London Uyghur Ensemble

Uyghurche ئۇيغۇرچە
 London Uyghur Ensemble
 Uyghur music studies
 About the Uyghurs
 Uyghurs in the UK
 Uyghur music /audio
 Uyghur music /video
 Uyghur muqam lyrics
 Uyghur song lyrics
 Uyghur poems
 Uyghur literature
 World music /audio
 World music /video
 Online radio & tv
 Uyghurche sehipe
 Ensemble other sites
       Bookmark and Share

Uyghur language

Uyghur ( ئۇيغۇرچە ‎/ Uyƣurqə / Уйғурчә , or / Uyƣur tili / Уйғур тили ) is a spoken by the Uyghur people in Xinjiang (also called East Turkestan or Uyghurstan), formerly also "Sinkiang" and "Chinese Turkestan," a Central Asian region administered by China. In English, the name of the ethnicity and its language is spelled variously as Uyghur, Uighur, Uygur and Uigur. Many English speakers pronounce it as "wEEger" IPA: [ˈwi.ɡɚ]) but the pronunciation "ooygOOr" IPA: [uj.ˈɡur]) is closer to native [ʔʊɪ'ʁʊː].

Spoken in: China, Kazakhstan 
Region: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Total speakers: About 10 million 
Ranking: 76
Language family:  Altaic
Official status
Official language of: Xinjiang
Regulated by: Working Committee of Ethnic Language and Writing of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
Language codes
ISO 639-1: ug
ISO 639-2: uig
ISO 639-3: uig


The Uyghur language belongs to the southeastern branch of the Turkic language family, which is grouped by some linguists among the Altaic languages.

Geographic distribution

Uyghur is spoken by 8.5 million (2004) in China, mostly in the far western Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Uyghur is also spoken by 300,000 in Kazakhstan, and there are Uyghur-speaking communities in Afghanistan, Australia, Albania, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Indonesia, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Norway, Finland, France, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA, South Africa, South Korea, and Uzbekistan.


Like the Uzbek language, the Uyghur language is descended from Chagatay Turki common to Central Asian regions under the Chagatay and Timurid dyansties between 13 and 19th centuries, in turn descended from the Gokturk language. The Chagatay Turkic language in turn owed its origin in the Turkic dialects of the Qarluks and the Karakhanid state, centered around Kashgar.

Contrary to some official histories, the Idikut states of Qumul (Hami) and Turpan, which would be properly labeled "Uyghur" during the Karakhanid and Mongol Yuan periods, spoke a dialect closer to Yugur than to Qarluk-Karakhanid. However these oases came under Chagatay and Timurid rule later in the 14th century, and slowly adopted the common language of the Muslim state when their own Buddhist culture eventually died out.

Whereas colloquial Chagatay Turkic in Uzbekistan came under heavy modification by absorbing a Tajik Language substrate and a Tatar or Kazakh superstrate, the local variants in what is today Xinjiang came into contact with substratal local languages in Khotan, Qumul (Hami), Turpan and Gulja (Ili), notably the Indo-European substrates of Khotan and Turpan, and the distinctive Turkic language in Hami and Turpan closer to Yugur than Chagatay Turkic. Kashgar, being an important political and religious center of the Xinjiang. Chagatayid states, gave rise to a Kashgarlik variety of the language with great currency in inter-oasis trade. However, since the 19th century Jadid Movement in Xinjiang, the Ili variety, one developed rather recently by Uyghur migrants from all oases since as late as 17th century, became the basis for modern standard Uyghur. This owed much to the strategic location of Ili being an entrepot between Xinjiang and Soviet, Uzbek and Afghan Central Asia, to the relative modern outlook of the Ililik intelligentsia, and to the homogeneous nature of the Ililik dialect as combining features from dialects of all Uyghur oases.

Official status

The Uyghurs are one of the 56 official nationalities in China, and Uyghur is an official language of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.


The dialects of Uyghur identified by the Ethnologue are Central Uyghur, Hotan (Hetian), and Lop (Luobu). There are two main languages in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region: Uyghur and. Chinese is not used widely in southern Xinjiang. About 80 newspapers magazines are available in Uighur; five TV channels and ten publishers serve as the Uighur media. All of the information and news provided has to be permitted by governmental offices.


Syllable structure can be CV, CVC, or CVCC. However, Uyghur phonology tends to simplify phonemic consonant clusters by means of elision and epenthesis. Uyghur is not a tonal language. Like other Turkic languages, Uyghur has vowel harmony.

Furthermore, it distinguishes short and long vowels that respond differently to certain phonological processes, but vowel length distinctions are not indicated in the official orthographies, nor is the difference between front and back /ɯ/ which plays a phonological role. Of particular note is the Uyghur-specific feature of "vowel reduction" (or "vowel raising") in which unrounded non-high vowels in initial open syllables followed by /ɯ/ or /i/ are changed to [e] and unrounded vowels in other non-final open syllables are changed to [ɪ]; e.g. |al-Iŋ| → /eliŋ/ (cf. Turkisalın) ´take!´, |ata-lAr-Im-Iz| → /atilirimiz/ (cf. Turkish atalarımız) ´our fathers´-not etilirimiz in Uyghur because the second syllable has an underlying /a/, not /ɯ/: ata ´father´; cf. |at-Im-Iz| → /etimiz/ (cf. Turkish atımız) ´our horse´).

Another phonological Uyghur feature, which is rare among Turkic languages, is that the language is "non-rhotic", similar to many English dialects of Southern England and New England. Syllable-final /r/ is "dropped" more correctly speaking, it is assimilated to the preceding vowel and lengthens it; e.g., Uyghurlar [ʔʊɪ'ʁʊːlaː] ´Uyghurs´. Many speakers occasionally do sound syllable-final /r/, for instance when they enunciate very carefully, such as in recitation or song or when wanting to teach non-Uyghurs "good" Uyghur, and in so doing they often overcompensate by inserting an [r] after a long vowels where there is no phonemic /r/.


Uyghur has Subject Object Verb word order, postpositions, genitives, adjectives, numerals, relatives before noun heads, and initial question words. There are prefixes and suffixes. Word order distinguishes subjects and indirect objects, topic and comment. There are eight noun cases marked by suffixes. Verb suffixes mark person, number, 2nd person marks plural and three levels of respect. Types of verbs include passive, reflexive, reciprocal and causative.


Uyghur vocabulary is basically from Turkic stock; however, like Uzbek, it has taken on a large quantity of loan words from Persian. Many internationalisms entered the Uyghur language from Russian, and there are some more recent loans from Chinese.

Writing system

The language traditionally used the Arabic script since the 10th century. The Chinese government introduced a Roman script closely resembling the Soviet Uniform Turkic Alphabetin 1969, but the Arabic script was reintroduced in 1983, with additional diacritics to distinguish Uyghur vowels. Cyrillic script has been used and is in parts still being used to write Uyghur in areas previously dominated by Russians, and another Roman script, based on Turkish orthography, is used in Turkey and on the internet.

The following table is a comparison of the present Arabic alphabet (Kona Yezik, Kona Yeziq "Old Writing"), the Latin (Yengi Yezik, Yeŋi Yeziq "New Writing") alphabet used from 1969 to 1987, the Cyrillic script currently used in the former Soviet Union, corresponding modern Turkish spellings and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The table is arranged according to the order of the present alphabet.

Uyghur Alphabets

Comparison of Uyghur alphabets
Arabic Latin Cyrillic ULY Turkish IPA Arabic Latin Cyrillic ULY Turkish IPA
ئا A a A a A a A a /a/ ق Ķ ķ Қ қ Q q K k /q/
ئە Ə ə Ə ə E e E e /æ/ ك K k K k K k K k /k/
ب B b Б б B b B b /b/ ڭ -ng Ң ң -ng -ng /ŋ/
پ P p П п P p P p /p/ گ G g Г г G g G g /ɡ/
ت T t Т т T t T t /t/ ل L l Л л L l L l /l/
ج J j Җ җ J j C c /ʤ/ م M m М м M m M m /m/
چ Q q Ч ч CH ch Ç ç /ʧ/ ن N n Н н N n N n /n/
خ H h X x X x H h /x/ ھ H̡ h̡ Һ һ H h H h /h/
د D d Д д D d D d /d/ ئو O o О о О о O o /o/
ر R r Р р R r R r /r/ ئۇ U u У у U u U u /u/
ز Z z З з Z z Z z /z/ ئۆ Ɵ ɵ Ө ө Ö ö Ö ö /ø/
ژ Ⱬ ⱬ Ж ж J j J j /ʒ/ ئۈ Ü ü Ү ү Ü ü Ü ü /y/
س S s С с S s S s /s/ ۋ V v В в W w V v /v/
ش X x Ш ш SH sh Ş ş /ʃ/ ئې E e E e É é E e /e/
غ Ƣƣ Ғ ғ GH gh Ğ ğ /ʁ/ ئى I i И и I i İ i/I ı /i/ or /ɨ/
ف F f Ф ф F f F f /f/ ي Y y Й й Y y Y y /j/

The Uyghur Cyrillic alphabet has two additional letters, which are a combination of two sounds. Here they are with the Arabic and Latin equivalents.

Cyrillic Arabic Latin
Ю ю يۇ yu
Я я يا ya

ULY: Between November 2000 and July 2001, five conferences were held at Xinjiang University in Urumchi to introduce a unified Latin-Script Uyghur alphabet (Uyghur Latin Yéziqi -- ULY).

The ULY project was covered by the official XUAR media and on the internet to inform the public of the effort. The media, in particular, was very careful not to send the wrong signal of an incipient writing reform. Nevertheless, even today some people still hesitate to use the term ULY since they fear its potential association with an attempt to reform the common script. Others think it is important to have one-to-one correspondence (or a norm) between Latin-Script Uyghur and Arabic-Script Uyghur.


Note that the characters in the above tables will not be displayed correctly by your browser unless Unicode fonts are installed on your computer.


See also:

Uyghur Alphabets
Uyghur Alphabets

© Copyright 2007-2013  London Uyghur Ensemble  (LUE).  All rights reserved.

E_mail:  Web designed & administrated by Aziz Isa.