Tatar language: Wikis


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татарча / Tatarça / تاتارچا
Spoken in Russia, other former Soviet Union
Total speakers 8 million
Language family Altaic[1] (controversial)
Official status
Official language in  Tatarstan
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 tt
ISO 639-2 tat
ISO 639-3 tat

The Tatar language (Tatar tele, Tatarça, Татар теле, Татарча) is a Turkic language spoken by the Tatars.


Geographic distribution

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

Tatar is also native for some thousands of Maris. Mordva's Qaratay group also speak Tatar. 94% of ethnic Tatar claimed knowledge of Tatar language during the 2002 census.[2]

Official status

Bilingual guide in Kazan Metro.

Tatar is the official language of the Republic of Tatarstan. The official script of Tatar language is based on the Cyrillic alphabet with some additional letters. Sometimes other scripts are used, mostly Latin and Arabic. All official sources in Tatarstan use Cyrillic at their web-sites and publishing. In other cases, where Tatar has no official status, the use of a specific alphabet depends on the preference of the author. Guides in Tatarstan are published in two alphabets.

The Tatar language was made a de facto official language in Russia in 1917 (for the first time since 1552, when the Kazan Khanate was annexed by Russia), but only in the Tatar–Bashkir Soviet Socialist Republic. Tatar is also considered the official language in Idel-Ural State. 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 it was not studied in city schools, not even by Tatar pupils. Although the language was used in rural schools, Tatar-speaking pupils had little chance to enter a university, because all higher education was in Russian.

According to some, Tatar is no longer an endangered language, 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 (Qazan), and Eastern (Siberian). All of these dialects also have subdivisions.


In the Western (Mişär) dialect Ç is pronounced [tʃ] (southern or lambir mishars) and as [ts] (northern mishars 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 [g], 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.

There was a distinct cryptolect, the Gäp, spoken predominantly in Kazan, but now it is extinct or near extinction.

Siberian Tatar

Siberian Tatars pronounce ç as [ts], c as [j] and sometimes b as [p] and d as [t]. There are also grammatical differences within the dialect, scattered across Siberia.[3]

Many Turkologists claim the origins of Siberian Tatar dialects are actually independent of Kazan Tatar; these dialects are quite remote both from Standard Tatar and from each other, often preventing mutual comrehension. The notion that these dialects are part of the modern Tatar language is typically supported by linguists in Kazan and denounced by local Siberian speakers.

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



Phonemically, Tatar may be argued to have two vowel heights, high and low. The low vowels are two, front and back, whereas the high vowels are eight: 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..[4]

Phonetically, the native vowels are approximately high [i] [ʉ] [u], reduced [ɘ̆] [ɵ̆] [ɤ̆~ʌ̆] [ŏ] (ë may be mid-low), and low [a~æ] [ɑ]. In polysyllabic words, the front-back distinction is lost in reduced vowels: all become mid-central.[4] 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][5]

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.


Tatar has 16 vowel symbols representing a variable number of sounds. Tatar exhibits vowel harmony, with some of the vowels considered front and others back.

Front vowels: ä [æ~ə], â [æ], e [e], é [ɛ], i [i], ó [ø], ö [œ], ü [y]

Back vowels: a [ɑ~ʌ], á [ɑ], í [ɯɪ], ı [ɯ~ɨː], o [o~oː], u–ú [u]

The usage of í, â, á, ó, ú, é is not universal, and sometimes ıy, a, ya, yo, yu and e are used instead.

Some of them are found only in Slavic loanwords, such as é, ó, long o, long ı. Acute in á, ó, ú denotes palatalisation, but sometimes a palatalisated consonant is marked by following y before the vowel. This is only a problem for Russian loanwords.

The commonly pronounced 10 vowels are native Tatar vowels: a–ä, u–ü, í–i, o–ö, ı–e. The last two pairs are considered to be short vowels. They also could mean a long vowels, but only in loanwords. [ə] and [ʌ] are not considered to be independent vowels. Loaned vowels are considered to be back vowels.


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]
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".[6]

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 Jaŋalif scripts, neither of which has an accepted method for indicating palatisation.

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 were 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

A subway sign in Tatar (top) and Russian

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)

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 alphabet was also used, as well as the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets.


Before 1928 Tatar was written with a variant of the Arabic alphabet (Iske imla ...- 1920; Yanga imla 1920-1928).


In the Soviet Union Tatar was written with a Latin orthography called Jaŋalif.


In Tatarstan (a republic of Russia where Tatar is most commonly used) and all other parts of Russia a Cyrillic alphabet is used to write Tatar; also in Kazakhstan.

Modern Latin

A Latin alphabet-based system has been used mostly in Tatarstan since 2000 and generally on the Internet, although this has been less common more recently due to the Russian law that all official languages of Russia must be written in Cyrillic.[7]


Tatar's ancestors are the extinct Bolgar 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 Kypchak group of Turkic languages, although they are also partly derived from the ancient Volga Bolgar language.

The Tatar language strongly influenced most of the Finno-Ugric languages in the Volga River area.[citation needed]


  • äye – yes
  • yuq – no
  • isänme(sez)/sawmı(sız) – hello
  • sälâm – hi
  • saw 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

  • Bukharaev, R., & Matthews, D. J. (2000). Historical anthology of Kazan Tatar verse: voices of eternity. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon. ISBN 0700710779
  • 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. ^ "[1] Ethnologue"
  2. ^ Russian Census 2002. 6. Владение языками (кроме русского) населением отдельных национальностей по республикам, автономной области и автономным округам Российской Федерации(Knowledge of languages other than Russian by the population of republics, autonomous oblast and autonomous districts)(Russian)
  3. ^ Information about Siberian Tatar
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Árpád Berta, "Tatar and Bashkir". In Johanson & Csató (1998) The Turkic languages
  6. ^ Árpád Berta, "Tatar and Bashkir," The Turkic Languages (1998, Routledge), pg. 283
  7. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | Russia reconsiders Cyrillic law

8. Čaušević, Ekrem: Kazantatarisch. (= Wieser Enzyklopaedie des Europaeischen Ostens / Okuka, Miloš & Krenn, Gerald (ur.). Klagenfurt-Wien-Ljubljana : Wieser Verlag, 2002.. Str. 793-797.];

External links

Tatar language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Language studies


History and literature


Simple English

The Tatar language is a Turkic language that is spoken by Tatar people. The Tatar language is the official language of Tatarstan.


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