Friday, December 27, 2013

Uzbek Language

Uzbek the official language of the Republic of Uzbekistan, is an Eastern Turkic language and is similar to a number of other eastern Turkic languages including Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Azerbaijani. There are currently some 23.5 million Uzbek speakers mainly in living in the Republic of Uzbekistan, but also amongst the diaspora and neighbouring states including Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey(Asia), Turkmenistan, Ukraine also Uzbek speakers found in Australia, China, Germany, Israel and the USA.

Uzbek belongs to the Qarluq family of Turkic languages, and consequently its lexicon and grammar are most closely linked to the Uighur language, while other influences arose from Persian, Arabic and Russian.

The influence of Islam, and by extension, Arabic, is evident in Uzbek, as well as the residual influence of Russian, from the time when Uzbekistan was under czarist and Soviet domination. Most of the Arabic words have found their way into Uzbek through Persian. Uzbek shares much Persian and Arabic vocabulary with neighboring languages such as Persian and its eastern dialects (Tajik and Dari).

The Uzbek language has many dialects, varying widely from region to region, but three main dialects, namely, Qarluq (spoken in the Ferghana Valley, Tashkent, the Kashka-Darya region, and in some parts of the Samarkand province). It contains a heavier admixture of Persian and Arabic), Kipchak (closely related to Kazakh/Karakalpak and spoken in Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya and in the regions around Bukhara and Samarkand) and Oghuz (closely related to Turkmen and spoken in Khorezm and Karakalpakstan) are differentiated. The commonly understood dialect Qarluq is used in mass media and in most printed material.

In Afghanistan a related but distinct and separate language (Grimes 1992), Southern Uzbek, is spoken by about 1.4 million people. It should also be noted that the term Uzbek has been used, especially in the early 20th century, to refer loosely to other Turkic languages in the region.

An early form of Uzbek, known as Chagatai Uzbek (after one of the sons of Genghis Khan) and written with the Arabic script, emerged as a literary language in the 14th century. A version of the Latin alphabet replaced the Arabic script in 1927, and was in turn replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet in 1940. Until 1992, Uzbek almost everywhere continued to be written using the Cyrillic alphabet. Today in Uzbekistan the Latin script has been officially re-introduced, although the use of Cyrillic is still widespread.

This profile focuses on Uzbek (or Northern Uzbek) as spoken in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek is a member of the Eastern Turkic (or Karlik) group of languages which also includes Uighur. Eastern Turkic is a subgroup of Common Turkic which also includes Turkish, Azerbaijani, Tartar, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, and others. The Turkic languages, and the Mongolian-Tungus (Manchu-Tungusic) languages of Siberia and northeastern China are major divisions of the Altaic family or phylum (see Ruhlen 1987).

The major dialects recognized within Uzbek are Karluko, Chigile, Kypchak, Oghuz, Qurama, Lokhay, and Sart. Oghuz might be a dialect of Khorasani Turkish rather than a dialect of Uzbek (Grimes 1992). Some claim that at least twelve other dialects exist in addition to standard Uzbek, all of which differ considerably from the standard form in sound system, word formation, and vocabulary (Akiner 1989).


Nonstandard Uzbek had been written with a version of the Arabic alphabet ever since the Arab conquest of the ninth century (Fierman 1985). During the Timurid dynasty (late fifteenth century) Turkish, in the form of the Chaghatai dialect, became a literary language in its own right.(ED: In modern Uzbekistan, Chaghatai is called Old Uzbek).

Between 1926 and 1927, preliminary work was done in Uzbekistan to shift the alphabet from the Arabic to the Roman alphabet, which was adopted by the late 1920s. In 1940, the writing system underwent another shift from the Roman to the Cyrillic alphabet.

In September 1993 Uzbekistan announced plans to switch its alphabet from Cyrillic, which by that time had been in use for more than fifty years, to a script based on a modified Latin alphabet similar to that used in Turkey.

The official name of the country in Cyrillic was Uzbekiston, with a breve accent over the Cyrillic U; now in roman script the country is known as O`zbekiston, with an open quote after the O.

The use of O for what was formerly a long A is a feature of Uzbek phonetics. Many places have official names that are at variance with the more familiar spellings, e.g. the capital is Toshkent rather than Tashkent. The autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan is officially Qoraqalpog`iston Respublikasi (and the Kara-Kalpak people are Qoraqalpoq); and Nukus is Nuqus. (ED: Karakalpaks in Karakalpak language are called Qaraqalpaq and their capital Nukus is Nökis).

Like all of the Turkic languages, Uzbek is agglutinative, that is, grammatical functions are indicated by adding various suffixes to fixed stems. Separate suffixes on nouns indicate both gender and number, but there is no grammatical gender. There are five nominal cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, and ablative; number is marked by a plural suffix. Verbs agree with their subjects in case and number, and, as in nouns, separate identifiable suffixes perform these functions. There are also suffixes for tense, aspect, and mood.

Subject-Object -Verb word order in Uzbek is a typical Turkic characteristic, but other orders are possible under certain discourse situations. As a SOV language where objects precede the verb, Uzbek has post-positions rather than prepositions, and relative clauses that precede the verb.

Uzbek has 10 vowels, and 25 consonants. Unlike other Turkic languages, it only has a very reduced form of vowel harmony operating (whereby the vowels of suffixes must harmonize with the vowels of noun and verb stems; thus, for example, if the stem has a round vowel then the vowel of the suffix must be round, and so on.)  However, whereas the system is active in colloquial forms of the spoken language, it is poorly reflected in the written language.

Lexical influences include Arabic, Persian, Tajik, and modern Russian loan words.


The Uzbeks have played an important role in their region since the beginning of the fifteenth century, when present-day Uzbek began to take shape during the modern Turkic period. At that time, a strong cultural movement advocating the use of Uzbek emerged, which led to the creation of a rich Uzbek literature, a large part of which remains unstudied. The literary language of the period has Arabic and Tajik influences especially in the area of word borrowing.

The development of written Uzbek has undergone some dialectal shifts. The first post-revolutionary standard was based on the dialect of Turkistan (ED: Uzbek speaking area of southern Kazakhstan)(Comrie 1981), in the north of the Uzbek-speaking area. Subsequently it was decided to shift the standard dialect and base it on the dialect of the capital city, Tashkent. Thus, current standard Uzbek is based largely on the dialect of Tashkent and differs considerably from the earlier standard.


(ED: Uzbek is spoken widely in Karakalpakstan, particularly in the South of the Republic)

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