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Old Turkic script
Type Alphabet
Spoken languages Old Turkic
Time period 8th to 13th centuries
Parent systems
Child systems Old Hungarian script
Unicode range U+10C00 to U+10C4F
ISO 15924 Orkh
Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.
Orkhon tablet
Inscription in Kyzyl using Orkhon script
A copy of Göktürk (Orkhon) Epigraph in Ankara, Turkey
Orkhon script

The Old Turkic script (also Göktürk script, Orkhon script, Orkhon-Yenisey script; Turkish: Orhun Yazıtları, traditional Chinese: 鄂爾渾文字pinyin: È'ěrhún Wénzì) is the alphabet used by the Göktürk and other early Turkic Khanates from at least the 8th century to record the Old Turkic language[1]. 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.

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 were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893. These inscriptions are the earliest known texts in any Altaic language.[2]

Because of similarities to the angular shapes of the runic alphabet, the letters of the Orkhon script have been referred to as "Turkic runes" or described as "runiform".

Examples of the Orhon-Yenisei alphabet are depicted on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 5 manat banknote issued since 2006.[3]



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).

Alternative possibilities include derivation from tamgas, suggested by W. Thomsen in 1893, from the Chinese script. Turkish 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.

The Danish hypothesis connects the script to the reports of Chinese account[4], from a 2nd century BC Chinese Yan renegade and dignitary named Zhonghang Yue (simplified Chinese: 中行说) who

"taught the Shanyu (rulers of the Xiongnu) to write official letters to the Chinese court on a wooden tablet (simplified 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.[5]


The inscription corpus consists of two monuments which were erected in the Orkhon Valley between 732 and 735 in honour of the two Kokturk prince Kul Tigin and his brother the emperor Bilge Kağan, as well as inscriptions on slabs scattered in the wider area.

The Orkhon monuments are the oldest known examples of Turkic writings; they are inscribed on obelisks and have been dated to 720 (for the obelisk relating to Tonyukuk), to 732 (for that relating to Kültigin), and to 735 (for that relating to Bilge Kağan). They are carved in a script used also for inscriptions found in Mongolia, Siberia, and Eastern Turkistan and called by Thomsen "Turkish runes".[6] 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.[6] The polished style of the writings suggests considerable earlier development of the Turkish language.[6]

Table of characters

Old-Turkic Alphabet (Classic age)
Using Symbols Transliteration and transcription
vowels Old Turkic letter A.svg A /a/, /e/
Old Turkic letter I.svg I /ɯ/, /i/, /j/
Old Turkic letter O.svg O /u/, /o/, /w/
Old Turkic letter U.svg U /ø/, /y/, /w/
consonants harmonized with:
(¹) — back,
(²) — front
Old Turkic letter B1.svg Old Turkic letter B2.svg /b/ /b/
Old Turkic letter D1.svg Old Turkic letter D2.svg /d/ /d/
Old Turkic letter G1.svg Old Turkic letter G2.svg /g/ /g/
Old Turkic letter L1.svg Old Turkic letter L2.svg /l/ /l/
Old Turkic letter N1.svg Old Turkic letter N2.svg /n/ /n/
Old Turkic letter R1.svg Old Turkic letter R2.svg /r/ /r/
Old Turkic letter S1.svg Old Turkic letter S2.svg /s/ /s/
Old Turkic letter T1.svg Old Turkic letter T2.svg /t/ /t/
Old Turkic letter Y1.svg Old Turkic letter Y2.svg /j/ /j/
only (¹) — Q
only (²) — K
Old Turkic letter Q.svg Old Turkic letter K.svg Q /q/ K /k/
with all
Old Turkic letter CH.svg /tʃ/
Old Turkic letter M.svg -M /m/
Old Turkic letter P.svg -P /p/
Old Turkic letter SH.svg /ʃ/
Old Turkic letter Z.svg -Z /z/
Old Turkic letter NG.svg -NG /ŋ/
clusters + vowel Old Turkic letter ICH.svg IÇ, ÇI, Ç /itʃ/, /tʃi/, /tʃ/
Old Turkic letter IQ.svg IQ, QI, Q /ɯq/, /qɯ/, /q/
Old Turkic letter OQ.svg Old Turkic letter UK.svg OQ, UQ,
/oq/, /uq/,
/qo/, /qu/, /q/
/øk/, /yk/,
/kø/, /ky/, /k/
+ consonant Old Turkic letter NCH.svg -NÇ /ntʃ/
Old Turkic letter NY.svg -NY /ɲ/
Old Turkic letter LT.svg -LT /lt/, /ld/
Old Turkic letter NT.svg -NT /nt/, /nd/
word-divide symbol Old Turkic letter SEP.svg none
(-) — word endings only

