Altaic ăltā´ĭk [key], subfamily of the Ural-Altaic family of languages (see Uralic and Altaic languages). Some scholars still consider Altaic an independent linguistic family. Spoken by over 130 million people, who occupy parts of a territory that stretches from E Europe across the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to the Pacific Ocean, the Altaic languages fall into three subdivisions: Turkic, Mongolian (see Mongolian languages), and Tungusic. The Tungusic subdivision, by far the smallest, today has only a few thousand speakers. It includes Manchu, spoken in various parts of Manchuria, and Tungus, native to E Siberia. Like the Uralic languages, the Altaic tongues are characterized by agglutination and vowel harmony. The former involves using suffix upon suffix to express grammatical relationships and meanings. Suffixes are also employed to form derived words. With vowel harmony, the vowel in a suffix corresponds to the vowel of the root to which the suffix is added. The Altaic languages lack grammatical gender.
See N. Poppe, Introduction to Altaic Linguistics (1965).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Language and Linguistics