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Tatar language

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Tatar language

татар теле / tatar tele / تاتار تيلی
Native to Russia, other post-Soviet states
Ethnicity Volga Tatars
Native speakers
5.4 million  (2010)[1]
Tatar alphabet (Arabic, Cyrillic, Latin)
Official status
Official language in
 Tatarstan (Russia)
Regulated by Institute of Language, Literature and Arts of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan
Language codes
ISO 639-1 tt
ISO 639-2 tat
ISO 639-3 tatinclusive code
Individual code:
sty – Siberian Tatar
Glottolog tata1255[2]

Tatar language (татар теле, татарча, tatar tele, tatarça, تاتار تيلی) is a Turkic language spoken by Volga Tatars mainly located at modern Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. It should not be confused with the Crimean Tatar language, to which it is remotely related but with which it is not readily mutually intelligible.

Geographic distribution

Tatar is spoken in Russia (about 5.3 million people), Central Asia, Ukraine, China, Finland, Turkey and other countries.

Tatar is also native for several thousand Maris. Mordva's Qaratay group also speak a variant of Kazan Tatar.

In the 2010 census, 69% of Russian Tatars who responded to the question about language ability claimed a knowledge of the Tatar language.[3] In Tatarstan, 93% of Tatars and 3.6% of Russians did so. In neighbouring Bashkortostan, 67% of Tatars, 27% of Bashkirs, and 1.3% of Russians did.[4]

Official status

The word Qazan – قازان is written in Yaña imlâ in the semblance of a Zilant
Tatar Latin (Jaꞑalif) and Arabic scripts, 1927
Cover page of Tatar Yana imla book, printed with Separated Tatar language in Arabic script in 1924
Ğabdulla Tuqay's gravestone in 2011 with name iscription in Tatar language in Arabic script
Pamphlet in Tatar language in Arabic script in 1778
Bilingual guide in Kazan Metro.
A subway sign in Tatar (top) and Russian

Tatar, along with Russian, is the official language of the Republic of Tatarstan. The official script of Tatar language is based on the Cyrillic script with some additional letters. The Republic of Tatarstan passed a law in 1999, which came into force in 2001, establishing an official Tatar Latin alphabet. A Russian federal law overrode it in 2002, making Cyrillic the sole official script in Tatarstan since. Unofficially, other scripts are used as well, mostly Latin and Arabic. All official sources in Tatarstan must use Cyrillic on their websites and in publishing. In other cases, where Tatar has no official status, the use of a specific alphabet depends on the preference of the author.

The Tatar language was made a de facto official language in Russia in 1917, but only in the Tatar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Tatar is also considered to have been the official language in the short-lived Idel-Ural State, briefly formed during the Russian Civil War. One should note, however, that Bolshevist Russia did not recognize official languages as such; however, there were a number of languages that could be used in trial in some republics. In the Soviet era, Tatar was such a language in Bashkortostan, Mari El and other regions of the Russian SFSR.

The usage of Tatar declined from the 1930s onwards. In the 1980s, the study and teaching of Tatar in the public education system was limited to rural schools. However, Tatar-speaking pupils had little chance of entering university because higher education was available in Russian almost exclusively.

Tatar is no longer classified as an endangered language,[5] although it is still a low-prestige language. Higher education in Tatar can only be found in Tatarstan, and is restricted to the humanities. In other regions Tatar is primarily a spoken language and the number of speakers as well as their proficiency tends to decrease. Tatar is popular as a written language only in Tatar-speaking areas where schools with Tatar language lessons are situated. On the other hand, Tatar is the only language in use in rural districts of Tatarstan.

Dialects of Tatar

There are 3 main dialects of Tatar: Western (Mişär or Mishar), Middle (Kazan), and Eastern (Siberian). All of these dialects also have subdivisions. Significant contribution to the study of the Tatar language and its dialects, made famous scientist, a professor of philology Gabdulkhay Akhatov, who is considered the founder of modern Tatar dialectological school.


In the Western (Mişär) dialect Ç is pronounced [tʃ] (southern or Lambir Mişärs) and as [ts] (northern Mişärs or Nizhgars). C is pronounced [dʒ]. There are no differences between v and w, q and k, g and ğ in the Mişär dialect. (The Cyrillic alphabet doesn't have special letters for q, ğ and w, so Mişär speakers have no difficulty reading Tatar written in Cyrillic.)

This is the dialect spoken by the Tatar minority of Finland.



In the Minzälä subdialect of the Middle Dialect z is pronounced [ð], as opposed to other dialects where it is silent.


In bilingual cities people often pronounce h as [x], q as [k], ğ as [ɡ], w as [v]. This could be due to Russian influence. Another possibility is that these cities were places where both the western and middle dialects were used.

The influence of Russian is significant. Russian words and phrases are used with Tatar grammar or Russian grammar in Tatar texts. Some Russian verbs are taken entirely, un-nativized, and followed with itärgä. Some English words and phrases are also used.


The Yaña Bistä slang, Yaña Bistä gäbe or simply Gäp was a distinct cryptolect of the Tatar language, spoken in Yaña Bistä (The New Quarter) of Kazan. It has been extinct or near extinct since the 1920s. The vocabulary and grammar of this sociolect differ from those of standard Tatar. The vocabulary includes some words from Central Asian languages. Modern Tatar slang is also sometimes known as gäp. Gäp spells one-to-one as English word gap and is Standard Tatar for a talk.

Siberian Tatar

Siberian Tatars pronounce ç as [ts], c as [j] and sometimes b as [p], d as [t], f as p, j as ch, t as d, z as s and h as k. There are also grammatical differences within the dialect, scattered across Siberia.[6]

Many linguists claim the origins of Siberian Tatar dialects are actually independent of Volga–Ural Tatar; these dialects are quite remote both from Standard Tatar and from each other, often preventing mutual comprehension. The claim that this language is part of the modern Tatar language is typically supported by linguists in Kazan and denounced by Siberian Tatars.

Over time, some of these dialects were given distinct names and recognized as separate languages (e.g. the Chulym language) after detailed linguistic study. A brief linguistic analysis shows that many of these dialects exhibit features which are quite different from the Volga–Ural Tatar varieties, and should be classified as Turkic varieties belonging to several sub-groups of the Turkic languages, distinct from Kipchak languages to which Volga–Ural Tatar belongs.

By studying the phonetic peculiarities of dialect of the local population of Siberia, professor Gabdulkhay Akhatov first among the scientists discovered in the Speech of Siberian Tatars is such a thing as the pronounce,[7] which in his opinion, was obtained for the Siberian Tatars of Kipchaks.[8] In his classic fundamental research work "Dialect West Siberian Tatars" (1963) professor Gabdulkhay Akhatov wrote about a territorial resettlement of the Tobol-Irtysh Tatars Tyumen and Omsk areas. Subjecting a comprehensive integrated analysis of the phonetic system, the lexical composition and grammatical structure, the scientist concluded that the language of the Siberian Tatars is a separate language, it is divided into three dialects and it is one of the most ancient Turkic languages.[7]



Phonemically, Tatar may be argued to have two vowel heights, high and low. There are two low vowels, front and back, while there are eight high vowels: front and back, round and unround, long and short. However, phonetically, the short high vowels are reduced: they are mid-centralized. They are therefore generally transcribed with mid vowel letters such as e and o: high front i ü, high back ï u, reduced (mid) front e ö, reduced (mid) back ë o, and low ä, a. The high back unrounded vowel ï is only found in Russian loans, though the native diphthong ëy, which only occurs word-finally, has been argued to be phonemically ï.[9] Loaned vowels are considered to be back vowels.

Phonetically, the native vowels are approximately high и/i [i], ү/ü [ʉ], у/u [u], reduced е (э)/e [ɘ̆], ө/ө [ɵ̆], ы/ı [ɤ̆~ʌ̆] о/o [ŏ] (ë may be mid-low), and low ә/ə [a~æ], а/а [ɑ]. In polysyllabic words, the front-back distinction is lost in reduced vowels: all become mid-central.[9] Reduced vowels in unstressed position are frequently elided. Low back /ɑ/ is rounded [ɒ] word-initially and after [ɒ], as in bala 'child'. In Russian loans there are also [ɨ], [ɛ], and [ɔ][10]

Historically, the Turkic high vowels have become the Tatar reduced series, whereas the Turkic mid vowels have replaced them. Thus Kazakh til 'language' and kün 'day' correspond to Tatar tel and kön, while Kazakh men 'I', qol 'hand', and kök 'sky' are in Tatar min, qul, kük.


The consonants of Tatar
Labial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasals m /m/ n /n/ ñ /ŋ/ ñ [ɴ]
Plosives Voiceless p /p/ t /t/ k /k/ q [q] ' /ʔ/
Voiced b /b/ d /d/ g /ɡ/
Fricatives Voiceless f /f/ s /s/ ş /ʃ/ ç /tɕ~ɕ/ x /χ/ h /h/
Voiced v /v/ z /z/ j /ʒ/ c /dʑ~ʑ/ ğ [ʁ~ɢ]
Trill r /r/
Approximants w /w/ l /l/ y /j/ ([j~ɪ])

Uvular consonants are allophones of velars before back vowels.

Most of these phonemes are common to or have equivalents in all Turkic languages, but the phonemes /v/, /ts/, /h/ and /ʒ/ are only found in loanwords in Literary Tatar. /f/ is also of foreign origin, but is also found in native words, e.g. yafraq "leaf".[11]

Pronunciation of loanwords

While the consonants [ʒ], [f] and [v] are not native to Tatar, they are well established. However, Tatars usually substitute fricatives for affricates, for example [ɕ] for [tʃ], [ʒ] or [ʑ] for [dʒ], and [s] for [ts]. Nevertheless, literary traditions recommend the pronunciation of affricates in loanwords.

[ʔ] (hamza) is a sound found in Arabic loanwords and Islamic prayers. It is usually pronounced [e] in loanwords.


Palatalisation is not common in Tatar. As a result, speakers have no problem using the Arabic and Jaꞑalif scripts, neither of which has an accepted method for indicating palatalisation.

In general, Russian words with palatalisation have entered into the speech of bilingual Tatars since the 1930s. When writing in the Cyrillic alphabet, Russian words are spelled as they are in Russian. In today's Latin orthography, palatalisation is sometimes represented by an acute diacritic under the vowel.

Some Tatars speak Russian without palatalisation, which is known as a Tatar accent.

Syllable types

  • V (ı-lıs, u-ra, ö-rä)
  • VC (at-law, el-geç, ir-kä)
  • CV (qa-la, ki-ä, su-la)
  • CVC (bar-sa, sız-law, köç-le, qoş-çıq)
  • VCC (ant-lar, äyt-te, ilt-kän)
  • CVCC (tört-te, qart-lar, 'qayt-qan)

Stress is on the final syllable.

Phonetic replacement

Tatar sign on a madrasah in Nizhny Novgorod, written in both Arabic and Cyrilic Tatar scripts

Tatar phonotactics dictate many pronunciation changes.

Unrounded vowels may be pronounced as rounded after o or ö:

qorı /qoro/
borın /boron/
közge /közgö/
sorı /soro/)

Nasals are assimilated to following stops:

unber /umber/
mengeç /meñgeç/

Voicing may also undergo assimilation:

küzsez /küssez/

Unstressed vowels may be syncopated or reduced:

urını /urnı/
kilene /kilne/
bezne /bĕzne/
kerdem /kĕrdem/
qırğıç /qĭrğıç/

Vowels may also be elided:

qara urman /qar'urman/
kilä ide /kilä'yde/
turı uram /tur'uram/
bula almím /bul'almím/

In consonant clusters longer than two phones, ı or e (whichever is dictated by vowel harmony) is inserted into speech as an epenthetic vowel.

tekst → /tekest/
bank → /banık/ (not /bañk/)

Final devoicing is also frequent:

tabíb (doctor) → [tabíp]


Like other Turkic languages, Tatar is an agglutinative language.


  • After vowels, consonants, hard: -lar (bala-lar, abí-lar, kitap-lar, qaz-lar, malay-lar, qar-lar, ağaç-lar)
  • After vowels, consonants, soft: -lär (äni-lär, sölge-lär, däftär-lär, kibet-lär, süz-lär, bäbkä-lär, mäktäp-lär, xäref-lär)
  • After nasals, hard: -nar (uram-nar, urman-nar, tolım-nar, moñ-nar, tañ-nar, şalqan-nar)
  • After nasals, soft: -när (ülän-när, keläm-när, çräm-när, iñ-när, ciñ-när, isem-när)

Declension of pronouns

Personal pronouns
Case Singular Plural
Nominative мин син ул без сез алар
Genitive минем синең аның безнең сезнең аларның
Dative миңа сиңа аңа безгә сезгә аларга
Accusative мине сине аны безне сезне аларны
Locative миндә синдә анда бездә сездә аларда
Ablative миннән синнән аннан бездән сездән алардан
Demonstrative pronouns
Case Singular Plural
Case "This" "That" "These" "Those"
Nominative бу шул болар шулар
Genitive моның шуның боларның шуларның
Dative моңа шуңа боларга шуларга
Accusative моны шуны боларны шуларны
Locative монда шунда боларда шуларда
Ablative моннан шуннан болардан шулардан
Interrogative pronouns
Case Who? What?
Nominative кем нәрсә
Genitive кемнең нәрсәнең
Dative кемгә нәрсәгә
Accusative кемне нәрсәне
Locative кемдә нәрсәдә
Ablative кемнән нәрсәдән


Writing system

Some guides in Kazan are in Latin script, especially in fashion boutiques

Tatar has been written in a number of different alphabets.

Writing was adopted from the Bolgar language, which used the Orkhon script, before the 920s. Later, the Arabic script was also used, as well as Latin and Cyrillic.

Before 1928 Tatar was written with an Arabic alphabet (Iske imla to 1920; Yanga imla 1920–1928).

In the Soviet Union after 1928, Tatar was written with a Latin alphabet called Jaꞑalif.

In 1939, in Tatarstan (a republic of Russia where Tatar is most commonly used) and all other parts of the Soviet Union a Cyrillic script was developed and is still used to write Tatar. It is also used in Kazakhstan.

The Republic of Tatarstan passed a law in 1999 and coming into force in 2001 establishing an official Tatar Latin alphabet. A Russian federal law overrode it in 2002, making Cyrillic the sole official script in Tatarstan since. In 2004, an attempt to introduce a Latin-based alphabet for Tatar was further aborted when the Constitutional Court ruled that the 15 November 2002 federal law mandating the use of Cyrillic for the state languages of the republics of the Russian Federation[13] does not contradict the Russian constitution.[14] In accordance with this Constitutional Court ruling, on 28 December 2004, the Tatar Supreme Court overturned the Tatarstani law that made the Latin alphabet official.[15]

In China, Tatars still use the Arabic script.

  • Tatar Cyrillic alphabet (letter order adopted in 1997):
А а Ә ә Б б В в Г г Д д Е е Ё ё
Ж ж Җ җ 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 Һ һ Ц ц Ч ч Ш ш
Щ щ Ъ ъ Ы ы Ь ь Э э Ю ю Я я
  • 1999 Tatar Latin alphabet, made official by a law adopted by Tatarstani authorities but annulled by the Tatar Supreme Court in 2004:[15]
A a Ə ə B b C c Ç ç D d E e F f
G g Ğ ğ H h I ı İ i J j K k Q q
L l M m N n Ꞑ ꞑ O o Ɵ ɵ P p R r
S s Ş ş T t U u Ü ü V v W w X x
Y y Z z


Tatar's ancestors are the extinct Bulgar and Kipchak languages. Crimean Tatar is not closely related, being more akin to standard Turkish.

The literary Tatar language is based on Tatar's Middle dialect and the Old Tatar language (İske Tatar Tele). Both are members of the Kipchak group of Turkic languages, although they are also partly derived from the ancient Volga Bulgar language.

The Tatar language has been strongly influenced by most of the Uralic languages in the Volga River area,[16] as well as Arabic, Persian and Russian languages.[17]


  • äye – yes
  • yuq – no
  • isänme(sez)/sawmı(sız) – hello
  • sälâm – hi
  • sau bul(ığız)/xuş(ığız) – bye bye
  • zínhar öçen – please
  • räxmät – thank you
  • ğafu it(egez) – excuse me
  • min – I
  • sin – you (sg.)
  • ul – he / she / it
  • bez – we
  • sez – you (pl.)
  • alar – they
  • millät – nation
  • İngliz(çä) – English

Further reading

  • Akhatov G. (1982). "Phraseological Dictionary of the Tatar Language" (monograph). Kazan. (Russian) (Tatar language)
  • Akhatov G. (1984). "Tatar Dialectology" (Textbook for university students). Kazan. (Russian) (Tatar language)
  • Bukharaev, R., & Matthews, D. J. (2000). Historical anthology of Kazan Tatar verse: voices of eternity. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1077-9
  • PEN (Organization). (1998). Tatar literature today. Kazan: Magarif Publishers.
  • Poppe, N. N. (1963). Tatar manual: descriptive grammar and texts with a Tatar-English glossary. Bloomington: Indiana University.

See also


  1. ^ Tatar at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
    [1]Siberian Tatar] at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tatar". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Russian Census 2010. Владение языками населением (Russian)
  4. ^ Russian Census 2010. Владение языками населением наиболее многочисленных национальностей по субъектам Российской Федерации (Russian)
  5. ^ Wurm, S; Unesco. (2001). Atlas of the world's languages in danger of disappearing. Paris: Unesco Pub.,.  
  6. ^ Information about Siberian Tatar
  7. ^ a b Gabdulkhay Akhatov. Dialect West Siberian Tatars. Ufa, 1963, 195 p. (Russian)
  8. ^ Gabdulkhay Akhatov. Dialects West Siberian Tatars. Doctoral dissertation. Tashkent, 1965. (Russian)
  9. ^ a b Harrison and Kaun, "Vowels and Vowel Harmony in Namangan Tatar", in Aronson, Holisky, & Tuite (2003) Current Trends in Caucasian, East European and Inner Asian Linguistics
  10. ^ Árpád Berta, "Tatar and Bashkir". In Johanson & Csató (1998) The Turkic languages
  11. ^ Árpád Berta, "Tatar and Bashkir," The Turkic Languages (1998, Routledge), pg. 283
  12. ^ Pronoun declensions based on or extrapolated from information contained on (Грамматика татарского языка)
  13. ^ Spolsky, Bernard (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge University Press. p. 2.  
  14. ^ "Russia court sticks to letter law".  
  15. ^ a b "The Tatar language will continue to be written through the Cyrillic alphabet". U.S. English Foundation. February 2005. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  16. ^ Tatar language – Princeton University
  17. ^ (Russian) Татарский язык в Интернете: информация о методах и средствах обучения

External links

  • Tatar language at DMOZ (English)
  • Tatar language at DMOZ (Tatar), (Russian)
  • Tatar dictionaries at DMOZ (English)
  • Web directory at DMOZ (Tatar)
  • website of the National Library of the Republic of Tatarstan
  • website of the Corpus of Written Tatar

Language studies

  • Information about Tatar writing
  • Textbook on morphology of Tatar language (Russian)
  • Course of Tatar language (Russian)
  • Tatar language course (Russian)


History and literature

  • Tatar poetry (Tatar)
  • Tatar myths, including the story of Şüräle (Russian)
  • Tatar library
  • Tatar Electronic Library (Russian) (Tatar)
  • Links to other Tatar language resources


  • Russian-Tatar On-Line Dictionary (a)
  • Russian-Tatar On-Line Dictionary (b)
  • Turkish-Tatar On-Line Dictionary
  • Concise English-Tatar On-Line Dictionary


  • Tatarsko-russkīe razgovory (1850) (Tatar Russian dialogues)
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