Old Turkic script

Old Turkic script

Infobox Writing system
name=Orkhon script
languages=Old Turkic
unicode=Not in Unicode
fam5=Sogdian (controversial)
children= Old Hungarian script
time=8th to 13th centuries

The Old Turkic script (also Göktürk script, Orkhon script, Orkhon-Yenisey script; Turkish: "Orhun Yazıtları", 鄂爾渾文字) is the alphabet used by the Göktürk from the 8th century to record the Old Turkic language. It was later used by the Uyghur Empire; 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 8th century inscriptions were discovered in an 1889 expedition by Nikolay Yadrintsev. These Orkhon inscriptions were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893.

The script is very similar to that on monuments left by Tu-jue (突厥 pinyin tú jué) in China during the Tang Dynasty.Fact|date=March 2007Because 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". This similarity is superficial, however, since all alphabetic scripts used for incision in hard surfaces show this tendency (see Old Italic alphabets for other examples).


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 ["Shiji", vol. 110.] , from a 2nd century BC Chinese Yan renegade and dignitary named Zhonghang Yue (中行说) who:"taught the Shanyu (rulers of the Xiongnu) to write official letters to the Chinese court on a wooden tablet (牍) 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. [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]

Kazakh turkologist A. S. Amanzholov proposes that the script may derive directly from the Phoenician alphabet, or even "ascends to the most ancient common source of alphabetic writing [...] of the 3rd - 2nd millennia BC". [Amanjolov A.S., "History of the Ancient Türkic Script", Almaty, "Mektep", 2003, p. 286, p. 308] .


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". [http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9057363 Encyclopædia Britannica] ] 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. The polished style of the writings suggests considerable earlier development of the Turkish language.


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) [Kyzlasov I.L.; “Writings Of Eurasian Steppes”, Eastern Literature", Moscow, 1994, 327 pp. 321-323]
* Asiatic group (includes Orkhon proper)
* Eurasiatic group
* Turanian group
* Southern Europe group

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. [Kyzlasov I.L.; “Writings Of Eurasian Steppes”, Eastern Literature", Moscow, 1994, pp. 98-100]

The Eurasiatic group is further divided into five related alphabets:
* Achiktash, Sogdiana 7-10th centuries AD
* Isfar, Sogd unidentified ethnicity 7-10th centuries AD
* South-Yenisei, Göktürk 8-10th centuries AD
* Don alphabet, Alans and Khazar Khaganate, 8-10th centuries AD and Kuban alphabet, Bulghars, 8th-13th centuries AD, closely related, inscriptions in both alphabets found in the Pontic steppe and on the banks of the Kama river
* Tisza, Badjanaks 8-10th centuries AD

A number of alphabets are not completed, due to the limitations of the extant inscriptions. Great help in the studies of the Türkic scripts was received from Türkic-Chinese bi-lingual inscriptions, contemporaneous Türkic inscriptions in Greek alphabet, literal translation into Slavic language, and paper fragments with Türkic cursive writing on Türkic religion, Manichaeism, Buddhist and legal subjects of the 8-10th centuries AD found in Uyghurstan/Eastern Turkestan. [Amanjolov A.S., "History of тhe Ancient Türkic Script", Almaty, "Mektep", 2003 ISBN 9965-16-204-2, p. 6-12]

During the last two centuries the number of specialists knowledgeable in the Türkic scripts never exceeded low single digits. The last quarter of the 20th century brought about most of the paleographical and textual discoveries.

Table of characters

A reading example: — inscription (RTL)

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

ee also

*Old Hungarian script
*Uyghur alphabet
*Khosho Tsaidam Monuments



* David Diringer, "The Alphabet: a Key to the History of Mankind", New York: Philosophical Library, 1948, pp. 313–315
* James G. Février, "Histoire de l’écriture", Paris: Payot, 1948, pp. 311–317
*N. Ishjatms, "Nomads In Eastern Central Asia", in the "History of civilizations of Central Asia", Volume 2, UNESCO Publishing, 1996, ISBN 92-3-102846-4
*. Transl. of cite book |author=Jensen, Hans |title=Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart |publisher=VEB Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften |year=1958, as revised by the author
* György Kara, "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
*A. Mukhamadiev, "Turanian Writing", in "Problems Of Lingo-Ethno-History Of The Tatar People", Kazan, 1995, ISBN 5-201-08300 (Азгар Мухамадиев, "Туранская Письменность", "Проблемы лингвоэтноистории татарского народа", Казань, 1995. с.38, ISBN 5-201-08300, In Russian)
* Talat Tekin, "A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic. Indiana University Uralic and Altaic Series", vol. 69 (Bloomington/The Hague: Mouton, 1968)
* Vilhelm Thomsen, "Inscriptions de l’Orkhon déchiffrées", "Suomalais-ugrilainen seura, Helsinki Toimituksia, no. 5" Helsingfors: La société de literature Finnoise
* D. D. Vasil'iev, "Korpus tiurkskikh runicheskikh pamyatnikov Bassina Eniseya" ["Corpus of the Turkic Runic Monuments of the Yenisei Basin"] , Leningrad: USSR Academy of Science, 1983

External links

* [http://www.omniglot.com/writing/orkhon.htm Orkhon Alphabet page from Omniglot]
* [http://www.kyrgyz.ru/?page=148 glyph table] (kyrgyz.ru)
* [http://www.tonyukuk.net/tongiris.htm list of inscriptions] (tonyukuk.net)
* [http://www.bilgitay.net/orhun/index.php Bilgitay Orhun Writer] (An online converter for Latin alphabet based texts to Orhun Abece.)
*Michael Everson's [http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n3357.pdf Proposal for encoding the Old Turkic script in Unicode]

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