Tuvan language

Tuvan (Tuvan: тыва дыл, tıwa dıl, [tʰɯˈʋa tɯl]), is a Turkic language spoken in the Republic of Tuva in South-Central Siberia in Russia. The language has borrowed a great number of roots from the Mongolian language, Tibetan and the Russian language. There are small diaspora groups of Tuvan people that speak distinct dialects of Tuvan in the People's Republic of China and in Mongolia.

тыва дыл, tıwa dıl
Native toRussia, Mongolia, China
Native speakers
280,000 (2010)[1]
Currently the Cyrillic script, formerly the Old Turkic script[citation needed]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2tyv
ISO 639-3tyv
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.
A Tuvan speaker
Inscription in Kyzyl using Turkic script


While this history focuses on mostly the people of Tuva, many linguists argue that language is inevitably intertwined with the socio-historical situation of a language itself.[3] The earliest record of Tuvan is from the early 19th century by Wūlǐyǎsūtái zhìlüè (Chinese: 烏里雅蘇台志略), Julius Klaproth 1823, Matthias Castrén 1857, Katanov and Vasily Radlov, etc.[4]

The name Tuva goes back as early as the publication of The Secret History of the Mongols. The Tuva (as they refer to themselves) have historically been referred to as Soyons, Soyots or Uriankhais.[5] The Tuvan people have been ruled by China, Russia and Mongolia for thousands of years. Their most recent time of independence was from 1921 to 1944, when they were considered the Tuvan's People's Republic.[6][full citation needed]

Many sources say there has been extreme tension between the Soviet Union/Russian Federation government and leaders in the Tuvan nation since 1944, when Tuva lost its independence to the Soviets. In 1990, violence broke out between Tuvans and the Russian government.[7] According to a study completed by social scientists Louk Hagendoorn, Edwin Poppe and Anca Minescu in 2008, the Tuvan people wanted to be as independent as possible from the Russian Federation following the collapse of the Soviet Union.[7] They especially emphasized their want for independence in terms of their language and culture. The study demonstrates that the reason behind this was partially based on prejudice. The many minority ethnic and linguistic groups in Russia compete for economic resources and hold closely on to their individual identities, by emphasizing the importance of language and culture.[5]

Since 2000, the Russian Federation has been trying to reduce separatist tendencies of ethnic minorities in Russia, but the tendencies persist.[7]


Tuvan (also spelled Tyvan) is linguistically classified as a Northeastern or Siberian Turkic language, closely related to several other Siberian Turkic languages including Khakas and Altai. Its closest relative is the moribund Tofa.

Tuvan, as spoken in Tuva, is principally divided into four dialect groups; Western, Central, Northeastern, Southeastern.

  • Central: forms the basis of the literary language and includes Ovyur and Bii-Khem subdialects. The geographical centrality of this dialect meant it was similar to the language spoken by most Tuvans, whether or not exactly the same.[8]
  • Western: can be found spoken near the upper course of the Khemchik. It is influenced by the Altai language.
  • Northeastern, also known as the Todzhi dialect, is spoken near the upper course of the Great Yenisey. The speakers of this dialect utilize nasalization. It contains a large vocabulary related to hunting and reindeer breeding not found in the other dialects.
  • Southeastern: shows the most influence from the Mongolic languages.

Other dialects include those spoken by the Dzungar, the Tsengel and the Dukha Tuvans, but currently these uncommon dialects are not comprehensively documented. Different dialects of the language exist across the geographic region in which Tuvan is spoken. K. David Harrison, who completed his dissertation on the Tuvan language in 2001, argues that the divergence of these dialects relates to the nomadic nature of the Tuvan nation.[8] One subset is the Jungar Tuvan language, originating in the Altai Mountains in the western region of Mongolia. There is no accurate number of Jungar-Tuvan speakers because most currently reside in China, and the Chinese include Tuvan speakers as Mongolians in their census.[5]



Tuvan has 19 native consonant phonemes:

Consonant phonemes of Tuvan
Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive lenis[a] p t ɡ
fortis[a] k
Affricate t͡s[b] t͡ʃ
Fricative voiceless f[b] s ʃ x
voiced z ʒ
Approximant ʋ l j
Flap ɾ
  1. ^ a b The distinction between initial bilabial and alveolar stops is based on aspiration for most speakers and voicing for others.
  2. ^ a b /f/ and /ts/ are found in some Russian loanwords.


Vowels in Tuvan exist in three varieties: short, long and short with low pitch. Tuvan long vowels have a duration that is at least (and often more than) twice as long as that of short vowels. Contrastive low pitch may occur on short vowels, and when it does, it causes them to increase in duration by at least a half. When using low pitch, Tuvan-speakers employ a pitch that is at the very low end of their modal voice pitch. For some speakers, it is even lower and using what is phonetically known as creaky voice. When a vowel in a monosyllabic word has low pitch, speakers apply low pitch only to the first half of that vowel (e.g. [àt] 'horse').[9] That is followed by a noticeable pitch rise, as the speaker returns to modal pitch in the second half of the vowel.

The acoustic impression is similar to that of a rising tone like the rising pitch contour of the Mandarin second tone, but the Tuvan pitch begins much lower. However, Tuvan is considered a pitch accent language with contrastive low pitch instead of a tonal language. When the low pitch vowel occurs in a multisyllabic word, there is no rising pitch contour or lengthening effect: [àdɯ] 'his/her/its horse'. Such low pitch vowels were previously referred to in the literature as either kargyraa or pharyngealized vowels. Phonetic studies have demonstrated that the defining characteristic of such vowels is low pitch. See Harrison 2001 for a phonetic and acoustic study of Tuvan low pitch vowels.

In her PhD thesis, "Long Vowels in Mongolic Loanwords in Tuvan", Baiarma Khabtagaeva states that the history of long vowels is ambiguous. While the long vowels may originate from Mongolic languages, they could also be of Tuvan origin. In most Mongolic languages, the quality of the long vowel changes depending on the quality of the second vowel in the conjunction. The only exception to this rule is if the conjunction is labial. The ancient Tuvan languages, in contrast, depended upon the first vowel rather than the second to determine the long vowels.[10]

Khabtagaeva divided the transformation of these loanwords into two periods: the early layer and the late layer. The words in the early layer are words in which the Mongolic preserved the conjunction, the VCV conjunction was preserved but the long vowel still developed when it entered the Tuvan language, or the stress is on the last syllable and a long vowel in the loanword replaced a short vowel in the original word. The Late Layer includes loanwords in which the long vowel does not change when the word entered Tuvan.[10]

Vowel phonemes of Tuvan
Short Long Low pitch
High Low High Low High Low
Front Unrounded i e ì è
Rounded y ø øː ø̀
Back Unrounded ɯ a ɯː ɯ̀ à
Rounded u o ù ò

Vowels may also be nasalized in the environment of nasal consonants, but nasalization is non-contrastive. Most Tuvan vowels in word-initial syllables have a low pitch and do not contrast significantly with short and long vowels.[8]

Vowel harmonyEdit

Tuvan has two systems of vowel harmony that strictly govern the distribution of vowels within words and suffixes. Backness harmony, or what is sometimes called 'palatal' harmony, requires all vowels within a word to be either back or front. Rounding harmony, or what is sometimes called 'labial' harmony, requires a vowel to be rounded if it is a high vowel and appears in a syllable immediately following a rounded vowel. Low rounded vowels [ø] [o] are restricted to the first syllable of a word, and a vowel in a non-initial syllable may be rounded only if it meets the conditions of rounding harmony (it must both be a high vowel [y] [u] and be preceded by a rounded vowel). See Harrison 2001 for a detailed description of Tuvan vowel harmony systems.



