East Kazakhstan toponyms development and stratigraphy
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011
Author: Biyarov Berdibek, East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan
The attempt to determine the ancient border of the peoples’
settlement and the language areas has become habitual in science. However, from
the diachronical point of view it is impossible to divide toponyms that evolved
and exist now into groups by epoch of appearance. In this respect onomastics is
close to folklore: there is no data on who and when created proverbs and
sayings, epic literary works, and it is even more difficult to find out who and
when created toponyms. Even the Chinese chronicles, which registered everything
without exception, failed to explain the meaning of many historical onomasticons,
to say nothing of the nomads who had no written language. Both the French and
the Russians fail to explain the etymology of Paris and Moscow though they have well-established science and history. Nevertheless, toponymy
of each country has its own achievements in determining the periods of language
layers development. The accent is made not on determining the age of each
geographical name, but on the study of toponyms “which provide information on the
history of a certain place, its language and nature” (1, 162).
In the study of ancient language layers an important role is
assigned to studying the etymology of appellatives which gave rise to toponyms.
Many of them belong to the group of onyms, i.e. words which passed from the
group of common names to the group of proper names. They can be traced back to
the times when the human language was monosyllabic. Thus, geographical names
belonging to the semantic group denoting “salient forms of the Earth relief”
indicate their ancient origin, for example: тө/то (hill, upland, height, etc.) means “high”,
“round”, “salient”, чө / шо – pointed hill, mound, area covered with
hummock and etc.
V.A. Nikonov compares topoformants with “labeled atom” and believes
that with their help it is possible to trace resettlement of the nations. But
he admits that it is difficult to determine the age of the name and that
accuracy of ± 100 years is quite rare (2, 98). This method is convenient for
the Slavonic languages where toponyms are formed with the help of affixes, but
it is not always suitable for the Turkic languages where toponyms are mostly
formed by composition of two roots.
There is no common opinion in the study and stratigraphy of the
Turkic languages. Thus, Y.Koishibayev divides toponyms of Kazakhstan into five groups, A.Abdrakhmanov singles out two big language layers.
In research works there are several groups mentioned:
1. Ancient Turkic; 2. Ogyz-kipchak; 3. Foreign; 4. New. The groups vary depending on peculiarities of
toponyms of each region of the republic. In the general Turkic toponymy,
including the Kazakh toponymy, it is reasonable to distinguish three groups: 1.
Of undetermined origin; 2. Ancient Turkic; 3. Foreign (3,
K.M. Mussayev’s classification can be modified in the following way:
1. The ancient group; 2. The foreign group; 3. The new group. This is
convenient for studying common language groups by subgroups, taking into
consideration peculiarities of each region. For example, the group of ancient
toponyms can be divided into: а) ancient Turkic; б) a group of languages of Altaic origin and etc.; the group of
foreign words can be divided into subgroups by the historical peculiarities of
the region. Thus, it is not necessary to divide language groups of East Kazakhstan into Ural-Altaic and Arabian-Persian. Toponymy of this region is comprised
by Mongolian and Russian language layers; among closely related languages there
are elements of the East Kipchak languages.
South Altai is the region on the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia, China, and Mongolia. This is a sacred place where all Turkic speaking peoples
with a very rich history came from. Such historical and geographical conditions
could not but leave the mark in the toponymy of the region.
Dialectologist Z. Bolatov believed that in East Kazakhstan, which is
separated from other places by the Irtysh River, people speak Kazakh which is
quite different from the Kazakh language spoken in other places. But the result
of a research showed that it is not actually so, because Kazakhs started
returning to East Kazakhstan after downfall of Dzungaria, i.e. in 1755-1788.
Naimans and Kereys who were deprived of their historical homeland due to
expansionist policy of Genghis Khan and dzungars, returned to their homelands
after the laps of five centuries. During all this time they lived among Kazakhs
in Ulytau, Syr Darya, Saryarka. Thus, if certain language peculiarities did
exist, they smoothed away during these five centuries. The fact that Mongols
and Mongolian speaking tribes of Dzungaria translated toponymical names of the
region into their language is a natural phenomenon. For example Lake Beyneteniz (see-like) or just teniz turned into Zayssannor, and Barkytbel Mountain turned into Tarbagatay.
Kazakhs returning to their lands changed the geographic names, but
some of the Mongolian toponyms were assimilated. It is at that time when,
following Kazakhs, Russian people started arriving at Altai which previously
was not possible due to presence of Dzungars in the region.
