This paper is revised from Polat Kaya, “Search For a Probable Linguistic and Cultural Kinship Between the Turkish People of Asia and the Native Peoples of Americas”, Belleten, Cilt: L, Sayi 198, Aralik 1986, Turk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, Ankara. Also catalogued in Canadiana, Canada’s National Bibliography with the same title as above under Comparative Linguistics, 497, P. Kaya, C87-7257-9 MRDS Pt. 1
In early 1980s, out of curiosity, I was wondering about a possible existence of an affinity between Altaic Languages and the native languages spoken in the Americas. So I made a research, (although not as a linguist), with the hope of finding some living words presently used in Turkish and also in the languages of the Native Peoples of Americas. After all thousands of years ago, the ancestors of both the Turks and those of some of the Native Peoples of the American continents shared the same geographic area in Central Asia and Siberia. I wrote a paper about my findings through my research entitled “Probable Existence of a Linguistic and Cultural Kinship Between the Altaic Peoples and the Native Peoples of Americas.” The following is a rearrangement of the original paper.
In my search I used the following facts and/or assumptions:
1a) Turks and their ancestors are Central Asiatic (particularly Altaic) people. The ancestors of Turks have lived in this part of the world (i.e., Central Asia and most parts of Siberia) not only throughout the known history, but most likely for thousands of years before that in the distant past. From Central Asia they have migrated to other parts of the world. At present, many ethnic Turkish people live in Siberia all the way up to the Kara Sea north of Ural Mountains, to East Siberian Sea and to the Bering Straight in the east as well as in Central Asia.
1b) The ancestors of most of the Native Peoples of North, Central and South Americas are known to have migrated from Asia through the Bering Sea many thousands (10000 or more) of years ago.
1c) In view of these facts, it is very likely that in the distant past, the ancestors of some of the Native Peoples of Americas and the ancestors of Turks and other Altaic peoples lived in the same or adjacent geographic regions of Central Asia and/or Siberia. If so, it is again very likely that all these peoples could have been members of the same people or closely related people who spoke the same language or closely related languages. Due to their possible relationship with each other in the distant past, one is inclined to think of probable existence of some cultural and linguistic relationship between these peoples, in spite of the fact that while some members stayed in their homelands in Asia, the others left Asia and went to North America.
1d) All languages are dynamic and subject to change in time. Similarly, a proto-Altaic language spoken by the members of an Altaic community who became separated from each other, in time by thousands of years and in space by thousands of kilometres, would definitely develop independently of each other in a way that when examined at present, they would appear alien to each other. In present times, it would be difficult for people who speak such languages to communicate with each other with the present form of their languages.
1e) However, in spite of this independent development of the languages of the Native Peoples of Americas and the Altaic Peoples, there may still exist in both groups of languages some living words that may be used to express the same meaning in the same way as before. There should still be some living words as “linguistic artifacts” which are reminiscence of the language that these ancient people spoke while they were all living in Asia.
1f) In any language, the first two words that a child learns in his/her mother tongue are probably the ones that correspond to the words “father” and “mother”. These two words are repeated in each person’s life time, particularly early in age, so frequently that they become permanently embedded in everyone’s memory. These two words are the most likely ones to be passed on from generation to generation during the life times of languages that may live thousands of years. Although, peoples of the same ethnic origin may become separated from each other and live in different parts of the world for long duration of time, yet their present languages may still retain these two words either in their original form or in a form which is similar to or a derivative of the original form. In spite of the evolutionary forces that act upon a language and cause changes in its structure and in the pronunciation of its words, one can still recognise these two words in languages which are related to each other.
