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Learn the Bashkir Language & Culture


Overview of the Bashkir Language

The Bashkir language is spoken in several republics within Russia, particularly Bashkortostan and the areas surrounding it. There are also groups of people who speak Bashkir in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

English speakers learning Bashkir may be surprised to learn that, despite its presence in Russia, Bashkir is not actually related to Russian. Bashkir is a member of the Kypchak branch of the Turkic language family. It is most closely related to certain dialects of Tatar, and is also related to Kazakh and other members of that language branch. More distant relatives include Turkish and Turkmen.

For much of the 20th century, the Soviet Union discouraged the citizens of Bashkortostan from speaking Bashkir and promoted Russian in its place. Similar restrictions were applied to many other native languages found in Soviet territory, and all of them declined. Nonetheless, the Bashkir language survived, and continued to be passed on between generations. When the language restrictions were lifted following the fall of the Soviet Union, people began to speak Bashkir openly once more. Today, Bashkir has been designated as one of the official languages of the Bashkortostan Republic, along with Russian.

The Bashkir Alphabet and Bashkir Pronunciation

Bashkir uses a Cyrillic alphabet, similar to that of Russian but with additional letters added to represent the unique aspects of Bashkir pronunciation that do not exist in Russian. Each letter has a capital and a lower case form. Bashkir text is written from left to right, the same as English. The current Bashkir alphabet came into use while Bashkortostan was part of the Soviet Union.

At first glance, the Bashkir alphabet may appear entirely unfamiliar to English speakers learning Bashkir. However, a closer look reveals that some Bashkir letters look and sound just like English letters. Other characters look like English letters but have different sounds, while some have familiar sounds but unfamiliar appearances. There are only a few that are completely unfamiliar in both shape and sound. Paying careful attention to these letters can help if you are trying to learn Bashkir pronunciation. Another thing to remember when learning to speak Bashkir or read Bashkir is that some of the letters also have very different appearances when italicized or written by hand as opposed to typed in normal text.

Bashkir Vocabulary

Most Bashkir vocabulary comes from native Turkic roots. It shares many cognates with Tatar and other related languages. However, the Bashkir language, like all languages, has taken in terms from the other languages it has encountered. Many such borrowings have come from Russian, as a legacy reflecting the many years that Bashkortostan has been part of Russia. Other loanwords have come from Western European languages, or from Arabic and Persian sources.

Bashkir Grammar

Bashkir grammar differs significantly from that of English. For example, the typical word order for a Bashkir sentence is Subject-Object-Verb, as opposed to Subject-Verb-Object in English. Also, Bashkir is an agglutinative language, meaning that it indicates grammatical functions primarily by attaching suffixes to word stems.

Another notable aspect of Bashkir grammar is the system of vowel harmony. All Bashkir vowels can be classified as either front vowels or back vowels. In the Bashkir language, if the stem of a word contains a front vowel, then any suffixes for that word must also use a front vowel. Likewise, if there is a back vowel in the stem of a word, back vowels are used in any suffixes for that word.

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