Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Introduction to Uzbek

Before beginning the Itty Bitty Course for Uzbek, there are a few things you should know.

1. Over the years, Uzbek has been written with the Arabic, Cyrillic and Roman scripts. While efforts have been made to standardize the writing of Uzbek with a Roman script, it’s not clear which if any will take. This guide follows the system used in Awde’s Uzbek Dictionary and Phrasebook, but individual words, spellings and pronunciations may differ from Awde where a) outside sources indicated a better or easier-to-learn variant or b) a particular variant seemed to harmonize more readily with other Turkic languages, making polyglottism across Central Asia an easier aspiration.

2. Uzbek is from the same source as Turkish. Like Turkish, a fair amount of Arabic and Persian vocabulary have crept in. As a result, knowing polite phrases in Uzbek will, strangely enough, give you a headstart on exchanging pleasantries in the completely unrelated Iranian languages and in Urdu. There is also a Russian influence though that may fade now that Uzbekistan is independent of the Soviet Union.

3. The Turkic languages have vowel harmony, a phenomenon whereby word endings change to harmonize with the vowel of the last syllable of the root. This system is quite carefully elaborated in other Turkic languages, eg Turkish. But, as this UCLA Uzbek language profile notes:
…whereas the system is active in colloquial forms of the spoken language, it is poorly reflected in the written langauge.
In other words, you’re not going to have to learn vowel harmony necessarily. But you are going to have to keep your ears open for endings that you don’t quite recognize. With time, you should develop an Uzbek ear for things, aided by the fact that the system actually facilitates pronunciation.

4. In Uzbek, the present tense of to be, negation, possessives and a whole lot more are marked by endings, not separate words. Pay particular attention to the “Are you happy?…” sections of the lessons to get a feel for how this works.