1g) Turks being Altaic people of Central Asia are the lucky and proud inheritors of the Altaic words “ata“, “apa” and “ana” through their Turkic languages.   In this set of Altaic words, the first two have been used for “father”, “ancestor” and “old man” and the last one for “mother” throughout the history by different Altaic groups of peoples. Where ever the ancestors of Turks have migrated from their original homelands in Central Asia, they have carried with them these words as “linguistic artifacts” of their Altaic language to their new destinations. In their new homelands, they have passed these words to generation to generation up to the present time. The preservation of these words would particularly be highly likely if the speakers of the language were a dominant group with respect to their new neighbours. In this case, they would not only retain particular features of their language but it is quite likely that they would influence the languages of their new neighbours. On the other hand, if they were not as strong as their new neighbours in the new homelands, it is also likely that their language would be influenced by the languages of their neighbours. In any case, there would be some degree of cross pollination between the languages of people interacting closely with each other. With these suppositions, I feel that it would be very appropriate to use the Altaic words “ata“, “apa” and “ana” and their derivatives as reference linguistic artefacts to trace the footsteps of the ancestors of Turks and other Altaic peoples.
1h) In addition to these basic words which do not easily change in time, one could also use as reference the names for some things that influence the lives of people to the degree that people tend to regard them highly and/or worship them in their every day life. People could take with them the names of such things as the Sun, the Moon, stars, gods, mountains, rivers, living things, etc. , wherever they go. Therefore, the names for such objects could also be used as reference linguistic artefacts to trace people.
1i) In Turkish, the two words that have been used interchangeably for “father”, i.e., the words “ata” and “apa” could go through some transformation in time. Particularly, the phonemes “t” in “ata” and “p” in “apa” would tend to change into consonants “d” as in “ada” and “b” in “aba” respectively. This is noted to be so in various dialects of Turkish.
1j) The Altaic word corresponding to the word “mother” is “ana“. A probable derivative of this word may be the word “ama” for “mother” which seems to be related to the Turkic word “meme” meaning mother’s breast. For any child, “meme” is nothing but the “mama” or “ama” and hence “ana”. In dialects of a proto-Altaic language, the word for “mother” could have been “ana” or “ama“. By having “n” in “ana” change into “m“, the word “ama” would result; similarly, by having the “m” in “ama” change into “n” would make the transformed word “ana“. We will probably never know the exact nature of the relationship that may have taken place in history between the words “ana” and “ama“. However, it seems that, throughout the historic development of the Altaic languages and thus of Turkish, “ana” is the word which is used most dominantly to mean “mother”.
1k) Derivative words based on “ata“, “apa” and “ana” are used to express various kinship’s, particularly, for “father’s father”, “father’s mother”, mother’s father” and “mother’s mother”. Table 1 below lists some of the possible derivative words based on these words. Turkish as an Altaic language, has used some of these derivative words not only in its archaic form but also in its present spoken dialects.
1l) In phonetic languages such as Turkish in Altaic languages, the consonants in a given word make up the skeleton of each word while vowels in the word provide its proper sounding. However as the language develops in time, the vowels in a word may change into other vowels such as “a” into “e”, “o”, “u” while consonants of the words, in general, would tend to maintain their identity in the word through time.
1m) One should also note that each one of the derivative words from these Altaic words would readily go through transformations as people use and repeat them from generation to generation. For example, in the word “ataata” for “father’s father”, one of the vowels “a” in the middle of the the word would tend to be dropped off and the new form of the word would be “atata“. In time, the word could go through further transformations and may take the possible derivative forms of “taata“, “tata“, “tate“, “tatI“, ‘tete“, “tat” and in the case of “adaada“, it could transform into “adada“, “dada“, “dede“, “dadI” “dad“, etc.. In time, some of these derived words will be used to mean not only the “father’s father” but also to mean “ancestors”, “father”, “old man” and “man”. There are living examples of such usage in Turkish and in other Altaic languages. In my research, I have found evidence that the Altaic words “ata“, “apa” and “ana” and their derivatives are used in considerable number of languages spoken by the Native Peoples of North, Central and South Americas. My findings are listed in Table 2 where I have listed the languages which use these words and the names of the Native Peoples of Americas who speak these languages with appropriate references.
Derivatives from basic words in likely transformations
(*t1) In these words where the consonant “h” appears and follows a vovel such as “a” or “o” or “u” seems to be a relic of transcribing these words under the influence of English. Without the “h”, the affinity of these words to the respective Turkish words are very much obvious.