Tuvan builds morphologically complex words by adding suffixes. For example, [teʋe] is 'camel', [teʋe-ler] (hyphens indicate morpheme boundaries) is 'camels', [teʋe-ler-im] is 'my camels', [teʋe-ler-im-den] is 'from my camels'.

Tuvan marks nouns with six cases: genitive, accusative, dative, ablative, locative, and allative. Each case suffix has a rich variety of uses and meanings, only the most basic uses and meanings are shown here.

Teve [teʋe] Nominative case 'camel' (no suffix)
Teve + /-NIŋ/ [teʋeniŋ] Genitive case 'of the camel' (the [ŋ] phonetic symbol is pronounced as English 'ng' in 'sing')
Teve + /-NI/ [teʋeni] Accusative case 'the camel' (definite meaning, direct object of verb, as in "I saw THE camel.")
Teve + /-KA/ [teʋeɡe] Dative case 'for the camel' or 'at the camel' (in the past tense)
Teve + /-DAn/ [teʋeden] Ablative case 'from the camel' or 'than a/the camel' (as in "taller than a/the camel")
Teve + /-DA/ [teʋede] Locative case 'at the camel' or 'in the camel' (also used to show possession in some contexts)
Teve + /-Je/ [teʋeʒe] Allative case 'to(wards) the camel' (the phonetic symbol [ʒ] is pronounced as the 's' in English 'pleasure')
Teve + /-DIvA/ [teʋediʋe] Allative case 'to(wards) the camel' (this is an obsolete or dialectical version of this case)

Verbs in Tuvan take a number of endings to mark tense, mood, and aspect. Auxiliary verbs are also used to modify the verb. For a detailed scholarly study of auxiliary verbs in Tuvan and related languages, see Anderson 2004.


Tuvan employs SOV word order. For example, [teʋe siɡen tʃipken] (camel hay eat-PAST) "The camel ate the hay."


Tuvan vocabulary is mostly Turkic in origin but marked by a large number of Mongolian loanwords. The language has also borrowed several Mongolian suffixes. In addition, there exist Ketic and Samoyedic substrata. A Tuvan talking dictionary is produced by the Living Tongues Institute.[11]

Writing systemEdit

The current Tuvan alphabet is a modified version of the Russian alphabet, with three additional letters: ң (Latin "ng" or International Phonetic Alphabet [ŋ]), Өө (Latin "ö", [ø]), Үү (Latin "ü", IPA [y]). The sequence of the alphabet follows Russian exactly, with ң located after Russian Н, Ө after О, and Ү after У.

А а Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё Ж ж
З з И и Й й К к Л л М м Н н Ң ң
О о Ө ө П п Р р С с Т т У у Ү ү
Ф ф Х х Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы
Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я

The letters Е and Э are used in a special way. Э is used for the short /e/ sound at the beginning of words while Е is used for the same sound in the middle and at the end of words. Е is used at the beginning of words, mostly of Russian origin, to reflect the standard Russian pronunciation of that letter, /je/. Additionally, ЭЭ is used in the middle and at the end of words for the long /e/ sound.

The letter ъ is used to indicate pitch accent, as in эът èt 'meat'.

Historic scriptsEdit

Mongol scriptEdit

In the past, Tuvans used Mongolian as their written language.

Mongolian script was later developed by Nikolaus Poppe to suit the Tuvan language. This is the first known written form of the Tuvan language.[12]

Tuvan LatinEdit

Example of Latin-based alphabet on the Tuvan People's Republic coat of arms. It says "PYGY TELEGEJNIꞐ PROLETARLARЬ POLGAŞ TARLATKAN ARATTARЬ KATTЬƵЬꞐAR".

The Latin-based alphabet for Tuvan was devised in 1930 by a Tuvan Buddhist monk, Mongush Lopsang-Chinmit (a.k.a. Lubsan Zhigmed). A few books and newspapers, including primers intended to teach adults to read, were printed using this writing system. Lopsang-Chinmit was later executed in Stalinist purges on 31 December 1941.[13]

A a B ʙ C c D d E e F f G g Ƣ ƣ
H h I i J j Ɉ ɉ K k L l M m N n
Ꞑ ꞑ O o Ө ө P p R r S s Ş ş T t
U u V v X x Y y Z z Ƶ ƶ Ь ь

The letter Ɉ ɉ was excluded from the alphabet in 1931.


