«Codex Cumanicus» – a monument of the Crimean Tatar language of the late XIII – early XIV century


One of the written monuments of the Cuman languages, including the Crimean Tatar, is the Codex Cumunicus manuscript, compiled by Italian and German missionaries and merchants.

In the Byzantine and Latin chronicles, the name of the Cumans denoted the union of Turkic tribes, known by eastern authors under the self-name of Kipchaks; Russian chroniclers called them Cumans, but more often – Polovtsy [9, p. 107].

Written in the Cuman language, this work consists of two parts and reflects not written, but the colloquial speech of that period. The first part begins with an introduction in Latin and includes a dictionary written in three columns in three languages ​​- Latin, Persian, and Cuman. Words are arranged in alphabetical order. It also shows conjugations of verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, declension of pronouns, adverbs – material on the grammar of the Cuman language. The first column contains 1560 words, but not all of them are translated into Persian and Cuman. Next, the same trilingual dictionary is given, consisting of 1120 words, which are grouped by their meaning into groups with certain names.

The semantic groups of these words include the names of the days of the week, months, animals, plants, household items, tools, words related to time, nature, farming, occupation, social, state structure of the Cumans, etc. About 200 words of this part The Codex Cumanicus is not translated into Persian and Cuman. As pointed out by D. A. Rasovsky, “the Latin column … speaks of the Italian authorship of this part of the code,” and therefore “bears the name“Italian” in science” [9, p. 107]. The second part of the work, unlike the first, is not so systematised and neat, besides it is written in different handwritings; it contains a Сumano-German dictionary, consisting of an erratic set of words and phrases. Here, as in the “Italian” part, there are grammatical notes on the Cuman language.

Of particular interest are the sacred Christian texts in the Cuman language, Latin texts with the Cuman translation and Cuman texts with the Latin translation. In the same part are recorded Cuman riddles. This part was called “German.” Given the clear differences between the parts of the Codex Cumanicus, it can be said that both parts are different monuments that were subsequently connected. There are still disputes: by whom, for what purpose and when exactly was the Codex Cumanicus written? Most likely, the first part, consisting of a trilingual dictionary, was written by Italians engaged in trade, whose colony was at that time in the capital of Crimea – Solhat (Eski Kyrym – Old Crimea), where Italians were in close contact with the Persians and Cumans.

Judging by the content of the “German” part, its authors were Franciscan missionaries whose purpose was to spread Christian doctrine among the Cumans. It is believed that these German missionaries, stitching both parts, edited the first, making some amendments in the Cuman column of the dictionary [9, p. 108]. On the first page of the Codex Cumanicus, the date states July 11, 1303. The German scientist V. Bang, who investigated the monument, considered this date to be the day of the compilation of the Codex Cumanicus. However, in the opinion of D. A. Rasovsky, “… the negligence of the Codex, numerous misprints, the confusion of the parallel words of the three columns – all this makes us see in the author only the copyist, not the drafter of the Code, and the copyist is quite illiterate who did not know Persian and Cuman languages.

On the other hand, the vocabulary material itself and its location in the Codex allow us to conclude that this material was being gradually collected… And so, the Codex that has come down to us is in all probability only a copy from an older original dating back to the 13th century, an original that in turn, was not created immediately, but gradually, by a series of successive additions” [9, p. 108]. Thus, Rasovsky believed that 1303 is the date of the rewriting of the work.  

A study of the origin of the Codex Cumanicus was also carried out by A.N. Samoilovich. Comparing the Christian and Muslim names of the months, he came to the conclusion that “the material on the Muslim months for the Persian column of the code and the Cuman column was not written in the XIV, but in the XIII century, 9 years before the creation of the first part of the Code” [6, p. 176], that is, in 1294 or 1295. According to many scholars who have studied the Codex Kumanikus, the dictionary was first rewritten in 1303 in the monastery of the c. John near the city of Saray [9, p. 108]. The work, along with other books, the Italian poet Petrarch in 1362 presented as a gift to the library of the St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where it is stored to this day [24, p. 67].      