(*t2) Tarma Quechua is the native language of the province of Tarma which is north of the capital city Lima of Peru. This language is a variety of the Inca language QUECHUA. In Tarma Quechua of Peru, “nana = a woman’s sister” and “nanachIkaq = sister”; “taytancI = grandfather”; “taytacha = young gentleman”; and “tayta inti = father sun”. Affinity between these words and the Turkish “ata” and “ana” should be noted.
2. Additional Examples of Words Indicating to a Common Past
In addition to the Altaic words “ata“, “apa” and “ana” listed in Table 2, some other living words also point to the existence of a common linguistic kinship between the Altaic languages and the languages of some of the Native peoples of Americas.
2a) In Aztec language (the Nahuatl), in addition to the Nahuatl words “tahtlI” and “nantlI” corresponding to the Altaic words “ata” and “ana” respectively, we observe the word “tepetl” or “tepec” meaning “hill” which is the same both in the meaning and word structure as the Turkish word “tepe“. There seems to be many mountains and/or hills in Central and South America which are named with a name suffixed or prefixed with the word “tepec“. For example, in Mexico we have: “Chapultepec”, Agaltepec, Citlaltepec, Coatepec, Ecatepec, Jamiltepec, Oaxtepec, Ometepec, Quiotepec, Tehuantepec, Tututepec, Tepecoacuilco, Tepetitan and Tepexpan. In El Salvadore: Cojutepeque, Lago de Coatepeque, Igualtepeque. In Guatamala: Jilotepeque, Ixtepeque and in Brasil Sierra Tepequem. Similarly, in Turkic geography where Turkic and other Altaic people live, we have many hills and/or mountains named in the same manner such as Aktepe, Kultepe, Kartaltepe, Goktepe, etc..
2b) In archaic Turkish, the word “kén” and in modern Turkish the words “gén” or “géne$” are the words for both the “sun” and “day”. The Mayan people also call both the “sun” and “day” with the word “kin“. In Mayan calender, a year was divided into 18 months and each month into 20 kins. It seems that these two words of totally different languages have also some historical common background. Additionally, it is noted that Turkish speaking Altaic peoples associated the word for “sun” and the word for “day” very closely with each other by expressing both concepts with the same word. Similar expressions seem to exist In Mayan languages. In archaic Turkish, the name for the constellation “Ursa Major” is “Yitiken“. In this word, the first part “yiti” means “seven” and the last part “ken” is a changed form of the word “kun“, i.e., the “sun”. Thus, in the language of Altaic people, the word “yitiken” would mean “seven suns” where the concept of “sun” and a “star” was probably considered to be the same.
2c) In Inca language Quechua, the “sun god” and hence the “sun” was called “Inti“. In the word “Inti“, the prefix “in” stands for “my” and “ti” stands for “father”; hence, the word has the meaning of “my father”. Since the Incas were “sun” and “ancestor” worshippers like most of the Altaic peoples including Turks, finding an image of the Altaic word “ata” in the Inca word “inti” is pleasantly surprising. It should be noted that the Inca word “tayta” and the Turkish word “ata” have the same meaning, i.e., “father” and similar linguistic form (see item 44 in Table 2).
2d) Inti the Sun God was the ranking deity in the Inca pantheon like the Tengri among the Altaic people. It was represented by Incas with a human face on a ray-splayed disk. He was considered to be the Incas’ divine ancestor.
2e) In Inca language Quechua, Incas used to call one of their low order Creator-God as “Ataguju“. It should be noted that the initial part of this word is suprisingly the Altaic word “ata“. In this case it probably stands for “sacred ancestors”.
2f) In Inca society, unmarried princes of royal blood were called “Augui“. On marrying, they became “Inca” or “Atauchi“. It is only reasonable to call an adult man “atauchi” after being married, because, it is most likely that he will become an “ata“, i.e., “father”. So, again we see the images of the Altaic word “ata” in another Quechua word meaning “father”.
