Uyghur alphabets

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the alphabet used for writing the Old Uyghur language, see Old Uyghur alphabet.

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. 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.


Old Uyghur and Modern Uyghur[edit]

The Old Uyghur language and Modern Uyghur language are two distinct, different Turkic languages and are not different stages of the same language. The Old Uyghur language is ancestral to Western Yugur language while Karluk languages is the ancestor of the Modern Uyghur language.

Old Uyghur alphabets[edit]

5th to 18th century[edit]

In the 5th century Old Uyghur was 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 who spoke the Western Yugur language.

Modern Uyghur alphabets[edit]

10th century to 19th century[edit]

An Arabic alphabet introduced along with Islam in the 10th century to the Karluk Kara Khanids, which evolved into the modern day Uyghur 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.[1]

The Syriac alphabet has also been used for writing Old Uyghur at some time between the 5th century and 19th century.[2]

20th to 21st century[edit]

MS Windows Uyghur keyboard layout. Note that vowels are still using the older abjab from the Arabic script, and not the newer plain letters for vowels of the Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi alphabet (composed of pairs of Arabic letters, starting by an alef with hamza, that must be entered separately on this keyboard before the actual vowel). In fact, the keyboard is also based on the older Latin alphabet used for the mixed Uyƣur Yəngi Yəziⱪi (now written Uyghur Yëngi Yëziqi), and does not allow entering all vowels correctly for the current Arabic alphabet.

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, , 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.[3]

Present situation[edit]

Comparative alphabets: Arabic-Script Uyghur, Latin-Script Uyghur; Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi, Uyghur Latin Yëziqi sëlishturma ëlipbesi
Comparative current alphabets: Arabic-Script Uyghur, Latin-Script Uyghur;
Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi, Uyghur Latin Yëziqi sëlishturma ëlipbesi.

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"[citation needed], 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.

/m/ م М м M m
/n/ ن Н н N n
/d/ د Д д D d
/t/ ت Т т T t
/b/ ب Б б B b
/p/ پ П п P p
/f/ ف Ф ф F f
/q/ ق Қ қ Q q
/k/ ك К к K k
/ŋ/ ڭ Ң ң Ng ng
/ɡ/ گ Г г G g
/ʁ/ غ Ғ ғ Ƣ ƣ Gh gh
/h/ ھ Һ һ H h
/χ/ خ Х х H h X x
/t͡ʃ/ چ Ч ч Q q Ch ch
/d͡ʒ/ ج Җ җ J j
/ʒ/ ژ Ж ж Zh zh
/z/ ز З з Z z
/s/ س С с S s
/ʃ/ ش Ш ш X x Sh sh
/r/ ر Р р R r
/l/ ل Л л L l
/ɑ/ ئا (ا) А а A a
/ɛ/ ئە (ە) Ә ә Ə ə E e
/e/ ئې (ې) Е е E e Ë ë
/i/ ئى (ى) И и I i
/ø/ ئۆ (ۆ) Ө ө Ɵ ɵ Ö ö
/o/ ئو (و) О о O o
/u/ ئۇ (ۇ) У у U u
/y/ ئۈ (ۈ) Ү ү Ü ü
/j/ ي Й й Y y
/v/~/w/ ۋ В в V v W w
Compounds from Cyrillic
/ju/ Ю ю Yu yu
/ja/ Я я Ya ya
A monument in Niya (Minfeng) with inscriptions in Chinese and Romanized Uyghur

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.[4]

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[5] 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.[6]

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 , 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).

In Uyghur Siril Yëziqi and Uyghur Yëngi Yëziqi, the glottal stop was only written word-medially, using an apostrophe , but it is not required and thus not very consistent.

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.

The text is taken from the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[2]

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 виҗданға 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 əⱪilgə wə wijdanƣa igə ⱨəmdə bir-birigə ⱪerindaxliⱪ munasiwitigə has roⱨ bilən mu’amilə ⱪilixi kerək.
Newer Latin alphabet (ULY):   Hemme adem tughulushidinla erkin, izzet-hörmet we hoquqta babbarawer bolup tughulghan. Ular eqilge 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.




External links[edit]