The Kazakhs settled at nice pastures located on the windy
territories with little snow south of the Bukhtarma River. At the right bank of
the Bukhtarma River which had been deserted due its worthlessness as a pasture,
there started to appear Russian villages and khutors; Russian migrants were
given a name of “masons” or “Poles”. A. Printtsa, who studied their life,
mentions that among those Russians there were old believers, soldiers, people
who were trying to escape hard work at a factory, criminals, exiles,
schismatics, who were persecuted due to their religious views. /4.9/. N.V. Alekseyenko, the researcher of the demography of East Kazakhstan, wrote: “…these fugitives started to arrive since 1760” /5.31/. mostly Russian migrants started to arrive in large quantities
Such migration of the population in XVII-XIX centuries could not but
influence the toponymy of South Altai.
1. Ancient layer (substratum)
Toponyms of any region are developed on the basis of one or several
languages and undergo historical and linguistic changes. For correct
determination of linguistic stratigraphy in a diachronic analysis of the
regional toponymy it is necessary to ground the research, first of all, on the
history and then on the etymology of the toponym.
Substratum toponyms include in most cases names of unclear semantics
and unproved etymology. Thorough research may prove them to belong to the
Turkic language, to the Turkic-Mongolian language community, to the Altai
epoch, and in some cases to the group of Nostratic languages.
A. Abdrakhmanov ascribes one of such disputable groups of toponyms
to the Altai period, but warns about the conditionality of such classification
/6.14/. this group of geographical names of East Kazakhstan includes Altai,
Arkat, Burkat, Bakanas, Yertis, Zerendi, Katonkaragai, Kokidaba, Kalba,
Even if we take into account the fact that all abovementioned names
refer to the Altai period because they have ancient roots or relict affixes,
multiple proofs are still needed, since the very notion of “the Altai period”
is yet a hypothesis. Scientists G. Ramstedt, N. Poppe, V. Kotvich and others
who offered “the Altai hypothesis” based on the commonality of vocabulary,
phonetic and morphological peculiarities (vocalic harmony, agglutination) of
the words of Turkic, Mongolian, Tungus languages. Some specialists in Turkic
philology (A. Shcherbak, O. Sunik and other) deny the Altai hypothesis, saying
that these languages do not have common important words and related names. In
their opinion Altai languages are not related; they blended as a result of
coexistence on the same territory for many centuries.
As a result of many years of research of Turkic and Tungus languages
using the method of comparative historical analysis G. Ramstedt laid the
foundations of Altaistics (the science studying Altai). Later he proved that
the Korean language is also genetically related to these languages.
E.V. Sevortyan proves that Turkic-Mongolian languages are related
and 10% of word stems in Tungus languages coincide with Turkic words /7.97/.
V.I. Tsintsius who used comparative historical analysis in his study
of Tungus languages, B. Bazylkhan, who compared grammar structures of
Kazakh-Mongolian languages, and other scientists have no doubts about Altai
languages being related. For example, V.I. Tsintsius, analyzing a Tungus word kalzanu meaning “badger”, compared Tungus kalzanu, Mongolian khalzan, ancient
Turkic kalga/kaska and found out that the three words are used in the
meaning of “naked”, “bare”, “bare ground” or “marked head”. The reason for that
is a white band on the badger’s head. In Kazakh the word for badger – “borsykh”
– is connected with its unpleasant smell. In such a way V.I. Tsintsius compared
many similar words in Tungus, Mongolian and Turkic languages /8.82/.
Following the scientists who stick to the Altai hypothesis we
decided to start the analysis of gathered material with the Turkic layer. The
main reason for that is the difficulty of determining the age of the names and
the fact that the Altai period dates back to quite an ancient time (8-6
millenniums back). Use of retrospective analysis (from new to old) in revealing the etymology of a toponym is proved to be effective. It is very interesting when a name referred to the Turkic period
gets a wider interpretation from the point of view of Turkic-Mongolian
languages, the Altai period or foreign languages. However, it is a difficult
process and requires profound versatile evidence. For example, from the
etymological point of view some geographical names get a new meaning when considered
in comparison with related Altai languages and foreign languages. Thus, a
geographical term bas meaning “head”, i.e.e. “mountain top”, “uplands of
the river” and so on can be found in all Turkic languages. In Ramstedt’s
opinion Evenki bastan - “the first”, “introduction”; Nanai balsa – “face”,
“head” (ТМС.I.76), and also mari – “head” in
Korean are close to Turkic bas – “head”. V.M. Illich-Svitych writes that
many Indo-European and Dravidian languages have the variant of the word bas: mel «mountain», mas «mountain», mare «hill», mash «hill, mound» (9, 51).
