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Khazar language


Khazar language

Region Khazar Khaganate
Extinct by the 13th century
Old Turkic
Language codes
ISO 639-3 zkz
Linguist list
Glottolog None

Khazar was the Turkic language spoken by the Khazars, a semi-nomadic Turkic people from Central Asia. It is also referred to as Khazarian, Khazaric, or Khazari.

The Old Turkic inscription on the Kievian Letter.

The language is extinct and written records are almost non-existent. The 10th-century Kievan letter contains the only extant record of the Khazar language, the so-called "runiform recognitio", interpreted as the single word-phrase "I have read (it)." This appears to be a sign of approval from a Khazar magistrate.[1] The language spoken by the Khazars is referred to as Khazarian, Khazaric, or Khazari. Few examples of the Khazar language exist today, mostly in names that have survived in historical sources. All of these examples seem to be of the "Lir"-type though. Extant written works are primarily in Hebrew.

The only Khazar word written in the original Khazar alphabet that survives is the single word-phrase OKHQURÜM, "I read (this or it)" (Modern Turkish: OKUDUM), at the end of the Kievian Letter. This word is written in Turkic runiform script, suggesting that this script survived the conversion by the upper class to Judaism. Titles like alp, Bek (Modern Turkish "bey" means "chieftain, lord"), alp tarkan, and yabgu refer to an Oghuz Turkish root that is still spoken in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Extant texts written in the Khazar Khaganate during the 10th century are primarily in the Hebrew language.

The linguistic affiliation of the Khazars has been disputed. Khazar was a Turkic language, however, different scholars take different views whether it belonged to the Oghur ("lir") or the Oghuz ("shaz") branch of the language family. Hypotheses that classify Khazar as a Slavic language have largely been rejected by the majority of linguists.


  • Classification 1
  • Notes 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4


The Kievan Letter scan in The Kievan Letter scan collection of Cambridge University Library. The Turkic runiform inscription is at the bottom-left section of the letter.

Arab scholars of the Middle Ages classified Khazar as similar to, yet distinct from, the type of Turkic spoken by other Turks with whom they were familiar, such as the Oghuz Turks. They noted, however, that both the Khazar tongue and the more common forms of Turkic were widely spoken in Khazaria.

Transcription of the Steppean Rovas text in the Kievan Letter[2]

The consensus among scholars had long been and still is that the Khazars spoke an Oghuric Turkic language similar to Chuvash, Hunnish, Turkic Avar and Volga-Bulgarian, possibly influenced by Old Turkic and Uyghur influences, as was stated by Al-Istakhri "the language of Bulgars resembles the language of Khazars".[3] The Ogur languages are characterized by sound correspondences such as Oguric r versus Common Turkic z and Oguric l versus Common Turkic š.[4]

The capital of the Khazars was named Sarkel, which points markedly towards an Oghuric language, as the etymon connected to *sar- means 'white' only in Chuvash, while 'yellow' in the Common Turkic languages. Also, the corresponding etymon for *-kel is only found in Chuvash (meaning 'house, shelter') and is not extant in the Oghuzic branch of the language family.

The Oghuric origin hypothesis for the Khazar language has been disputed since the 1990s, by authors suggesting that the Khazar language was a standard, "Shaz"-style Common Turkic language.[5]


  1. ^ Erdal (2007:97)
  2. ^ G. Hosszú: Proposal for encoding the Khazarian Rovas script in the SMP of the UCS. National Body Contribution for consideration by UTC and ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2, January 21st, 2011, revised: May 19th, 2011, Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character Set. ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 N3999,
  3. ^ Al-Istakhri translation by Zahoder B. N. "Caspian code of the information about Eastern Europe. Gorgan and Volga area in 9-11 cc", Oriental Literature, Moscow, 1962, p. 238
  4. ^ Oguric is sometimes referred to as Lir-Turkic and Common Turkic as Shaz-Turkic. The glottochronological reconstruction based on analysis of isoglosses and Sinicisms points to the timing of the r/s split at around 56 BCE-48 CE, associated with "the historical situation that can be seen in the history of the Huns' division onto the Northern and Southern: the first separation and withdrawal of the Northern Huns to the west has occurred, as was stated above, in 56 BC,...the second split of the (Eastern) Huns into the northern and southern groups happened in 48 AD, from that time the Northern Huns gradually shifted to the Western Mongolia and later to the East Turkestan, to Dzungaria, and in 155 AD they migrated to the East Kazakhstan and Jeti-su, where they lived till the 5th c. AD." Dybo A.V., "Chronology of Türkic languages and linguistic contacts of early Türks", Moskow, 2007, p. 770, [5] (In Russian)
  5. ^ For a full discussion see Erdal (1999).


  • Brook, Kevin Alan (2006). The Jews of Khazaria. 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Dunlop, Douglas M. (1954), The History of the Jewish Khazars, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
  • Erdal, Marcel (1999). "The Khazar Language". In: Golden et al., 1999:75-107.
  • Erdal, Marcel (2007). "The Khazar Language." The World of the Khazars: New Perspectives. Brill, 2007. pp. 75–107.
  • Golb, Norman & Omeljan Pritsak (1982). Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press.
  • Golden, Peter B. (1980). Khazar Studies: An Historio-Philological Inquiry into the Origins of the Khazars. Budapest: Akademia Kiado.
  • Golden, Peter B. et al., eds (1999). The World of the Khazars: New Perspectives: Selected Papers from the Jerusalem 1999 International Khazar Colloquium (Handbook of Oriental Studies, Section 8 Uralic & Central Asian Studies, vol. 17, 2007). Leiden: Brill.
  • Johanson, Lars & Éva Agnes Csató (ed.) (1998). The Turkic languages. London: Routledge.
  • Johanson, Lars (1998). "The history of Turkic." In: Johanson & Csató, pp. 81–125.[6]
  • Johanson, Lars (1998). "Turkic languages." In: Encyclopædia Britannica. CD 98. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 5 sept. 2007.[7]
  • Johanson, Lars (2000). "Linguistic convergence in the Volga area." In: Gilbers, Dicky & Nerbonne, John & Jos Schaeken (ed.). Languages in contact. Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi. (Studies in Slavic and General linguistics 28.), pp. 165–178.[8]
  • Johanson, Lars (2007). Chuvash. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Oxford: Elsevier.

External links

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