Altaic languages

Altaic (/ælˈteɪ.ɪk/) is a hypothetical language family that was once proposed to include the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic language families; and possibly also the Japonic and Koreanic families, and the Ainu language. Speakers of those languages are currently scattered over most of Asia north of 35 °N and in some eastern parts of Europe, extending in longitude from Turkey to Japan. The group is named after the Altai mountain range in the center of Asia. The Altaic family was first proposed in the 18th century. It was widely accepted until the 1960s, and is still listed in many encyclopedias and handbooks. However, in recent decades the proposal has been rejected by many comparative linguists, after supposed cognates were found not to be valid, and Turkic and Mongolic languages were found to be converging rather than diverging over the centuries. Opponents of the theory proposed that the similarities are due to mutual linguistic influences between the groups concerned. The original hypothesis unified only the Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic groups. Later proposals to include the Korean and Japanese languages into a "Macro-Altaic" family have always been controversial. (The original proposal was sometimes called "Micro-Altaic" by retronymy.) Most proponents of Altaic continue to support the inclusion of Korean. A common ancestral Proto-Altaic language for the "Macro" family has been tentatively reconstructed by Sergei Starostin and others. Micro-Altaic includes about 66 living languages, to which Macro-Altaic would add Korean, Japanese and the Ryukyuan languages, for a total of 74 (depending on what is considered a language and what is considered a dialect). These numbers do not include earlier states of languages, such as Middle Mongol, Old Korean or Old Japanese.


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