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Old Turkic script

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Old Turkic script
Orkhon script
A line dedicated to Bumin Qaghan in the Ongin inscription.
Script type
Time period
8th to 10th centuries[1]
DirectionRight-to-left script Edit this on Wikidata
LanguagesOld Turkic
Related scripts
Parent systems
  • Old Turkic script
Child systems
Old Hungarian
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Orkh (175), ​Old Turkic, Orkhon Runic
Unicode alias
Old Turkic
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Kultigin Monument of Orkhon Inscriptions - Orkhun Museum, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Kul tigin Monument of Orkhon Inscriptions - Orkhon Museum, Kharkhorin, Mongolia
Transcription of part of Bilge Kağan's inscription (lines 36–40)
Location of the Orkhon Valley.

The Old Turkic script (also known as variously Göktürk script, Orkhon script, Orkhon-Yenisey script, Turkic runes) was the alphabet used by the Göktürks and other early Turkic khanates from the 8th to 10th centuries to record the Old Turkic language.[1]

The script is named after the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia where early 8th-century inscriptions were discovered in an 1889 expedition by Nikolai Yadrintsev.[2] These Orkhon inscriptions were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893.[3]

This writing system was later used within the Uyghur Khaganate. Additionally, a Yenisei variant is known from 9th-century Yenisei Kirghiz inscriptions, and it has likely cousins in the Talas Valley of Turkestan and the Old Hungarian alphabet of the 10th century. Words were usually written from right to left.


Many scientists, starting with Vilhelm Thomsen (1893), suggested that Orkhon script is derived from descendants of the Aramaic alphabet in particular via the Pahlavi and Sogdian alphabets of Persia,[4][5][6] or possibly via Kharosthi used to write Sanskrit (cf. the Issyk inscription)[citation needed].[7][8][9] Vilhelm Thomsen (1893) also mentioned some reports that the Orkhon script could derive from Hunno-Scythian alphabet[clarification needed], but rejected them as being specious.[10] It has also been speculated that tamgas represent one of the sources of the Old Turkic script,[11] but despite similarities in shape and forms, this hypothesis has been widely rejected as unverifiable, largely because early tamgas are too poorly attested and understood to be subject to a thorough comparison.[12]

Contemporary Chinese sources conflict as to whether the Turks had a written language by the 6th century. The Book of Zhou, dating to the 7th century, mentions that the Turks had a written language similar to that of the Sogdians. Two other sources, the Book of Sui and the History of the Northern Dynasties, claim that the Turks did not have a written language.[13] According to István Vásáry, Old Turkic script was invented under the rule of the first khagans and was modelled after the Sogdian fashion.[14] Several variants of the script came into being as early as the first half of the 6th century.[15]


The Old Turkic corpus consists of about two hundred[16] inscriptions, plus a number of manuscripts.[17] The inscriptions, dating from the 7th to 10th century, were discovered in present-day Mongolia (the area of the Second Turkic Khaganate and the Uyghur Khaganate that succeeded it), in the upper Yenisey basin of central-south Siberia, and in smaller numbers, in the Altay mountains and Xinjiang. The texts are mostly epitaphs (official or private), but there are also graffiti and a handful of short inscriptions found on archaeological artifacts, including a number of bronze mirrors.[16]

The website of the Language Committee of Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan lists 54 inscriptions from the Orkhon area, 106 from the Yenisei area, 15 from the Talas area, and 78 from the Altai area. The most famous of the inscriptions are the two monuments (obelisks) which were erected in the Orkhon Valley between 732 and 735 in honor of the Göktürk prince Kül Tigin and his brother the emperor Bilge Kağan. The Tonyukuk inscription, a monument situated somewhat farther east, is slightly earlier, dating to c. 722. These inscriptions relate in epic language the legendary origins of the Turks, the golden age of their history, their subjugation by the Chinese (Tang-Gokturk wars), and their liberation by Bilge.[citation needed][18]

The Old Turkic manuscripts, of which there are none earlier than the 9th century, were found in present-day Xinjiang and represent Old Uyghur, a different Turkic dialect from the one represented in the Old Turkic inscriptions in the Orkhon valley and elsewhere.[16] They include Irk Bitig, a 9th-century manuscript book on divination.[19]

Table of characters

Table of characters as published by Thomsen (1893)

