Altaic languages

Altaic (/ælˈt.ɪk/; also called Transeurasian) is a sprachbund (i.e. a linguistic area) and proposed language family that would include the Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic language families and possibly also the Japonic and Koreanic languages.[1]: 73  Speakers of these languages are currently scattered over most of Asia north of 35 °N and in some eastern parts of Europe, extending in longitude from Turkey to Japan.[2] The group is named after the Altai mountain range in the center of Asia. The hypothetical language family has long been rejected by most comparative linguists, although it continues to be supported by a small but stable scholarly minority.[1][3][4]

Asia, except its southern parts, and Eastern Europe
Linguistic classificationProposed as a major language family by some, but usually considered as a sprachbund
Proto-languageProto-Altaic language
ISO 639-2 / 5tut
Lenguas altaicas.png
(sometimes included) (sometimes included) (rarely included)

The Altaic family was first proposed in the 18th century. It was widely accepted until the 1960s and is still listed in many encyclopedias and handbooks.[1] Since the 1950s, many comparative linguists have rejected the proposal, after supposed cognates were found not to be valid, hypothesized sound shifts were not found and Turkic and Mongolic languages were found to be converging rather than diverging over the centuries. Opponents of the theory proposed that the similarities are due to mutual linguistic influences between the groups concerned.[5][6][7][8][9] Modern supporters of Altaic acknowledge that many shared features are the result of contact and convergence and thus cannot be taken as evidence for a genetic relationship, but nevertheless argue that a core of existing correspondences goes back to a common ancestor.[10][11]

The original hypothesis unified only the Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic groups. Later proposals to include the Korean and Japanese languages into a "Macro-Altaic" family have always been controversial. (The original proposal was sometimes called "Micro-Altaic" by retronymy.) Most proponents of Altaic continue to support the inclusion of Korean.[12] A common ancestral Proto-Altaic language for the "Macro" family has been tentatively reconstructed by Sergei Starostin and others.[13]

Micro-Altaic includes about 66 living languages,[14] to which Macro-Altaic would add Korean, Jeju, Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages, for a total of 74 (depending on what is considered a language and what is considered a dialect). These numbers do not include earlier states of languages, such as Middle Mongol, Old Korean or Old Japanese.

Earliest attestations of the languagesEdit

The earliest known texts in a Turkic language are the Orkhon inscriptions, 720–735 AD.[15]: 3  They were deciphered in 1893 by the Danish linguist Vilhelm Thomsen in a scholarly race with his rival, the German–Russian linguist Wilhelm Radloff. However, Radloff was the first to publish the inscriptions.

The first Tungusic language to be attested is Jurchen, the language of the ancestors of the Manchus. A writing system for it was devised in 1119 AD and an inscription using this system is known from 1185 (see List of Jurchen inscriptions).

The earliest Mongolic language of which we have written evidence is known as Middle Mongol. It is first attested by an inscription dated to 1224 or 1225 AD, the Stele of Yisüngge, and by the Secret History of the Mongols, written in 1228 (see Mongolic languages). The earliest Para-Mongolic text is the Memorial for Yelü Yanning, written in the Khitan large script and dated to 986 AD. However, the Inscription of Hüis Tolgoi, discovered in 1975 and analysed as being in an early form of Mongolic, has been dated to 604-620 AD. The Bugut inscription dates back to 584 AD.

Japanese is first attested in the form of names contained in a few short inscriptions in Classical Chinese from the 5th century AD, such as found on the Inariyama Sword. The first substantial text in Japanese, however, is the Kojiki, which dates from 712 AD. It is followed by the Nihon shoki, completed in 720, and then by the Man'yōshū, which dates from c. 771–785, but includes material that is from about 400 years earlier.[15]: 4 

The most important text for the study of early Korean is the Hyangga, a collection of 25 poems, of which some go back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC–668 AD), but are preserved in an orthography that only goes back to the 9th century AD.[16]: 60  Korean is copiously attested from the mid-15th century on in the phonetically precise Hangul system of writing.[16]: 61 

History of the Altaic family conceptEdit

The Altai Mountains in East-Central Asia give their name to the proposed language family.


The earliest known reference to a unified language group of Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic languages is from the 1692 work of Nicolaes Witsen which may be based on a 1661 work of Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur Genealogy of the Turks.[17]

A proposed grouping of the Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages was published in 1730 by Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, a Swedish officer who traveled in the eastern Russian Empire while a prisoner of war after the Great Northern War.[18]: page 125  However, he may not have intended to imply a closer relationship among those languages.[19]

Uralo-Altaic hypothesisEdit

In 1844, the Finnish philologist Matthias Castrén proposed a broader grouping, that later came to be called the Ural–Altaic family, which included Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus (=Tungusic) as an "Altaic" branch, and also the Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic languages as the "Uralic" branch (though Castrén himself used the terms "Tataric" and "Chudic").[18]: 126–127  The name "Altaic" referred to the Altai Mountains in East-Central Asia, which are approximately the center of the geographic range of the three main families. The name "Uralic" referred to the Ural Mountains.

While the Ural-Altaic family hypothesis can still be found in some encyclopedias, atlases, and similar general references, after the 1960s it has been heavily criticized. Even linguists who accept the basic Altaic family, like Sergei Starostin, completely discard the inclusion of the "Uralic" branch.[13]: 8–9 

Korean and Japanese languagesEdit

In 1857, the Austrian scholar Anton Boller suggested adding Japanese to the Ural–Altaic family.[20]: 34 

In the 1920s, G.J. Ramstedt and E.D. Polivanov advocated the inclusion of Korean. Decades later, in his 1952 book, Ramstedt rejected the Ural–Altaic hypothesis but again included Korean in Altaic, an inclusion followed by most leading Altaicists (supporters of the theory) to date.[21] His book contained the first comprehensive attempt to identify regular correspondences among the sound systems within the Altaic language families.

