Kirghiz is spoken by more than 2.500.000 people. The majority of the speakers live in the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. It is also spoken in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, China, Afghanistan and Turkey.
Kirghiz is a member of the western branch (also called Kipchak branch) of the Turkic languages. The Turkic languages form a top level constituent of the Altaic language family. Other major branches of Altaic are the Mongolian and the Tungus languages.
The two major dialects of Kirghiz are Northern Kirghiz and Southern Kirghiz. The standard language is based on the northern dialect. The southern dialect has been influenced by Uzbek, Persian and Tajik.
The Kirghiz people emerged in the 15th century as an alliance of tribes, which established a Khanate. In the 18th century the Kirghiz were subjects of the Uzbek Khanate of Kokand, their homeland was conquered by the Russians in the middle of the 19th century, causing many Kirghiz to flee to present-day Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The transition to Soviet rule was accompanied by severe fighting and atrocities. As a result huge numbers of Kirghiz emigrated to China. The Kirghiz SSR was founded in 1936. In 1990 the Republic of Kyrgyzstan became independent.
Kirghiz is the national language of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.
Kirghiz has a rich vocalism, but a relatively small amount of consonants.
Kirghiz features vowel harmony (as most Turkic and Altaic languages do). Vowel harmony is a set of progressive assimilation rules that only affects vowels.
A Kirghiz standard language did not exist until the Soviet era. Prior to the Russian Revolution Kirghiz was written with Arabic letters. In 1923 a Latin based alphabet was introduced, which was replaced by Cyrillic characters in 1940. The Cyrillic writing system is still in use.
The morphology of Kirghiz is predominantly suffixing and has agglutinative structure, i.e. it is characterised by invariable roots or stems augmented by sequences of suffixed grammatical morphemes, which mostly bear one single meaning and have clear-cut boundaries. The stem of a word is not modified for grammatical purposes. Nouns and verbs are highly inflected. The noun has six cases: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative and ablative. Kirghiz does not have grammatical gender. The verb agrees with the subject in person and number by means of various suffixes. There is also a number of suffixes that indicate tense, aspect and mood. Postpositions generally have nominal or verbal origin. The unmarked order of constituents in simple transitive sentences is SOV.