Old Turkic being a synharmonic language, a number of consonant signs are divided into two "synharmonic sets", one for front vowels and the other for back vowels. Such vowels can be taken as intrinsic to the consonant sign, giving the Old Turkic alphabet an aspect of an abugida script. In these cases, it is customary to use superscript numerals ¹ and ² to mark consonant signs used with back and front vowels, respectively. This convention was introduced by Thomsen (1893), and followed by Gabain (1941), Malov (1951) and Tekin (1968).[citation needed]


Orkhon Yenisei
Image Text
𐰀 𐰁 𐰂 a, ä /ɑ/, /æ/
𐰃 𐰄 ï/ı, i /ɯ/, /i/
𐰅 𐰅 e /e/
𐰆 𐰆 o, u /o/, /u/
𐰇 𐰈 ö, ü /ø/, /y/


Synharmonic sets
Back vowel Front vowel
Orkhon Yenisei
IPA Orkhon Yenisei
Image Text Image Text
𐰉 𐰊 /b/ 𐰋 𐰌 /b/
𐰑 𐰒 /d/ 𐰓 /d/
𐰍 𐰎 γ/g¹ /ɢ/ 𐰏 𐰐 g/g² /ɡ/
𐰞 𐰟 /l/ 𐰠 /l/
𐰣 /n/ 𐰤 𐰥 /n/
𐰺 𐰻 /r/ 𐰼 /r/
𐰽 /s/ 𐰾 /s/
𐱃 𐱄 /t/ 𐱅 𐱆 /t/
𐰖 𐰗 y¹/j¹ /j/ 𐰘 𐰙 y²/j² /j/
𐰴 𐰵 q /q/ 𐰚 𐰛 k /k/
𐰸 𐰹 oq, uq, qo, qu, q /oq/, /uq/, /qo/, /qu/, /q/ 𐰜 𐰝 ök, ük, kö, kü, k /øk/, /yk/, /kø/, /ky/, /k/
Other consonantal signs
Orkhon Yenisei
Image Text
𐰲 𐰳 č //
𐰢 m /m/
𐰯 p /p/
𐱁 𐱀 𐱂[20] š /ʃ/
𐰔 𐰕 z /z/
𐰭 𐰮 𐰬 ñ/ň/ŋ /ŋ/
𐰱 ič, či, č /itʃ/, /tʃi/, /tʃ/
𐰶 𐰷 ıq, qı, q /ɯq/, /qɯ/, /q/
𐰨 𐰩 -nč /ntʃ/
𐰪 𐰫 -nj/ny/ñ /ɲ/
𐰡 -lt /lt/, /ld/
𐰦 𐰧 -nt /nt/, /nd/
𐰿 /aʃ/
𐱇 ot, ut[21] /ot/, /ut/
𐱈 baš[22] /baʃ/

A colon-like symbol (U+205A TWO DOT PUNCTUATION) is sometimes used as a word separator.[23] In some cases a ring (U+2E30 RING POINT) is used instead.[23]

A reading example (right to left): 𐱅𐰭𐰼𐰃 transliterated t²ñr²i, this spells the name of the Turkic sky god, Täñri (/tæŋri/).


This section's factual accuracy is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help to ensure that disputed statements are reliably sourced. (November 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
Examples of the Orkhon-Yenisei alphabet are depicted on the reverse of the Azerbaijani 5 manat banknote issued since 2006.[24]
Oldest known Turkic alphabet listings, Ryukoku and Toyok manuscripts. Toyok manuscript transliterates Turkic alphabet into the Old Uyghur alphabet. Per Кызласов, Игорь Леонидович [in Russian] (1994). Рунические письменности евразийских степей. Восточная литература РАН. ISBN 978-5-02-017741-3.

Variants of the script were found from Mongolia and Xinjiang in the east to the Balkans in the west. The preserved inscriptions were dated to between the 8th and 10th centuries.

These alphabets are divided into four groups by Kyzlasov (1994)[25]

The Asiatic group is further divided into three related alphabets:

  • Orkhon alphabet, Göktürks, 8th to 10th centuries
  • Yenisei alphabet,
    • Talas alphabet, a derivative of the Yenisei alphabet, Kangly or Karluks 8th to 10th centuries. 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.[26]

The Eurasiatic group is further divided into five related alphabets:

  • Achiktash, used in Sogdia 8th to 10th centuries.
  • South-Yenisei, used by the Göktürks 8th to 10th centuries.
  • Two especially similar alphabets: the Don alphabet, used by the Khazars, 8th to 10th centuries; and the Kuban alphabet, used by the Bulgars, 8th to 13th centuries. Inscriptions in both alphabets are found in the Pontic–Caspian steppe and on the banks of the Kama river.
  • Tisza, used by the Pechenegs 8th to 10th centuries.

