Introduction to the Uzbek Language and Culture
Uzbekistan has a diverse and long history as part of the Silk Road. Once having belonged to the ancient Persian Empire, seized by the Genghis Khan, and suppressed by the Red Army, Uzbekistan is now Central Asia’s post-Soviet most populous country with a population of about 32.39 million (2017). It has a growing importance in the world economy, especially in the field of gas, cotton, oil, coal, and important minerals. In fact, Uzbekistan is the world’s second-largest cotton exporter.
Uzbekistan is a landlocked country surrounded by landlocked countries. It shares borders with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to the south, and Kazakhstan to the north and west. Uzbek people can also be found in these neighboring countries, including Xinjiang Province of China.
The Role of the Uzbek Language in the Society
As with its neighboring countries Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the Russian language is still widely spoken in Uzbekistan as a consequence of the Soviet Union occupation.
Uzbek is now the official language and is an important member of the Turkic family and is spoken by the majority of ethnic Uzbeks in the country. Although many Uzbeks can speak both Uzbek and Russian, the Russian language dominates more in science and commerce. Both languages are taught in schools, with some emphasizing Uzbek, others Russian.
Although numerous dialects and variations exist, the capital Tashkent dialect has been chosen as the official written language. Dialects in the Fergana Valley have some Kyrgyz influence because of its proximity to Kyrgyzstan. The dialects that are spoken in the northern and western part, nearby Turkmenistan, have strong Turkmen influence.
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Throughout its history, the Uzbek language has been written in a number of alphabets. The Arab invasion of Uzbekistan during the eighth century converted the nomadic Turkic tribes to Islam. As a consequence, Uzbek was written in the Perso-Arabic alphabet for centuries before the Soviet Union replaced that with the Latin alphabet in the late 1920s, known as Yanalif (Yangi alifbo or New Alphabet). The dialects of major cities of Tashkent and Fergana were used as the basis of standard Uzbek at that time. However, the Latin alphabet was abolished and Cyrillic letters were introduced in the beginning of 1940 as part of the Russification campaign. Since the break up with the Soviet Union in 1993, the Latin alphabet was reintroduced again in order to ease trade and improve relations with foreign countries and was made the official alphabet by the government. Uzbek is one of a few Central Asian languages that use the Latin alphabet.
Access to Turkic Languages
Millions of people in the former Soviet Union, the Caucasus, and China, speak Turkic languages, including: Kazakh, Uyghur, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, Tatar, Chuvash, and Sakha (Yakut). The Turkic language family consists of around 40 languages with several branches, such as Northwestern Turkic (Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Tatar), Southwestern Turkic (Turkish, Azerbaijani, Turkmen), Northeastern Turkic (Sakha), and Southeastern Turkic (Uzbek, Uyghur).
The speakers from various Turkic languages, especially from the same language branch, can mostly communicate with each other. Uzbek certainly shares similarities with the languages from this group, particularly the Uyghur and Kazakh. The similarities can be found in the vocabulary and grammar. The Uzbek language shares quite a lot of words and grammar structures with Turkish too.
Below is an example of the differences in the numbers four and five throughout the Turkic languages.
The Uzbek language developed over time from Chagatai, which is a literary and prestigious Turkic language of Central Asia. Chagatai was part of the Karluk branch of Turkic languages. It is the original and highly Persianized Turkic language of the populations of the Fergana Valley and Xinjiang.
Arabic, Persian, and Russian Influence
The Persian Empire ruled Central Asia, including Uzbekistan, for a long time, and the Persian language was the lingua franca during this period. Then, with the spread of Islam, many Arabic words can be found in Central Asian languages. For this reason, there are many loanwords from Arabic and Persian.
The example of Arabic influence is the greeting “assalamu alaikum”, which is used formally and informally, and kitob (book), kalam (pen), tarix (history), etc. Some examples of Persian influence can be found in the weekday names, such as the following:
|Sunday||yakshanba||yek shanbe (lit: 1 sabbath)|
|Monday||dushanba||do shanbe (lit: 2 sabbath)|
|Tuesday||seshanba||se shanbe (lit: 3 sabbath)|
|Wednesday||chorshanba||chāhār shanbe (lit: 4 sabbath)|
|Thursday||payshanba||panj shanbe (lit: 5 sabbath)|
|Friday||juma||jom`e (from Arabic جمعة)|
|Saturday||shanba||shanbe (from Parthian shambat 𐫢𐫖𐫁𐫤)|
Learning Uzbek opens doors to the rich culture, history, and literature of the Islamic world. Because of the Soviet Union, the Russian language was used widely in Central Asia, and it is even still being used until today, however, it is steadily decreasing.
