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Ural-Altaic Languages

Ural-Altaic Languages, a linguistic family of the agglutinating order of speech, current throughout the domain of the Ural-Altaic race (q.v.), and also spoken in Hungary. Excluding the Korean and Japanese, as well as the extinct Accad of Babylonia and the Etruscan of Etruria, whose relations to the Ural-Altaic group are still a moot question with philologists, there are five clearly-recognized branches, with numerous subdivisions, as under: -- (1) Urgo-Finnic, including Finnish, Lapp, Esthonian, Mordvinian, Permian, Ostiak, Vogul, and Magyar; (2) Samoyedic, including Yurak, Tagvi, and Kamasin; (3) Turkic, including Uigur, Chagatai, Kipchak, Osmanli, Chuvash, Yakut, and Siberian "Tatar;" (4) Mongolic, including Sharra, Kalmuk, and Buriat; (5) Tungusic, including Tungus proper, Manchu and Lamut. These branches must have ramified from a common centre -- probably the Altai uplands -- at an extremely remote epoch, for the divergence between them is far greater than between the several branches, not only of the Semitic, but even of the Aryan family. Thus, the difference between Magyar and Lamut, for instance, is greater than between Italic and Hellenic, or even Indic. Nevertheless, the relationship is thoroughly established, and is based not only on the identity of a considerable percentage of primitive words, but also on certain phonetic and structural resemblances pervading all the branches. Of these resemblances the most characteristic is the arrangement of the formative elements, which were always postfixed -- that is, tacked on somewhat loosely to the root, which remains unchanged, while the vowels of the postfixes are modified to harmonize with that of the root, in accordance with the so-called principle of vocalic harmony. Thus, in Turki: ruh, spirit; ruh-un, of the spirit; ruh-lar, spirits; ruh-lar-un, of the spirits; but dil, tongue; dil-in, of the tongue; dil-ler, tongues; dil-ler-in, of the tongues, where the strong u of root ruh determines the strong u and a of the postfixes un, lar, which similarly become in, ler, after the weak i of root dil. The true agglutinating character of these particles is also shown by the intrusion of plural lar, ler, and consequent shifting of un, in. such a process is absolutely impossible in the inflecting order of speech, where the formative elements are more thoroughly fused with, and consequently inseparable from, the root, as in the Latin anima, animae, animas, etc. Another remarkable feature of the Ural-Altaic languages is the extraordinary development of verbal or quasi-verbal forms -- actives, passives, negatives, interrogatives, dubitatives, causatives, reciprocatives, and many others -- all built up by the same syntactical process, and yielding almost endless possible combinations, nearly 30,000 in the Turki conjugation, and far more in Mordvinian and some other members of the Finnish group. Thus, in Turki: bil-mek, to know; bil-me-mek, not to know; bil-me-mek and bil-mi-me-mek, to know and not to know, put interrogatively; bil-il-mek, to be known; bil-dir-mek, to make known; bil-der-il-mek, to be made known; bil-der-me-mek, not to make known; bil-der-il-me-mek, not to be made known, etc. etc., each of these being inflected through its several persons, numbers, tenses, moods, participial and gerundial forms. This agglutinating system may be said to run riot in some of the groups, becoming so cumbrous through the heaping-up of particles according to rigid law that it tends to break down under its own weight. It is at this stage of threatening disintegration that symptoms are observed of a gradual transition from agglutination to true inflection, as in Finnish, and especially in the Siberian Ostyak, where in certain positions the root-vowel itself becomes modified -- that is, acquires grammatical force independently of the postfixes. Syncope is also at work, as seen in the Turki bol-up-irdi, which in Yarkandi (Kashgaria) is shortened to bolupti, and in Constantinople to wopti="it had become." All this interferes greatly with the delicate laws of vowel harmony, which once disturbed are never revived, but gradually give place to more convenient inflecting processes, as developed especially in the Aryan system. (Castren, Bohtlingk, Redhouse.)

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