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 languages, and paper fragments with Turkic cursive writing from religion, Manichaeism, Buddhist, and legal subjects of the 8th to 10th centuries found in Xinjiang.


The Unicode block for Old Turkic is U+10C00–U+10C4F. It was added to the Unicode standard in October 2009, with the release of version 5.2. It includes separate "Orkhon" and "Yenisei" variants of individual characters.

Since Windows 8 Unicode Old Turkic writing support was added in the Segoe font.

Old Turkic[1][2]
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
  0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
U+10C0x 𐰀 𐰁 𐰂 𐰃 𐰄 𐰅 𐰆 𐰇 𐰈 𐰉 𐰊 𐰋 𐰌 𐰍 𐰎 𐰏
U+10C1x 𐰐 𐰑 𐰒 𐰓 𐰔 𐰕 𐰖 𐰗 𐰘 𐰙 𐰚 𐰛 𐰜 𐰝 𐰞 𐰟
U+10C2x 𐰠 𐰡 𐰢 𐰣 𐰤 𐰥 𐰦 𐰧 𐰨 𐰩 𐰪 𐰫 𐰬 𐰭 𐰮 𐰯
U+10C3x 𐰰 𐰱 𐰲 𐰳 𐰴 𐰵 𐰶 𐰷 𐰸 𐰹 𐰺 𐰻 𐰼 𐰽 𐰾 𐰿
U+10C4x 𐱀 𐱁 𐱂 𐱃 𐱄 𐱅 𐱆 𐱇 𐱈
1.^ As of Unicode version 15.1
2.^ Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points

