Altaic languages

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Distribution of the Altaic languages across Eurasia.

Altaic is a disputed language family that is generally held by its proponents to include the Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic, and possibly the Japonic language families and the Korean language isolate (Georg et al. 1999:73–74).[2] These languages are spoken in a wide arc stretching from northeast Asia through Central Asia to Anatolia and eastern Europe (Turks, Kalmyks).[3] The group is named after the Altai Mountains, a mountain range in Central Asia.

These language families share numerous characteristics. The debate is over the origin of their similarities. One camp, often called the "Altaicists", views these similarities as arising from common descent from a Proto-Altaic language spoken several thousand years ago. The other camp, often called the "anti-Altaicists", views these similarities as arising from areal interaction between the language groups concerned. Some linguists believe the case for either interpretation is about equally strong; they have been called the "sсeptics" (Georg et al. 1999:81).

Another view accepts Altaic as a valid family but includes in it only Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic. This view was widespread prior to the 1960s, but has almost no supporters among specialists today (Georg et al. 1999:73–74). The expanded grouping, including Korean and Japanese, came to be known as "Macro-Altaic", leading to the designation by back-formation of the smaller grouping as "Micro-Altaic". Most proponents of Altaic continue to support the inclusion of Korean and Japanese.[1] Some other authors also claim that Altaic is a valid family, but only including Japonic, Korean and Tungusic ("Macro-Tungusic", J. Marshall Unger 1990).

Micro-Altaic would include about 66 living languages,[4] to which Macro-Altaic would add Korean, Japanese, and the Ryukyuan languages for a total of about 74. (These are estimates, depending on what is considered a language and what is considered a dialect. They do not include earlier states of language, such as Old Japanese.) Micro-Altaic would have a total of about 348 million speakers today, Macro-Altaic about 558 million.


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