Uyghur is a Turkic language spoken in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, administered by China, by the Uyghur people. It is a language with a long literary tradition, and has been written using numerous writing systems through time. Today, an Arabic-based alphabet - Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi (Uyghur Arabic Script) is the official writing system used for Uyghur in Xinjiang, but other alphabets - Latin-based Uyghur Latin Yëziqi (Uyghur Latin Script) and Cyrillic-based Uyghur Siril Yëziqi (Uyghur Cyrillic Script) are still in use, especially outside Xinjiang.
5th to 19th century
Historically there have been five major periods of writing in the literary tradition of Old Uyghur, with the first beginning in the 5th century with Old Uyghur being written for the first time using the Sogdian alphabet. This fell out of use during the 10th century, when it evolved into the Old Uyghur alphabet, although it was taken into use again between the 15th and 16th century. While the Sogdian alphabet was still in use, the language also began being written in the Old Turkic script from the 6th century and onwards until the 9th century. The Old Uyghur language evolved into the modern day Western Yugur language, while the modern Uyghur language is a descendant of the Karluk language.
The Old Uyghur alphabet stayed in use until the 18th century among the Yugur people.
The Arabic-derived alphabet taken into use first came to be the so-called Chagatai script, which was used for writing the Chagatai language and the Turki (modern Uyghur) language, but fell out of use in the early 1920s, when the Uyghur-speaking areas variously became a part of, or under the influence of, the Soviet Union.
20th to 21st century
The writing of Uyghur saw many changes during the 20th century mostly to do political decisions, both from Soviet and Chinese side. The Soviet Union first tried to romanize the writing of the language, but soon after decided to promote a Cyrillic-derived alphabet during the late 1920s, known as Uyghur Siril Yëziqi, fearing that a romanization of the language would strengthen the relationship of the Uyghur people to other Turkic peoples.
With the proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and change to communism, the promotion of a Cyrillic-derived alphabet also began, but when the tensions between the Soviet Union and China grew bigger during the late 1950s, the Chinese devised a new alphabet based upon Pinyin and Cyrillic (with some letters borrowed from the Soviet's Uniform Turkic Alphabet – a Cyrillic-influenced Latin alphabet, with Latin letters like Ə, Ƣ, Ⱨ, Ɵ, etc.), which is known as Yəngi Yəziⱪi (now written Yëngi Yëziqi), and promoted this instead, and which soon became the official alphabet of usage for almost 10 years.
Due to the unpopularity of the Pinyin-based alphabet, the Arabic alphabet was reinstalled, although in a new modified form, which came to be known as Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi. However, due to the increasing importance of information technology, there have been requests for a Latin alphabet, for easier use on computers. This resulted in five conferences between 2000 and 2001, where a Latin-derived alphabet was devised, known as Uyghur Latin Yëziqi.
Today the Uyghur language is being written using four different alphabets.
- UEY: the newest Arabic-based ئۇيگئۇر ئەرئەب يئېژئىكئى or Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi (now a true alphabet, not an abjad), or
- USY: the older Cyrillic-based Уйғур Сирил Ёзики or Uyƣur Siril Yeziⱪi (written now Uyghur Siril Yëziqi), deprecated, or
- UYY: the older mixed Uyƣur Yəngi Yəziⱪi (written now Uyghur Yëngi Yëziqi), also called Pinyin Yeziⱪi (UPNY, written now Pinyin Yëziqi) "Pinyin script", deprecated, or
- ULY: the newest Latin-based Uyghur Latin Yëziqi.
In the table below, the alphabets are shown side-by-side for comparison, together with a phonetic transcription in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It is only grouped by phonemic proximity; each alphabet has its own sort order. Some letter forms used for words borrowed (notably proper names) from other languages, or kept occasionally from older orthographic conventions, are shown between parentheses.
As it can be seen, Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi, Uyghur Yëngi Yëziqi, and Uyghur Latin Yëziqi each have a total of 32 letters (including one digraph for NG/ng in the two Latin-based alphabets, plus four digraphs in ULY). There may still exist differences in texts using the newer Latin orthography, where the standard choice of 〈ë〉 is sometimes written 〈é〉 instead, with the acute accent instead of the standardized diaeresis: this should not make any difference in Uyghur.
Uyghur Siril Yëziqi has three additional letters, the Cyrillic soft letters/ligatures 〈ё〉, 〈ю〉, and 〈я〉, representing /je/, /jo/, and /ja/, respectively, which are written with independent consonant+vowel in the other alphabets. Some words may still use the Cyrillic soft sign. Also, loanwords of Russian origin are often spelled as they are in Russian, and thus not adapted to the Uyghur orthography.
Another notable feature of Uyghur Yëngi Yëziqi was the use of the letter 〈ƣ〉 to represent /ʁ/ (sometimes incorrectly rendered as /ɣ/). This letter has erroneously been named LATIN LETTER OI in Unicode, although it is correctly referred to as gha and replaced by the digraph 〈gh〉 in the newer Uyghur Latin Yëziqi.
In the Uyghur Latin Yëziqi, only the Basic Latin base alphabet is needed, with the common diaeresis (umlaut) being the only diacritic added above vowels, and supported in many fonts and encoding standards. The letter 〈c〉 is only used in the 〈ch〉 digraph, and the letter 〈v〉 is normally not used, except in loanwords where the difference between /v/ and /w/ is needed for correct pronunciation and distinctions). The /ʒ/ may be interchangeably represented in two ways, either as 〈zh〉 or as 〈j〉, although the latter is also used for /dʒ/ (which is normally inferred contextually in Uyghur, and only needed as a separate letter for loanwords needing the distinction). In the Arabic and Cyrillic orthographies, the distinction of /dʒ/ is only seen as a graphic variant of /ʒ/, reducing the Latin alphabet to only 31 effective letters. This variation is due to several opposing arguments, and therefore it was accepted that both are acceptable, as long as no semantic distinction is necessary.
One of the major differences among the four alphabets is the rules of when the glottal stop /ʔ/ is written. In Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi it is consistently written, using the hamza on a tooth 〈ﺋ〉, also at the beginning of words. However, in that case, that Arabic letter is not considered as a separate letter in Uyghur, but as the holder of the Arabic vowel that follows, without pronouncing the glottal stop itself, but only a hiatus (that separates vowels instead of creating diphthongs, the only diphthongs being those formed with /j/ and /w/, viewed as consonants starting a separate syllable in Uyghur). However, some words of Arabic origins won't always be using this tool (that transforms the Arabic script into a true alphabet with plain vowels in Uyghur, and not an abjad).
And finally, in Uyghur Latin Yëziqi, the glottal stop is written between consonants and vowels, also using an apostrophe but consistently, and also to separate 〈gh〉, 〈ng〉, 〈sh〉, and 〈zh〉 when these represent two phonemes and not digraphs for single consonants; for instance, consider the Uyghur word bashlan’ghuch, pronounced /bɑʃlɑnʁutʃ/ and meaning beginning, which would have been pronounced /bɑʃlɑŋhutʃ/ without the apostrophe.
Below is the same text in Uyghur, but written using each of the four alphabets in common use today.
|Arabic alphabet (UEY):||
ھەممە ئادەم تۇغۇلۇشىدىنلا ئەركىن، ئىززەت-ھۆرمەت ۋە ھوقۇقتا باب-باراۋەر بولۇپ تۇغۇلغان. ئۇلار ئەقىلگە ۋە ۋىجدانغا ئىگە ھەمدە بىر-بىرىگە قېرىنداشلىق مۇناسىۋىتىگە خاس روھ بىلەن مۇئامىلە قىلىشى كېرەك.
|Cyrillic alphabet (USY):||Һәммә адәм туғулушидинла әркин, иззәт-һөрмәт вә һоқуқта баббаравәр болуп туғулған. Улар әқилгә вә вижданға игә һәмдә бир-биригә қериндашлиқ мунасивитигә хас роһ билән муамилә қилиши керәк.|
|Former Pinyin-based alphabet (UYY):||Ⱨəmmə adəm tuƣuluxidinla ərkin, izzət-ⱨɵrmət wə ⱨoⱪuⱪta babbarawər bolup tuƣulƣan. Ular əⱪilƣə wə wijdanƣa igə ⱨəmdə bir-birigə ⱪerindaxliⱪ munasiwitigə has roh bilən mu’amilə ⱪilixi kerək.|
|Newer Latin alphabet (ULY):||Hemme adem tughulushidinla erkin, izzet-hörmet we hoquqta babbarawer bolup tughulghan. Ular eqilghe we wijdan'gha ige hemde bir-birige qërindashliq munasiwitige xas roh bilen muamile qilishi kërek.|
|English:||All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.|
- Web tool for converting between Uyghur alphabets