instead of */?jdø?/.[8] Note that in most dialects, its status as a vowel distinct from /?/ is questionable.[9]

Vowel Harmony (Peace Corps Method)
Left Shift (<) Right Shift (>) Shift Direction
? ? Straight Across Left-Right Shift
? ? ("y" Left-shifts up-diagonally to "a")
? ? Straight Across Left-Right Shift
? (?) ? Straight Across Left-Right Shift

The United States Peace Corps trains its volunteers using a "Left-Right Shift" method when carrying-out language training in the Kyrgyz Republic.

  • /f, v, t?s, x/ occur only in foreign borrowings.[10]

Writing system

The Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstan use a Cyrillic alphabet, which uses all the Russian letters plus ?, ? and ?.

In Xinjiang of China, an Arabic alphabet is used.

Although the Latin script is not in official use, some Kyrgyz texts are written in the Turkish variant of the Latin alphabet which was designed by Pamukkale University, and uses Turkish spelling norms e.g. for diphthongization (ey, ay etc.) and with the addition of J corresponding to Russian ? (/zh/). Native Kyrgyz sound values are almost identical to Turkish, the exceptions being the velar nasal /?/ and the voiceless uvular stop /q/ which do not exist in Turkish. In these cases they are written as "ñ" and "q" respectively.

Cyrillic Arabic Latin IPA English
? ? ? ? ?. ? - ? ? ?- ? . ? ? ? ? ?.? ? - ? ? ?- ? . Bard?q adamdar öz bedelinde jana uquqtar?nda erkin jana teñ uquqtuu bolup jaralat. Alard?n añ-sezimi menen abiyiri bar jana biri-birine bir tuu?and?q mamile q?luu?a tiyi?. b?rd?q ?d?md?r øz bedelinde dn? uquqt?r?nd? erkin dn? te? uquqtu: bo?up drt ? rd?n sezimi menen ?bijiri b?r dn? biribirine bir tu:nd?q m?mile qu: tiji? All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Morphology and syntax


Nouns in Kyrgyz take a number of case endings that change based on vowel harmony and the sort of consonant they follow (see the section on phonology).

Case Underlying form Possible forms "boat" "air" "bucket" "hand" "head" "salt" "eye"
Nominative -- ?
Genitive -NIn -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, - ?
Dative -GA -, -, -, -, -, -, -, - ?
Accusative -NI -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, -, - ?
Locative -DA -, -, -, -, -, -, -, - ?
Ablative -DAn -, -, -, -, -, -, -, - ?

Normally the decision between the velar ([? ~ ?], [k]) and uvular ([? ~ ?] and [? ~ q]) pronunciation of ⟨?⟩ and ⟨?⟩ is based on the backness of the following vowel--i.e. back vowels imply a uvular rendering and front vowels imply a velar rendering--and the vowel in suffixes is decided based on the preceding vowel in the word. However, with the dative suffix in Kyrgyz, the vowel is decided normally, but the decision between velars and uvulars can be decided based on a contacting consonant, for example ? /bank/ 'bank' + GA yields /bankka/, not /bankqa/ as predicted by the following vowel.


Kyrgyz has eight personal pronouns:

Personal pronouns
Singular Plural
Kyrgyz (transliteration) English Kyrgyz (transliteration) English
(Men) I (Biz) We
(Sen) You (singular informal) (Siler) You (plural informal)
(Siz) You (singular formal) (Sizder) You (plural formal)
(Al) He/She/It ? (Alar) They

The declension of the pronouns is outlined in the following chart. Singular pronouns (with the exception of , which used to be plural) exhibit irregularities, while plural pronouns don't. Irregular forms are highlighted in bold.

Declension of pronouns
Singular Plural
1st 2nd inf 2nd frm 3rd 1st 2nd inf 2nd frm 3rd
Nom ?
Acc ? ? ?
Gen ? ?
Dat ? ? ?
Loc ? ?
Abl ?

In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.

Morphemes indicating person
pronouns copulas present tense possessive endings past/conditional imperative
1st sg -mIn -mIn -(I)m -(I)m -AyIN
2nd sg -sI? -sI? -(I)? -(I)? --, -GIn
2nd formal sg -sIz -sIz -(I)?Iz -(I)?Iz -GIlA
3rd sg -- -t -(s)I(n) -- -sIn
1st pl -BIz -BIz -(I)bIz -(I)K -AyIK
2nd pl -sI?Ar -sI?Ar -(I)?Ar -(I)?Ar
2nd formal pl -sIzdAr -sIzdAr -(I)?IzdAr -(I)nIzdAr
3rd pl ? -- -(I)?At -(s)I(n) -- -sIn, -I?sIn


Verbs are conjugated by analyzing the root verb: 1) determine whether the end letter is a vowel or consonant 2) add appropriate suffix while following vowel-harmony/shift rules.

Simple-Present Tense Conjugations (Peace Corps)
Per. Pronoun Vowel Consonant
1st sg -? -?
2nd sg -<? -<?
2nd formal sg -<? -<?
3rd sg - -
1st pl ->? -<?>?
2nd pl
2nd formal pl
3rd pl ?

Demonstrative pronouns

Subordinate clauses

To form complement clauses, Kyrgyz nominalises verb phrases. For example, "I don't know what I saw" would be rendered as " ? ?" (Men emneni körgönümdü bilbeym): I what-ACC.DEF see-ing-1st.SG-ACC.DEF know-NEG-1st.SG, or roughly "I don't know my having seen what," where the verb phrase "I saw what" is treated as a nominal object of the verb "to know." The sentence above is also an excellent example of Kyrgyz vowel harmony; notice that all the vowel sounds are front vowels.

Several nominalisation strategies are used depending on the temporal properties of the relativised verb phrase: -GAn(dIK) for general past tense, -AAr for future/potential unrealised events, and -A turgan(d?q) for non-perfective events are the most common. The copula has an irregular relativised form ?() which may be used equivalently to forms of the verb - be ((), ). Relativised verb forms may, and often do, take nominal possessive endings as well as case endings.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Kyrgyz at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kirghiz". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ ?. ?., ? (Kyzlasov I.L. Runic scripts of Eurasian steppes), ? (Eastern Literature), Moscow, 1994, pp. 80 on, ISBN 978-5-02-017741-3, with further bibliography.
  4. ^ Latin alphabet. "Kyrgyzstan has to switch to Latin alphabet since 2040, MP". .
  5. ^ LIFE Magazine, August 14, 1944, Page 38
  6. ^ Ferdinand, S.; Komlósi, F. (2016). "Vitality of the Kyrgyz Language in Bishkek". IJORS. pp. 210-226. Retrieved 2016.
  7. ^ Kara (2003:10)
  8. ^ Washington (2007:11)
  9. ^ Washington (2006b:2)
  10. ^ a b Kara (2003:11)


External links

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