Бирги тыва дылдың үжүктери Бүгү телегейниң пролетарлары болгаш дарлаткан араттары каттыжыңар!
First Tuvan language alphabet All the world's workers and oppressed peoples, unite!

By September 1943, this Latin-based alphabet was replaced by a Cyrillic-based one, which is still in use to the present day. In the post-Soviet era, Tuvan and other scholars have taken a renewed interest in the history of Tuvan letters.


There is no official transliteration standard for transforming the Cyrillic-based Tuvan alphabet into Latin.[citation needed] Common schemes in use by various media sources rely upon international standards for transliterating other Cyrillic languages such as Russian while scholars of Turkology generally rely upon common Turkic-styled spelling.[citation needed]


Tuvans in China, who live mostly in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, are included under the Mongol nationality.[14] Some Tuvans reportedly live at Kanas Lake in the northwestern part of Xinjiang, where they are not officially recognized, and are counted as a part of the local Oirat Mongol community that is counted under the general PRC official ethnic label of "Mongol". Oirat and Tuvan children attend schools in which they use Chakhar Mongolian[15] and Standard Chinese, native languages of neither group.


  1. ^ Tuvan at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Endangered Languages Project data for Tuha.
  3. ^ Nettle, Romaine; Daniel, Suzanne (2000). Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Todoriki (2011), pp. 234–230
  5. ^ a b c Mawkanuli, Talant (2001). "The Jungar Tuvas: Language and National Identity in the PRC". Central Asian Survey. 20 (4): 497–517. doi:10.1080/02634930120104654. S2CID 143405271.
  6. ^ "Let Me Hear Your Khoomei Ringing Out; Tuva's Cultural History", The Economist, 46.
  7. ^ a b c Hagendoorn, Louk; Poppe, Edwin; Minescu, Anca (2008). "Support for Separatism in Ethnic Republics of the Russian Federation". Europe-Asia Studies. 60 (3): 353–373. doi:10.1080/09668130801947960.
  8. ^ a b c Harrison (2001)
  9. ^ Anderson, Greg; Harrison, K. David (2002). A Grammar of Tuvan. Gaithersburg, MD: Scientific Consulting Services International. pp. 3–5. ISBN 9781584900450.
  10. ^ a b Khabtagaeva, Baiarma (2004). "Long Vowels in Mongolic Loanwords in Tuvan". Turkic Languages. 8: 191–197.
  11. ^ see Tuvan Talking Dictionary
  12. ^ Cf. Otgonbayar Chuluunbaatar: Einführung in die mongolischen Schriften. Buske Verlag, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-87548-500-4, S. 70. "Daher wurde der Sprachforscher Nikolaus Poppe von der tuwinischen Regierung mit der Entwicklung eines für die eigene Sprache geeigneten Alphabets beauftragt. "
  13. ^ Mänchen-Helfen (1992), p. 133n
  14. ^ Mongush (1996)
  15. ^ "Öbür mongγul ayalγu bol dumdadu ulus-un mongγul kelen-ü saγuri ayalγu bolqu büged dumdadu ulus-un mongγul kelen-ü barimǰiy-a abiy-a ni čaqar aman ayalγun-du saγurilaγsan bayidaγ." (Sečenbaγatur et al. 2005: 85).


