Old Uyghur language

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Old Uyghur
Native to Uyghur Khaganate, Kingdom of Qocho, Gansu Uyghur Kingdom
Region Hami, Turfan, Gansu
Era 9th–14th century
Early forms
Old Uyghur alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3 oui
Glottolog oldu1238[1]

The Old Uyghur language (traditional Chinese: 回鶻語; simplified Chinese: 回鹘语; pinyin: Huíhú yǔ) was a Turkic language which was spoken in the Kingdom of Qocho from the 9th–14th centuries and in Gansu where it evolved into the Western Yugur language.


Uyghur inscription on the east interior wall of the Cloud Platform at Juyongguan.
Uyghur inscription on the west interior wall of the Cloud Platform at Juyongguan.

The Old Uyghur language evolved from Old Turkic after the Uyghur Khaganate broke up and remnants of it migrated to Gansu and Turfan and Hami in the 9th century. The Uyghurs in Turfan and Qomul founded the Kingdom of Qocho and adopted Manichaeism and Buddhism as their religions, while those in Gansu first founded the Gansu Uyghur Kingdom (Ganzhou Uyghur Kingdom) and then became subjects of the Western Xia, and their descendants are the Yugur people.

The Kingdom of Qocho survived as a client state of the Mongol Empire, but was conquered by the Musim Chagatai Khanate which conquered Turfan and Qomul and Islamisized the region. The Old Uyghur language then went extinct in Turfan and Qomul, but survived in Gansu where it evolved into the modern Western Yugur language.

Kagan Arik wrote that Modern Uyghur is descended from Old Uyghur, rather, it is a descendant of the Karluk languages spoken by the Kara-Khanid Khanate,[2] in particular the Xākānī language described by Mahmud al-Kashgari in Dīwānu l-Luġat al-Turk, while Western Yugur is considered to be the true descendant of Old Uyghur, and is also called "Neo-Uygur" according to Gerard Clauson.[3] According to Frederik Coene, Modern Uyghur and Western Yugur belong to entirely different branches of the Turkic language family, respectively the southeastern Turkic languages and the northeastern Turkic languages .[4][5]


Old Uyghur had an anticipating counting system and a copula dro, which is passed on to Western Yugur.[6]


Much of Old Uyghur literature is religious texts regarding Manichaeism and Buddhism,[7] with examples found among the Dunhuang manuscripts. Multilingual inscriptions including Old Uyghur can be found at the Cloud Platform at Juyongguan and the Stele of Sulaiman.


Main article: Old Uyghur alphabet

Old Uyghur was written in the Old Uyghur alphabet which was derived from the Sogdian script.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Old Uighur". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Arik 2008, p. 145
  3. ^ Clauson, Gerard (Apr 1965). "Review An Eastern Turki-English Dictionary by Gunnar Jarring". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland) (No. 1/2): 57. Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Coene 2009, p. 75
  5. ^ Coene 2009, p. 75
  6. ^ Chen et al, 1985
  7. ^ 西域、 敦煌文献所见回鹊之佛经翻译[dead link]

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