Despite of the fact that toponyms with the elements of the Mongolian
language are referred to as belonging to the foreign layer, toponyms of
Turkic-Mongolian languages are treated as “common names” or the names of
“Turkic-Mongolian community”. We do not have enough linguistic evidence to
single them out into a separate group (of the Altai period, of the
Turkic-Mongolian community period). We can only approximately define the
language the words came from and the period when they were coined. A.P. Dulzon
considering the Ket variants of formants ses, sas, sys, ash, occurring
in names of many rivers, believes that such hydronyms came from the Ket
language to the Turkic and then to the Russian languages (10, 3-9). Reminding that names of the rivers with formants ses,
sash, ash are common for all Turkic-speaking territories, K.M. Mussayev
gives an opposite opinion: “In this case Turkic languages do not perform the
function of a mediator (from Ket to Russian), but that of a source for a
geographical name” (3, 197).
It is a proved fact in linguistics that a special role in the
spreading of a language is played by the size of the territory and the number
of people speaking this language. Among the Altai languages the leading
position belongs to the Turkic people. Consequently we can assume that Turkic
made a huge impact on Ket, Mongolian and Samoyedic languages.
The Kazakh language belongs to the central Kipchak group of Turkic
languages, that is why speaking about Kazakh toponyms it is justified to refer
to them as Turkic toponyms or Turkic names. It is true to say
that, if we do not take into account phonetic distinctions, a certain part of
the vocabulary of the Turkic languages including the geographical names shows
certain similarities. Comparing Turkic languages is of great significance for
revealing the semantics of substratum toponyms. For example, O.T. Molchanova, who studied toponymy of Gorno-Altai
region of Russia bordering on the South Altai, mentions that toponyms of that
region cannot always reveal their meaning with the help of the Altai language,
some of them can be studied with the help of ancient Turkic language, the other
is connected with Kirghis, Kazakh, Khakass, Shor, Tuvinian languages /11.5/.
Rock inscriptions in ancient Turkic and M. Kashgary dictionary give enough information about the linguistic system of that period and indicate the way of analysis of ancient geographical names. They provide us with the information that the first ancient roots were in the form of an open syllable, followed by syncretic (homonym) roots in the form of verbal names, and finally by affixation word building. For example, orographical term tau “mountain” which is considered to be the root originates in the ancient roots та/тө (ta/toe)
which means “height”. It formed the derivative appellatives tau, tobe,
tompeshik, dones (mountain, hill, elevation, mound respectively).
Analysis of some ancient names such as Muztag, Khantag,
Baitag makes it possible to assume that the term tau “mountain”
sounded as tag. Studying ancient Turkic literary texts, for example M. Kashgari
dictionary, confirms the idea of root alteration: йайлаг-жайлаг-жайлау (yaylag – zhaylag - zhaylau); кышлаг – кыстаг - қыстау (kyshlag –
kystag - khystau) “winter cabin”. Such examples are numerous (12, 19).
The reason that this article does not consider a group of “Kazakh oronyms” is in the fact that Kazakh toponyms belong to the Turkic layer of the language an there is no necessity to analyze Kazakh
geographical names with clear semantics from the point of view of their
etymology. That is why we attribute geographical names with unclear semantics
or having ancient formants to this layer.
