In former times an array of names have been used to denote the Khakass: the Tatars of Minusinsk, the Tatars of Abakan, the Turks of Abakan, the Turks of the Yenisey. The Khakass themselves have used their own tribal designation (sagai, khas, peltyr, shor, koybal, hyzyl-kizhi). The origin of the name khakass is in the word hagias -- hjagas, used by the Chinese for an ancient tribe in the Sayan Mountains. The appearance and habits of this "Kirgiz" people were described in Chinese chronicles in the first centuries AD approximately. During the Soviet period, the Russians adopted the name Khakass for several assembled tribal groups. The name stuck and spread and since 1930 the people themselves have started to use it.
The Khakass live in Siberia, on the middle reaches of the River Enisei and on the upper reaches of its tributaries, the Abakan and the Chulym. On an administrative level they belong to the Khakass Autonomous Region in the Kransoyarsk District of the Russian Federation - an area of some 61,900 square kilometres). The northern and eastern parts of the region are flat steppelands (the Abakan-Minusinsk Basin), while the southern and western regions are mountainous. The climate is continental, with the average temperatures between -15 °C and -21 °C in January, and between 17 °C--19 °C in July.
Anthropologically the Khakass are of the Mongoloid Central Asian race. They have dark skin and eyes and coarse dark hair, and beards. Their face is wide, the cheekbones are not very prominent. The Khakass tend to be short, with the average male height being 162--164 cm. In some Khakass groups characteristics of the Uralic race are discernible.
The Khakass language belongs to the Uighur-Oguz group in the eastern Hun branch of the Turkic languages. It has its genetic origin in the ancient Uighur language unity. The Khakass language is an aggregation of different tribal languages, and it has achieved its present form only during the 20th century. More colourful dialectal peculiarities have been levelled by the unified language. Former tribal languages constitute the dialects of the Khakass language. The internal Sagai dialect is spoken in the regions of Askyz and Tashtyp (the Beltyr subdialect forming a special group), the Katshin dialect in the regions of Ust-Abakan, Altai and Shirin, the Kyzyl dialect in the Saralin and Shirin regions, the Shor dialect (NB! not the language) in the Tashtyp region. The Sagai and the Kachin dialects have the greatest number of speakers and are the most widespread.
The structure and the basic vocabulary of the Khakass language are of Turkic-Tatar origin. There have been close contacts (as concerns vocabulary) with the Manchu-Tungus, the Paleo-Asiatic, the Chinese and the Russian languages. Loan-words from the Mongol and Russian languages occur most frequently, but unlike the West Turkic peoples, the Khakass language has no loans from the Arabic and Iranian languages.
The Russian influence, which began in the 17th century, was for a long time limited to the everyday sphere of life. During the Soviet period numerous loan-words from the spheres of ideology, administration and culture were added, and through Russian a number of internationalisms were also introduced into the Khakass language. At first there were attempts to fit the loan-words into the Khakass language system but since the 1960s loans from Russian have been incorporated in almost their original forms while a part of the adapted loans or the Khakass words have been fully replaced by Russian words. As a result, the Khakass language lacks a vocabulary for modern technics and many other modern concepts, and Russian has to be used instead.
A Chinese chronicle Tan-shu (618--907) mentions a written language of the Yenisey Kirgiz tribes, Turkic script, in comparison with the written language of the Oirots. In the 7--8th centuries at the latest, the ancestors of the Khakass were using an old Turkish script, however by the 14th century this practice had ceased. In the 17th century the Kalmyk written language was used to communicate with the Russians. At the end of the 19th century N. Katanov began translating religious literature into Khakass and works by the Khakass authors M. Kokov, N. Domozhakov, N. Arzhan were published. In 1924 a new alphabet (Cyrillic), and a new written language based on the Katchin dialect were introduced. Textbooks for schools and translations from Russian were published, and, in 1926, the education of children in the Khakass language was begun. In 1929 the written language switched to the Latin alphabet, but in 1939 the Cyrillic alphabet was reintroduced. However, long before the new written language could be consolidated, Khakass was bombarded by the Russian language which resulted in numerous loans, the introduction of Russian orthographic rules and so on.
Today the Khakass written language has been improved on the basis of the Sagai dialect. The literary language has, in its turn, played an important role in the levelling of dialects. Since 1927 a local newspaper Lenin Choly (The Leninist Way) has been published, literature and cultural life have been dealt with in Hyzyl aal and in the Russian language Yenisey, Sibirskie ogni etc. Local radio and TV programmes are partly translated into Khakass.
The basic food of Khakases was meat in the winter, and in the summer dairy dishes. Khakases prepared soups and various broths with the boiled meat. The most popular was seed and a barley soup. The most widespread drink was airan, prepared of sour cow milk.