Chagatai language

Chagatai[a] (چغتای, Čaġatāy), also known as Turki,[b][5] Eastern Turkic,[6] or Chagatai Turkic (Čaġatāy türkīsi),[4] is an extinct Turkic literary language that was once widely spoken across Central Asia and remained the shared literary language there until the early 20th century. It was used across a wide geographic area including parts of modern-day Uzbekistan, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.[7] Literary Chagatai is the predecessor of the modern Karluk branch of Turkic languages, which include Uzbek and Uyghur.[8] Turkmen, which is not within the Karluk branch but in the Oghuz branch of Turkic languages, was nonetheless heavily influenced by Chagatai for centuries.[9]

Chagatai in Nastaliq.png
Chagatai written in Nastaliq script (چغتای)
RegionCentral Asia
ExtinctAround 1921
Early forms
Perso-Arabic script (Nastaliq)
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2chg
ISO 639-3chg

Ali-Shir Nava'i was the greatest representative of Chagatai literature.[10]

Lizheng Gate at the Chengde Mountain Resort. The second column from the left is the Chagatai language written in Perso-Arabic Nastaʿlīq script.

Chagatai literature is still studied in modern Uzbekistan, where the language is seen as the predecessor and the direct ancestor of modern Uzbek, and the literature is regarded as part of the national heritage of Uzbekistan.


The word Chagatai relates to the Chagatai Khanate (1225–1680s), a descendant empire of the Mongol Empire left to Genghis Khan's second son, Chagatai Khan.[11] Many of the Turkic peoples, who spoke this language claimed political descent from the Chagatai Khanate.

As part of the preparation for the 1924 establishment of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, Chagatai was officially renamed "Old Uzbek",[12][13][8][14][5] which Edward A. Allworth argued "badly distorted the literary history of the region" and was used to give authors such as Ali-Shir Nava'i an Uzbek identity.[15][16] It was also referred to as "Turki" or "Sart" in Russian colonial sources.[5] In China, it is sometimes called "ancient Uyghur".[17]


Late 15th century Chagatai Turkic text in Nastaliq script.

Chagatai developed in the late 15th century.[8]: 143  It belongs to the Karluk branch of the Turkic language family. It is descended from Middle Turkic, which served as a lingua franca in Central Asia, with a strong infusion of Arabic and Persian words and turns of phrase.

Mehmet Fuat Köprülü divides Chagatay into the following periods:[18]

  1. Early Chagatay (13th–14th centuries)
  2. Pre-classical Chagatay (the first half of the 15th century)
  3. Classical Chagatay (the second half of the 15th century)
  4. Continuation of Classical Chagatay (16th century)
  5. Decline (17th–19th centuries)

The first period is a transitional phase characterized by the retention of archaic forms; the second phase began with the publication of Ali-Shir Nava'i's first divan and is the highpoint of Chagatai literature, followed by the third phase, which is characterized by two bifurcating developments. One is preservation of the classical Chagatai language of Nava'i, the other the increasing influence of dialects of the local spoken languages.[citation needed]

Influence on later Turkic languagesEdit

Uzbek and Uyghur, two modern languages descended from Chagatai, are the closest to it. Uzbeks regard Chagatai as the origin of their language and Chagatai literature as part of their heritage. In 1921 in Uzbekistan, then a part of the Soviet Union, Chagatai was initially intended to be the national and governmental language of the Uzbek S.S.R.. However, when it became evident that the language was too archaic for that purpose, it was replaced by a new literary language based on a series of Uzbek dialects.

Ethnologue records the use of the word "Chagatai" in Afghanistan to describe the "Tekke" dialect of Turkmen.[19] Up to and including the eighteenth century, Chagatai was the main literary language in Turkmenistan and most of Central Asia.[20] While it had some influence on Turkmen, the two languages belong to different branches of the Turkic language family.


15th and 16th centuriesEdit

The most famous of Chagatai poet, Ali-Shir Nava'i, among other works wrote Muhakamat al-Lughatayn, a detailed comparison of the Chagatai and Persian languages, in which he argued for the superiority of the former for literary purposes. His fame is attested by the fact that Chagatai is sometimes called "Nava'i's language". Among prose works, Timur's biography is written in Chagatai, as is the famous Baburnama (or Tuska Babure) of Babur, the Timurid founder of the Mughal Empire. A Divan attributed to Kamran Mirza is written in Persian and Chagatai, and one of Bairam Khan's Divans was written in Chagatai.

