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Number of Speakers: 15 million
Key Dialects: Karluko, Chigile, Kypchak, Lokhay , Oghuz, Qurama, Sart
Geographical Center: Uzbekistan
Uzbek is the official language of Uzbekistan, where about 15 million speak it as their first language. It is also found spoken in the neighboring countries of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. There are also emigre communities in the USA, Australia, and Germany.
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. 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). Some experts also consider Japanese and Korean part of this phylum, although evidence of this is debated.
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).
Uzbek currently is written with the Cyrillic alphabet. Nonstandard Uzbek had been written with a version of the Arabic alphabet ever since the Arab conquest of the ninth century (Fierman 1985). 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 used today. There are now plan to replace the Cyrillic with a Roman script.
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 postpositions 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 langauge.
Lexical influences include Arabic, Persian, Tajik, and modern Russian loan words.
ROLE IN SOCIETY
Uzbek (and not Russian) was declared the official language of Uzbekistan in October 1989. Popular and scientific texts are published in Uzbek as well as newspapers. Uzbek is also used on radio and television, as well as in the theater. In 1992 it was reported that 185 newspapers (out of 279) and 33 periodicals (out of 93) were printed in Uzbek. Education in Uzbek is available from primary school through university level; in 1988/1989 more than three quarters of students were educated in Uzbek language schools. Since the establishment of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Arabic script has been taught in schools.
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 in the fifteenth century 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 postrevolutionary standard was based on the dialect of Turkistan (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.
Akiner, S. 1989. "Uzbekistan: Republic of Many Tongues" in Language Planning in the Soviet Union, edited by M. Kirkwood, 100-121. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.
Allworth, E. 1964. Uzbek Literary Politics. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton and Co.
Bidwell, C. E. 1955. A Structural Analysis of Uzbek. Washington, DC: American Council of Learned Societies.
Bright, W., ed. 1992. International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 2. New York: Routledge.
Comrie, B. 1981. The Languages of the Soviet Union. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fierman, W. 1985. "Language Development in Soviet Uzbekistan" in Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Soviet National Languages: Their Past, Present, and Future, edited by I. T. Kreindler, 205-233. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Fierman, W. 1991. Language Planning and National Development: The Uzbek Experience. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas, Texas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Kirkwood, M. 1989. Language Planning in the Soviet Union. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.
Kreindler, I. T., ed. 1985. Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Soviet National Languages: Their Past, Present, and Future. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lewis, E. G. 1972. Multilingualism in the Soviet Union: Aspects of Language Policy and Its Implementation. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton and Co.
Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Linguistic Society of America.
Voegelin, C. F. and F. M. Voegelin. 1977. Classification and Index of the World's Languages. New York: Elsevier North Holland.
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