Altybaity is a zhailau (pasture) in Markakol region. To determine the etymology of the word we need to single out the formant –ty in its structure. G. Konkashbayev believes that formant ty/ti in the structure of such geographical names as Almaty “rich in apples”, Arshaty “rich in juniper” and others is nothing else as the suffix of relative adjectives ly/li which does not conform to the law of
vocalic harmony (13, 15). This opinion is supported by S. Amanzholov, T. Nomikhanov, A. Abdrakhmanov. Y. Koishibayev believes that ty is a modifiedform of the geographical term tu/ty “tau - mountain”: Almaty = alma + tau; Arshaty + arsha + tau and other (14,
Both of these contradicting opinions
deserve attention. According to the first opinion, if Almaty < Almaly,
Arshaty < Arshaly, then to which of them we should refer oronyms
of the South Altai Akty, Altybaity, Kosnarty? Following the first
opinion Акты – «ағы мол» (Akty – “aghy mol”), meaning “having
much white color”, Altybaity – “rich in Altybai”, Kosnarty – “rich
in Kosnar”. In the second case formant –ty means “tau-mountain” then Ақты/ Ақтау (Akty/ Aktau) (white mountain), Алтыбайты/ Алтабайтау (Altybaity/ Altybaitau), Коснарты/ Коснартау (Kosnarty/
kosnartau) become synonyms. Similar geographic
names can be found in the Altai language: Baitu (Baity) – Baitau (rich
mountain), Tuuratu (turaty) – Ken tau (wide mountain) (11, 146, 139). In Turkic languages there is a
possible shortening tau> tuu> tu> ty, Altaic tu in the
Kazakh language sounds as –ty: Baitau > Baity. The geographical term of the modern Yakut language tya “forest covered mountain” proves the existence of the appellative –ty with the meaning of “mountain”.
In the Kazakh toponymy we often find names with the affix –ty which means existence or abundance. In the South Altai we simultaneously come across the names Karagandy (winter cabin, Katonkaragai region) and Karaganty (mountain, uplands of the Black Irtysh River).
Thus, if a word-forming suffix –ty means existence or abundance in something (Kairakty, Sharbakty, Sogeti, Temirti and others), performs the function of a suffix of an adjective, describes appearance or relief of an object, then it is an ancient Turkic variant of the appellative “tau
- mountain” (Akty, Altybaity, Kosnarty and others).
2. Foreign layer
In linguistics there is a term “a loan word”. Dictionaries give the
following definition for this term: “words, word combinations, and
word-building affixes that come from other languages” (15, 124).
Foreign layer of the Kazakh language includes Arabic, Iranian,
Mongolian and Russian words (16, 88).
The Kazakh toponymy is one of the structural parts of vocabulary, that is why
it also contains foreign words. the fact that these four language layers are
unequally spread in the toponymy can be seen in each region. For example in the
toponymy of East Kazakhstan Arabian and Iranian words cannot be singled out in
a separate layer. An orographic term dara which some linguists consider
to be of Iranian-Tajik origin, can be viewed as a Kazakh word meaning a
solitary mountain or the vicinity of a mountain where a solitary man resides.
For example: Мәкиле дарасы (Moekile darassy), Бапы дарасы (Bapy darassy), Шолақдара (Sholakhdara), Қарабие дарасы (Kharabiye darassy) – are the names of the mountains located separately, outside the
mountain ranges. Even if the word dara is of Iranian origin together
with its variants derel, darby cannot form a separate language layer.
There is no evidence that Iranian-Persian people ever lived in the Altai
region. Some names could be brought by Naiman people, who migrated back from
Ulytau and Sir Darya to their historical homeland 250-300 years ago.
K. Konkabayev, who studied the toponymy of South Kirghizia, points
out that the Iranian language layer can be found in the vicinity of Osh, and becomes sparse farther to the North (17, 10). In the South of Kazakhstan there prevail toponyms of Arabian,
Persian, Sogdian and Tajik languages; in the North there are many Russian
toponyms, in the East – Mongolian.
Among the world languages which are directly or indirectly connected
with Turkic languages a significant role is played by Mongolian and Russian languages.
There are many research works devoted to Turkic-Slavic and Turkic-Mongolian
language relations. These works include studies of Turkic-Mongolian languages
from the point of view of the Altai theory. Speaking about inter-language
relations, which, first of all, are reflected in the vocabulary we need to
mention that they are found in onomastics as an integral part of vocabulary.
The most dynamic among all onomastic groups is anthroponymy, while toponymy is
characterized by endurance and stability. That is why toponyms are often used
as examples in the research of a foreign language layer.
In the course of time, functioning in the dominant language, foreign
names go through the process of assimilation and undergo phonetic changes.
Thus, the Kazakh language has a power to “digest” words, and, like other
languages of Altai origin, it subordinates words belonging to other type
languages to its norms. For example: Kazakh Сөгір (Soegir) – Russian Согра (Sogra), Kazakh Мақсым (Makhsym) – Russian Максим (Maksim), Kazakh Матабай (Matabai) – Russian Матвей (Matvei), Kazakh Боласа (Bolassa) – Russian Полоса (Polossa), Kazakh Бекет (Beket) –
Russian Пикет (Piket) and
others. This fact indicates the following peculiarities of
the system of the Kazakh language:
The effect of vocalic harmony (Russian Согра
(Sogra) – Kazakh Сөгүр (Soegir));
- Alteration of vowels and consonants (Russian Матвей (Matvei) – Kazakh Матабай (Matabai));
- Occurrence of voiced consonants in the beginning of the word частота (Russian Полоса (Polossa) – Kazakh Боласа (Bolassa), Russian Пикет (Piket) – Kazakh Беккет
(Bitet)) and others.