In 1960, Nicholas Poppe published what was in effect a heavily revised version of Ramstedt's volume on phonology[22][23] that has since set the standard in Altaic studies. Poppe considered the issue of the relationship of Korean to Turkic-Mongolic-Tungusic not settled.[18]: 148  In his view, there were three possibilities: (1) Korean did not belong with the other three genealogically, but had been influenced by an Altaic substratum; (2) Korean was related to the other three at the same level they were related to each other; (3) Korean had split off from the other three before they underwent a series of characteristic changes.

Roy Andrew Miller's 1971 book Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages convinced most Altaicists that Japanese also belonged to Altaic.[24][15] Since then, the "Macro-Altaic" has been generally assumed to include Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Korean, and Japanese.

In 1990, Unger advocated a family consisting of Tungusic, Korean, and Japonic languages, but not Turkic or Mongolic.[25]

However, many linguists dispute the alleged affinities of Korean and Japanese to the other three groups. Some authors instead tried to connect Japanese to the Austronesian languages.[13]: 8–9 

In 2017 Martine Robbeets proposed that Japanese (and possibly Korean) originated as a hybrid language. She proposed that the ancestral home of the Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages was somewhere in northwestern Manchuria. A group of those proto-Altaic ("Transeurasian") speakers would have migrated south into the modern Liaoning province, where they would have been mostly assimilated by an agricultural community with an Austronesian-like language. The fusion of the two languages would have resulted in proto-Japanese and proto-Korean.[26][27]

In a typological study that does not directly evaluate the validity of the Altaic hypothesis, Yurayong and Szeto (2020) discuss for Koreanic and Japonic the stages of convergence to the Altaic typological model and subsequent divergence from that model, which resulted in the present typological similarity between Koreanic and Japonic. They state that both are "still so different from the Core Altaic languages that we can even speak of an independent Japanese-Korean type of grammar. Given also that there is neither a strong proof of common Proto-Altaic lexical items nor solid regular sound correspondences but, rather, only lexical and structural borrowings between languages of the Altaic typology, our results indirectly speak in favour of a “Paleo-Asiatic” origin of the Japonic and Koreanic languages."[28]

The Ainu languageEdit

In 1962 John C. Street proposed an alternative classification, with Turkic-Mongolic-Tungusic in one grouping and Korean-Japanese-Ainu in another, joined in what he designated as the "North Asiatic" family.[29] The inclusion of Ainu was adopted also by James Patrie in 1982.[30][31]

The Turkic-Mongolic-Tungusic and Korean-Japanese-Ainu groupings were also posited in 2000–2002 by Joseph Greenberg. However, he treated them as independent members of a larger family, which he termed Eurasiatic.[32]

The inclusion of Ainu is not widely accepted by Altaicists.[1] In fact, no convincing genealogical relationship between Ainu and any other language family has been demonstrated, and it is generally regarded as a language isolate.[33]

Early criticism and rejectionEdit

Starting in the late 1950s, some linguists became increasingly critical of even the minimal Altaic family hypothesis, disputing the alleged evidence of genetic connection between Turkic, Mongolic and Tungusic languages.

Among the earlier critics were Gerard Clauson (1956), Gerhard Doerfer (1963), and Alexander Shcherbak. They claimed that the words and features shared by Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages were for the most part borrowings and that the rest could be attributed to chance resemblances.[34][35][36] In 1988, Doerfer again rejected all the genetic claims over these major groups.[37]

Modern controversyEdit

A major continuing supporter of the Altaic hypothesis has been S. Starostin, who published a comparative lexical analysis of the Altaic languages in 1991. He concluded that the analysis supported the Altaic grouping, although it was "older than most other language families in Eurasia, such as Indo-European or Finno-Ugric, and this is the reason why the modern Altaic languages preserve few common elements".[38]

In 1991 and again in 1996, Roy Miller defended the Altaic hypothesis and claimed that the criticisms of Clauson and Doerfer apply exclusively to the lexical correspondences, whereas the most pressing evidence for the theory is the similarities in verbal morphology.[39][16]

In 2003, Claus Schönig published a critical overview of the history of the Altaic hypothesis up to that time, siding with the earlier criticisms of Clauson, Doerfer, and Shcherbak.[40]

In 2003, Starostin, Anna Dybo and Oleg Mudrak published the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages, which expanded the 1991 lexical lists and added other phonological and grammatical arguments.[13]

Starostin's book was criticized by Stefan Georg in 2004 and 2005,[41][42] and by Alexander Vovin in 2005.[43]

Other defenses of the theory, in response to the criticisms of Georg and Vovin, were published by Starostin in 2005,[44] Blažek in 2006,[45] Robbeets in 2007,[46] and Dybo and G. Starostin in 2008[47]

In 2010, Lars Johanson echoed Miller's 1996 rebuttal to the critics, and called for a muting of the polemic.[48]

List of supporters and critics of the Altaic hypothesisEdit

The list below comprises linguists who have worked specifically on the Altaic problem since the publication of the first volume of Ramstedt's Einführung in 1952. The dates given are those of works concerning Altaic. For supporters of the theory, the version of Altaic they favor is given at the end of the entry, if other than the prevailing one of Turkic–Mongolic–Tungusic–Korean–Japanese.

