The Uzbek language is an Altaic language, of the Turkic language branch. Originally, around 600AD, Turkic speakers settled in the river basins of the Amu-Darya, Syr-Darya and Zeravshan rivers, where it was better to cultivate the land and grow crops. As well as running through what we now call Uzbekistan, these rivers combined run through countries such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
Over time, the Eastern Iranian languages spoken in the region of Uzbekistan were replaced with the Turkic languages, and by the 9th century AD, a Turkic dynasty had emerged in the region. This was under the rule of the Karakhanids from the West, who confederated the groups of Turkic tribes in the region under one law.
Before 1921, the Uzbek language was not defined as such, with Uzbek itself as a word being used to describe a different dialect. Uzbek at this time was used to describe the vowel-harmonized Kipchak dialect, spoken by those who were descendants of those who arrived in the region in the 16th century with Shaybani Khan. However, when the country of Turkestan, as Uzbekistan was once known, came under the rule of the USSR, they looked to standardize and homogenize the language and declared that the entire population of Turkestan would be known as Uzbeks, despite many having no actual Uzbek heritage.
Also, prior to 1928, the Uzbek language was written in the Arabic script. However, due to a governmental push to get the population educated, the Uzbek language was standardized into a Latin script. Under Stalin’s rule, in 1940, the Uzbek language was forced into using the Cyrillic alphabet. It was until after the dissolution of the USSR that there was a shift to reintroduce the Latin alphabet. The country of Uzbekistan is still in a transition period in regards to this.
The Uzbek language is the official language of the country of Uzbekistan, though it is also spoken in the countries of Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russia and China. There are around 24 million speakers of the Uzbek language in total, though the majority of them do live in the country of Uzbekistan itself.
There are between 25 and 26 million speakers of the Uzbek language globally, with around 23 million of these speakers living in the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Commonwealth of Independent States is comprised of the countries that were previously under Russian rule until the dissolution of the USSR. These countries consist of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan itself. Around 21 million speakers of the Uzbek language live in Uzbekistan, with around a million in both Tajikistan and Afghanistan.
The grammar and lexicon of the Uzbek language is closely related to the Uyghur language from which it is derived. However, there have been many other influences to the language since its split from the Uyghur language such as the languages of Persian, Tajik and Dari.
There has also been a strong influence from the Islamic religion, which is where the Arabic influence primarily comes from, as well as a lingering influence from the Russian language, left over from when Uzbekistan was ruled by Russia.
There are several varying dialects in the Uzbek language, such as the Afghan, Ferghana, Khorezm and Chimkent-Turkestan dialects, but there is a standardized version of the language which is used in printed material and the mass media. This commonly understood dialect is one that can be understood by all Uzbek language speaking people, and can be written in either the Cyrillic or Latin alphabet.
Why Learn The Uzbek Language?
Though all countries that were under USSR rule entered a transition period upon their freedom, their economies have since settled, and a conscious effort has been made by the governments and peoples to preserve and continue their own personal heritage. The country of Uzbekistan is no different. Many ethnic groups and cultures live in Uzbekistan, and now they are being appreciated and celebrated in their diversity.
There is not only a rich and varied classical music tradition in the country, but the Uzbek people have a high level of literacy (99.5% on the last consensus) which has enabled many poems and stories to be written in this language. Uzbekistan is also a country to visit if you have an interest in architecture, as it has some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Learning the Uzbek language will enable you to understand the culture to its fullest degree.