The following is a prime example of the 16th-century literary Chagatai Turkic, employed by Babur in one of his ruba'is.[21]

Uzbek ruler Muhammad Shaybani Khan wrote a prose essay called "Risale-yi maarif-i Shayibani" in Chagatai in 1507, shortly after his capture of Greater Khorasan, and dedicated it to his son, Muhammad Timur. [2] [22] The manuscript of his philosophical and religious work, "Bahr ul-Khudo", written in 1508, is located in London [23]

17th and 18th centuriesEdit

Important writings in Chagatai from the period between the 17th and 18th centuries include those of Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur: Shajara-i Tarākima (Genealogy of the Turkmens) and Shajara-i Turk (Genealogy of the Turks). In the second half of the 18th century, Turkmen poet Magtymguly Pyragy also introduced the use of the classical Chagatai into Turkmen literature as a literary language, incorporating many Turkmen linguistic features.[20]

Bukharan ruler Subhan Quli Khan (1680-1702) was the author of a work on medicine "Subkhankuli's revival of medicine" ("Ihya at-tibb Subhani") which was written in the Central Asian Turkic language (Chaghatay) and is devoted to the description of diseases, their recognition and treatment. One of the manuscript lists is kept in the library in Budapest.[24]

19th and 20th centuriesEdit

Prominent 19th-century Khivan writers include Shermuhammad Munis and his nephew Muhammad Riza Agahi.[25] Muhammad Rahim Khan II of Khiva also wrote ghazals. Musa Sayrami's Tārīkh-i amniyya, completed in 1903, and its revised version Tārīkh-i ḥamīdi, completed in 1908, represent the best sources on the Dungan Revolt (1862–1877) in Xinjiang.[26][27]

Dictionaries and grammarsEdit

The following are books written on the Chagatai language by natives and westerners:[28]

  • Vocabularium Linguae Giagataicae Sive Igureae (Lexico Ćiagataico)[29]
  • Muḥammad Mahdī Khān, Sanglakh.
  • Abel Pavet de Courteille, Dictionnaire turk-oriental (1870).
  • Ármin Vámbéry 1832–1913, Ćagataische Sprachstudien, enthaltend grammatikalischen Umriss, Chrestomathie, und Wörterbuch der ćagataischen Sprache; (1867).
  • Sheykh Süleymān Efendi, Čagataj-Osmanisches Wörterbuch: Verkürzte und mit deutscher Übersetzung versehene Ausgabe (1902).
  • Sheykh Süleymān Efendi, Lughat-ï chaghatay ve turkī-yi 'othmānī (Dictionary of Chagatai and Ottoman Turkish).
  • Mirza Muhammad Mehdi Khan Astarabadi, Mabaniul Lughat: Yani Sarf o Nahv e Lughat e Chughatai.[30]
  • Abel Pavet de Courteille, Mirâdj-nâmeh : récit de l'ascension de Mahomet au ciel, composé a.h. 840 (1436/1437), texte turk-oriental, publié pour la première fois d'après le manuscript ouïgour de la Bibliothèque nationale et traduit en français, avec une préf. analytique et historique, des notes, et des extraits du Makhzeni Mir Haïder.[31]


Chagatai has been a literary language and is written with a variation of the Perso-Arabic alphabet. This variation is known as Kona Yëziq, (transl. Old script). It saw usage for Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uyghur, and Uzbek.

Isolated Final Medial Initial Uzbek Letter name Uzbek Latin Kazakh Kyrgyz Uyghur
Hamza ' ئ
alif А а (О о) А а/Ә ә А а ئا
be B b Б б Б б
pe P p П п П п
te T t Т т Т т
se S s C c C c س
jim J j Ж ж Ж ж
chim Ç ç Ш ш Ч ч
hoy-i hutti H h Һ һ Х х, ∅ ھ
xe X x X x X x
dol D d Д д Д д
zol Z z З з З з
re R r Р р Р р
ze Z z З з З з
je (zhe) J j Ж ж Ж ж
sin S s C c C c
shin Ş ş Ш ш Ш ш
sod S s C c C c س
ﺿ dod Z z З з З з ز
to (itqi) T t Т т Т т ت
zo (izgʻi) Z z З з З з ز
ayn ' ∅ (ғ) ئ
ğayn Ğ ğ Ғ ғ Ғ ғ
fe F f П п (Ф ф) П п/Б б (Ф ф)
qof Q q Қ қ К к
ک ک kof K k К к К к ك
gof G g Г г Г г
نگ/ݣ ـنگ/ـݣ ـنگـ/ـݣـ نگـ/ݣـ nungof Ñ ñ Ң ң Ң ң ڭ
lam L l Л л Л л
mim M m М м М м
nun N n Н н Н н
vav V v