Major supportersEdit

Major criticsEdit

Advocates of alternative hypothesesEdit

  • James Patrie (1982) and Joseph Greenberg (2000–2002). Turkic–Mongolic–Tungusic and Korean–Japanese–Ainu, grouped in a common taxon (cf. John C. Street 1962), called Eurasiatic by Greenberg.
  • J. Marshall Unger (1990). Tungusic–Korean–Japanese ("Macro-Tungusic"), with Turkic and Mongolic as separate language families.
  • Lars Johanson (2010). Agnostic, proponent of a "Transeurasian" verbal morphology not necessarily genealogically linked.


Tungusic languagesEdit

With fewer speakers than Mongolic or Turkic languages, Tungusic languages are distributed across most of Eastern Siberia (including the Sakhalin Island), northern Manchuria and extending into some parts of Xinjiang and Mongolia. Some Tungusic languages are extinct or endangered languages as a consequence of language shift to Chinese and Russian. In China, where the Tungusic population is over 10 million, just 46,000 still retain knowledge of their ethnic languages.[49]

Scholars have yet to reach agreement on how to classify the Tungusic languages but two subfamilies have been proposed: South Tungusic (or Manchu) and North Tungusic (Tungus). Jurchen (now extinct; Da Jin 大金), Manchu (critically endangered; Da Qing 大清), Sibe (Xibo 锡伯) and other minor languages comprise the Manchu group.[49]

The Northern Tungusic languages can be reclassified even further into the Siberian Tungusic languages (Evenki, Lamut, Solon and Negidal) and the Lower Amur Tungusic languages (Nanai, Ulcha, Orok to name a few).[49]

Significant disagreements remain, not only about the linguistic sub-classifications but also some controversy around the Chinese names of some ethnic groups, like the use of Hezhe (赫哲) for the Nanai people.[49]

Mongolic languagesEdit

Mongolic languages are spoken in three geographic areas: Russia (especially Siberia), China and Mongolia. Although Russia and China host significant Mongol populations many of the Mongol people in these countries don't speak their own ethnic language.[50]

They are usually sub-classified into two groups: the Western languages (Oirat, Kalmyk and related dialects) and Eastern languages. The latter group can be further subdivided as follows:[50]

  1. Southern Mongol - Ordos, Chakhar and Khorchin
  2. Central Mongol - Khalkha, Darkhat
  3. Northern Mongol - Buriat and dialects, Khamnigan

There are also additional archaic and obscure languages within these groups: Moghol (Afghanistan), Dagur (Manchuria) and languages associated with Gansu and Qinghai.[50]

Linguisitically two branches emerge, the Common Mongolic and the Khitan/Serbi (sometimes called "para-Mongolic"). Of the latter, only Dagur survives into the present day.[50]


For the Altaic groupingEdit

Phonological and grammatical featuresEdit

The original arguments for grouping the "micro-Altaic" languages within a Uralo-Altaic family were based on such shared features as vowel harmony and agglutination.

According to Roy Miller, the most pressing evidence for the theory is the similarities in verbal morphology.[16]

The Etymological Dictionary by Starostin and others (2003) proposes a set of sound change laws that would explain the evolution from Proto-Altaic to the descendant languages. For example, although most of today's Altaic languages have vowel harmony, Proto-Altaic as reconstructed by them lacked it; instead, various vowel assimilations between the first and second syllables of words occurred in Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Korean, and Japonic. They also included a number of grammatical correspondences between the languages.[13]

Shared lexiconEdit

Starostin claimed in 1991 that the members of the proposed Altaic group shared about 15–20% of apparent cognates within a 110-word Swadesh-Yakhontov list; in particular, Turkic–Mongolic 20%, Turkic–Tungusic 18%, Turkic–Korean 17%, Mongolic–Tungusic 22%, Mongolic–Korean 16%, and Tungusic–Korean 21%.[38] The 2003 Etymological Dictionary includes a list of 2,800 proposed cognate sets, as well as a few important changes to the reconstruction of Proto-Altaic. The authors tried hard to distinguish loans between Turkic and Mongolic and between Mongolic and Tungusic from cognates; and suggest words that occur in Turkic and Tungusic but not in Mongolic. All other combinations between the five branches also occur in the book. It lists 144 items of shared basic vocabulary, including words for such items as 'eye', 'ear', 'neck', 'bone', 'blood', 'water', 'stone', 'sun', and 'two'.[13]

Robbeets and Bouckaert (2018) use Bayesian phylolinguistic methods to argue for the coherence of the "narrow" Altaic languages (Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic) together with Japonic and Koreanic, which they refer to as the Transeurasian languages.[51] Their results include the following phylogenetic tree:[52]








Martine Robbeets (2020) argues that early Transeurasian speakers were originally agriculturalists in northeastern China, only becoming pastoralists later on. Some lexical reconstructions of agricultural terms by Robbeets (2020) are listed below.[53]

