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Khakas is a Turkic language spoken by the Khakas people, who mainly live in the southern Siberian Khakas Republic, or Khakassia. The Khakas number 78,500, of whom 60,168 speak the Khakas language; most people are bilingual in Russian.
Traditionally, the Khakas language is divided into several closely related dialects which take their names form the different ‘tribes’: Sagay, Kacha, Koybal, Beltir, and Kyzyl. In fact, these names represent former administrative units rather than tribal or linguistic groups. Later on, the Shor dialect was recognized as a Khakas dialect as well. The people speaking all these dialects simply refer to themselves as Tadar (i.e. Tatar).
The Khakas literary language, which was developed only after the Russian revolution, is based on the central dialects Sagay and Kacha; the Beltir dialect has largely been assimilated by Sagay, and the Koybal dialect by Kacha. The Shor dialect of Khakas is spoken by people who originally came from Shoria, an area bordering on the west of Khakassia. The language spoken in Shoria, Shor, is closely related to Khakas, and can in fact be regarded as a dialect of Khakas.
The first text recordings of Khakas originate from the 19th century. The Finnish linguist Matthias Castrén, who travelled through northern and Central Asia between 1845-1849, wrote a treatise on the Koybal dialect, and recorded an epic (1857).
Wilhelm Radloff travelled the south Siberian region extensively between 1859 and 1870. The result of his research was, among others, published in his four volume dictionary, Versuch eines Wörterbuches der Türk-dialecte (1893-1911), and in his ten volume series of Turkic texts, Proben der Volkslitteratur der türkischen Stämme (1866-1907). The first two volumes contain his Khakas and Shor materials, mainly epics and songs, which are provided with a German translation. The ninth volume, compiled by Radloff’s student Nikolaj Fedorovich Katanov, who was a Khakas himself, contains further Khakas materials.
Apart from some minor publications, it was only in the forties of the twentieth century that publications in Khakas on a larger scale started off.