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Silk Road Languages

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kanewai
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 Message 1 of 13
30 July 2014 at 9:47pm | IP Logged 
Does anyone have any direct experience with languages in the Caucasus and Central Asia?

One of my bucket-list trips is to travel the old Silk Road, and it's looking like I can
actually pull it off in 2016 - or at least travel sections of it, given the current
wars, closed borders, and problems with Americans getting visas. So: Georgia, maybe
Armenia, Kazakhstan (Almaty region), Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

I'm interested in hearing about anyone's impressions or experiences, but the main
questions for me are: How far will Turkish get you with Uzbek, Kirghiz, and
Kazakh
; and How much Russian is still used? (and: Is it proper Russian, or
Russian as a second language?)

I read a fair amount of travel blogs, as well as the discussions on other language
forums, but there's a lot of conflicting information there. Such as:

1. Uzbek and Turkish are easily mutually intelligible.
2. Uzbek and Turkish only have limited mutual intelligibility
3. Russian is the main second language.
4. Russian used to the main second language but it's being replaced by English.

and so on.



Edited by kanewai on 31 July 2014 at 2:31am

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hrhenry
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 Message 2 of 13
31 July 2014 at 12:19am | IP Logged 
kanewai wrote:

1. Uzbek and Turkish are easily mutually intelligible.
2. Uzbek and Turkish only have limited mutual intelligibility

I'm at a B2 level of standard, Istanbul dialect Turkish. I'd have to say that mutual intelligibility between Uzbek and Turkish is pretty poor for me. It's very difficult for me to follow spoken Uzbek.

But...

Once I learned some basic spelling changes (they seem to be fairly consistent), I found I could read a decent amount of Uzbek, as long as it was written in Latin alphabet. How's your Cyrillic? From what I understand, you'll find just as much written in either alphabet.

R.
==
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Serpent
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 Message 3 of 13
31 July 2014 at 12:40am | IP Logged 
My guess would be that learning Cyrillics is a useful time investment for such a trip, regardless of your actual language skills.
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Luso
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 Message 4 of 13
31 July 2014 at 1:41am | IP Logged 
Nice plan. I've made a few trips in the area and maybe things are not as difficult as it seems, even for an American. I met a guy in Ulaanbaatar that had gotten there after having crossed Iran, Pakistan and (the troubled Western parts of) China. And he was American. Then again, he seemed more surprised than the rest of us at having gotten there with little trouble, so perhaps it's not that easy.

From my experience in Siberia with people from countries of the former Soviet Union (one was a Tajik, the others I don't even know), Russian helps a lot. Of course, I was in Russia, but there's still a lot of influence in other countries of the region. Maybe it even qualifies as a lingua franca, but I'm not sure.

I know this may not be of great help, but I guess you won't find a lot of people that have been there in the forum. Not in this lethargic summer, at least. Every little bit helps.

All I can say is that, when I saw your thread, it was like "wow!": exotic languages and real travel. Now we're talking! And the Silk Road? I've already fulfilled some far-fetched Central Asian wishes, but not that one. And it is one of the best.

I'll keep an eye on this thread, that's for sure. Good luck, kanewai.

EDIT: I found a page called Silk Road travel: should I study Russian or Turkish (or Persian)?. That should help you.

Edited by Luso on 31 July 2014 at 3:41am

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Chung
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 Message 5 of 13
31 July 2014 at 2:50am | IP Logged 
Paging daristani and solka

In the meantime, I'll drop off a couple of points.

1) Check out the following links (you may have already done this, though)

- Russian in Central Asia
- Turkish family of languages (the whole thread is pretty good starting off with some comments about false friends between Turkish, Azeri and Uzbek before moving to a slightly heated discussion on the degree of intra-Turkic intelligibility)
- Turkic Profile (scroll down to the quoted comments by BartoG and solka)
- How mutually intelligible are the Turkic languages? (discussion on metafilter)

2) I liken the experience of learning Turkic languages as a whole to what I've experienced when moving through Slavonic. If you're fairly comfortable with one of the languages, the others are fairly easy to pick up and you'll often be hit by striking similarities that'll help with remembering things, as well as the real oddities and false friends. However this definitely doesn't mean that you can naively think that the people you encounter in Central Asia will be able to understand readily and regularly whatever Turkish you utter.

On a related note, it might be useful to tease out a few rules of thumb (especially sound changes) that help you "convert" Turkish stuff that you know with what you'd encounter in other Turkic languages. The approach could be useful for you to raise the chances of you starting to get the gist of something or even making an educated guess at the meaning of some sign or public notice (once you've also become sufficiently familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet)

Off the top of my head, here are a couple of "rules of thumb" that have already jumped out at me after having just browsed the Peace Corps' guides/phrasebooks for Kazakh, Turkmen and Uzbek

a) A lot of words in Turkish, Azeri and Turkmen that begin with g tend to match words in begin with k in other Turkic languages if these words have been traced to a common root that also began with k

e.g.

göl "lake" (Tk) ~ көл (~ /köl/) (Kazakh, Kyrgyz), ko'l (Uzbek)
gün "sun, day" (Tk) ~ күн (~ /kün/) (Kazakh, Kyrgyz), kun (Uzbek)

b) Words that begin with d in Turkish tend to correspond to cognates in other Turkic languages that begin with t (but the reverse isn't always true!)

e.g.

