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Chinese Language and Script
The Turkic Script


The Turkic script, also called Orkhon-Yenisey script, is a kind of runic alphabet script by which the language of Old Turkic was written. It was used between the 7th and the 10th centuries, when a large federation of Turkic tribes ruled over a large part of Central Asia.
The fact that the Turks disposed of an own script is first mentioned in the Chinese histories Zhoushu 周書 and Beiqishu 北齊書, where it is said that some Buddhist sutras had been translated into Turkic. Yet there are no archeological findinds so far proving this statement. The first publication about a Turkic inscription was made in 1730 by P. J. von Strahlenberg. In 1884 the Finnish scholar J. R. Aspelin published a whole collection of inscription on stone stelae from the region of the River Yenisey. The Russian H. M. Yadrentsev was the first person to undergo a deeper research into the inscription on stelae found in the Orkhon region, namely the stelae of Kul Tigin and his brother Bilge Qagan. He published his research in 1898, followed in the next year by the publications of the Swedish A. O. Heikel in 1890 who had made research on the inscriptions about the Toquz Oghuz tribes. The Danish scholar V. L. P. Thomsen was the first to publish a research on the Old Turkic language. At that time Chinese scholars started being interested into the history of the ancient Turks. Shen Cengzhi 沈曾植, Wang Guowei 王國維, Cen Zhongmian 岑仲勉 and Wang Jingru 王靜如 are the notable harbingers in this field of study.
The runic script consisted of between 38 and 40 letters. The letters are mostly derived from the Aramic alphabet that had been transferred by Nestorian missionaries from Syria. A few letters are derived from Turkic clan insignia. A dividing mark : is used to separate words. The text is written in rows from left to right, but there are also examples of texts written from right to left.
There are 11 stelae of the Orkhon region discovered until the 1990s. The Quelin bei 雀林碑 is the oldest of these, dating from around 690. The older stelae have been erected during the ancient Turkic realm that lasted from 552 to 744, the newer ones date from the predominance of the Uighur federation from 744 to 840. The stelae from the Yenisey region have been erected by Kirghiz tribes during the 9th and 10th centuries. These are mainly tomb inscriptions.
A lot of documents written in Turkic script have been detected in Dunhuang and the ruins of Loulan and in Turfan. These document include histories, biographies, tomb inscriptions, stone inscriptions, religious texts as well as administrative texts.


Source: Li Sen 李森 (1988), "Tujuewen 突厥文", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言文字 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), pp. 385-386.

April 20, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail