Researching the Language

The first knowledge of the Karaim language appeared in Europe in the XVII century. Already at the turn of the XVI-XVII centuries a German orientalist, pastor Buxtorf (died in 1629 in Basel) probably for the first time informed that the Crimean Karaims read the Old Testament in the Turkic language. In 1690 a professor Gustav Peringer (1651-1710) from Upsala (Sweden) university, according to the order given by the ruler of his country, King Carl XI, arranged a special expedition to Lithuania and was the first to pay attention to the Karaims` ethnic and linguistic identity. He published several publications about that.

The deeper research of the Karaim language began in the XIX century. The founder of the Russian turcology school, Prof. Wilhelm Radloff, after several scientific expeditions to Trakai and Lutsk, in 1893-1911 published “Turkic dialects dictionary” (“Opyt slovarja tjurkskich narečij”), consisting of several volumes, in which a lot of Karaim vocabulary is collected and which has been used by the linguists up to these days.

At the end of XIX century – in the beginning of XX century the Karaim language was researched by the German and Hungarian turcologists Carl Foy (1856-1907) and B.Munkacsi (1860-1937) and by the investigator of the Bible translation into the Karaim language, the Russian academician Vladimir Gordlevskij.

A great contribution into the investigation of the Karaim language was contributed by a Polish orientalist Prof. Jan Grzegorzewski, who investigated the Galitch-Lutsk dialect, and by Prof. Tadeusz Kowalski (1889-1948) of Krakow University, who spent several summers with the Karaims in Trakai collecting the material for the language studies and in 1929 published his book “Karaimische Texte im Dialekt von Troki” in German. In addition to the qualified descriptions and analysis, the author presents the dictionary and many original Karaim texts.

The very beginning of the Bible (Gen 1-7) in Karaim.
The very beginning of the Bible (Gen 1-7) in Karaim.
From: Kowalski T. Karaimische Texte im Dialekt von Troki, Krakow, 1929

In 1974 in Moscow after going through various bureaucratic barriers and after being greatly diminished, there was published a unique three-language Karaim-Russian-Polish Dictionary. An academician V. Gordlevskij suggested publishing it. The dictionary was prepared by Seraya Shapshal (at that moment working as an assistant at Lithuanian Academy of Science, Institute of History), by Nikolaj Baskakov, a turcologist from the Soviet Union` Academy of Science, the Institute of Linguistics, and by Ananjasz Zajączkowski together with Alexander Dubinski, the members of the Orientalistic Department at the Polish Academy of Science. Into the dictionary there was also a vocabulary of both the old written language and modern spoken language in all three Karaim dialects included as well as translations of Karaim into the Polish and Russian languages.

The Karaim language grammars are published by the turcologists Kenesbaj Musajev (1964-1977) and Olga Prik. A great figure in the Karaim history, an orientalist and turcologist Ananjasz Zajączkowski (1903-1970), a Karaim himself is worth a separate mention. He maintained his doctor thesis on a theme ” Nominal and Verbal Suffixes in Western Karaim Language” at Krakow University and later on published many his writings on the Karaim language and history, as well as on other Turkic languages and general topics of Oriental culture.

Great attention to the studies of the native language was paid by other three Polish orientalists Karaims – the former docents of Krakow University – Zygmunt Abrahamowicz (1923-1990) and Wlodzimierz Zajączkowski (1914-1982) and Warsaw University docent Alexander Dubinski (1924). One of the latest works on Lithuanian Karaim language is the Karaim language teach-yourself book “Mien karajče ürianiam”, published in 1996, which was compiled by the present Chairman of Lithuanian Karaim Community Mykolas Firkovičius. Nowadays on Karaim language are actively working the turcologists Ana Sulimowicz (Warsaw) and Eva Czato-Johanson (Germany). Eva Czato-Johanson is preparing a CD-ROM issue about the Karaim language, see (