Monday, January 20, 2014

Language Profile: Uyghur

This week we're taking a look at Uyghur, a member of the Turkic language family that also includes the Turkish, Uzbek, and Azerbaijani languages. It is the language of the Uyghur ethnic group, who primarily reside in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China. There are also many Uyghur speakers in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.

The Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar in Ürümqi, China.
Uyghur is an official language of the Xinjian Uyghur Autonomous Region. It is widely used in schools and government, as well as informal situations. While Standard Chinese is also used in the region, there is considerable access to print media, radio, and television in Uyghur. There are three main geographical dialects of Uyghur that are all mutually intelligible. The Central dialect is spoken by about 90% of Uyghur speakers, with the rest speaking the Southern and Eastern dialects.

The Uyghur language contains many loanwords from fellow Turkic languages such as Kazakh and Uzbek. The Islamic religion has also been the source of many Arabic loanwords, while Chinese terms have been borrowed due to Uyghur being spoken in China.

While Uyghur is primarily written using an Arabic-based script, it also has a Cyrillic alphabet and two Latin alphabets, though they are rarely used. The first Arabic-based alphabet for the language was developed in the 10th century when Islam was introduced to the Uyghur people. The current Arabic script requires mandatory marking of vowels in writing, an uncommon feature that sets it apart from most other Arabic-based scripts.