See also



  1. ^ a b Scharlipp, Wolfgang (2000). An Introduction to the Old Turkish Runic Inscriptions. Verlag auf dem Ruffel, Engelschoff. ISBN 978-3-933847-00-3.
  2. ^ Sinor, Denis (2002). "Old Turkic". History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Vol. 4. Paris: UNESCO. pp. 331–333.
  3. ^ Vilhelm Thomsen, [Turkic] Orkhon Inscriptions Deciphered (Helsinki : Society of Finnish Literature Press, 1893). Translated in French and later English (Ann Arbor MI: University Microfilms Intl., 1971). OCLC 7413840
  4. ^ Turks, A. Samoylovitch, First Encyclopaedia of Islam: 1913-1936, Vol. VI, (Brill, 1993), 911.
  5. ^ Campbell, George; Moseley, Christopher (2013). The Routledge Handbook of Scripts and Alphabets. Routledge. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-135-22296-3.
  6. ^ Róna-Tas, András (1987). "On the Development and Origin of the East Turkic "Runic" Script". Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. 41 (1): 7–14. ISSN 0001-6446. JSTOR 23657716.
  7. ^ Cooper, J.S. (2004). "Babylonian beginnings: The origin of the cuneiform writing system in comparative perspective". In Houston, Stephen (ed.). The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process. Cambridge University Press. pp. 58–59.
  8. ^ Mabry, Tristan James (2015). Nationalism, Language, and Muslim Exceptionalism. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-8122-4691-9.
  9. ^ Kara, György (1996). "Aramaic scripts for Altaic languages". In Daniels, Peter; Bright, William (eds.). The World's Writing Systems. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507993-7.
  10. ^ Thomsen, Vilhelm Ludvig Peter (1896). Inscriptions de l'Orkhon déchiffrées [The Orkhon Inscriptions, deciphered] (in French). Helsingfors: Impr. de la Société de littérature finnoise. p. 54. LCCN 06008212. J'ajoute que les ressemblances spécieuses de l'alphabet turc et l'alphabet dit hunno-scythique (voir P. Kiraly de Dada. Babyl. and Oriental Record VI, no 10, 1893, p. 227 et suiv., 233) sont trop peu nombreuses et trop imperceptibles pour justifier une parenté des deux alphabets.
  11. ^ Aristov, N. (1896) Notes on Ethnic Composition of Turkic Tribes and People and Population Record. ZhS 3-4, 277-456
  12. ^ cf. Talat Tekin (1965), A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic, PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles for a literature overview
  13. ^ Lung 龍, Rachel 惠珠 (2011). Interpreters in Early Imperial China. John Benjamins Publishing. pp. 54–55. ISBN 978-90-272-2444-6.
  14. ^ Mouton, 2002, Archivum Ottomanicum, p. 49
  15. ^ Sigfried J. de Laet, Joachim Herrmann, (1996), History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D., p. 478
  16. ^ a b c Erdal, Marcel. 2004. A grammar of Old Turkic. Leiden, Brill. p. 7
  17. ^ Vasilʹiev, D.D. (1983). Графический фонд памятников тюркской рунической письменности азиатского ареала (опыт систематизации) [Graphical corpus of Turkic Runic writing monuments in the Asian area.] (in Russian). Leningrad: USSR Academy of Science. pp. 37, 45. Руника Восточного Туркестана представлена двояко: в виде рукописных текстов и как граффити на фресках и на штукатурке пещерных храмов в Турфанском оазисе. Образцы тюркского рунического письма на бумаге имеют особое значение, так как только к этой группе могут быть применены традиционные приемы и методы палеографического исследования. Эти памятники относятся к периоду расцвета древнеуйгурских городов и торговли, к периоду зарождения тюркской письменной литературы и науки. Функциональное изменение характера памятников может быть признано свидетельством возникшей потребности в более широком и утилитарном использовании рунической грамоты.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  18. ^ "TURK BITIG". Archived from the original on 24 June 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  19. ^ Tekin, Talât (1993). Irk bitig = The Book of omens. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. ISBN 3-447-03426-2. OCLC 32352166.
  20. ^ According to Gabain (1941)
  21. ^ According to Gabain (1941), not listed in Thomsen (1893)
  22. ^ According to Tekin (1968); not listed in Thomsen (1893) or Gabain (1941) [clarification needed]; Malov (1951) lists the sign but gives no sound value.
  23. ^ a b "The Unicode Standard, Chapter 14.8: Old Turkic" (PDF). Unicode Consortium. March 2020.
  24. ^ Central Bank of Azerbaijan. National currency: 5 manat. – Retrieved on 25 February 2010.
  25. ^ Kyzlasov I. L.; "Writings of Eurasian Steppes", Eastern Literature, Moscow, 1994, 327 pp. 321–323
  26. ^ 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, NY: Philosophical Library, 1948, pp. 313–315.
  • Erdal, Marcel. 2004. A grammar of Old Turkic. Leiden & Boston: Brill.
  • Guzev, V.G., Kljashtornyj, S.G. The Turkic Runic script: Is the hypothesis of its indigenous origin no more viable? Rocznik Orientalistyczny, T. 49, Z. 2 (1994), wyd. 1995 [19]
  • LFaulmann, Carl. 1990 (1880). Das Buch der Schrift. Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn. ISBN 3-8218-1720-8 (in German)
  • Février, James G. Histoire de l'écriture, Paris: Payot, 1948, pp. 311–317 (in French)
  • 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.
  • Kyzlasov, I.L. "Runic Scripts of Eurasian Steppes", Moscow, Eastern Literature, 1994, ISBN 5-02-017741-5
  • Malov, S.E. 1951, Pamjatniki Drevnitjurkskoj Pisʹmennosti (Памятники Древнитюркской Письменности), Moskva & Leningrad. (in Russian)
  • Muxamadiev, Azgar. (1995). Turanian Writing (Туранская Письменность). In Zakiev, M. Z.(Ed.), Problemy lingvoėtnoistorii tatarskogo naroda (Проблемы лингвоэтноистории татарского народа). Kazan: Akademija Nauk Tatarstana. (in Russian)
  • Róna-Tas, A. 1991. An introduction to Turkology. Szeged.
  • 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 littérature Finnoise [1] (in French)
  • Vasilʹiev, D.D. Korpus tjurkskix runičeskix pamjatnikov Bassina Eniseja [Corpus of the Turkic Runic Monuments of the Yenisei Basin], Leningrad: USSR Academy of Science, 1983 (in Russian)
  • von Gabain, A. 1941. Alttürkische Grammatik mit Bibliographie, Lesestücken und Wörterverzeichnis, auch Neutürkisch. Mit vier Schrifttafeln und sieben Schriftproben. (Porta Linguarum Orientalium; 23) Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz. (in German)
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Old Turkic script
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