A reading example: Old Turkic letter I.svgOld Turkic letter R2.svgOld Turkic letter NG.svgOld Turkic letter T2.svg — inscription (RTL)

T²NGR²I — transliteration
/teŋri/ — transcription
teñri / tanrı — record with modern Turkic alphabet
the skygod or the eternal blue sky indicating the highest god — ancient meaning
The God — modern meaning


Reverse side of Azerbaijani manat showing the old Turkic script.

Variants of the script were found from Mongolia and Uyghurstan/Eastern Turkestan in the east to Balkans in the west. The preserved inscriptions were dated to between 7th and 13th centuries AD.

These alphabets are divided into four groups by Kyzlasov (1994)[7]

The Asiatic group is further divided into three related alphabets:

  • Orkhon alphabet, Göktürk, 8-10th centuries AD
  • Yenisei alphabet,
    • Talas alphabet, a derivative of the Yenisei alphabet, Kangly or Karluks 8-10th centuries AD. 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.[8]

The Eurasiatic group is further divided into five related alphabets:

  • Achiktash, used in Sogdiana 7-10th centuries AD
  • South-Yenisei, used by the Göktürk 8-10th centuries AD
  • two especially similar alphabets: the Don alphabet, used by the Khazar Khaganate, 8-10th centuries AD; and the Kuban alphabet, used by the Bulgars, 8th-13th centuries AD. Inscriptions in both alphabets are found in the Pontic steppe and on the banks of the Kama river
  • Tisza, used by the Badjanaks (Pechenegs) 8-10th centuries AD

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 8-10th centuries AD found in Uyghurstan/Eastern Turkestan.

Computer encoding

In Unicode 5.2, letters of the Turkic alphabet, including national and historical varieties, are represented by the block:

  • Turkic 10C00–10C4F

See also


  1. ^ Scharlipp, Wolfgang (2000). An Introduction to the Old Turkish Runic Inscriptions. Verlag auf dem Ruffel., Engelschoff. ISBN 393384700X.
  2. ^ a b Sinor, Denis (2002). "Old Turkic". History of Civilizations of Central Asia. 4. Paris: UNESCO Publishing. pp. 331–333. 
  3. ^ Central Bank of Azerbaijan. National currency: 5 manat. – Retrieved on 25 February 2010.
  4. ^ Shiji, vol. 110.
  5. ^ N. Ishjatms, "Nomads In Eastern Central Asia", in the "History of civilizations of Central Asia", Volume 2, Fig 6, p. 166, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, p.165
  6. ^ a b c Encyclopædia Britannica
  7. ^ Kyzlasov I.L.; “Writings Of Eurasian Steppes”, Eastern Literature", Moscow, 1994, 327 pp. 321-323
  8. ^ Kyzlasov I.L.; “Writings Of Eurasian Steppes”, Eastern Literature", Moscow, 1994, pp. 98-100


  • Diringer, David. The Alphabet: a Key to the History of Mankind, New York: Philosophical Library, 1948, pp. 313–315
  • Février, James G. Histoire de l’écriture, Paris: Payot, 1948, pp. 311–317
  • 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
  • Jensen, Hans (1970). Sign Symbol and Script. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. ISBN 0-04-400021-9. .
  • Kara, György. Aramaic Scripts for Altaic Languages. In Daniels and *Bright, eds., The World's Writing Systems, 1996.
  • Kyzlasov, I.L. "Runic Scripts of Eurasian Steppes", Moscow, Eastern Literature, 1994, ISBN 5-02-017741-5
  • Mukhamadiev, Azgar. (1995). Turanian Writing (Туранская Письменность). In Zakiev, M. Z.(Ed.), Problemy lingvoėtnoistorii tatarskogo naroda (Проблемы лингвоэтноистории татарского народа). Kazan: Akademija Nauk Tatarstana. (Russian)
  • 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
  • Vasil'iev, D.D. Korpus tiurkskikh runicheskikh pamyatnikov Bassina Eniseya [Corpus of the Turkic Runic Monuments of the Yenisei Basin], Leningrad: USSR Academy of Science, 1983

External links



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