Macro-level reconstruction Family-level reconstructions
PTEA *pata ‘field for cultivation’ PTk *(p)atï ‘delimited field irrigated for cultivation’ (PTk *-r2 collective suffix)
PTk *(p)ata ‘delimited field irrigated for cultivation’ (PTk *-(A)g place suffix?)
PK *patʌ ‘(dry) field’ (PK *-(ɨ/ʌ)k place suffix)
PJ *pata ‘(dry) field’ (PJ *-ka place suffix, PJ *-i substantivizer)
PTEA *muda ‘uncultivated field’ PTg *muda ‘plain, open field, highland’
PK *mutʌ-k ‘dry land’ (PK *-(ɨ/ʌ)k place suffix)
PJ *muta ‘uncultivated land, marshland’
PTEA *pisi- ‘sprinkle with the hands, sow’ PMo *pesü-r-/*pissü-r- ‘to sprinkle, scatter; jump around’ (PMo *-r- intensive)
PTg *pisi- ‘to sprinkle with the hands’
PTg *pisi-ke ‘broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum)’ (PTg *-xa ~ *-kA resultative deverbal noun suffix)
PK *pis- ‘to sprinkle, scatter, sow’
PTEA *pisi-i (sow-INS.NMLZ) ‘seed, seedling’ (PTEA *-i/Ø instrumental deverbal noun suffix) PMo *pesi/*pisi ‘origin or base of a plant’
PK *pisi ‘seed; lineage’
PTEA *kipi ~ *kipe ‘barnyard millet PTg *kipe ‘components that need to be removed from the grain harvest, barnyard grass
PK *kipi ‘barnyard millet
PJ *kinpi ‘broomcorn millet
PA *tari- ‘to cultivate’ PTk *tarï- ‘to scatter, sow, cultivate (land)’
PMo *tari- ‘to sow, plant; to plow’
PTg *tari-‘to cultivate’
PA *toru ‘young male pig’ PTk *toːrum ‘young camel/horse/cattle’
PMo *toru ‘young/male pig’ (PMo *-i animal suffix in e.g. *gaka-i ‘pig’, *noka-i ‘dog’, *moga-i ‘snake’)
PTg *toro-kiː ‘male pig’ (PTg *-kiː animal suffix)
- PTk *sag- ‘to milk; ‘to draw toward oneself; to pull out; to pull off
PMo *saɣa- ‘to milk; to reduce; to draw toward oneself; to draw tight; to contract’
PJK *pata ‘dry field’ < PTEA *pata ‘field for cultivation’ PK *patʌ ‘(dry) field’ (PK *-(ɨ/ʌ)k place suffix)
PJ *pata ‘(dry) field’
(PJ *-ka place suffix, *-i substantivizer)
PJK *muta ‘uncultivated land’ < PTEA *muda ‘uncultivated land’ PK *mutʌ-k ‘dry land’ (PK *-(ɨ/ʌ)k place suffix)
PJ *muta ‘uncultivated land, marshland’
PJK *no ‘field’ PK *non ‘rice paddyfield’
PJ *no ‘field’
PJK *mati ‘delimited plot for cultivation’ PK *mat(i)-k ‘delimited plot for cultivation’ (PK *-(ɨ/ʌ)k place suffix)
PJ *mati ‘delimited plot for cultivation’
  • PTEA = Proto-Transeurasian
    • PA = Proto-Altaic
      • PTk = Proto-Turkic
      • PMo = Proto-Mongolic
      • PTg = Proto-Tungusic
    • PJK = Proto-Japano-Koreanic
      • PK = Proto-Koreanic
      • PJ = Proto-Japonic

Additional family-level reconstructions of agricultural vocabulary from Robbeets et al. (2020):[54]

  • Proto-Turkic *ek- ‘to sprinkle with the hand; sow’ > *ek-e.g. ‘plow’
  • Proto-Turkic *tarï- ‘to cultivate (the ground)’ > *tarï-g ‘what is cultivated; crops, main crop, cultivated land’
  • Proto-Turkic *ko- ‘to put’ > *koːn- ‘to settle down (of animals), to take up residence (of people), to be planted (of plants)’ > *konak ‘foxtail millet (Setaria italica)’
  • Proto-Turkic *tög- ‘to hit, beat; to pound, crush (food in a mortar); to husk, thresh (cereals)’ > *tögi ‘husked millet; husked rice’
  • Proto-Turkic *ügür ‘(broomcorn) millet’
  • Proto-Turkic *arpa ‘barley (Hordeum vulgare)' < ? Proto-Iranian *arbusā ‘barley’
  • Proto-Mongolic *amun ‘cereals; broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum)’ (Nugteren 2011: 268[55])
  • Proto-Mongolic *konag ‘foxtail millet’ < PTk *konak ‘foxtail millet (Setaria italica)’
  • Proto-Mongolic *budaga ‘cooked cereals; porridge; meal’
  • Proto-Mongolic *tari- ‘to sow, plant’ (Nugteren 2011: 512–13)
  • Proto-Macro-Mongolic *püre ‘seed; descendants’
  • Proto-Tungusic *pisi-ke ‘broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum)’
  • Proto-Tungusic *jiya- ‘foxtail millet (Setaria italica)’
  • Proto-Tungusic *murgi ‘barley (Hordeum vulgare)’
  • Proto-Tungusic *üse- ~ *üsi- ‘to plant’ üse ~ üsi ‘seed, seedling’, üsi-n ‘field for cultivation’
  • Proto-Tungusic *tari- ‘to sow, to plant’
  • Proto-Koreanic *pisi ‘seed’, *pihi ‘barnyard millet’ < Proto-Transeurasian (PTEA) *pisi-i (sow-NMLZ) ‘seed’ ~ *pisi-ke (sow-RES.NMLZ) ‘what is sown, major crop’
  • Proto-Koreanic *patʌ-k ‘dry field’ < Proto-Japano-Koreanic (PJK) *pata ‘dry field’ < PTEA *pata ‘field for cultivation’
  • Proto-Koreanic *mutʌ-k ‘dry land’ < PJK *muta ‘land’ < PTEA *mudu ‘uncultivated land’
  • Proto-Koreanic *mat-ʌk ‘garden plot’ < PJK *mat ‘plot of land for cultivation’
  • Proto-Koreanic *non ‘rice paddy field’ < PJK *non ‘field’
  • Proto-Koreanic *pap ‘any boiled preparation of cereal; boiled rice’
  • Proto-Koreanic *pʌsal ‘hulled (of any grain); hulled corn of grain; hulled rice’ < Proto-Japonic *wasa-ra ‘early ripening (of any grain)’
  • Proto-Koreanic *ipi > *pi > *pye ‘(unhusked) rice’ < Proto-Japonic *ip-i (eat-NMLZ) ‘cooked millet, steamed rice’
  • Proto-Japonic *nuka ‘rice bran’ < PJ *nuka- (remove.NMLZ)
  • Proto-Japonic *məmi ‘hulled rice’ < PJ *məm-i (move.back.and.forth.with.force-NMLZ)
  • Proto-Japonic *ipi ‘cooked millet, steamed rice’ < *ip-i (eat-NMLZ) < PK *me(k)i ‘rice offered to a higher rank’ < *mek-i (eat-NMLZ) ‘what you eat, food’ < Proto-Austronesian *ka-en eat-OBJ.NMLZ
  • Proto-Japonic *wasa- ~ *wəsə- ‘to be early ripening (of crops); an early ripening variety (of any crop); early-ripening rice plant’
  • Proto-Japonic *usu ‘(rice and grain) mortar’ < Para-Austronesian *lusuŋ ‘(rice) mortar’; cf. Proto-Austronesian *lusuŋ ‘(rice) mortar’
  • Proto-Japonic *kəmai ‘dehusked rice’ < Para-Austronesian *hemay < Proto-Macro-Austronesian *Semay ‘cooked rice’; cf. Proto-Austronesian *Semay ‘cooked rice’