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Uzbek is an agglutinative language, like Turkish. If you are familiar with the Turkish language, then the Uzbek language should be easy to learn. If you are not familiar with it or agglutinative languages in general, it attaches suffixes to the word stem one after another in a row to add nuance to words, so the language doesn't have prepositions. Since this fashion of word-forming can become very long, sometimes a single word can correspond to a whole English sentence. It does not have grammatical gender or articles but it has six cases. It also lacks vowel harmony, which is a distinctive characteristic of most Turkic languages.
A brief explanation of Uzbek grammar is shown here:
- The word order is subject–object–verb (SOV). For example, the sentence “Men kitob kordim (I see the book)” consists of “men (I)”, “kitob (book)”, and “kordim (see)”.
- Plural is formed by adding “-lar” to the noun. For example, “do’st (friend)” becomes “do’stlar (friends)”.
- The comparative and superlative are formed by adding “-roq” and “eng +”. For example, “katta (big)”, “kattaroq (bigger)”, “eng katta (the biggest)”.
- Verbs take the following endings to form the present tense (I-you-he-we-you-they): -man, -san, -di, -miz, -siz, -dilar.
- Verbs take the following endings to form the past tense (I-you-he-we-you-they): -dim, -ding, -di, -dik, -dingiz, -dilar.
- Verbs take the following endings to form the future tense (I-you-he-we-you-they): -chiman, -chisan, -chi, -chimiz, -chisiz, -chilar.
Let's Learn Some Uzbek Phrases
Below, you'll find a list of essential phrases that you can start learning and speaking right away. These basic sentences will give you a solid foundation for participating in simple conversations.
If you know any of the Turkic languages, you will find similarities with the Uzbek phrases below.
|Good morning!||Xayrli tong!|
|Good day!||Xayrli kun!|
|Good evening!||Xayrli oqshom!|
|How are you?||Ishlar qanday?|
|Goodbye!||Xayr / Alvido / Hozircha xayr!|
|Thank you very much.||Katta rahmat.|
|You are welcome.||Arzimaydi.|
|Excuse me.||Kechirasiz / Afv etasiz.|
|I am sorry.||Kechirasiz.|
|I don't understand.||Tushunmayman.|
|I don't know.||Bilmayman.|
|I don't want.||Istamayman.|
|Please repeat.||Marhamat qilib takrorlang|
|This is expensive.||Bu qimmat.|
Let's Learn Some Uzbek Vocabulary
This is a list of basic vocabulary to get you started recognizing sentences in Uzbek. Words that are borrowed from Russian are marked (R).
|(I you he we you they)||(men sen u biz siz ular)|
|where – to where – from where||qaerda – qaerga – qaerdan|
|why - because||nima sababdan - chunki|
|how much (price)||qancha (narx)|
|reserve||zaxira qilib qo'ymoq|
|here - to here - from here||shu erda - bu erga - bu erdan|
|there - to there - from there||u erda - u erga - u erdan|
|near - far||yaqin - uzoq|
|right - to right - from right||o'ng - o'ngga - o'ngda|
|left - to left - from left||chap - chapga - chapdan|
|north - east - south - west||shimol - sharq - janub - g'arb|
|1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5||bir - ikki - uch - to'rt - besh|
|6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10||olti - etti - sakkiz - to'qqiz - o'n|
|11 - 19||o'n + 1-9|
|20 - 30 - 40 - 50||yigirma - o'ttiz - qirq - ellik|
|60 - 70 - 80 - 90||oltmish - etmish - sakson - to'qson|
|100 - 1000 - 1 million||yuz - ming - million|
Time - Frequency
|twice a week||haftasiga ikki marta|
|four times a month||oyiga to'rt marta|
|every day - every week||har kuni - har hafta|
|every month - every year||har oyda - har yilda|
Time - Point
|today - yesterday - tomorrow||bugun - kecha - ertaga|
