Monday, July 15, 2013

Language Profile: Uzbek

This week we're taking a brief look at Uzbek, which belongs to the Turkic language family that also includes the Turkish and Kazakh languages. Unsurprisingly, it is the official language of Uzbekistan. It has over 20 million native speakers worldwide, mainly in Uzbekistan and surrounding countries in Central Asia.

Uzbek shares characteristics with many other languages in the region. Its grammar and lexicon are similar to those of other Turkic languages. The Persian language, spoken in neighboring Tajikistan and Afghanistan, has also influenced the pronunciation of certain Uzbek vowels. The influence of Islam has added many Arabic loanwords to the language, while previous Soviet rule of the region led to the contribution of many new Russian terms.

Sher-Dor Madrasah is a school in Samarkand, the second-
largest city in Uzbekistan, built in the 17th century.
When it comes to written language, Uzbek has quite an interesting history. The language has been written in three completely different scripts, and the transitions between the three all occurred in a span of about 20 years!

Before the 1920s, Uzbek was written in various Arabic-based scripts like many other Turkic languages. A decade later, many of the Turkic languages were Latinized for both educational and political purposes, so Uzbek was converted into a Latin-based script. In 1940, Stalin decided that the official alphabet should be Cyrillic, which stayed in place as the writing system of choice until the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The Uzbek language is now primarily written in a Latin script due to its reintroduction in the 1990s, but it is not uncommon to find it written in Cyrillic as well. The Latin script has only been found on Uzbek coins since 2001, while official websites, street signs, and news media have been using it in print for little more than a decade.