Archaeolinguistic supportEdit

A study published in February 2020 in the Evolutionary Human Sciences supports the coherence of the Transeurasian (Altaic) family through archaeolinguistic evidence. It posits that the sophisticated textile technology and millet farming expansion from Northeast China in East Asia can be linked with the expansion of the Transeurasian languages.[56] The researchers were also able to reconstruct a textile vocabulary for the proto-Transeurasian language.[56]

However, Kim and Park (2020) in the same journal criticized the conclusions and favoured the rice farming hypothesis for Korean and Japanese. According to their results, Koreanic (and Japonic) language spread can be linked to the spread of rice-cultivation and rice farming related vocabulary as opposed to millet farming which was practiced in a geographical nearby region in Manchuria. The authors point out that isotopic studies clearly show that sea resources and wild plants were the main diet of the people in Korea during the Chulmun period (period including the arrival of millet agriculture), that introduction of millet agriculture didn't heavily affect the material culture and subsistence economy of the Chulmun culture and noted with a summary of previous demographic studies that the population seems to suddenly decrease in a period coinciding with the arrival of millet whereas it should increase in the context of a people migration.[57] They suggest two scenarios explaining the spread of Koreanic and Japonic (which they agree to reunite in the Japano-Koreanic family) : The first one is that Proto-Japonic and Proto-Koreanic already split before their entrance in Korean peninsula and migrated together, bringing with them the dry farming of rice and giving way to the Mumun period; Proto-Japonic speakers would later have aggregated in southern Korea and developed the Songgukri culture. The second one suggests that Proto-Japano-Koreanic speakers migrated to Korea and that Proto-Japonic and Proto-Koreanic respectively developed in the southwestern and central parts of the peninsula. However they admit themselves that both scenarios have problems, the first one is difficult to reconcile with the fact that Early Mumun archeological was homogenous throughout the peninsula, the two groups cannot be clearly distinguished; the second scenario assumes a relatively recent split between Japonic and Koreanic whereas the linguistic distance is too great to assume it.[57] Anyway they support a rice farming dispersal and argue that they can not be linked to the millet farming cultures, rejecting Robbeets' proposal of a Northeast China origin for Koreanic and Japonic (on which the modern Transeurasian theory is based ).[57]

However, Hudson and Robbeets (2020) responded to this study and still maintain that archaeological elements relating to sedentism, pottery, stone tools and weaving technology supports a Northeast China agricultural origin for proto-Koreanic and proto-Japonic. They pointed out several problems in the arguments of Kim and Park.[58] Many of the isotope studies are from coastal shell middens, where human bones are better preserved, and not inland sites.[58] The farming/language hypotheses doesn't require that farming was the only nor the largest component of a subsistence economy.[58] A language shift does not require a massive initial influx of speakers and the possibility of a small number of speakers which later grew is not evaluated, it has been proved in previous studies that even small technological advantages can heavily impact the language shift; Kim and Park placed the introduction of millet agriculture in 3500 BC and interpreted its arrival as a population decrease whereas previous studies they didn't consider showed several evidences for an arrival of millet one or two centuries earlier, which is actually consistent with a population increase, recent studies have even noted an 'explosive' and rapid demographic increase with the arrival of millet agriculture in Korea.[58] Hudson and Robbeets suggest that a Yersina pestis epidemic was probably the main reason of this drastic decrease, pointing out many evidences.[58] They argue that there is in fact no common rice vocabulary shared between proto-Koreanic and proto-Japonic, indicating that the separation between the two families would have occurred before the introduction of rice farming and placing it in Northeast China rather than Korea.[58] In addition to the problems cited by Kim and Park for their scenarios, Hudson and Robbeets also support that Proto-Japonic was spoken in the north of the peninsula and not the south, arguing that the Puyŏ languages — spoken in Northern Korea and Liaodong peninsula by the beginning of the Eastern Han dynasty — were more closely related to Japanese than to Korean.[58]

