World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Orkhon script

Article Id: WHEBN0014902974
Reproduction Date:

Title: Orkhon script  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Göktürks, Kul Tigin, Turkish language, Uyghur people, Bulgars, Turkic peoples, Kazakh language, Xiongnu, List of Russian people, Tatar language
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Orkhon script

Old Turkic script
Type Alphabet
Languages Old Turkic
Time period 8th to 10th centuries
Parent systems
ISO 15924 ,
Unicode alias
Unicode range U+10C00–U+10C4F
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Old Turkic script (also known as variously Göktürk script, Orkhon script, Orkhon-Yenisey script) is the alphabet used by the Göktürk and other early Turkic Khanates during the 8th to 10th centuries to record the Old Turkic language.[1]

The script is named after the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia, where early 8th-century inscriptions were discovered in an 1889 expedition by Nikolay Yadrintsev.[2] These Orkhon inscriptions (Turkish: Orhun Yazıtları) were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893. The discovery of short runic inscriptions on a great number of articles for common personal use proves that the knowledge and use of the runic script was generally spread among the old Turkic tribes.[3]

It was later used by the Uyghur Empire. Additionally, a Yenisei variant is known from 9th-century Kyrgyz inscriptions, and it has likely cousins in the Talas Valley of Turkestan and the Old Hungarian script of the 10th century. The alphabet was usually written from right to left. Further Turkic Nestorian manuscripts, that have the same "rune-like" duct[4] as the Old Turkic script, have been found especially in the oasis of Turfan and in the fortress of Miran.[5][6][7]

Thomsen described the script as "Turkish runes", and it is still occasionally described as "runic" or "runiform" by comparison to the Old Germanic alphabet used for epigraphy during roughly the same period.


The origins of the Turkic scripts are uncertain. The initial guesses were based on visual, external resemblances of the Turkic runiform letters with the Gothic runes or with Greek, Etruscan and Anatolian letters, suggesting an Indo-European Alphabet resembling Semitic Phoenician, Gothic, Phoenician-based Greek, etc. letters.[8] Mainstream opinion derives the Orkhon script from variants of the Aramaic alphabet, in particular via the Pahlavi and Sogdian alphabets, as suggested by V.Thomsen, or possibly via Karosthi (cf., Issyk inscription).

Asides from derivation from tamgas, an alternate possibility of derivation from the Chinese script was suggested by V. Thomsen in 1893. Turkic inscriptions dated earlier than the Orkhon inscriptions used about 150 symbols, which may suggest tamgas at first imitating the Chinese script and then gradually refined into an alphabet.

It is also very probable that some prototypes of Ancient Turkic runes descend from primeval Turkic graphic logograms.[9][10] At the same time, the Turkic runic alphabet represents a very rich and expressly developed independently graphic system. However, the paleographic analysis of the Ancient Turkic runes, in turn, leads to a conclusion about very early forming date for the Turkic runic alphabet in Southern Siberia and Jeti-Su, not later than the middle of the 1st millennium BC.[10]

Thomsen (1893) connected the script to the reports of Chinese account (Shiji, vol. 110) from a 2nd-century BC Chinese Yan renegade and dignitary named Zhonghang Yue (Chinese: 中行说) who

"taught the Shanyu (rulers of the Xiongnu) to write official letters to the Chinese court on a wooden tablet (Chinese: ) 31 cm long, and to use a seal and large-sized folder".

The same sources tell that when the Xiongnu noted down something or transmitted a message, they made cuts on a piece of wood (ko-mu), and they also mention a "Hu script". At Noin-Ula and other Hun burial sites in Mongolia and region north of Lake Baikal, the artifacts displayed over twenty carved characters. Most of these characters are either identical or very similar to the letters of the Turkic Orkhon script.[11]

Part of the Zhou Shu, dating to the 5th century, mentions that the Turks did not have a way to keep records, implying that the Old Turkic alphabet may not have existed yet.


The inscription corpus consists of two monuments which were erected in the Orkhon Valley between 732 and 735 in honour of the two Göktürk prince Kül Tigin and his brother the emperor Bilge Kağan, as well as inscriptions on slabs scattered in the wider area. The script was also used for the epic poetry of the Turkic people.[3]

The website of the Language Committee of Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan lists 54 inscriptions from the Orkhon area, 106 from the Yenisei area and 15 from the Talas area, and 78 from the Altai area. There are also a handful of short inscriptions found on archaeological artefacts, including a number of bronze mirrors.

The Orkhon monuments are the oldest known examples of Turkic writing; they are inscribed on obelisks and have been dated to 732 (for that relating to Kül Tigin), and to 735 (for that relating to Bilge Kağan. The Tonyukuk inscription, a monument situated somewhat further east, is slightly earlier, dating to c. 722.

Other inscriptions using the same script are found in Mongolia, Siberia, and Xinjiang. They relate in epic language the legendary origins of the Turks, the golden age of their history, their subjugation by the Chinese, and their liberation by Bilge.

Table of characters

Old Turkic being a synharmonic language, a number of consonant signs are divided into two "synharmonic sets", one for front vowels and the other for back vowels. Such vowels can be taken as intrinsic to the consonant sign, giving the Old Turkic alphabet an aspect of an abugida script. In these cases, it is customary to use superscript numerals ¹ and ² to mark consonant signs used with back and front vowels, respectively. This convention was introduced by Thomsen (1893), and followed by Gabain (1941), Malov (1951) and Tekin (1968).


Orkhon Yenisei
transliteration / transcription
𐰀 𐰁 𐰂 a, ä
𐰃 𐰄 𐰅 y, i (e)
𐰆 o, u
𐰇 𐰈 ö, ü


synharmonic sets
back vowel front vowel
Orkhon Yenisei
transliteration Orkhon Yenisei
𐰉 𐰊 𐰋 𐰌
𐰑 𐰒 𐰓
𐰍 𐰎 γ (g¹) 𐰏 𐰐 g (g²)
𐰴 𐰵 q (k¹) 𐰚 𐰛 k (k²)
𐰸 𐰹 oq, uq, qo, qu 𐰜 𐰝 ök, ük, kö, kü,
𐱃 𐱄 𐱅 𐱆
𐰞 𐰟 ł (l¹) 𐰠 l (l²)
𐰣 𐰤 𐰥
𐰺 𐰻 𐰼
𐰽 𐰾
𐰖 𐰗 𐰘 𐰙
other consonantal signs
Orkhon Yenisei
𐰶 𐰷 yq, qy
𐰲 𐰳 č
𐰱 ič, či
𐰯 p
𐰢 m
𐰭 𐰮 𐰬 ṅ (ng, ŋ)
𐱁 𐱂 š
𐰔 𐰕 z
𐰨 𐰩
𐰪 𐰫 ń,[12] nj[13]
𐰦 𐰧 nd
𐰡 ld
𐱇 ot, ut[14]
𐱈 baš[15]

A word separator ) is sometimes used.

A reading example (right to left): transliterated t²ṅr²i, this spells the name of the Turkic sky god, Tengri (/teŋri/).


Variants of the script were found from Mongolia and Xinjiang in the east to Balkans in the west. The preserved inscriptions were dated to between 8th and 10th centuries.

These alphabets are divided into four groups by Kyzlasov (1994)[17]

The Asiatic group is further divided into three related alphabets:

  • Orkhon alphabet, Göktürk, 8th to 10th centuries
  • Yenisei alphabet,
    • Talas alphabet, a derivative of the Yenisei alphabet, Kangly or Karluks 8th to 10th centuries. Talas inscriptions include Terek-Say rock inscriptions found in the 1897, Koysary text, Bakaiyr gorge inscriptions, Kalbak-Tash 6 and 12 inscriptions, Talas alphabet has 29 identified letters.[18]

The Eurasiatic group is further divided into five related alphabets:

  • Achiktash, used in Sogdiana 8th to 10th centuries
  • South-Yenisei, used by the Göktürk 8th to 10th centuries AD
  • two especially similar alphabets: the Don alphabet, used by the Khazar Khaganate, 8th to 10th centuries; and the Kuban alphabet, used by the Bulgars, 8th to 13th centuries. Inscriptions in both alphabets are found in the Pontic steppe and on the banks of the Kama river
  • Tisza, used by the Badjanaks (Pechenegs) 8th to 10th centuries

A number of alphabets are incompletely collected due to the limitations of the extant inscriptions. Evidence in the study of the Turkic scripts includes Turkic-Chinese bilingual inscriptions, contemporaneous Turkic inscriptions in the Greek alphabet, literal translations into Slavic language, and paper fragments with Türkic cursive writing from religion, Manichaeism, Buddhist, and legal subjects of the 8th to 10th centuries found in Xinjiang.