2g) It seems that during the long development process of the languages of Native Peoples of Americas, some of these words may have changed positions. In other words in some cases, the words used to express male kinship in one language may be used for female kinship or visa versa. For example, the native Candoshi people of Peru use the word “ataatam” for “my mother”. In this case it definitely there has been a reversal in the usage of the word from the original meaning of “father’s father” as it is in the present day Turkish, to the meaning of “my mother” in Candoshi.
2h) In Aleut Language, in order to make the nominative dual of the noun, the suffix “kik” is added to the apocopated nominative of singular of nouns. For example, In the Aleut language, “adaq” is father and “ada” is its apocopated form. Thus for “two fathers”, the composite word “adakik” is used. In Turkish, “two fathers” would be expressed by the expression “iki ata” or “ikki ata” where the word “iki” or “ikki” represents the number two, i.e., the “dual” state. In these examples, not only the word for “father is the same but also the word representing the “duality” is the same in both languages. Hence, it appears that the Altaic word “iki” or “ikki” and the Aleutian suffix word “kik” have a common background.
3. Structural Similarities of Altaic Languages and Some of the Native Languages of Americas
3a) Structurally, the Altaic languages such as Turkish and some of the native languages of Americas resemble to each other very closely as agglutinating languages. For example, J. R. Andrews describes the Aztec language Nahuatl by saying that “sentence word” is the basic structure of the Nahuatl language. By “sentence word” is meant a word that contains within itself all the nuclear constituents necessary for a complete sentence. Turkish, similar to Nahuatl, is one such language. Additionally, they follow the vowel harmony rule, although it seems to be more so in Turkish than the native languages in Americas. Both the Nahuatle and Turkish are such languages. Such similar infrastructure of languages that develop by peoples who are separated from each other in time and space can not be attributed to total random processes that shape independent languages. I feel that such languages having similar sentence formation must have had a common history some time in the distant past.
3b) In Altaic languages the gender for the third person singular and plural is not indicated. For example, in Turkish, only one word, i.e., “O” as the personal pronoun for third person singular corresponds “he/she/it” in English. The referred gender of the subject is understood from the context of the sentence. It is known that considerable number of the languages in the Americas, the genderless word “O“, or “U” or “NO” is used to indicate “he/she/it”. For example, the Cree language in Canada use “O“, the Quiche and Achi languages in Guatemala use “U“. The Micmacs of Eastern Canada use “O-” as prefix for “his/her/its” such as “Oochul” for “his father”, and “Ookwijul” for “his mother”. The Turkish word “O” and the “O” used in this examples of the some native languages of Americas seems to be related to each other, again indicating the presence of a common background in the distant past.
3c) The general title given to Mayan priests was “ahkin” or “akin” meaning “he of the sun”. In this word, the first part “ah” or “a” is reminiscent of the Altaic personal pronoun “O” for the third person singular and the second part “kin” is the same as the Altaic word “kén” for sun. Again one is surprised to find so complete a resemblance between these words that such a resemblance cannot be attributed to random linguistic development. Such close resemblance must be indications of a linguistic and cultural kinship between these languages coming from a common historical background in the distant past.
3d) J. R. Andrews describes the formation of one kind of adverbial adjunct of manner in Nahuatl as follows: “One type of derived adverbial of manner is formed from a preterit theme of a verb combined with the suffix ‘-ca‘. Such words are translationally equivalent to English adverbs ending in ‘-ly'”.[29, p. 30] This formation of adverbs by use of the suffix “-ca” in Nahuatl has exact correspondence in Turkish. In Turkish, the suffix “-ca” or “-ce” is used, following the vowel harmony rule of Turkish, in the same way to form adverbs of the same kind.
Few examples are as follows: In Nahuatl (N): chicahua -> chicahuaca, Turkish (T): saglam -> saglamca, English (E): strong -> strongly; N: chipahua -> chipahuaca, T: temiz -> temizce, E: clean -> cleanly; N: ihciuh -> ihciuhca, T: éabuk -> éabukca, E: quick -> quickly; N: ichta -> ichtaca, T: gizli -> gizlice, E: secret -> secretly; N: cualan -> cualanca, T: kIzgIn -> kIzgInca, E: angry -> angrily.
