Monday, March 23, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Uzbekistan

Last Monday, we looked at the fascinating linguistic makeup of Peru. This week we're traveling to the other side of the world to learn about the languages of Uzbekistan, a large country in Central Asia.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Uzbekistan is Uzbek, a member of the Turkic language family. Uzbek is the native language of approximately 85% of the country's population. While it was formerly written using a Cyrillic script, it has been written using a Latin-based alphabet since 1992, soon after Uzbekistan gained its independence from the Soviet Union.

An illustration of a bazaar in Samarkand from the
1893 novel Claudius Bombarnac by Jules Verne.
The Recognized Language

Uzbekistan also officially recognizes Karakalpak, another Turkic language, in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. It has approximately 407,000 native speakers, who primarily reside in this northwestern region of the country.

Other Languages

There are six other languages in Uzbekistan that have significant numbers of speakers: Russian, Tajik, Kazakh, Turkish, Crimean Tatar, and Bukharic.

According to the Ethnologue, the Russian language can be considered the "de facto national working language" of Uzbekistan. This is undoubtedly due to the importance of Russian which lingers from the country's recent past as part of the Soviet Union. Russian is the primary language of over 4 million speakers, which is approximately 14% of the country. It is used in government, business, and industries such as science and technology.

Tajik, the official language of neighboring Tajikistan, is spoken by over 1.2 million Uzbeks, which is around 5% of the population. It is primarily used in large cities such as Bukhara and Samarkand. It is followed in number of speakers by Kazakh, Turkish, and Crimean Tatar, which are all Turkic languages.

Over 800,000 people in Uzbekistan speak Kazakh, while nearly 200,000 speak the Turkish language. Crimean Tatar, which is also spoken in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, has nearly 150,000 speakers. Finally, there is Bukharic, an Indo-European language related to Persian and Tajik, which has nearly 10,000 speakers in the country. It is the language of Bukharan Jews, and contains a large number of loanwords from Hebrew.