The Unicode block for Old Turkic is U+10C00–U+10C4F It was added to the Unicode Standard in October, 2009 with the release of version 5.2. It includes separate "Orkhon" and "Yenisei" variants of individual characters. chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+10C0x 𐰀 𐰁 𐰂 𐰃 𐰄 𐰅 𐰆 𐰇 𐰈 𐰉 𐰊 𐰋 𐰌 𐰍 𐰎 𐰏
U+10C1x 𐰐 𐰑 𐰒 𐰓 𐰔 𐰕 𐰖 𐰗 𐰘 𐰙 𐰚 𐰛 𐰜 𐰝 𐰞 𐰟
U+10C2x 𐰠 𐰡 𐰢 𐰣 𐰤 𐰥 𐰦 𐰧 𐰨 𐰩 𐰪 𐰫 𐰬 𐰭 𐰮 𐰯
U+10C3x 𐰰 𐰱 𐰲 𐰳 𐰴 𐰵 𐰶 𐰷 𐰸 𐰹 𐰺 𐰻 𐰼 𐰽 𐰾 𐰿
U+10C4x 𐱀 𐱁 𐱂 𐱃 𐱄 𐱅 𐱆 𐱇 𐱈
1.^ As of Unicode version 6.3

See also



  • Diringer, David. The Alphabet: a Key to the History of Mankind, New York: Philosophical Library, 1948, pp. 313–315
  • Erdal, Marcel. 2004. A grammar of Old Turkic. Leiden & Boston: Brill.
  • Faulmann, Carl. 1990 (1880). Das Buch der Schrift. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn. ISBN 3-8218-1720-8 (German)
  • Février, James G. Histoire de l’écriture, Paris: Payot, 1948, pp. 311–317 (French)
  • Ishjatms, N. "Nomads In Eastern Central Asia", in the "History of civilizations of Central Asia", Volume 2, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, ISBN 92-3-102846-4
  • .
  • Kara, György. 1996. “Aramaic scripts for Altaic languages”, in Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, eds. The world’s writing systems. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507993-0
  • Kyzlasov, I.L. "Runic Scripts of Eurasian Steppes", Moscow, Eastern Literature, 1994, ISBN 5-02-017741-5
  • Malov, S.E. 1951, Pamjatniki Drevnitjurkskoj Pisʹmennosti (Памятники Древнитюркской Письменности), Moskva & Leningrad. (Russian)
  • Muxamadiev, Azgar. (1995). Turanian Writing (Туранская Письменность). In Zakiev, M. Z.(Ed.), Problemy lingvoėtnoistorii tatarskogo naroda (Проблемы лингвоэтноистории татарского народа). Kazan: Akademija Nauk Tatarstana. (Russian)
  • Róna-Tas, A. 1991. An introduction to Turkology. Szeged.
  • Scharlipp, Wolfgang Ekkehard. 2000. Eski Türk run yazıtlarına giris ̧: ders kitabı = An introduction to the Old Turkish Runic inscriptions: A textbook in English and Turkish. Engelschoff: Auf dem Ruffel. ISBN 3-933847-00-X
  • Tekin, Talat. A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic. Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series, vol. 69 (Bloomington/The Hague: Mouton, 1968)
  • Thomsen, Vilhelm. Inscriptions de l’Orkhon déchiffrées, Suomalais-ugrilainen seura, Helsinki Toimituksia, no. 5 Helsingfors: La société de literature Finnoise [1] (French)
  • Vasilʹiev, D.D. Korpus tjurkskix runičeskix pamjatnikov Bassina Eniseja [Corpus of the Turkic Runic Monuments of the Yenisei Basin], Leningrad: USSR Academy of Science, 1983 (Russian)
  • von Gabain, A. 1941. Alttürkische Grammatik mit Bibliographie, Lesestücken und Wörterverzeichnis, auch Neutürkisch. Mit vier Schrifttafeln und sieben Schriftproben. (Porta Linguarum Orientalium; 23) Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz. (German)

External links

  • Orkhon Inscriptions in Old Turkic Alphabet Unicode
  • Türk bitig - Old Turkic inscriptions, Texts, Translations
  • Orkhon Alphabet page from Omniglot
  • Gokturkish Keyboard by Isa SARI
  • glyph table (
  • Bilgitay Orhun Writer (An online converter for Latin alphabet based texts to Orhun Abece.)
  • Proposal for encoding the Old Turkic script in Unicode
  • Хөх Түрүгийн Бичиг (in Mongolian)
  • Göktürk Orhun Öz Türk Yazısını Öğrenme Kılavuzu (in Turkish)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.