Against the groupingEdit

Weakness of lexical and typological dataEdit

According to G. Clauson (1956), G. Doerfer (1963), and A. Shcherbak (1963), many of the typological features of the supposed Altaic languages, particularly agglutinative strongly suffixing morphology and subject–object–verb (SOV) word order,[59] often occur together in languages.[34][35][36]

Those critics also argued that the words and features shared by Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages were for the most part borrowings and that the rest could be attributed to chance resemblances. They noted that there was little vocabulary shared by Turkic and Tungusic languages, though more shared with Mongolic languages. They reasoned that, if all three families had a common ancestor, we should expect losses to happen at random, and not only at the geographical margins of the family; and that the observed pattern is consistent with borrowing.[34][35][36]

According to C. Schönig (2003), after accounting for areal effects, the shared lexicon that could have a common genetic origin was reduced to a small number of monosyllabic lexical roots, including the personal pronouns and a few other deictic and auxiliary items, whose sharing could be explained in other ways; not the kind of sharing expected in cases of genetic relationship.[40]

The Sprachbund hypothesisEdit

Instead of a common genetic origin, Clauson, Doerfer, and Shcherbak proposed (in 1956–1966) that Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages form a Sprachbund: a set of languages with similarities due to convergence through intensive borrowing and long contact, rather than common origin.[34][35][36]

Asya Pereltsvaig further observed in 2011 that, in general, genetically related languages and families tend to diverge over time: the earlier forms are more similar than modern forms. However, she claims that an analysis of the earliest written records of Mongolic and Turkic languages shows the opposite, suggesting that they do not share a common traceable ancestor, but rather have become more similar through language contact and areal effects.[8][60]

Hypothesis about the original homelandEdit

The prehistory of the peoples speaking the "Altaic" languages is largely unknown. Whereas for certain other language families, such as the speakers of Indo-European, Uralic, and Austronesian, it is possible to frame substantial hypotheses, in the case of the proposed Altaic family much remains to be done.[61]

Some scholars have hypothesised a possible Uralic and Altaic homeland in the Central Asian steppes.[62][63]

According to Juha Janhunen, the ancestral languages of Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, Korean, and Japanese were spoken in a relatively small area comprising present-day North Korea, Southern Manchuria, and Southeastern Mongolia.[64] However Janhunen is sceptical about an affiliation of Japanese to Altaic,[65] while András Róna-Tas remarked that a relationship between Altaic and Japanese, if it ever existed, must be more remote than the relationship of any two of the Indo-European languages.[66]: 77  Ramsey stated that "the genetic relationship between Korean and Japanese, if it in fact exists, is probably more complex and distant than we can imagine on the basis of our present state of knowledge".[67]

Supporters of the Altaic hypothesis formerly set the date of the Proto-Altaic language at around 4000 BC, but today at around 5000 BC[13] or 6000 BC.[68] This would make Altaic a language family about as old as Indo-European (around 3000 to 7000 BC according to several hypotheses) but considerably younger than Afroasiatic (c. 10,000 BC[69]: 33  or 11,000 to 16,000 BC[70]: 35–36  according to different sources).