  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. (2004). Auxiliary Verb Constructions in Altai-Sayan Turkic. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 3-447-04636-8.
  • Anderson, Gregory D. S.; Harrison, K. David (1999). Tyvan. Languages of the World/Materials 257. Lincom Europa. ISBN 978-3-89586-529-9.
  • Harrison, K. David (2001). Topics in the Phonology and Morphology of Tuvan (Doctoral thesis). Yale University. OCLC 51541112.
  • Harrison, K. David (2005). "A Tuvan Hero Tale, with Commentary, Morphemic Analysis, and Translation". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 125: 1–30.
  • Krueger, John R. (1977). Krueger, John R. (ed.). Tuvan Manual. Uralic and Altaic Series Volume 126. Editor Emeritus: Thomas A. Sebeok. Indiana University Publications. ISBN 978-0-87750-214-2.
  • Mänchen-Helfen, Otto (1992) [1931]. Journey to Tuva. Translated by Alan Leighton. Los Angeles: Ethnographic Press University of Southern California. ISBN 978-1-878986-04-7.
  • Mawkanuli, Talant. 1999. "The phonology and morphology of Jungar Tuva," Indiana University PhD dissertation.
  • Mongush, M. V. (1996). "Tuvans of Mongolia and China". International Journal of Central Asian Studies. 1: 225–243.
  • Nakashima, Yoshiteru (中嶋 善輝 Nakashima Yoshiteru). 2008 "Tyva Yapon Biche Slovar', トゥヴァ語・日本語 小辞典" Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, http://www.aa.tufs.ac.jp/project/gengokensyu/08tuvan6.pdf (Archive)
  • Ölmez, Mehmet; Tuwinischer Wortschatz mit alttürkischen und mongolischen Parallelen, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-447-05499-7
  • Rind-Pawloski, Monika. 2014. Text types and evidentiality in Dzungar Tuvan. Turkic Languages 18.1: 159–188.
  • (in Mongolian) Sečenbaγatur, Qasgerel, Tuyaγ-a [Туяa], Bu. Jirannige, Wu Yingzhe, Činggeltei. 2005. Mongγul kelen-ü nutuγ-un ayalγun-u sinǰilel-ün uduridqal [A guide to the regional dialects of Mongolian]. Kökeqota: ÖMAKQ. ISBN 7-204-07621-4.
  • Takashima, Naoki (高島 尚生 Takashima Naoki). 2008 "Kiso Tuba-go bunpō 基礎トゥヴァ語文法," Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, http://www.aa.tufs.ac.jp/project/gengokensyu/08tuvan1.pdf (Archive)
  • Takashima, Naoki. 2008 "Tuba-go kaiwa-shū トゥヴァ語会話集," Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, http://www.aa.tufs.ac.jp/project/gengokensyu/08tuvan3.pdf (Archive)
  • Taube, Erika. (1978). Tuwinische Volksmärchen. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag. LCCN: 83-853915
  • Taube, Erika. (1994). Skazki i predaniia altaiskikh tuvintsev. Moskva : Vostochnaia literatura. ISBN 5-02-017236-7
  • Todoriki, Masahiko (等々力 政彦 Todoriki Masahiko). 2011 "Possibly the oldest Tuvan vocabulary included in Wu-li-ya-su-tai-zhi lue, the Abridged Copy of the History of Uliastai, 烏里蘇台志略にみえる,最古の可能性のあるトゥバ語語彙について". Tōyōbunka-Kenkyūjo Kiyō 東洋文化研究所紀要 159 238–220. ISSN 0563-8089 The University of Tokyo, http://repository.dl.itc.u-tokyo.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2261/43632/1/ioc159007.pdf (Archive)
  • Oelschlägel, Anett C. (2013). Der Taigageist. Berichte und Geschichten von Menschen und Geistern aus Tuwa. Zeitgenössische Sagen und andere Folkloretexte / Дух-хозяин тайги –Современные предания и другие фольклорные материалы из Тувы / Тайга ээзи – Болган таварылгалар болгаш Тывадан чыгдынган аас чогаалының өске-даа материалдары. [The Taiga Spirit. Reports and Stories about People and Spirits from Tuva. Contemporary Legends and other Folklore-Texts.] Marburg: tectum-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8288-3134-6

External linksEdit