World's roots in AltaI titles

We will tell you how to understand what the names of rivers, mountains, villages and other places mean. Altai roots in the names.
If you decide to get to the legendary Ukok plateau, you will come across the village Belyashi in the Kosh-Agach district. At first glance it is an alien title in the southern Altai territories – a delicious pastry-like name which sounds like russian. The village also has a second name, which is resembles much something local – Jazator. In fact, both of them have Altai roots. The ancient Jazator – in honor of the river-the right bank influx of the rapid Argut river, which can be translated from the Altai dialects as «a spacious valley along the upper reaches». Belyashi is a little more complicated, but let's try to understand.
History and culture

Petr Dikarev

Publicatoion date:
February 15, 2021
Altai language family
First, before you pick up basic vocabulary that will help you to understand the meaning of the titles of the Altai rivers, mountains, lakes, villages, canyons and other places that you travel to, we will indicate where it all came from. What exactly is the Altai language family?

Born in the ancient times, a language, along with its native speakers, goes through a complex process of development, during which it intermingles with neighboring dialects, is enriched and influenced from the outside and it affects other people vocabulary, phonetics, spelling and syntax. Altaic is a special language that defines many peoples who are a part of the vast Altaic language family. It is not smaller than any other macrofamilies – such as indo-european, afrasian, uralic, sino-tibetan, or austronesian.

Altay language family combines Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungus-Manchu languages. Modern linguistics also includes Korean and Japanese-Ryukyuan languages in this family. The term "Altai" clearly indicates its motherland. There are two basic theories in modern altaistics. The first is based on the genetic relationship of the Altaic languages. According to second theory, different languages are similar as a result of centuries of cultural interaction.

The most justified hypothesis in altaistics was claimed by linguist Baskakov. According to it, the Altaic languages were initially divided into three main branches:
  • Turkic-Mongolian;
  • Tungus-Manchu;
  • Japanese-Korean.
In the course the further development of the Turkic-Mongolian branch it split into:
  • Turkic with Western and Eastern Hunnish;
  • Mongolian units with Oirat-Kalmyk, Khalkha, Buryat and Mongolian.

The Tungus-Manchu branch was divided into:
  • Tunguska with Evenki and Nanai-gold languages;
  • Manchu, which is divided into Manchu and Jurchen speech.

And the Japanese-Korean branch, respectively, gave rise to:
  • Japanese;
  • Ryukyuan;
  • Korean.

For thousands of years, being at the intersection of languages and cultures, tribes and peoples, the Mountain Altai appears to be a large-scale ethnic, linguistic and confessional mosaics. Topographical titles are an example of this. Local titles began to be recorded in writing in the 18th century. Until then, nomadic peoples passed them spoken. Naturally, something was forgotten and reinterpreted, especially borrowed from the previous cultures – new tribes selected their explanations for lost meanings. Therefore, many ancient place names are so distorted that it is hardly possible to give them the only correct interpretation now. But there are a number of common Turk words in the titles of Mountain Altai that will help you to understand why this or that is called that way and not otherwise.
The root «bel» (sometimes-beli) with the meaning "waist" in the toponyms of the Mountain Altai serves as a designation for the saddle on the mountain range. For example, the confluence of the Ak-Alakha and Jazator rivers, where Argut rises, is called Bel-Ajy – literally «saddle pass». It turned into «belyashi» in the XVIII century, when workers who fled from mining factories settled down there. The Russian-speaking settlers' village did not last long – soon they went to the upper reaches of Katun. But the Russian-like pronunciation of the Turc toponym-Belyashi instead of Bel-Ajy already took a hold.

Airy – the word is often found on the map of the republic in this form, and as Airyk with the diminutive suffix – airychak. It means an arm of a river or a place where one riverbed separates from the other.

