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About Uyghur Language

Uyghur, formerly known as Eastern Turki, is a Turkic language spoken primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a Central Asian region administered by China, mainly by the Uyghur people. It is also spoken by some 300,000 people in Kazakhstan as of 1993, some 90,000 in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as of 1998, 3,000 in Afghanistan and 1,000 in Mongolia, both as of 1982. Smaller communities also exist in Albania, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA.

The Uyghurs are one of the 56 official nationalities in China, and Uyghur is an official language of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, along with Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin Chinese is not spoken widely in southern Xinjiang. However, due to the policy of mandatory Mandarin-language education for all of Xinjiang, knowledge of Mandarin is increasing. Today the Uyghur language is also used as a lingua franca among non-Uyghurs, such as the Xibes, Wakhis, Pamiris and Daurs, and even some Russians. A number of ethnic minorities in China even use Uyghur as a first language, these include the Tatars, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz.

The language can be heard in most social domains, and also in schools, government and courts.[4] About 80 newspapers and magazines are available in Uyghur; five TV channels and ten publishers serve as the Uyghur media. Outside of China, Radio Free Asia and TRT provide news in Uyghur.

Like many other Turkic languages, Uyghur displays vowel harmony and agglutination, lacks noun classes or grammatical gender, and is a left-branching language with Subject Object Verb word order.

History

The Old Turkic language is an ancient Turkic language used from the 7th to 13th centuries in Mongolia and the East Turkestan region, and is especially found among the Orkhon inscriptions and Turpan texts. It is the direct ancestor of the the Uyghur Turkic languages, including Uyghur and the Uzbek language. By contrast, the Western Yugur language, although in geographic proximity, is more closely related to the Siberian Turkic languages in Siberia.

Probably around 1077, a scholar of the Turkic languages, Mahmud al-Kashgari from Kashgar in modern-day Xinjiang, published a Turkic language dictionary and description of the geographic distribution of many Turkic languages, Divān-ul Lughat-ul Turk (English: Compendium of the Turkic Dialects; Uyghur: تۈركى تىللار دىۋانى). The book, described by scholars as an "extraordinary work,"documents the rich literary tradition of Turkic languages; it contains folk tales (including descriptions of the functions of shamans[12]) and didactic poetry (propounding "moral standards and good behaviour"), besides poems and poetry cycles on topics such as hunting and love, and numerous other language materials.

Old Turkic, through the influence of Perso-Arabic after the 13th century, developed into the Chagatai language, a literary language used all across Central Asia until the early 20th century. After Chaghatai fell into extinction, the standard versions of Uyghur and Uzbek were developed from dialects in the Chagatai-speaking region, showing abundant Chaghatai influence. Uyghur language today shows considerable Persian influence as a result from Chagatai, including numerous Persian loanwords. Modern Uyghur uses the Urumchi dialect in Xinjiang as its standard, while the similar Ili dialect is used in the former Soviet Union. Russian sources cite the central dialect of Ghulja as the pronunciation norm for modern Standard Uyghur. The similar pronunciation of Zhetysu and Fergana Uyghurs is considered standard for Uyghurs living in the CIS countries.

Classification

The Uyghur language belongs to the Uyghur Turkic branch of the Turkic language family, which is controversially a branch of the Altaic language family. It is closely related to Western Yugur, Salar, Aini, Lop, Ili Turki, the extinct languages Old Turkic and Chagatay, and more distantly Uzbek.

Early linguistic scholarly studies of Uyghur include Julius Klaproth's 1812 Dissertation on language and script of the Uighurs (Abhandlung über die Sprache und Schrift der Uiguren) which was disputed by Isaak Jakob Schmidt. In this period, Klaproth correctly asserted that Uyghur was a Turkic language, while Schmidt believed that Uyghur should be classified with Tangut languages.

Dialects

It is widely accepted that Uyghur has three main dialects, all based on their geographical distribution. Each of these main dialects have a number of sub-dialects which all are mutual intelligible to some extent.

  • Central: Spoken in an area stretching from Kumul towards south to Yarkand
  • Southern: Spoken in an area stretching from Guma towards east to Charqaliq
  • Eastern: Spoken in an area stretching from Charqaliq towards north to Chongköl

The Central dialects are spoken by 90% of the Uyghur-speaking population, while the two other branches of dialects only are spoken by a relatively small minority.

Vowel reduction is common in the the northern parts of where Uyghur is spoken, but not in the south.

Orthography

Since the beginning of the literary tradition of Uyghur in the 5th century it has been written in numerous different writing systems and continues to be. Unlike many other Turkic languages, Uyghur is primarily written using a Arabic-derived alphabet, although a Cyrillic-derived alphabet and two Latin-derived alphabets also are in use, but to a much lesser extent.

The four alphabets in use today are:

  • Uyghur Ereb Yéziqi or UEY
  • Uyghur Latin Yéziqi or ULY
  • Uyghur Siril Yéziqi or USY
  • Uyghur Pinyin Yéziqi or UPNY

Grammar

Uyghur is an agglutinative language with a Subject Object Verb-word order. Nouns are inflected for number and case, but not gender and definiteness like in many other languages. There are two numbers: singular and plural; and six different cases: nominative, accusative, dative, locative, ablative and genitive. Verbs are conjugated for tense: present and past; voice: causative and passive; aspect: continuous; and mood: e.g. ability. Verbs may be negated as well.

Lexicon

The core lexicon of the Uyghur language is of Turkic stock, but due to different kinds of language contact through the history of the language, it has adopted many loanwords. Kazakh, Uzbek and Chagatai are all Turkic languages which have had a strong influence on Uyghur. Many words of Arabic origin have come into the language through Persian and Tajik, which again have come through Uzbek, and to a greater extent, Chagatai. Many words of Arabic origin have also entered the language directly through Islamic literature after the introduction of the Islamic religion around the 10th century.

Russian and Chinese are the greatest influencers in more recent times, Russian mostly outside Xinjiang, and Chinese in Xinjiang. Loanwords from these languages are all quite recent, although older borrowings exist as well, such as borrowings from Dungan, a Mandarin dialect spoken by the Dungan people of Central Asia. A number of loanwords of German origin have also reached Uyghur, although through Russian.

 

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