Cossack and Kazakh

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At dinner the other night, someone asked whether Cossack and Kazakh are etymological descendants from the same source. The consensus around the table was "probably yes", but no one really knew anything. A bit of internet research supports that conclusion — though no doubt readers will be able to add depth and nuance.

Wikipedia on the Etymology of Kazakh:

There are many theories on the origin of the word Kazakh or Qazaq. Some speculate that it comes from the Turkish verb qaz ("to wander"), because the Kazakhs were wandering steppemen; or that it derives from the Proto-Turkic word khasaq (a wheeled cart used by the Kazakhs to transport their yurts and belongings).

Another theory on the origin of the word Kazakh (originally Qazaq) is that it comes from the ancient Turkic word qazğaq, first mentioned on the 8th century Turkic monument of Uyuk-Turan. According to Turkic linguist Vasily Radlov and Orientalist Veniamin Yudin, the noun qazğaq derives from the same root as the verb qazğan ("to obtain", "to gain"). Therefore, qazğaq defines a type of person who seeks profit and gain.

Kazakh was a common term throughout medieval Central Asia, generally with regard to individuals or groups who had taken or achieved independence from a figure of authority. Timur described his own youth without direct authority as his Qazaqliq ("Qazaq-ness"). […]

In the 17th century, Russian convention seeking to distinguish the Qazaqs of the steppes from the Cossacks of the Imperial Russian Army suggested spelling the final consonant with "kh" instead of "q" or "k", which was officially adopted by the USSR in 1936.

  • Kazakh – Казах
  • Cossack – Казак

The Ukrainian term Cossack probably comes from the same Kypchak etymological root: wanderer, brigand, independent free-booter.

Wikipedia on the Etymology of Cossack:

Max Vasmer's etymological dictionary traces the name to the Old East Slavic word козакъ, kozak, a loanword from Cuman, in which cosac meant "free man", from Turkic languages. The ethnonym Kazakh is from the same Turkic root. In modern Turkish it is pronounced as "Kazak".

The OED's entry for Cossack has not been updated since 1893, but gives this etymology:

Etymology: < Turki quzzāq adventurer, guerrilla. 'In India it became common in sense of predatory horseman, freebooter' (Yule).

 



18 Comments

  1. John Kozak said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 1:32 am

    Thanks!

  2. Coby Lubliner said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 6:49 am

    English-language media often use the ethnonym "Kazakh" when they mean the demonym "Kazakhstani." For example, in the Wikipedia page on the former cyclist Alexander Vinokourov, an ethnic Russian, not only is he identified as Kazakh, but so is his obviously Russian name.

  3. Keith Ivey said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 9:46 am

    "In the 17th century, Russian convention seeking to distinguish the Qazaqs of the steppes from the Cossacks of the Imperial Russian Army suggested spelling the final consonant with 'kh' instead of 'q' or 'k', which was officially adopted by the USSR in 1936."

    This is talking about Russian convention, so presumably "k" means к and "kh" means х, but what does "q" mean?

  4. Peter B. Golden said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 10:16 am

    Eng. Cossack from Russ. казак, Ukr. козак derive from Turkic qazaq (қазақ), the etymology of which remains uncertain. It denoted "brigand, raider" etc. and was the name used by a branch of the Qïpchaq-Turkic-speaking Uzbeks (Özbek) that broke away from the latter to form their own polity, led by Chinggisids. The best new study of the subject is by Joo-Yup Lee, "Qazaqlïq, or Ambitious Brigandage, and the Formation of the Qazaq. State and Identity in Post-Mongol Central Eurasia" (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2016). It is first attested in the Mamlūk multi-language dictionary (dated to 1345), the Kitāb-ı Majmū' ī Tarjumān Turkī wa 'Ajamī wa Mughalī in the meaning "homeless, without shelter"

  5. cameron said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 11:05 am

    @Keith Ivey – "q" would refer to IPA q, Cyrillic "қ" – the latter is one of the letters added to Cyrillic by various languages to represent sounds not found in Russian

  6. David Marjanović said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 11:56 am

    In the 17th century, Russian convention seeking to distinguish the Qazaqs of the steppes from the Cossacks of the Imperial Russian Army suggested spelling the final consonant with "kh" instead of "q" or "k", which was officially adopted by the USSR in 1936.

    This follows Kazakh pronunciation: at the ends of syllables, қ /q/ is pronounced [χ].

