Language facts: Uyghur

Feb 12, 2016

Uyghur belongs to the Turkic language family and is derived from Old Turkic language with its origins in Mongolia and Xinjiang. This is the autonomous territory in northwest China, sometimes also referred to as East Turkestan, or Uyghurstan (although actively discouraged by Chinese government), in historical context even Moghulistan – the land of Mongols where the descendants of Genghis Khan actually ruled. As a member of the Turkic language family, Uyghur is related to languages like Turkish, Azerbaijani, or Turkmen. Uyghur has somewhere between 10 and 15 million speakers nowadays.

Formerly known as Eastern Turkish, it is today a language spoken by the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where its status is that of official language. Uyghur is widely used in public life and in official settings as well as in print, radio and television. Apart from Xinjiang, the language is spoken also in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia by Uyghur diaspora.

Three different scripts

Generally, Uyghur has three main dialects, Central, Southern and Eastern, where the Central dialect is clearly the dominant one and spoken by 90% of the population. Like the other Turkic languages, it has vowel harmony. Uyghur has been influenced to a large degree by Persian and Arabic, and more recently also by Russian and Chinese. The Old Uyghur writing dates back to the fifth century and its writing system is based on the Arabic script. This writing system still dominates today, although Uyghur also can be written in two different Latin alphabets (classic Latin – Uyghur Latin Yëziqi, and a blend of Latin, Turkic and Pinyin* – Uyƣur Yengi Yeziⱪi – abandoned after 1982, when the original Arabic-based script was reintroduced) as well as Cyrillic. In Xinjiang, the Uyghur Arabic script is adopted as the official writing system, while the other alphabets are primarily used in areas outside Xinjiang.

Alphabet

ا ئە،ە ب پ ت ج چ خ د ر ز ژ س ش غ ف ق ك گ ڭ ل م ن ھ ئو،و ئۇ،ۇ ئۆ،ۆ ئۈ،ۈ ۋ ئې،ې ئى،ى ي

* Pinyin = The official writing system for transcription of Mandarin pronounciation of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet

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