The word has other similar meanings: the Telengites of Aira – wooden three-pronged pitchforks. The Kazakhs, Khakas, Karachay and Balkars of Ayra it means a fork, crossroad, or meander; the Tyvins – a branch; and the Uighurs – pitchforks, slingshots, and similar tools. In the Altai Mountains, it can also be used as a part of the name of a valley, river, or mountain, meaning any branch-As-Aira, Kaya-Aira, and so on. As an element of the title of reservoirs, Ayra always means a channel, a watershed, or a small stream.
Color adjectives are common in local titles, such as Ak. As a rule, it is adjacent to the noun – Ak-boom, Ak-Korum, Ak-Tuu, Ak-Tash, and so on. In the Altai language, Ak has a whole palette of meanings:

  • white; light; gray; pure in the meaning of spotless and innocent;
  • treeless, open - if we are talking about the area;
  • good, truthful and fair-if we are talking about a person;
  • rhere is another meaning of the word "Ak" and its derivative Agyn – it is to flow, or leak.
In addition, Ak can also mean a plain clamped between mountain slopes.

Thus, in Russian sources, the Altaians in the XVIII century were called Ak-Telengetes – that is, nomads of the prairies.

The other meanings of Ak:

  • If we are talking about a river, lake or waterfall, then Ak will mean muddy-white, glacial, clean, fresh, flowing – like Ak-airy, Ak-Baraan-Suu, Ak-Kem, Ak-Kool, and others.
  • In relation to the mountains, Ak has a meaning-white, snowy, high- snow-covered mountain peak, naked, devoid of any flora – these are Ak-Bash, Ak-Bert, Ak-Biyik. At the same time, Ak-Bert has snow-capped peaks, and Ak-boom is made of white limestone.

Kara and kyzyl
In the composition of Altaic titles, adjectives play an important role:
  • Kara – black;
  • Kyzyl – red, brown, ruddy, and red.

For example: Kara-Kaya (black rock), Kara-Tash (dark, forested rocky mountain or hill), Kara-Oyk (dark hollow or valley); Kyzyl-Achyk (red, open place), Kyzyl-Jar (red steep coast).

The word Kara has many allegorical meanings:
  • springy, underground water-fed (in the context of the water element. For example, Karasu-spring water – it turns out, water from the ground. In the titles of rivers, lakes Kara-Airy, Kara-Kool, Kara-Jaryk, Kara-Kan, Kara-Kem and similar it is understood as abundant, spring-fed groundwater.);
  • devoid of the light, immersed in the darkness;
  • primeval (about the forest);
  • dark (about a person) ominous (about the spirit);
  • some dangerous places received the title Kara as an emotional assessment - bad, unpleasant sad, joyless, ill-fated;
  • in relation to the relief, the word Kara has such meanings – deserted, devoid of heights or densely covered with black taiga.
Boom (Bo-om)
Bo-om among the Altaians is:
  • a narrow place between a mountain and a river, where a path runs;
  • a rocky cliff, a steep coast;
  • a road that runs along a slope or sheer rock.

But mostly «bo-oms» mean high cliffs, a promontory protruding into the river and making it difficult to move along the coast.
    Jaryk has a general Turk meaning – a crack in the ground, a gorge, a cleft, something split.
      Jol means the road, track, way. And in the form of the adjective Jol, combined with the affix – du, suggests that a way is paved there. For example, Aldo-Karasu (spring or river source to which the trail leads) or Joldu-Kat (terrace road).

        Kaya means a separate rock or cliff.

          Kechu, as in the titles of Kechu- Oozy and Kur-Kechu, indicates a crossing a passage. It has several variants of sound: Kechik, Kechit, Kejik and Kechik.
            The word oos, literally meaning «mouth», occurs in place titles in the form of Oozy. Most often, these are the titles of localities located near the mouth of the river. The russian word «mouth» having the same origin-from the word «mouth/lips» - in our time displaces oozes. For example, Ust-Kan, instead of Kan-Oozy.
              Altaic Ӧzӧk has many meanings associated with a certain cavity or its contents
              • insides;
              • womb;
              • lowland;
              • valley;
              • core;
              • rod;
              • stem.

              So Kyzyl- Ӧzӧk translates as red valley.
                «Tas» is smooth, naked, hairless, bald. This is the title given to a treeless, non-rocky exaltation, composed mainly of sandstone and covered with small grass, which makes it seem devoid of flora from a distance.
                  Altaians clearly distinguish between the concepts of Tas and Tash. The latter means a mountain or hill of solid rock that protrudes to the surface. So the stone – Tash seems to appear in the titles of Ak-Tash, Boro-Tash, and similar ones.

                  Try to parse the name of the place you are going to visit, and have a good trip!
                    История Горного Алтая:
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