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.

Main routes of the Silk Road | Source: Wikipedia

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.

Location of Uzbekistan | Source: GraphicMaps

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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Switching Alphabets

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.

Group English four five
Southwest Turkish dört bes
Azerbaijani dörd bes
Turkmen dört besh
Northwest Kyrgyz tört besh
Kazakh tört bes
Tatar dürt bish
Southeast Uzbek tört besh
Uyghur tört bæsh
Northwest Sakha tüört bies

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:

English
Uzbek
Persian
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 Grammar

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.

English
Uzbek
Hello! Salom!
Good morning! Xayrli tong!
Good day! Xayrli kun!
Good evening! Xayrli oqshom!
How are you? Ishlar qanday?
Goodbye! Xayr / Alvido / Hozircha xayr!
Thank you. Rahmat.
Thank you very much. Katta rahmat.
You are welcome. Arzimaydi.
Please. Iltimos.
Yes. Ha.
No. Yo'q.
Excuse me. Kechirasiz / Afv etasiz.
Good. Yaxshi.
Possible. Mumkin.
Impossible. Mumkin emas.
I am sorry. Kechirasiz.
Sir/Mr. Janob.
Lady/Mrs. Xonim.
I understand. Tushunaman
I don't understand. Tushunmayman.
I know. Bilaman.
I don't know. Bilmayman.
I want. Istayman.
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).

Questions

English
Uzbek
who kim
(I you he we you they) (men sen u biz siz ular)
what nima
where – to where – from where qaerda – qaerga – qaerdan
when qachon
for what nega
why - because nima sababdan - chunki
how qanday
what kind qanaqa
which qaysi
how many qancha
how much (price) qancha (narx)
whose kimniki

Common Verbs

Social
Uzbek
give bermoq
help yordamlashmoq
invite taklif qilmoq
meet uchrashmoq
request talab qilmoq
show ko'rsatmoq
visit kelib ko'rmoq
wait kutmoq
Thought
Uzbek
choose tanlamoq
forget unutmoq
hope umid qilmoq
mean bildirmoq
prefer afzal ko'rmoq
remember eslamoq
think o'ylamoq
understand tushunmoq
Senses
Uzbek
fear qo'rqmoq
get olmoq
hear/listen eshitmoq
hurt/ache og'rimoq
like yoqmoq
see ko'rmoq
surprise hayron qilmoq
touch tegmoq
watch kuzatmoq
Ability
Uzbek
able/can uddalamoq
allow ruxsat bermoq
do qilmoq
find topmoq
have ega bo'lmoq
keep saqlamoq
try urinib ko'rmoq
Speech
Uzbek
agree rozi bo'lmoq
answer javob bermoq
ask so'ramoq
explain tushuntimoq
pronounce aytmoq
repeat qaytarmoq
speak gapirmoq
Body
Uzbek
bathe cho'milmoq
cry yig'lamoq
drink ichmoq
eat yemoq
laugh kulmoq
sleep uxlamoq
Movement
Uzbek
arrive etib kelmoq
enter kirmoq
exit chiqmoq
go yurmoq
run yugurmoq
sit o'tirmoq
stand arzimoq
stop to'xtamoq
swim suzmoq
take olmoq
Study
Uzbek
learn/study o'qimoq
teach o'gitmoq
write yozmoq
Time
Uzbek
begin boshlamoq
continue davom ettirmoq
end/finish tugatmoq
Commerce
Uzbek
buy sotib olmoq
pay to'lamoq
rent ijaraga olmoq
reserve zaxira qilib qo'ymoq
sell sotmoq
spend sarflamoq
travel sayohat qilmoq
Causatives
Uzbek
break sindirmoq
change o'zgartirmoq
close yopmoq
open ochmoq
put qo'ymoq

Directions

English
Uzbek
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
straight on oldiga
north - east - south - west shimol - sharq - janub - g'arb

Counting

English
Uzbek
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
-rst/-nd/-rd/-nth -inchi

Time - Frequency

English
Uzbek
never hech qachon
rarely kamdan-kam hollarda
sometimes ba'zan
often tez-tez, ko'pincha
usually odatda
always har doim
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

English
Uzbek
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

English
Uzbek
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

Degree

English
Uzbek
very juda
too (much) juda ham
so (much) faqat
almost deyarli
another boshqa
every har bir
much ko'p
many ko'pchilik
all hammasi
together birga

Body

English
Uzbek
arm/hand qo'l
ear quloq
eyes ko'zlar
hair sochlar
head bosh
leg/foot oyoq
tooth tish

Clothes

English
Uzbek
clothes kiyim
coat palto (R)
shirt ko'ylak
pants/trousers shim
shoes tufli (R)
watch soat

Food

English
Uzbek
fork - knife - spoon sanchqi - pichoq - qoshiq
breakfast - lunch - dinner nonushta - tushlik - kechki ovqat
soup sho'rva
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
fish baliq
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

People

English
Uzbek
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

City

English
Uzbek
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

Warnings

English
Uzbek
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
бепул

Nature

English
Uzbek
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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