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 12:13 pm

    I don't think that it is strictly accurate to say that "[t]he OED's entry for Cossack has not been updated since 1893" — the online edition says "[t]his entry has not yet been fully updated (first published 1893)" [stress added] but the example usages now include quotations from 1926 ("Blackwood's Mag. Sept. 310/1 Our ponies nearly all of them came from England, but some people played Cossacks. I had a capital Cossack pony."), 1967 ("Guardian 9 Nov. 6/3 Country shoes and stockings, Cossack boots, hogskin gloves") and 1968 ("Guardian 28 July 7/4 Black coats over Cossack trousers that tuck into black patent leather boots"), together with several other quotations that post-date OED1.

  8. Keith Ivey said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 1:25 pm

    Cameron, did қ exist in the 17th century?

  9. David D ROBERTSON said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 4:51 pm

    So Kazakh means about the same as Uzbek, which I learned through a Russian definition "sam sebe xozjain".

  10. cameron said,

    February 27, 2020 @ 9:28 pm

    @Keith Ivey – I have no reason to think that the letter "қ" existed yet in the 17th century, but the sound in Qazâq that it represents certainly did, and didn't exist in Russian then, any more than it does now. Per the comment by David Marjanović above, the adoption of the Russian distinction between Казах and Казак might simply reflect the manner in which the /q/ consonant is rendered in syllable-final position in the Qazâq language.

  11. Dara Connolly said,

    February 28, 2020 @ 9:25 am

    In Lithuanian, Cossacks are kazokai while Kazakhs are kazachai. The reversal of the vowels in kazokai is surprising.

  12. Chris Button said,

    February 28, 2020 @ 1:23 pm

    This follows Kazakh pronunciation: at the ends of syllables, қ /q/ is pronounced [χ].

    Could you possibly provide a source for this? Everywhere I look seems to have a stop /q/ for қ in coda position in Kazakh.

  13. Keith Ivey said,

    February 28, 2020 @ 5:58 pm

    Cameron, that makes sense but doesn't really explain the Wikipedia text, which I'm assuming at this point was garbled by someone who didn't fully understand what they were writing.

  14. marc said,

    February 29, 2020 @ 11:04 pm

    I asked the question on Linguistics StackExchange a few years back:

    What is the relation between the words "Cossack" and "Kazakh"?
    https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/4678/what-is-the-relation-between-the-words-cossack-and-kazakh

  15. BZ said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 5:21 am

    @Coby,
    Kazakhstani (or at least its Russian, and I assume Kazakh, equivalent) was made up during the Soviet era, and there is still a hot debate in Kazakhstan about whether the word is needed or whether Kazakh is good enough.

    Curiously, "Russian" in English is both an ethnonym and a demonym, and this was the case in Russian as well until the *end* of the Soviet era, at which point a new demonym was popularized in Russian, but not in English. Even so, there are still Russians who don't like it.

  16. Andreas Johansson said,

    March 2, 2020 @ 7:53 pm

    In Sweden in the early '90s, some tried to introduce a distinction between ryss "ethnic Russian" and ryssländare "citizen of Russia", on the model of finne "ethnic Finn" and finländare "citizen of Finland", but it didn't catch on.

  17. Ivan Zakharyaschev said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 2:29 pm

    Dara,

    > In Lithuanian, Cossacks are kazokai while Kazakhs are kazachai. The reversal of the vowels in kazokai is surprising.

    It's not that surprising, if one knows other similar examples.

    The initial reason is that in Old Russian the "long" vowels merged into /a/, and the "short" vowels into /o/. In Lithuanian, the other way round. Hence, regular correspondences: o:a, a:o.

    Since the languages have always been in contact, these regular correspondences have always been used when adopting words borrowed from each other's languages.

    Some notable examples are family names, for example:

    Arlauskas : Orlovsk(ij), Оролвск(ий) (derived from the word meaning "eagle" with -ov-sk- suffixes)
    Jankauskas : Jankovsk(ij), Янковский

    Both family names from the last example are present now in Russia (for example, a rather well-known opposition activist from Moscow bears the Lithuanian form: Янкаускас, whereas the Russian form Янковский is also a very common Russian family name.)

    For both family names from the first example, there are a lot of Google hits.

    I'm sure one can find many historical Balto-Slavic cognates with these correspondences as well as later borrowings. (One can also suppose that the vowel length was the important feature when adapting a borrowing, and not the quality, and that the vowel length distinction persisted in Old Russian for a long period during which the borrowings were made, although it is not perceived in modern Russian any more.)

  18. Ivan Zakharyaschev said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 2:34 pm

    Sorry for a typo; it must have been: Орловский (cf. also the Russian family name Orlov, Орлов from орёл "eagle")

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