|this morning - yesterday morning - tomorrow morning||bugun ertalab - kecha ertalab - ertaga tongda|
|this evening - yesterday evening - tomorrow evening||bugun kechqurun - kecha kechqurun - ertaga kechqurun|
|now - then||hozir - o'shanda|
|in a month||bir oydan keyin|
|in two months||ikki oydan keyin|
|in two years||ikki yildan keyin|
|hour - minute - second||soat - daqiqa - soniya|
|in morning - at noon - in afternoon||ertalab - choshgoh - tushlikdan so'ng|
|in evening - at night - at midnight||kechqurun - tunda - yarim tun|
|2 days ago||ikki kun avval|
|at 3'oclock||soat uchda|
Time - Duration
|year - this year - last year - next year||yil - shu yili - o'tgan yili - keyingi yili|
|month - this year - last month - next month||oy - bu oy - o'tgan oyda - yanagi oyda|
|week - this week - last week - next week||hafta - bu hafta - o'tgan hafta - kelgusi hafta|
|spring - summer - autumn - winter||bahor - yoz - kuz - qish|
|in spring - in summer - in autumn - in winter||bahorda - yozda - kuzda - qishda|
|the whole month/year||oy/yil bo'yi|
|too (much)||juda ham|
|fork - knife - spoon||sanchqi - pichoq - qoshiq|
|breakfast - lunch - dinner||nonushta - tushlik - kechki ovqat|
|meat - sausage||go'sht - sosiska (R)|
|chicken - egg||tovuq - tuxum|
|beef - pork - mutton - veal||mol go'shti - cho'chqa go'shti - qo'y go'shti - buzoq go'shti|
|bread - cheese - milk||non - pishloq - sut|
|sugar - salt - pepper||qand - tuz - murch|
|water - ice||suv - muz|
|(milk) coffee - (black/green) tea - juice||(sutli) kofe - (qora/ko'k) choy - sharbat|
|(white/red) wine - beer - vodka||(oq/qizil) vino (R) - pivo (R) - aroq|
|vegatables - fruit||sabzavotlar - meva|
|father - mother||ota (dada!) - ona (oyi!)|
|son - daughter||o'g'li - qiz|
|brother - sister||aka-uka - opa-singil|
|grandfather - grandmother||bobo - buvi|
|parents - children||ota-ona - bolalar|
|husband - wife||er - xotin|
|friend - close friend||do'st - og'ayni|
|acquaintance - neighbor||tanish - qo'shni|
|hotel - room - key||mehmonxona - nomer (R) - kalit|
|no smoking!||chekilmasin / чекилмасин|
|plane - train - ticket - train station||samolyot (R) - poezd (R) - chipta - vokzal (R)|
|airport - arrival - departure - flight||aeroport (R) - uchib kelish - uchib ketish/jo'nash - reys (R)|
|baggage - customs - transfer - passenger||yuk - bojxona - tranzit (R) - yo'lovchi|
|bus - bus stop - number - route||avtobus (R) - bekat - tartib raqami - marshrut (R)|
|take (bus) - get on - get off||o'tirmoq - tushib qolmoq - chiqmoq|
|call a taxi - take a taxi - take the metro||taksi chaqirmoq - taksi olmoq - metroda yurmoq|
|city - city center - village||shahar - shahar markazi - qishloq|
|road/street - stoplight - crosswalk||yo'l/ko'cha - svetofor (R) - o'tish yo'li|
|park - bridge - square - building||bog' - ko'prik - maydon - bino|
|shop - pharmacy - market||do'kon - dorixona - bozor|
|restaurant - cafe - museum - library||restoran (R) - kafe (R) - muzey (R) - kutubxona|
|school - embassy - hospital||maktab - elchixona - kasalxona|
|house - window - door||uy - deraza - eshik|
|Entry - Exit||Kirish - Chiqish
кириш - чиқиш
|Open - Closed||Ochiq - Yopiq
очиқ - ёпиқ
|Warning - Danger(ous)||Diqqat - Xavfli
диққат - хавфли
|Men - Women||Erkaklar Uchun - Ayollar Uchun
эркаклар учун - аёллар учун
|Free of charge||Bepul
|world - earth - moon - sun||olam - er - oy - quyosh|
|ocean - sea - sky - air||okean - dengiz - osmon - havo|
|mountain - hill - lake - river||tog' - tepalik - ko'l - daryo|
|wood - iron - gold - fire||yog'och - temir - oltin - olov|
|weather - heat - cold - cloud - rain - snow||ob-havo - issiq - sovuq - bulut - yomg'ir - qor|
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