Ö ö, U u

У у

Ұұ/Үү, Оо/Өө

Уу/Үү, Оо/Өө


ئۈ/ئۇ، ئۆ/ئو

hoy-i havvaz H h

A a


E е/A a


Э э/А а



ye Y y

Е e, І i

Й й, И и

І і/Ы ы, Е е

Й й

И и/Ы ы, Э э


ئى، ئې


The letters ف، ع، ظ، ط، ض، ص، ژ، ذ، خ، ح، ث، ء are only used in loanwords and don't represent any additional phonemes.

For Kazakh and Kyrgyz, letters in parenthesis () indicate a modern borrowed pronunciation from Tatar and Russian that is not consistent with historic Kazakh and Kyrgyz treatments of these letters.


Many orthographies, particularly that of Turkic languages, are based on Kona Yëziq. Examples include the alphabets of South Azerbaijani, Qashqai, Chaharmahali, Khorasani, Uyghur, Äynu, and Khalaj.
Virtually all other Turkic languages have a history of being written with an alphabet descended from Kona Yëziq, however, due to various writing reforms conducted by Turkey and the Soviet Union, many of these languages now are written in either the Latin script or the Cyrillic script.

The Qing dynasty commissioned dictionaries on the major languages of China which included Chagatai Turki, such as the Pentaglot Dictionary.


Word orderEdit

The basic word order of Chagatai is SOV. Chagatai is a head-final language where the adjectives come before nouns. Other words such as those denoting location, time, etc. usually appear in the order of emphasis put on them.

Vowel and consonant harmonyEdit

Like other Turkic languages, Chagatai has vowel harmony. There are mainly eight vowels, and vowel harmony system works upon vowel backness.

Back vowels a u o i, e
Front vowels ä ü ö

The vowels [i] and [e] are central or front-central/back-central and therefore are considered both. Usually these will follow two rules in inflection: 1. [i] and [e] almost always follow the front vowel inflections. 2. If the stem contains [q] or [ǧ], which are formed in the back of the mouth, then the stem is more likely to sound “back,” so you would choose the back vowels.

These affect the suffixes that are applied to words.

Consonant harmony is relatively less common and only appears in a few suffixes such as the genitive.


Plural is formed by adding the suffix -لار (-lar/lär). There are two pronunciations which exist due vowel harmony rules. If the vowel of the last syllable is a front syllable ([a], [o], [u]) -lar is used. If the vowel is a back vowel ([ä], [ö], [ü]) or [i] and [e], -lär is used. -lar is sometimes written as -لر.


Chagatai has six different cases, however the nominative and sometimes the accusative does not have any special making.

Case Affix اوتون otun
اينك inäk
Nominative Case - اوتون otun
A/The firewood...
اينك inäk
A/The cow...
Nominative is unmarked and usually comes first in a sentence.
Genitive Case -نينک -niŋ اوتوننينک otunniŋ
...a/the firewood’s...
اينكنينک inäkniŋ
...a/the cow’s...
The possessed object must be inflected with third person possessive pronouns ‘ى/سى’ (si/i).
Accusative Case -نى -ni
or -
اوتوننى otunni
...the firewood.
اينكنى inäkni
...the cow.
Accusative case only takes effect in the case that the direct object is “definite”. So ‘a road’ is <yol> but ‘the road’ is <yolni>.
Dative Case -غه/كه -ka/ǧa اوتونغه otunǧa the firewood...
اينككه inäkka the cow...
To be noted is that the ending varies from word to word due to consonant harmony, which changes may be included in writing or not, so <inäk> + <ǧa> = <inäkka> but may be written as <inäkǧa>. Vowel harmony is taken into effect if the vowel of the last syllable is a front vowel the suffix attains pronunciation of -ä instead of -a.
Ablative Case -دين -din (/dan/dän) اوتوندين otundin
...from the firewood...
اينكدين/اينكتين inäkdin/inäktin
...from the cow...
The case marking for ablative is occasionally rendered as -دهن or -دان (dan/dän), and can become -تين (tin) before a voiceless consonants.
Locative Case -ره -da/dä اوتونده otunda the firewood...
اينكده inäkdä the cow...
Like the dative the locative works through vowel harmony; of the vowel of the final syllable is a front syllable the suffix turns to -dä.


