How to Say Hello in Kyrgyz
The list of Kyrgyz phrases below assumes that you have basic reading skills in Kyrgyz. If you do not, there is no need to worry—the Kyrgyz alphabet is very straightforward. If you haven’t had any previous exposure to Kyrgyz phonetics, it would be a good idea to learn to read in Kyrgyz before attempting to master these phrases. If you are pressed for time, just ask a Kyrgyz-speaking friend to read on these Kyrgyz phrases for you as you try to imitate your friend’s pronunciation as closely as possible.
Here are some basic greetings to get you started in Kyrgyz:
Салам! — Hi!
This greeting is very informal and is generally used by young people when they are among friends. I don’t suggest you try it with older people or if you want to convey some respect.
When it comes to more formal Kyrgyz greetings, things get trickier, since the form of the greeting depends on two factors: (A) the degree of formality between you and the person you are greeting and (B) whether you are the person doing the greeting or replying to another person’s greeting.
Don’t worry, it’s much easier than it may seem at first. If you have the chance, observe how people greet each other in various settings. Note if there are any status differences between them (e.g., younger/older) and whether it influences their greeting in any way. Soon enough you will be greeting people like a native Kyrgyz!
Саламатсызбы! — Hello! (Greetings!)
This is a formal greeting, so it’s safe to use in most circumstances.
Саламатсыздарбы! — Hello! (plural)
Used to address a group of people, respectfully.
Although the above two greetings are not followed by a question mark, technically, both of them are questions (note the particle -бы at the very end). This is why you would only use them if you are initiating the greeting. To respond to a greeting initiated by another person, use the following.
Саламатчылык! — Hello (back).
This is a standard response to “Саламатсызбы” or “Саламатсыздарбы”.
Кандай? — How’s life?
Rather informal, the question literally means “how?” For a more personal touch, you may want to use one of the following:
Кандайсын? — How are you? (informal)
For friends who are younger or are of about the same age as you, less formal.
Кандайсыз? — How are you? (formal)
Used to convey respect, particularly when addressing an elder.
Рахмат. — Thanks.
Can be used to precede “жакшы” (as in “Thanks, I’m fine.”).
Жакшы. — (I’m) fine.
Literally, “good”. A standard response to “How are you?”.
Жаман эмес. — Not bad.
This is arguably even more standard than “жакшы“.
Өзүңчү? — And (how are) you?
To use after replying to the question “Кандай?”
These basic Kyrgyz greetings may be enough for starters. If you are feeling adventurous, however, you can try some heavier artillery.
– Ассалом алейкум!
– Алейкум ассалом!
This is the traditional Muslim greeting and response, used mostly between men. As a foreigner, chances are you would not be expected to use this greeting, but it is nice to know.
Иштер кандай? — How are things?
In Kyrgyz, “иш” means “work”, with “иштер” being the plural of the same word. In this context, “иштер” refers to happenings in one’s life in general. If you want to make the question more personal, use “иштериң” for informal and “иштериңиз” for formal.
Иштерим жакшы. — Things are fine with me.
Literally, “my work is good”. Note the first-person singular ending “-им” added to “иштер”. The ending emphasises the fact that you are talking about your things and not someone else’s. As for “жакшы”, feel free to replace it with “жаман эмес” or whatever other word you may deem appropriate. Here are some more to get you started:
Кудайга шүгүр. — Not so bad.
Literally, this phrase means “Thanks be to God”.
Алынча. — Okay.
Another way of saying that life goes on, although it could be better.
You can also turn the previous phrase on its head and make it into a question. Here’s how:
Иштериң(из) жакшы бы? — Are things good with you?
The second ending, “-из”, is the formal version. Note how you add the question particle “бы” to the end of the sentence to turn it into a question. In Turkic languages, such as Kyrgyz, intonation alone would not do the trick—you need a question word (how, why, what, etc.) or a special particle (like “бы” in this example) to make a question.
Өзүңдүн иштериң кандай? — And how are things with you? (sing.)
Use this to inquire about the other person’s well-being after giving your answer to “Иштер кандай?”. Note how “өзүңчү” changes to “өзүңдүн” and “иштер” gets a second-person singular ending “-иң”. Just as in the example above, use “-иңиз” in more formal situations.
Ден соолугуңуз кандай? — How is your health?
This would be an appropriate question to ask when speaking to an elderly person. “Ден соолук” means “health” in Kyrgyz. Naturally, you would use the more formal ending, “-уңуз”, unless you are talking to your own grandmother or grandfather. If you are, you have no business reading this blog, since you are apparently a native Kyrgyz speaker.
You now have a full repertory of Kyrgyz greetings—and a familiarity with the circumstances in which each of them is used. These phrases are a good starting point for practising your Kyrgyz language skills—be it with your friends, your co-workers, your partner, or your future (or new) in-laws. Learn these Kyrgyz phrases thoroughly, observe how they are used by native speakers, and you are likely to impress everyone with your mastery of Kyrgyz greetings.
- Kyrgyz alphabet and pronunciation. Resources that will help you learn the Cyrillic alphabet and to read in Kyrgyz.
- On agglutinative languages. In case you’re wondering why you need all these affixes in the Kyrgyz language, here is a brief explainer.
- The Language Hacking Guide (ebook download). If you would like to move beyond simple greetings in Kyrgyz—or in any other foreign language—this comprehensive book will help you achieve desired fluency in conversation.*
* Full disclosure: I helped translate this book into Russian and I receive a commission every time someone buys the Language Hacking Guide through my blog. By purchasing this book, you help me run this blog—and you also get a truckload of excellent advice for learning a foreign language!
Photo by Jeff Bauche