Mostly, it was western scholars who worked on the Codex Cumanicus. Probably, the location of the work affected it. It was first discovered and published in 1828 by J.Kalaproth [24, p. 71]. Later, a facsimile and a dictionary of Turkic words in the Codex Cumanicus were published by G. Kuhn (1880), K. Grönbeck (1936, 1942). The monument was studied by Annemarie von Gabain, O.Blau, F.E.Korsch, C. G. Saleman, V. Bang, F. von Kleritz-Greifenhorst, G. Németh, T.J.Kowalski, and D. Rasovsky, V.Drimba. P.Melioransky, A.Samoilovich, V.Bartold, S.Malov, N. Baskakov, A.Kuryshzhanov and A. A. Zayonchkovsky M.Habichev and other Türkologists as well devoted their works to the “Codex Kumanikus”. Such Turkish scholars as N. Asym, A.Jaferogulu, S.Cagatay, A.J.Emre, also studied the “Codex of Kumanikus”. In Crimean Tatar linguistics, the monument has not been sufficiently investigated. Only general information about the work is in the books “Kırımtatar Tilinin Ilmiy Sarfa” (“Scientific Grammar of the Crimean Tatar Language”) by B.Chobanzade, “Lexicology” and “Crimean Tatar Language” by A.Memetov. An article by Professor I.Kerimov is devoted to the study of the monument as a lexicographic source. Despite the large number of works on the “Codex Cumanicus”, the vocabulary of the monument has not yet been sufficiently studied.                                             

Let’s immerse more in detail on the thematic dictionary of the first part of the Codex Cumanicus. The lexical material collected there makes it possible to imagine the life, activities, social, economic, political characteristics of the life of the Cumans. Having analysed such semantic groups as anatomical names, terms of kinship, names of plants, animals, insects, birds, elements of inanimate nature, considering the once that preserved from them in the modern Crimean Tatar language, we can note some features of the vocabulary of the monument of the Crimean Tatar language. Most of the lexical units of the “Codex Cumanicus” were preserved in the Crimean Tatar language, without undergoing either phonetic or semantic changes, and are still used today such as: at (horse), ana (mother), ayaq (foot) etc.

Some of the words changed phonetically while retaining their meaning: In the Codex Cumanicus “altun” – in Crimean Tatar “altyn” (gold); CC “qorğaşın” – CT “Kurshun” (tin); CC “keçe” – CT “Gedge” (night).

A small number of words is used in the modern Crimean Tatar language in a semantically modified version: “salkun” in CC “weather”, “air”, in CT it means “chill”, “cool”; “oba” in CC “hill”, in CT it as well means  “heap” and “pile”; “ayaz” – in CC “clear weather”, in CT it means “Frost”, “cold”; “erin” – in the CC “nostrils”, in Crimean Tatar it means “lips”

Such Cumanian words as “it”(dog), “börü”(wolf), “bürçe”(flea), “ot”(fire) are used only in separate dialects and dialects of the Crimean Tatar language.

The Cuman words “sığır”(cow), “qoy” (sheep), “it “(dog), “börü” (wolf), “qoyan” (rabbit), “qol” (hand) are signs of the Kipchak languages, and the words “inek”(cow), “toňuz” (pig), “el” ( hand) – a feature of Oghuz languages. Language of “Codex Cumanicus”, even though the language is one of the Kipchak languages, due to the proximity of the Oghuz people, has not escaped the impact of the Oghuz languages. Lexical and phonetic dialectisms of the Codex Cumanicus, such as sığır – inek (cow), qol – el (hand), tavuq – tavoh (chicken), qoz – hoz (walnut), aq – ah (white, light), tağ – tav (forest), ağız – avuz (mouth), oğul – ovul (son), are used to this day in various dialects and dialects of the Crimean Tatar language, which have both Kipchak and Oghuz features. Almost every variant of Cumanian words can be found in various dialects of the Crimean Tatar language. A variety of semantic and phonetic variants of the vocabulary of the “Codex Cumanicus” gives the foundation for many linguistic scholars to bring the language of the monument closer to many Turkic languages. Noting the Kipchak elements of the language, the monument is referred to the corresponding languages, but the presence of the Kipchak and Oghuz elements in one language is reflected precisely in the Crimean Tatar language. This common feature with the language of the Codex Cumanicus testifies to such an early formation of the dialects of the Crimean Tatar language.

By the date of writing of the Codex Cumanicus (1303), it can be said that although the state of the Cumans had disintegrated, they had not yet lost their language. The Cumans did not leave any monuments in their language, but the Cuman language came to us through other nations and ethnics.


«Кодекс Куманикус» – памятник крымскотатарского языка конца XIII – начала XIV века

Author: Редакция Avdet