In Turkish, the personal pronoun for third person singular is not represented with a suffix or prefix in verb conjugations, as is the case in “gelir, geliyor, or geldi, gelmi$“, etc. A similar grammatical rule as this one is also used in a similar way in the languages of some of the Native Peoples of Americas. The Nahuatl, i.e., the Aztec language, the Aleutian, the Eskimo and Cree languages may be sited as examples.
4. Some Examples for Probable Cultural Kinship
4a) Altaic military and Inca administrative systems were based on decimal system. In Inca administrative system, the administration was based on household units of 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 10000 and 40000. Each unit had an official assigned to be in charge of the unit. The official in charge of one of four-quarters of the Inca empire was called “Apu-Cuna” or “Hatun Apu-Cuna“. At the top of the administrative pyramid was the emperor called “Sapa Inca“. In this organisation, the following aspects may be noted:
The first is that the system was decimal system like the Turkish military system which has always been based on units of 10, 50, 100, 1000 and 10000 soldiers and/or horse-mounted cavalry. The names of the officials were “onbashi, ellibashi, yuzbashi, binbashi and tumenbegi” respectively. It seems that decimal system of numbering was known to both of these communities which had no contact with each other in the known history.
Secondly, the decimal system was applied to organise the community and/or the military in manageable groups. Could this be the result of a random process of social development or was there an historically known knowledge common to both people? It is quite likely that the decimal system of numbering and its application to social organisations of peoples may have been known to the ancestors of the Altaic peoples as early as 10000 or more years ago. It is up to the scholars of different fields of science to work and discover the truth related to this striking correspondence in the culture of two well separated groups of peoples.
Thirdly, we also observe the presence of the Altaic word “apa” in the names of the Inca supreme administrators. Is this also the result of a random process? Additionally, the Inca (Quechua) word “Hatun” means “great, big” and is added as adjective to the names of Inca leaders to describe their greatness. Similarly in Turkish, the words “Hatun” and “Katun” are used as the title given to the wife of “Great Hakan”, i.e., the empress (or the first lady, i.e., whatever may be one’s preference) of the Turkish people. In present day Turkish, the word “kadin” is a changed form of “katun” or “hatun“. In fact in present day Turkish culture, it is not unusual to hear among elderly married couples, man calling his wife as “hatun“. It is also interesting to note that one of the highest ridges of the contemporary Altai mountains in Central Asia is known by the Turkic name “Katun“, towering more than 4000 meters. Probably we will never know whether the name of this lofty mountain had any thing to do with word “Hatun” or “Katun” of Turkish language or the word “Katun” of Inca language.
4b) Altaic words “Otuken“, Mongolian word “Utigin” and Chorti word “Uteq’uin“. The archaic Turkish word “OtUken” is frequently mentioned as the name of a “divine or sacred place” in Turkish epic writings of “Kul Tigin“, “Bilge Kagan” and “Tonyukuk” and also in Kutatgu Bilig. In the Altaic language of Mongolian, the word “Utigin” is also the name given to a “god of certain place”. On the other hand, in the Mayan language of Chorti in Guatemala, the word “Uteq’uin” means “heaven”. The last part of this word, i.e., “q’uin” means “sun” in Chorti. Similarly, the “-ken” in the Turkish word “Otuken” and “-gin” in the Mongolian word “Utigin” may be taken as versions of “kun” or “gun” meaning “sun”. It should be remembered that Altaic regions in Asia were the places where Shamanism were practised very widely. In Altaic shamanism “Sun” and “sky” worshipping is quite dominant. Turkish “Gok Tengri” is the “god sky”. In view of these observations, Turkish “Otuken“, Mongolian word “Utigin” and Chorti word “Uteq’uin” seem to have something in common. That is they are all related to “sun” and a sacred place such as “heaven” and a “place where god “dwells. Turkish and Mongolian are related to each other because they are both Altaic languages and their speakers have interacted with each other throughout the history. The respective words could have been borrowed from one another. But there was no way that these Altaic words could have influenced the formation of the word “Uteq’uin” in Chorti or vice versa unless all these words have historically something in common with each other.
