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The origins of the Turkish runic script

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The term Runes

3. Reasons and purposes for the origin of the Turkish runic script

4. Theories about the origin of the writing and sign system
4.1 The signs of runic writing

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The runic script is the first old Turkish alphabet, or rather the first documented writing system of the Kök Turks. However, there is still an exact determination of the origin of the Turkish runic script (also Kokkisch script, or Orkhon script)1 ) not fully clarified. The reason for this, for example, is that the finds with inscriptions in Turkish runic script were difficult to decipher, as Tryjarski confirms in the following quote. "According to a rather general opinion the main difficulty in deciphering of the most of inscriptions in question consists in their brevity, incompleteness and untidy writing so that they can be interpreted in several ways."2 Often you can hardly tell the direction of writing and most of the inscriptions are very short. However, there are different approaches by some researchers about the origin of the Old Turkish writing system, which I will go into in more detail in my work.

First of all, I will start with the term "runes" and its meaning, as well as its origin. In the following chapter I list some purposes and reasons for the emergence of the new writing system. Then I will go into the possible origins or the possible hypotheses about the roots of the Turkish runic writing by listing the points of view of various researchers, such as Clauson or Tryjarski. In the next chapter I will go into some special features of the writing system, as well as the problem with adopting other writing systems. In addition, I will list some images of the runic signs in order to create an image of the prototypical Old Turkish writing system. In the last chapter I will summarize my work in a conclusion and answer the question of the origin of the Turkish runic writing, even if it is difficult to find a uniform answer to it.

2. The term runes

Wolfgang Krause defines the term Runes like this: “Under Runes the research understands the indigenous characters, which the Germanic tribes used before and partly in addition to the use of the Latin script. "3 This is where the term comes from Runes from the Germanic and initially has no connection with the Turkish runic script. Which is why they are still called Runes are referred to, is due to the "formal similarity"4 the characters of the old Turkish runic script, to the, the Germanic script. However, it should be noted that the designation Turkish runic script was not established until the end of the 19th century, after long discussions about the still unproven origin of the alphabet. Klaus Düwel also confirms: "The so-called [...] Turkish" runes "have nothing in common with the German runes."5 Only “[a] due to the resemblance to the northern european Runes will be Orkhon -Alphabet also as Orkhon runes or Turkish runes designated."6

Gerard Clauson assumes that the writing system of the Turkish runes arose from the templates of other writing systems7, which I'll come back to in Chapter 4.

Before I go into the different approaches to the possible origins of the runes, however, I will first take up some reasons for the emergence of such a new writing system in the following chapter.

3. Reasons and purposes for the origin of the Turkish runic script

There are also different approaches by different researchers when it comes to the possible reasons for the emergence of a new font, although I will only go into two because many overlap or contradict one another. Clauson assumes that the Old Turkish writing system was not created primarily for economic purposes8. The early Turks were a trading nation, but the rulers who controlled this trade were mostly not Turks, but Chinese or Sogds. These had their own writing system and therefore did not need that of the Turks. There was also no dominant religion. Therefore, the writing system did not emerge as a sacred language or script. Consequently, Clauson came to the conclusion that the Turkish runic script was invented for communication and governmental purposes, as can be seen from the following quote: “(…) it was invented on the orders of some Turkish ruler for governmental purposes, and probably more specifically for purposes of communication rather than record. "9 Edward Tryjarski, on the other hand, takes the position that, among other things, religious and economic reasons led to the invention of the new writing system. So he writes in his article Runes and Runelike Scripts of Eurasian Area: "(...) the writing systems were invented not so much for needs of simple members of ethnic groups but for political, religious or commercial puposes of the ruling classes."10 Furthermore, he takes up three types of runes, each of which has its own function: " Stutz runes, business runes " and "Magic runes". With the so-called " Trunks11 is a free, short informational text with no context to be recognized. This is not a formal text. The second type of runes that Tryjarski refers to, the " Business runes "12, provided information about the goods being transported, and possibly included the name of the manufacturer of the goods, as well as the name of the owner, the sender or the address to which the goods are to be transported. Accordingly, such inscriptions with the Turkish runic script served the economy. The " magical runes " on the other hand , served superstition. "(...) Such signs had dominantly a apotropaic function and were placed upon various objects as utensils of finger rings, to prevent evil from a given person or object."13 You should therefore protect yourself from “calamity”. It should be noted, however, that these three types of runes, or their names, are not generally valid and that such an assignment has not yet been fully proven.

4. Theories about the origin of the writing and sign system

As mentioned in the previous chapter, there are several theories about where the first runes were discovered and who created them. Even these have not yet been fully proven. According to Clauson, the oldest discovered inscriptions in Turkish runic script are from the fifth and sixth centuries. Even according to the text Orkhon alphabet the internet resource Ancient writings were "[t] he earliest examples (proto-) Turkish Writing from the 5th century AD [...] in 1970 in a princely grave in Kyrgyzstan at Balykchy near the lake Issyk (Issyk inscription) found."14

But where does the writing system come from? Here, too, different theories prevail, as can be seen from the following quote from Róna-Tas: “[M] ost authors assume that the writing is of foreign origin, and many suppose a Semitic origin. Other authors argue that it is an indigenous invention and suggest that it developed from ancient tamgas, and property signs. "15

There is still the assumption that the Turkish runic writing has its own origin. This hypothesis is also used in the essay The Turkic Runic script: Is he hypothesis of ist indigenous orogon no more viable?16 Listed by Guzev and Kljashtornyj from 1994. Tryjarski quotes Guzev as follows: "(...) believe that the runic alphabet was created by Turks for one of the Turkic languages."17. He claims that there is no evidence that Turkish runic writers rely on "phonological and grammatical theories"18 other languages.

Other researchers say that different writing systems served as a template and that these were supplemented with characters from other writing systems. This theory is advocated by Clauson, for example.


1Ancient writings. Orkhon font., accessed on September 28, 2015.

2 Tryjarski, Edward (2002) Runes and runelike scripts of Eurasian area, Part 1. Archivum Ottomanicum 20, 14.1

3 Krause, Wolfgang (1970): Runes. Berlin: De Gruyter, 9.

4 Krause (1970): 9.

5 Düwel, Klaus (2008): Runic lore. 4th edition. Stuttgart: Metzler, 2.

6Ancient writings. Orkhon font., accessed on September 28, 2015.

7 Clauson, Sir Gerard (1970): The origin of the Turkish “Runic” alphabet. Acta Orientalia 32, 52.

8 Clauson (1970): 52.

9 Clauson (1970): 52-53.

10 Tryjarski (2002): 8.

11 Tryjarski (2002): 12.

12 Tryjarski (2002): 12.

13 Tryjarski (2002): 13.

14Ancient writings. Orkhon font., accessed on September 28, 2015.

15 Róna-Tas, A. (1987): On the development and origin of the east Turkic "Runic" script. Acta Orientalia Academiae

Scientiarum Hungaricae 41, 7-14.

16 Guzev, V.G. & Kljashtornyj, S.G. (1994): The Turkic Runic script: Is the hypothesis of its indigenous origin no more viable? Rozsnik Orientalistyczny 49/2, 83-92.

17 Tryjarski (2002): 27.

18 Tryjarski (2002): 27.

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