BashkirBashkir Citations Bashkir Links
Number of Speakers: Two million (1.8 million residing in Russia)
Key Dialects: The Bashkir language divides into three main dialects: Kuvakan (Mountain Bashkir), Yurmaty (Steppe Bashkir), and Burzhan (North-western Bashkir). The literary or standard form of the language is based on the Kuvakan dialect with some elements of steppe dialect Yurmaty.
Geographical Center: Republic of Bashkortostan, Russia
Bashkir (also referred to as Basquort/Bashkort) is spoken primarily in the republic of Bashkortostan between the Volga River and the Ural mountains in Russia. It is also spoken in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and in the Russian regions of Chelyabinsk, Orenburg, Kurgan, Perm, Sverdlovsk, Samara, and Saratov. A language of the Kypchak-Bolgar group of the Western Uralic subfamily of the Turkic languages, Bashkir is closely related to the (Volga) Tatar language. In many ways, the language is linguistically an amalgamation of a variety of properties borrowed from other languages that came into contact with it. The influence of Kypchak, Bolgar, Tatar, Russian, Turkic, Arabic, Persian, as well as a variety of other Western European languages is both historically and synchronically evident. The majority of Bashkirs are Sunni Muslims.
Bashkir is an Altaic language. It belongs to the Western Uralic group of the Turkic subfamily. Within Western Uralic, it is categorized as a language of the Kypchak-Bolgar subgroup.
The three regional dialects of Bashkir are known to differ minimally with respect to their grammatical properties. Phonology is the primary dimension along which the dialects are known to vary. Nonetheless, all dialects are mutually intelligible to both speakers of Bashkir and Tatar. Additional information regarding language variation among Bashkir dialects is not readily available.
At present, Cyrillic is the official orthography of Bashkir. The first written form of the language was based upon Runic. Soon after the introduction of Islam in the tenth century, the Arabic script came into use. In the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries, what is currently regarded as the traditional form of the written language based on old Ural/Central Asian Turkic came to existence. In subsequent years, the Arabic writing system of the Tatar literary language was adopted. An Arabic script was used until 1928, when a Latin-based writing system was implemented. In 1940, under Stalin’s order, a slightly modified Cyrillic orthography was installed and remains today.
The linguistic character of Bashkir has been considerably shaped by both genetic and areally related languages as well as languages it has come into contact with over its history (see History below). This is most evident in its lexicon. More than two thirds of the Bashkir vocabulary consists of Turkic loan words. The bulk of the remainder of the Bashkir lexicon is comprised of borrowings from Arabic, Persian, and other West European languages such as Russian. This, however, is not to say that 100% of its vocabulary is borrowed. Nonetheless, the percentage of its lexicon that is native is rather small.
Bashkir, as is the case with most Altaic languages, is an agglutinative SOV language with a rich inflectional system. All affixation in the language is suffixal; prefixation does not occur. Grammatical agreement is prevalent and is encoded in the various endings or suffixes a given form takes. For instance, verbs agree with their subjects in terms of person and number marking. Agreement relations hold between a number of other expressions in a variety of constructions as well. As is often the case with SOV languages (Greenberg 1963), Bashkir makes use of postpositions exclusively. A number of other phrases appear to be head-final in the language as well. This is most easily observed in verb phrases in the language. In Bashkir, objects/complements precede the verb (i.e. the head of the verb phrase). This gives the overall impression that Bashkir is a head-final language, that is, a language in which heads appear finally in their phrases.
The phonology of Bashkir is characterized by a substantial vowel inventory consisting of nine primary vowels plus two vowels that only occur in loans. Its consonant inventory is built from twenty-eight phonemes, some of which also occur exclusively in borrowings. A characteristic of all vowel phonemes in the language is that they are pronounced with a non-phonemic glottal stop in word-initial position. All mid vowels in the language are reduced; there is no opposition of reduced vs. fully articulated vowels in Bashkir. The syllable structure of Bashkir is: (C)V(C)(C) [‘C’ abbreviates ‘consonant’, ‘V’ abbreviates vowel, and symbols in parentheses reflect the optionality of the item’s phonetic realization]. Thus, open and closed syllables are both possible and consonant clusters are permitted only in coda (syllable-final) position. Although consonant clusters are permitted, vowel-vowel sequences are prohibited.
Bashkir is a stress language. Stress is non-phonemic and falls on the final syllable of the word. Stress patterns of borrowed words do not conform to this stress-placement schema. Rather, the stress assignment on loan words is simply borrowed rather than computed or assimilated into the pattern of native stress in the language. One final salient phonological property of Bashkir concerns vowel harmony. All vowels in a given native word agree with respect to the feature [backness]. That is, in a given word all vowels will either surface as front or back vowels, with no mixed combination thereof. This is often referred to in the literature as palatal harmony. Palatal harmony is conditioned by the vowel of the first syllable, counting from the left edge of the word. Thus, suffixes and subsequent syllables will harmonize with the vowel of the first syllable of a word.
ROLE IN SOCIETY
Roughly 67-73% of its two million speakers claim Bashkir as their first language. The remainder claim Russian and Tatar as their mother language. Although close to two million speakers populate the republic of Bashkortostan, the Bashkirs are only the third largest nationality in the region, behind the Russians and the Tatars. Despite this demographic, the Bashkir language, together with Russian, received the status of official state language of the republic of Bashkortostan in 1999. Along with this status, measures were taken to provide for the development of the social functions of Bashkir. The Modern Bashkir Linguistics Association was created expressly for this purpose. Along with Russian, Bashkir is the language of instruction and mass media in the republic of Bashkortostan.
The Bashkir are thought to have roots in both Finno-Ugric and Turkic tribes. By the ninth century, they were recognized as a distinct people and settled in the area between the Volga, Kama, Tobol, and Ural rivers, where they remain today. By this time, they had adopted the Bolgar language. In the thirteenth century, the Bashkir were conquered by the Mongols and were subsequently absorbed by various sects of the Golden Horde. Because the Kypchak language was spoken by the majority of the Golden Horde tribes, it became the language of the Bashkirs in this state of Mongol absorption. After the breakup of the Golden Horde and since the sixteenth century, the Bashkir had been under Russian rule. In this capacity, modern Bashkir began to take shape. For two centuries prior to 1917, the Bashkirs (along with various other ethnic groups) had participated in the many uprisings against the Russian Empire. After the revolutions of 1917, a strong Bashkir nationalist and Muslim movement developed, leading to civil war. In February 1919, the Bashkir republic was granted autonomy. It was the first autonomous republic within the Russian republic.
Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.
Greenberg, Joseph. 1963. Universals of Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Poppe, Nicholas N. 1964. Bashkir Manual. Bloomington: Indiana University Publications.