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b c d Georg, Stefan; Michalove, Peter A.; Ramer, Alexis Manaster; Sidwell, Paul J. (1999). "Telling general linguists about Altaic". Journal of Linguistics. 35 (1): 65–98. doi:10.1017/S0022226798007312.
  2. ^ "Interactive Maps The Altaic Family from The Tower of Babel". Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  3. ^ Campbell, Lyle (2007). Glossary of Historical Linguistics. Edinburgh University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7486-3019-6. While 'Altaic' is repeated in encyclopedias and handbooks most specialists in these languages no longer believe that the three traditional supposed Altaic groups ... are related. In spite of this, Altaic does have a few dedicated followers.
  4. ^ Starostin, George (2016). "Altaic Languages". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.35. ISBN 9780199384655. Despite the validity of many of these objections, it remains unclear whether they are sufficient to completely discredit the hypothesis of a genetic connection between the various branches of “Altaic,” which continues to be actively supported by a small, but stable scholarly minority.
  5. ^ Lyle Campbell and Mauricio J. Mixco (2007): A Glossary of Historical Linguistics; University of Utah Press. Page 7: "While 'Altaic' is repeated in encyclopedias and handbooks most specialists in these languages no longer believe that the three traditional supposed Altaic groups, Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic, are related."
  6. ^ Johanna Nichols (1992) Linguistic Diversity in Space and Time. Chicago University Press. Page 4: "When cognates proved not to be valid, Altaic was abandoned and the received view now is that Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic are unrelated."
  7. ^ R. M. W. Dixon (1997): The Rise and Fall of Languages. Cambridge University Press. Page 32: "Careful examination indicates that the established families, Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic, form a linguistic area (called Altaic)...Sufficient criteria have not been given that would justify talking of a genetic relationship here."
  8. ^ a b Asya Pereltsvaig (2012) Languages of the World, An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. Pages 211–216: "[...T]his selection of features does not provide good evidence for common descent" [...] "we can observe convergence rather than divergence between Turkic and Mongolic languages—a pattern than is easily explainable by borrowing and diffusion rather than common descent"
  9. ^ De la Fuente, José Andrés Alonso (2016). "Review of Robbeets, Martine (2015): Diachrony of verb morphology. Japanese and the Transeurasian languages". Diachronica. 33 (4): 530–537. doi:10.1075/dia.33.4.04alo. For now, shared material between Transeurasian [i.e. Altaic] languages is undoubtedly better explained as the result of language contact. But if researchers provide cogent evidence of genealogical relatedness, that will be the time to re-evaluate old positions. That time, however, has not yet come.
  10. ^ Dybo, Anna (March 2020). "New Trends in European Studies on the Altaic Problem". Journal of Language Relationship. 14 (1–2): 71–106. doi:10.31826/jlr-2017-141-208.
  11. ^ Robbeets, Martine (2015). Diachrony of Verb Morphology: Japanese and the Transeurasian Languages. Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs, 291. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. ISBN 9783110399943.
  12. ^ Roger Blench and Mallam Dendo (2008): "Stratification in the peopling of China: how far does the linguistic evidence match genetics and archaeology?" In Alicia Sanchez-Mazas et al., eds. Human migrations in continental East Asia and Taiwan: genetic, linguistic and archaeological evidence, chapter 4. Taylor & Francis.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Sergei Starostin, Anna V. Dybo, and Oleg A. Mudrak (2003): Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages, 3 volumes. ISBN 90-04-13153-1.
  14. ^ "Browse by Language Family". Ethnologue. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  15. ^ a b c Roy Andrew Miller (1971): Japanese and the Other Altaic Languages. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-52719-0.
  16. ^ a b c d Roy Andrew Miller (1996): Languages and History: Japanese, Korean and Altaic. Oslo: Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture. ISBN 974-8299-69-4. Pages 98–99
  17. ^ Robeets, Martine (2020). The Classification of Transeurasian languages. Oxford University Press. p. 31.
  18. ^ a b c Nicholas Poppe (1965): Introduction to Altaic Linguistics. Volume 14 of Ural-altaische Bibliothek. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.
  19. ^ Alexis Manaster Ramer and Paul Sidwell (1997): "The truth about Strahlenberg's classification of the languages of Northeastern Eurasia." Journal de la Société finno-ougrienne, volume 87, pages 139–160.
  20. ^ Roy Andrew Miller (1986): Nihongo: In Defence of Japanese. ISBN 0-485-11251-5.
  21. ^ Gustaf John Ramstedt (1952): Einführung in die altaische Sprachwissenschaft ("Introduction to Altaic Linguistics"). Volume I, Lautlehre ("Phonology").
  22. ^ Nicholas Poppe (1960): Vergleichende Grammatik der altaischen Sprachen. Teil I. Vergleichende Lautlehre, ('Comparative Grammar of the Altaic Languages, Part 1: Comparative Phonology'). Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. (Only part to appear of a projected larger work.)
  23. ^ Roy Andrew Miller (1991): "Genetic connections among the Altaic languages." In Sydney M. Lamb and E. Douglas Mitchell (editors), Sprung from Some Common Source: Investigations into the Prehistory of Languages, 1991, 293–327. ISBN 0-8047-1897-0.
  24. ^ Nicholas Poppe (1976): "Review of Karl H. Menges, Altajische Studien II. Japanisch und Altajisch (1975)". In The Journal of Japanese Studies, volume 2, issue 2, pages 470–474.
  25. ^ J. Marshall Unger (1990): "Summary report of the Altaic panel." In Philip Baldi, ed., Linguistic Change and Reconstruction Methodology, pages 479–482. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.
  26. ^ Martine Irma Robbeets (2017): "Austronesian influence and Transeurasian ancestry in Japanese: A case of farming/language dispersal". Language Dynamics and Change, volume 7, issue 2, pages 201–251, doi:10.1163/22105832-00702005
  27. ^ Martine Irma Robbeets (2015): Diachrony of verb morphology – Japanese and the Transeurasian languages. Mouton de Gruyter.