dolu "full" (Tk) ~ толу (~ /tolu/) (Kazakh), toʻla (Uzbek)
düz "flat, smooth" (Tk) ~ түзу (~ /tüzü/) (Kazakh)

BUT

taş "stone" (Tk) ~ таш (~ /tash/) (Kyrgyz), tosh (Uzbek)

c) Words that begin with y in Turkish or Uzbek tend have cognates in Kazakh and Kyrgyz that begin with ж (sounds a lot like -s- in pleasure)

e.g.

yakın "near" (Tk), yaqin (Uz) ~ жакын (~ /zhakïn/) (Kyrgyz)
yeni "new" (Tk), yangi (Uz) ~ жаңа (~ /zhanga/) (Kazakh)
yol "road, etc." (Tk), yo'l (Uz) ~ жол (~ /zhol/) (Kazakh, Kyrgyz)

d) Words that begin with b in Turkish sometimes have cognates that start with m in other Turkic languages (there must be a rule for this but I can't quite tease it out since it doesn't happen everywhere)

e.g.

ben "I" (Tk) ~ мен (~ /men/) (Kazakh, Kyrgyz), men (Uzbek)
burun "nose" (Tk, Uzbek) ~ мурун (~ /murun/) (Kyrgyz)
buz "ice" (Tk) ~ муз (~ /muz/) (Kyrgyz), muz (Uzbek)

BUT

baş "head" (Tk) ~ бас (~ /bas/ (Kazakh), bosh (Uzbek)
bir "one" (Tk) ~ бир (~ /bir/) (Kyrgyz), bir (Uzbek)
bulut "cloud" (Tk) ~ булут (~ /bulut/) (Kyrgyz), bulut (Uzbek)
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kanewai
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 Message 6 of 13
31 July 2014 at 4:07am | IP Logged 
Interesting points.

I saw some of the linked pages, but not all. My favorite quote from the twitter
discussion:

Uzbeks and others claim they understand Turkish, but no one understood me when I
tried speaking Turkish


I actually found this in southeastern Turkey too ... I thought my Turkish was
pretty good, and got along alright in the west, but it got more challenging the further
east I went.

I learned to transition between dialects / languages in Micronesia, but I knew my base
language pretty well. I don't think my Turkish will ever be at the same level.

And I pretty much figured that I'd be adding Russian to my list some day. Guess that
day is approaching.
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vonPeterhof
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 Message 7 of 13
31 July 2014 at 8:04am | IP Logged 
I don't have much experience with intra-Turkic mutual intelligibility, but I can say a few things about Russian in
the former Soviet states. Russian as a proper native language is definitely most common in the Almaty area.
In fact if you're only going to visit that part of Kazakhstan it probably doesn't make sense to learn Kazakh
beyond a few basic greetings. However, if you want to visit places with some architecture left over from the
age of the Silk Road, like Taraz or Turkistan, Kazakh (and some Uzbek) will come in handy.

From my experience, the situation with the command of the local language is better in Kyrgyzstan, but you
probably won't need much Kyrgyz if you'll be limiting your stay to Bishkek or the area around Issyk Kul (the
lake gets lots of tourists from Almaty, so the local service industry is good at accommodating Russian
speakers). As for the rest of the places, most people you'll encounter won't speak Russian at a native level,
and those of the younger generation might not speak it at any level. Georgia in particular was never heavily
Russified even in the Soviet times, so there English might actually get one further than Russian. There were
three Georgians of my age at the international school in England that I went to, and two of them didn't speak
a word of Russian. The third one, on the other hand, spoke it without a trace of a foreign accent, which,
according to my father, should be impossible for a Georgian unless they grew up in Russia or have a Russian
parent :)

Edited by vonPeterhof on 31 July 2014 at 8:28am

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eyðimörk
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 Message 8 of 13
31 July 2014 at 8:21am | IP Logged 
vonPeterhof wrote:
Georgia in particular was never heavily Russified even in the Soviet times, so there English might actually get one further than Russian. There were
three Georgians of my age at the international school in England that I went to, and two of them didn't speak a word of Russian. The third one, on the other hand, spoke it without a trace of a foreign accent, which, according to my father, should be impossible for a Georgian unless they grew up in Russia or have a Russian parent :)

My experience is limited to spending six weeks in Adjara and two days in T'bilisi in the summer of 2006, but my experience is also quite the opposite. Not counting the wife and step-son of our team leader, who had been living in the UK for ten years, I met three people who spoke some "broken" English. One was a university professor, one was a graduate student, and the third was majoring in English at the local university. The rest of the people I spent a lot of time with were mostly graduate students and professors, and none of them spoke any English. The older ones spoke plenty of Russian, though. The younger ones seemed to mostly speak Russian when cursing at stray dogs.

When I went sight-seeing, as soon as [older] people realised that I didn't understand them, they switched to Russian. I have no idea if it was good Russian, but that's the language little ol' ladies selling Saint George trinkets outside of churches insisted on speaking to me.

As for T'bilisi, I was only out and about amongst people quite briefly, but I met more people who spoke French or German than who spoke English. The only person in T'bilisi that I met who spoke English was a 15 year old boy selling flags at the airport. Since I was in quite a jam upon my arrival and couldn't find a single person to communicate with to get me out of my situation I ended up hiring him for the night to come along everywhere I needed to go and talk to people for me.


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