Ancient Central Asiatic peoples, among them the ancestors of Turks, are known to have migrated from their homelands in steps of Central Asia and Siberia to east, west, north and south. It is also known that the Native peoples of Americas have migrated from Asia to their new homelands in the Americas thousands of years ago. However, in the known history, the ancestors of Turks and the ancestors of Native Peoples of Americas are not known to have made contact with each other. Yet in spite of this fact, it is surprising to see that Turkish, as a member of the Altaic languages, should have common living words with some of the native languages of Americas. The presence of these words in these languages can not be attributed to random and independent development of these languages in two widely separated continents. I believe their presence is a definite indication of the existence of linguistic and cultural kinship between the ancestors of Turks and the other Altaic peoples and the ancestors of some of the Native Peoples of Americas that they had while they were living in the steps of Central Asia and Siberia before they were separated some 10 000 or more years ago. It may be that some readers may find this conclusion as hasty. But I am confident that further studies by scholars will establish the validity of my view.
This study is a small first attempt, in its own way, that uses the Altaic words “ata“, “apa” and “ana” to trace the ancestors of Altaic peoples among the Native peoples of the Americas. After this study, I have become a believer that these Altaic words are not only very effective tracers of the movements of ancient Altaic peoples, but also are among the oldest living words in human languages. Their wide spread use in native languages of Americas as well as in Altaic languages in Asia is a testimony to this observation.
2. Sir Gerard Clauson, “An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth Century Turkish“ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972).
4. Arthur Thibert, O.M.I., “English-Eskimo, Eskimo-English Dictionary“ (Ottawa: Canadian Research Centre for Anthropology, Saint Paul University, 1972).
5. Richard Henry Geoghegan, “The Aleut Language“, ed. Fredericka I. Martin (United States Department of Interior, 1944).
6. Edwin James, “Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains“, vol.2, (1823).
7. Durbing Feeling, “Cherokee-English Dictionary“.
14. Catherine A. Callaghan, “Lake Miwok Dictionary“ (Carleton University Library No.: P25.C25, vo. 39).
16. George Gibbs, “Alphabetical Vocabulary of Chinook Language“ (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Ross & Haines, n.d.).
17. Washington Matthews, “Grammar and Dictionary of the Language of the Hidatsa“ (New York: Cramoisy Press, 1873).
18. H. Jakop Seiler and Kojiro Hioki, “Cahuilla Dictionary“ (Morongo Indian Reservation, Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press, 1979).
19. R. R. Bishop Baraga, “A Dictionary of Otchipwe Language“ (1878; reprint, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Ross & Haines, 1966).
21. Rev. F. Felipe Arroyo De La Cuesta, A Vocabulary or Phrase Book of the Mutsun Language of Alta California, Shea’s Library of American Linguistics, vol.VIII, (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Ross & Haines, n.d.).
23. Dean Saxton, Lucille Saxton and Susie Enos, “English-Papago/Pima Dictionary“ (Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1983).
30. Arthur J. O. Anderson, “Rules of Aztec Language Classical Nahuatl Grammar“ (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1973).
35. Philip Ainsworth Means, “Ancient Civilizations of the Andes“ (New York: Gordian Press, 1964).
Polat Kaya was born in the village of Yakinsu (Suhara) in éildir, Kars, Turkiye in 1925. After successfully passing a scholarship competition, he studied Electrical Engineering in the U.S.A. He received a B.Sc. degree in Electrical Engineering (EE) in 1950 from the University of California in Berkeley and an M.Sc. degree in EE in 1951 from Moore School of Electrical Engineering, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. In 1952, he joined the Engineering Department of the Turkish PTT General Directorate in Ankara, Turkiye and worked in PTT until 1961. During the years 1961 to 1963, he worked with the SHAPE Technical Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands. In 1963, he joined Northern Electric Research and Development Laboratories, later renamed Bell-Northern Research (BNR) in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. After working 25 years as a Member of Scientific Staff in BNR, he retired in 1988. Above article first appeared in Belfast Islamic Center News and republished here with permission.