  28. ^ Yurayong, Szeto (August 2020). "Altaicization and De-Altaicization of Japonic and Koreanic". International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics. Despite the conventional classification of Japonic and Koreanic languages as examples of the Altaic typology (Janhunen 2007, 2014, Tranter 2012a), these languages, both today and in the past, are still so different from the Core Altaic languages that we can even speak of an independent Japanese-Korean type of grammar (see also Vovin 2015a). Given also that there is neither a strong proof of common Proto-Altaic lexical items nor solid regular sound correspondences (Janhunen 1999: 10, 2010: 296, cf. Robbeets 2005) but, rather, only lexical and structural borrowings between languages of the Altaic typology, our results indirectly speak in favour of a “Paleo-Asiatic” origin of the Japonic and Koreanic languages (see also Janhunen 2010, Vovin 2015a). However, through later intense language contacts, Japanese and Koreanic converged by the phenomena of Altaicization and de-Altaicization during the first millennium BC and AD, respectively (see also Janhunen 2010: 290, Vovin 2010: 239–240).
  29. ^ John C. Street (1962): "Review of N. Poppe, Vergleichende Grammatik der altaischen Sprachen, Teil I (1960)". Language, volume 38, pages 92–98.
  30. ^ James Tyrone Patrie (1978): The genetic relationship of the Ainu language. PhD thesis, University of Hawaii.
  31. ^ James Tyrone Patrie (1982): The Genetic Relationship of the Ainu Language. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-0724-3
  32. ^ Joseph Greenberg (2000–2002): Indo-European and Its Closest Relatives: The Eurasiatic Language Family, 2 volumes. Stanford University Press.
  33. ^ Dougherty, Thomas (2018). "Ainu". In Campbell, Lyle (ed.). Language Isolates. Routledge Language Family Series. London: Routledge. pp. 100–116.
  34. ^ a b c d Gerard Clauson (1956). "The case against the Altaic theory". Central Asiatic Journal volume 2, pages 181–187
  35. ^ a b c d Gerhard Doerfer (1963): "Bemerkungen zur Verwandtschaft der sog. altaische Sprachen" ('Remarks on the relationship of the so-called Altaic languages') In Gerhard Doerfer ed.: Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, Bd. I: Mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, pages 51–105. Franz Steiner, Wiesbaden
  36. ^ a b c d Alexander Shcherbak (1963).
  37. ^ Gerhard Doerfer (1988): Grundwort und Sprachmischung: Eine Untersuchung an Hand von Körperteilbezeichnungen. Franz Steiner. Wiesbaden:
  38. ^ a b Sergei A. Starostin (1991): Altajskaja problema i proisxoždenie japonskogo jazyka ('The Altaic Problem and the Origin of the Japanese Language'). Nauka, Moscow.
  39. ^ Roy Andrew Miller (1991), page 298
  40. ^ a b c Schönig (2003): "Turko-Mongolic Relations." In The Mongolic Languages, edited by Juha Janhunen, pages 403–419. Routledge.
  41. ^ Stefan Georg (2004): "[Review of Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages (2003)]". Diachronica volume 21, issue 2, pages 445–450. doi:10.1075/dia.21.2.12geo
  42. ^ Stefan Georg (2005): "Reply (to Starostin response, 2005)". Diachronica volume 22, issue 2, pages 455–457.
  43. ^ Alexander Vovin (2005): "The end of the Altaic controversy" [review of Starostin et al. (2003)]. Central Asiatic Journal volume 49, issue 1, pages 71–132.
  44. ^ Sergei A. Starostin (2005): "Response to Stefan Georg's review of the Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages". Diachronica volume 22, issue 2, pages 451–454. doi:10.1075/dia.22.2.09sta
  45. ^ Václav Blažek (2006): "Current progress in Altaic etymology." Linguistica Online, 30 January 2006. Accessed on 2019-03-22.
  46. ^ Martine Robbeets (2007): "How the actional suffix chain connects Japanese to Altaic." In Turkic Languages, volume 11, issue 1, pages 3–58.
  47. ^ Anna V. Dybo and Georgiy S. Starostin (2008): "In defense of the comparative method, or the end of the Vovin controversy." Aspects of Comparative Linguistics, volume 3, pages 109–258. RSUH Publishers, Moscow
  48. ^ Lars Johanson (2010): "The high and low spirits of Transeurasian language studies" in Johanson and Robbeets, eds. Transeurasian Verbal Morphology in a Comparative Perspective: Genealogy, Contact, Chance., pages 7–20. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden. Quote: "The dark age of pro and contra slogans, unfair polemics, and humiliations is not yet completely over and done with, but there seems to be some hope for a more constructive discussion."
  49. ^ a b c d Rybatzki, Volker (2020). The Altaic languages: Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic. Oxford University Press. p. 22.
  50. ^ a b c d Rybatzki, Volker (2020). The Altaic languages: Tungusic, Mongolic, Turkic. Oxford University Press. p. 24.
  51. ^ Robbeets, M.; Bouckaert, R.: Bayesian phylolinguistics reveals the internal structure of the Transeurasian family. Journal of Language Evolution 3 (2), pp. 145–162 (2018) doi:10.1093/jole/lzy007
  52. ^ Structure of Transeurasian language family revealed by computational linguistic methods. 2018. Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  53. ^ Robbeets, Martine. 2020. The Transeurasian homeland: where, what, and when?. In: Robbeets, Martine and Alexander Savelyev. The Oxford Guide to the Transeurasian Languages, 1st ed. Oxford University Press.
  54. ^ Robbeets, M., Janhunen, J., Savelyev, A., & Korovina, E. 2020. The homelands of the individual Transeurasian proto-languages. In: Robbeets, Martine and Alexander Savelyev. The Oxford Guide to the Transeurasian Languages, 1st ed. Oxford University Press.
  55. ^ Nugteren, Hans (2011). Mongolic phonology and the Qinghai-Gansu languages. Utrecht: LOT Publications.
  56. ^ a b Nelson, Sarah; Zhushchikhovskaya, Irina S.; Li, Tao; Hudson, Mark; Robbeets, Martine (February 2020). "Tracing population movements in ancient East Asia through the linguistics and archaeology of textile production". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.4.
  57. ^ a b c Kim, Jangsuk; Park, Jinho (5 May 2020). "Millet vs rice: an evaluation of the farming/language dispersal hypothesis in the Korean context". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.13. ISSN 2513-843X.
  58. ^ a b c d e f g Hudson, Mark J.; Robbeets, Martine (14 October 2020). "Archaeolinguistic evidence for the farming/language dispersal of Koreanic". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.49. ISSN 2513-843X.
  59. ^ Hawkins and Gilligan (1988): "The suffixing preference", in The Final-Over-Final Condition: A Syntactic Universal, page 326. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0262036696; According to the table, among the surveyed languages, 75% of OV languages are mainly suffixing, and more than 70% of mainly suffixing languages are OV.
  60. ^ Asya Pereltsvaig (2011): "The Altaic family controversy". Languages of the World website, published on 2011-02-16. Accessed on 2017-02-14.
  61. ^ Miller (1991), page 319–320
  62. ^ Nikoloz Silagadze, "The Homeland Problem of Indo-European Language-Speaking Peoples", 2010. Faculty of Humanities at Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University. ISSN 1987-8583.
  63. ^ Y.N. Matyuishin (2003), pages 368–372.
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  66. ^ András Róna-Tas (1988).
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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit