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Kyrgyz or Kirghiz (Кыргыз тили, Kyrgyz tili, قىرعىز ٴتىلى) is a Turkic language and, together with Russian, an official language of Kyrgyzstanmarker. Genetically it is most closely related to Altay and more distantly so to Kazakh; however, modern-day language convergence has resulted in an increasing degree of mutual intelligibility between Kyrgyz and Kazakh.

Kyrgyz is spoken by about 4 million people in Kyrgyzstanmarker, Chinamarker, Afghanistanmarker, Kazakhstanmarker, Tajikistanmarker, Turkeymarker, Uzbekistanmarker, Pakistanmarker and Russiamarker. Kyrgyz was originally written in a modified Perso-Arabic script until the mid-20th century, when a Latin script was briefly used. However, due to Sovietmarker influence, a modified form of the Cyrillic alphabet eventually became standardized and has remained so to this day (although the Arabic script is still used among some Kyrgyz). When Kyrgyzstan became independent following the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, there was a popular idea among some Kyrgyz politicians to return the language back to the Latin alphabet. However, this plan has never been implemented.


Pre-historic roots

The first people known certainly by the name Kyrgyz are mentioned in early medieval Chinese sources as northern neighbors and sometime subjects of the Turkic steppe empire based in the area of Mongolia. The Kyrgyz were involved in the international trade route system popularly known as the Silk Road no later than the late eighth century. By the time of their destruction of the Uighur Empire in 840 CE, they spoke a Turkic language little different from Old Turkic, and wrote it in the same runic script. After their victory over the Uyghurs the Kyrgyz did not occupy the Mongolian steppe, and their history for several centuries after this period is little known, though they are mentioned in medieval geographical works as living not far from their present location.

The forebears of the present-day Kyrgyz are believed by some to have been either southern Samoyed or Yeniseyan tribes who came into contact with Turkic culture after they conquered the Uygurs and settled the Orkhon area, site of the oldest recorded Turkic language, in the ninth century. The discovery of the Pazyryk and Tashtyk cultures show them as a blend of Turkic and Iranian nomadic tribes. Chinese and Muslim sources of the 7th–12th centuries AD describe the Kyrgyz as red-haired with fair complexion and green (blue) eyes.

The descent of the Kyrgyz from the autochthonous Siberianmarker population is confirmed on the other hand by the recent genetic studies. Remarkably, 63% of the modern Kyrgyz men share Haplogroup R1a1 with Tajiks (64%), Ukrainians (54%), Poles (56%) and even Icelanders (25%). Haplogroup R1a1 is believed to be a marker of the Proto-Indo-European language speakers. This might explain the reportedly fair complexion and green or blue eyes of early Kyrgyz.

If descended from the Samoyed tribes of Siberiamarker, the Kyrgyz would have spoken a language in the Uralic linguistic subfamily when they arrived in the Orkhon region; if descended from Yeniseyan tribes, they would have descended from a people of the same name who began to move into the area of present-day Kyrgyzstan from the Yenisey Rivermarker region of central Siberia in the tenth century, after the Kyrgyz conquest of the Uygurs to the east in the preceding century. However, ethnographers dispute the Yeniseyan origin theory because of the very close cultural and linguistic connections between the Kyrgyz and the Kazaks. However, the earliest descriptions of the Kyrgyz in Chinese sources say they have 'red hair and green eyes', typical characteristics of caucasoid Indo-European speaking people of that time, many of whom still lived in Central Eurasia. Moreover, there does not seem to be any specifically linguistic reason to connect the Kyrgyz with either the Uralic or the Yeniseyan language families. It is uncertain if the Kyrgyz of modern times are actually the direct descendants of the early medieval Kyrgyz.


In the period of tsarist administration (1876–1917), the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz both were called Kyrgyz, with what are now the Kyrgyz subdenominated when necessary as Kara-Kyrgyz "black Kyrgyz" (Turkic groups often used color terms to show division of the same group based on geography; black referred to southern groups ). Although the Kyrgyz language is genetically part of the same branch as Altay and other languages to the northeast of Kyrgyzstan, due to convergence with Kazakh in recent times the modern language is somewhat similar to Kazakh and both are sometimes considered to be part of the Nogai group of the Kipchak division of the Turkic languages. Nevertheless, despite the Kazakh influence, Kyrgyz remains much closer to Altay than to Kazakh. The modern Kyrgyz language did not have a standard written form until 1923, at which time an Arabic-based alphabet was introduced. That was changed to a Latin-based alphabet, developed by Kasym Tynystanov in 1928 and to a Cyrillic-based one in 1940. In the years immediately following independence, another change of alphabet was discussed, but the issue does not seem to generate the same passions in Kyrgyzstan that it does in other former Soviet republic, perhaps because the Kyrgyz Cyrillic alphabet is relatively simple and is particularly well-suited to the language.

Post-Soviet dynamics

One important difference between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan is that the Kyrgyz people's mastery of their own language is almost universal, whereas the linguistic phase of national identity is not as clear in the much larger area and population of Kazakhstan. As in Kazakhstan, mastery of the "titular" language among the resident Europeans of Kyrgyzstan is very rare. In the early 1990s, the Akayev government pursued an aggressive policy of introducing Kyrgyz as the official language, forcing the remaining European population to use Kyrgyz in most public situations. Public pressure to enforce this change was sufficiently strong that a Russian member of President Akayev's staff created a public scandal in 1992 by threatening to resign to dramatize the pressure for "Kyrgyzification" of the non-native population. A 1992 law called for the conduct of all public business to be converted fully to Kyrgyz by 1997. But in March 1996, Kyrgyzstan's parliament adopted a resolution making Russian an official language alongside Kyrgyz and marking a reversal of earlier sentiment. Substantial pressure from Russia was a strong factor in this change, which was part of a general rapprochement with Russia urged by Akayev.



Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded


Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar/

The consonant phonemes /k/, /g/, and /ŋ/ have uvular realisations ([q], [ɢ], and [ɴ] respectively) in back vowel contexts (before back vowels). In front-vowel environments, /g/ is fricativised between continuants (to [ɣ]), and in back vowel environments both /k/ and /g/ fricativise (to [χ] and [ʁ] respectively). Additionally, the liquid /l/ is realised as a dorsal /ɫ/ in back vowel contexts. Other consonants have slightly different realisations in front- versus back-vowel contexts and when between continuants or not, but these are the clearest examples.

Desonorisation and devoicing

In Kyrgyz, suffixes beginning with /n/ show desonorisation of the /n/ to [d] after consonants (including /j/), and devoicing to [t] after voiceless consonants; e.g. the definite accusative suffix -NI patterns like this: кемени the boat, айды the month, торду the net, колду the hand, таңды the dawn, көздү the eye, башты the head.

Suffixes beginning with /l/ also show desonorisation and devoicing, though only after consonants of equal or lower sonority than /l/, e.g. the plural suffix -LAr patterns like this: кемелер boats, айлар months, торлор nets, колдор hands, таңдар dawns, көздөр eyes, баштар heads. Other /l/-initial suffixes, such as -LA, a denominal verbal suffix, and -LUU, a denominal adjectival suffix, may surface either with /l/ or /d/ after /r/; e.g. тордо-/торло- to net/weave, түрдүү/түрлүү various.

See the section below on case for more examples.

Writing system

The Kyrgyz in Kyrgyzstanmarker use a modified Cyrillic alphabet which uses all the Russian letters as well as these additions: ң, ү, ө

In Xinjiang, a modified Arabic alphabet is used.

Morphology and Syntax


Nouns in Kyrgyz take a number of case endings that change based on vowel harmony and the sort of consonant they follow (see the section on phonology).

Case Underlying form Possible forms "boat" "air" "bucket" "hand" "head" "salt" "eye"
Nominative кеме аба челек кол баш туз көз
Genitive -NIn -нын, -нин, -дын, -дин, -тын, -тин, -нун, -нүн, -дун, -дүн, -тун, -түн кеменин абанын челектин колдун баштын туздун көздүн
Dative -GA -га, -ка, -ге, -ке, -го, -ко, -гө, -кө кемеге абага челекке колго башка тузга көзгө
Accusative -NI -ны, -ни, -ды, -ди, -ты, -ти, -ну, -нү, -ду, -дү, -ту, -тү кемени абаны челекти колду башты тузду көздү
Locative -DA -да, -де, -та, -те, -до, -дө, -то, -тө кемеде абада челекте колдо башта тузда көздө
Ablative -DAn -дан, -ден, -тан, -тен, -дон, -дөн, -тон, -төн кемеден абадан челектен колдон баштан туздан көздөн

Normally the decision between the velar ( , ) and uvular ( and ) pronunciation of /г/ and /к/ is based on the backness of the following vowel—i.e. back vowels imply a uvular rendering and front vowels imply a velar rendering—and the vowel in suffixes is decided based on the preceding vowel in the word. However, with the dative suffix in Kyrgyz, the vowel is decided normally, but the decision between velars and uvulars can be decided based on a contacting consonant, for example банк /bank/ 'bank' + GA yields банкка , not as predicted by the following vowel.


Kyrgyz has eight personal pronouns:

Personal pronouns
Singular Plural
Kyrgyz (transliteration) English Kyrgyz (transliteration) English
Мен (Men) I Биз (Biz) We
Сен (Sen) You (singular informal) Силер (Siler) You (plural informal)
Сиз (Siz) You (singular formal) Сиздер (Sizder) You (plural formal)
Ал (Al) He/She/It Алар (Alar) They

The declension of the pronouns is outlined in the following chart. Singular pronouns (with the exception of сиз, which used to be plural) exhibit irregularities, while plural pronouns don't. Irregular forms are highlighted in bold.

Declension of pronouns
Singular Plural
1st 2nd inf 2nd frm 3rd 1sg 2nd inf 2nd frm 3rd
Nom мен сен сиз ал биз силер сиздер алар
Acc мени сени сизди аны бизди силерди сиздерди аларды
Gen менин сенин сиздин анын биздин силердин сиздердин алардын
Dat мага сага сизге ага бизге силерге сиздерге аларга
Loc менде сенде сизде анда бизде силерде сиздерде аларда
Abl менден сенден сизден андан бизден силерден сиздерден алардан

In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.

Morphemes indicating person
pronouns copulas present tense possessive endings past/conditional imperative
1st sg мен -mIn -mIn -(I)m -(I)m -AyIN
2nd sg сен -sIŋ -sIŋ -(I)ŋ -(I)ŋ —, -GIn
2nd formal sg сиз -sIz -sIz -(I)ŋIz -(I)ŋIz -GIlA
3rd sg ал -t -(s)I(n) -sIn
1st pl биз -BIz -BIz -(I)bIz -(I)K -AyIK
2nd pl силер -sIŋAr -sIŋAr -(I)ŋAr -(I)ŋAr
2nd formal pl сиздер -sIzdAr -sIzdAr -(I)ŋIzdAr -(I)nIzdAr
3rd pl алар -(I)şAt -(s)I(n) -sIn, -IşsIn

Relative Clauses

To form relative clauses, Kyrgyz nominalises verb phrases. For example, "I don't know what I saw" would be rendered as "Мен эмнени көргөнүмдү билбейм" (Men emneni körgönümdü bilbeym): I what-ACC.DEF see-ing-1st.SG-ACC.DEF know-NEG-1st.SG, or roughly "I don't know my having seen what," where the verb phrase "I saw what" is treated as a nominal object of the verb "to know." The sentence above is also an excellent example of Kyrgyz vowel harmony; notice that all the vowel sounds are front vowels.

Several nominalisation strategies are used depending on the temporal properties of the relativised verb phrase: -GAn(dIK) for general past tense, -AAr for future/potential unrealised events, and -A turgan(dɯq) for non-perfective events are the most common. The copula has an irregular relativised form экен(дик) which may be used equivalently to forms of the verb бол- be (болгон(дук), болоор). Relativised verb forms may, and often do, take nominal possessive endings as well as case endings.

See also


  1. The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity (pdf)

External links


  • Library of Congress, Country Studies, Kyrgyzstan
  • Comrie, Bernard. 1983. The languages of the Soviet Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Beckwith, Christopher I. 1987/1993. "The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia." Princeton: Princeton University Press

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