Identification of such peculiarities in the structure of toponyms is
realized on the basis of etymological research. B.A. Serebrennikov believes
that etymology of toponyms should be studied in isolation from common names or
any words at all. He says that “toponyms, although they comprise quite a big
layer in the language, are created and developed in their own way” (18, 29).
The main peculiarity of toponyms as opposed to anthroponyms and
appellatives is a direct connection of signification and denotation. Some
toponyms directly describe the object they name. That is why when performing
the etymological analysis we have to consider physical-geographical
characteristics of the names, i.e. ethnic-linguistic conditions or motivation
of a geographical name.
A.P. Dulzon who studied etymology of Siberian toponyms says that
most of the Turkic geographical names are of the Ket origin (10, 4). For example, he believes that the
second part of the hydronym Yertis (Irtysh) tsis (Irtsis) appeared in the language in the ancient times, and is an appellative “river” of
the Ket language. This proposition of A.P. Dulzon lacks two pieces of
1. Did the Ket tribes live on the territory of Kazakhstan?
2. What was the meaning of the first part of the toponym er/ ir in the Ket language?
We cannot treat the hydronym Irtysh as of the Ket
origin without answering these two questions.
Many researchers do not pay enough attention to these questions and
believe that the etymology is connected with the popular opinion of M.
Kashgari: Irtysh (Ertishmak) – “let’s see who will cross it
faster”, but this is almost the only evidence which can be used in determining
etymology of the word. Let us consider this opinion from the extra-linguistic
and linguistic points of view:
1) from the extra-linguistic (motivational) point of view the first
problem of the river which heads in the mountains and flows across the
continent is the ford (oetkel). It was very difficult to cross a high
water river of a considerable width (120-150 m) riding a horse. It is no accident that “The Mongols Chronicles” says that defeated by Genghis Khan troops of
Kushilik sultan drowned in the Irtysh river (19, 68).
2) when performing etymological analysis it is important to take
into consideration the explanation given in M. Kashgari’s dictionary: Ertishti
– crossed competing each other, crossed on a bet; Yertushir – yertushmek
– a place which can be crossed on a bet; wanted to cross on a bet (12, 273). Yertti
– crossed; swam across. Yerter – yertmek: will go (lead) – will not
go (lead) (12, 565).
This examples demonstrate that in the 11th century the
Turkic verb “yert” (“lead”) was used in the meaning of “oet” (“cross”). Irtysh in the old Renat’s map and in the Schmid’s dictionary is spelt as
Erzizch, in the encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron as Erchis /Irtsis, in
the Mongolian language - Irtsis, in Chinese – Ertszis (20, 53).
In all names the second part of the word has an affix tsysh/chis/tsis/czis, which
corresponds to and is pronounced as the suffix of a relative adjective -syz,
-siz. If we accept the explanation that the verb өт (oet), which
is given in M. Kashgari as ерт (yert) has a meaning “crossing, cross by
swimming”, then the form Yert + siz – “oetkelsiz” (“without crossing”)
means a river which is difficult to cross.
the ancient Turkic written works suffix –syz/ -siz is quite productive: тонсыз
(tonsyz) “without a fur coat”; йолсыз (yolsyz) “trackless”; білігсіз
(biligsiz) “having no education, knowledge” and others (21, 80).
Thus proper name Yertsiz > Yertis underwent
phonetic changes in the course of history which proves that this hydronym was
created on a basis of the Turkic language, not Ket, Mongolian or Chinese.
Study of the South Altai oronyms allows to single out two foreign
layers in the language – Mongolian and Russian. The fact that
despite Kazakhstan and China are neighboring countries but there are no Chinese
toponyms in the Kazakh language testifies to the following: first, that Chinese
and Turkic languages are not related; second, Chinese people never lived on the
Altai territories. Chinese names seldom occur on territories in the basin of
the Black Irtysh river up to the Great Chinese Wall, to say nothing of Kazakhstan.
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011