Personal PronounsEdit

There are seven Chagatai personal pronouns, as there are formal and informal forms of the second person singular form. Unlike other languages these pronouns do not differ between genders. Each of these pronouns have suffixes added to end of verbs as conjugation.

Number Singular Conjugational suffix Plural Conjugational suffix
First person من män -من -män بيز biz -ميز -miz
Second person سيز siz [informal] -سيز -siz سيزلار sizlär -سيزلار -sizlär
سن sän [formal] سن -sän
Third person او/اول ul/u - اولار ular -لار -lar


Below are some punctuation marks associated with Chagatai.[32]



Name English name Function
Four-dot mark The four-dot mark indicates a verse break. It is used at the beginning and end of a verse, especially to separate verse from prose. It may occur at the beginning or end of lines, or in the middle of a page.
Eight teardrop-spoked propeller asterisk The eight teardrop-spoked propeller asterisk indicates a decoration for title. This mark occurs end of the title. This mark also occurs end of a poem. This mark occurs end of a prayer in Jarring texts. However this mark did not occur consistently.
. Period (full stop) The period is a punctuation mark placed at the end of a sentence. However, this mark did not occur consistently in Chaghatay manuscripts until the later period (e.g. manuscripts on Russian paper).
" " Quotation mark Dialogue was wrapped in quotation marks, rarely used for certain words with emphasis
___ Underscore Dash: mostly with red ink, occurs on the top of names, prayers, and highlighted questions, answers, and important outline numbers.
Whitespace Can indicate a stanza break in verse, and a new paragraph in brows.
- Dash Rare punctuation: used for number ranges (e.g. 2-5)
-- Double dash Rare punctuation: sets off following information like a colon, it is used to list a table of contents
( ) Parentheses Marks a tangential or contextual remark, word or phrase.
: colon Colons appear extremely rarely preceding a direct quote. Colons can also mark beginning of dialogue
Ellipsis: Ellipsis: a series of dots (typically 3) that indicate missing text.


  1. ^ Also spelled Chagatay, Chaghatai, Jaghatai or Chaghatay
  2. ^ Türk tili, türk alfāzï, türkī tili, türkī lafẓï, türkčä til or simply türkī, türkčä[4]


  1. ^ Grenoble, Lenore (2003). Language Policy of the Soviet Union. Kluwer Academic Publishers. p. 143. ISBN 1-4020-1298-5.
  2. ^ "Chaghatay Language and Literature". Encyclopedia Iranica. Ebn Mohannā (Jamāl-al-Dīn, fl. early 8th/14th century, probably in Khorasan), for instance, characterized it as the purest of all Turkish languages (Doerfer, 1976, p. 243), and the khans of the Golden Horde (Radloff, 1870; Kurat; Bodrogligeti, 1962) and of the Crimea (Kurat), as well as the Kazan Tatars (Akhmetgaleeva; Yusupov), wrote in Chaghatay much of the time.
  3. ^ Ayşe Gül Sertkaya (2002). "Şeyhzade Abdurrezak Bahşı". In Hazai, György (ed.). Archivum Ottomanicum. Vol. 20. pp. 114–115. As a result, we can claim that Şeyhzade Abdürrezak Bahşı was a scribe lived in the palaces of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and his son Bayezid-i Veli in the 15th century, wrote letters (bitig) and firmans (yarlığ) sent to Eastern Turks by Mehmed II and Bayezid II in both Uighur and Arabic scripts and in East Turkestan (Chagatai) language.
  4. ^ a b Eckmann, János (1966). "Chagatay Manual". In Sebeok, Thomas A. (ed.). Uralic and Altaic Series. Vol. 60. Indiana University Publications. p. 4.
  5. ^ a b c Paul Bergne (29 June 2007). Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic. I.B.Tauris. pp. 24, 137. ISBN 978-0-85771-091-8.
  6. ^ János Eckmann (1966). "Chagatay Manual". In Sebeok, Thomas A. (ed.). Uralic and Altaic Series. Vol. 60. Indiana University Publications. p. 6.
  7. ^ "Chagatai literature". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-09-19.
  8. ^ a b c Grenoble, L. A. (11 April 2006). Language Policy in the Soviet Union. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-0-306-48083-6.
  9. ^ Vaidyanath, R. (1967). The Formation of the Soviet Central Asian Republics: A Study in Soviet Nationalities Policy, 1917–1936. People's Publishing House. p. 24.
  10. ^ Robert McHenry, ed. (1993). "Navā'ī, (Mir) 'Alī Shīr". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 8 (15th ed.). Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. p. 563.
  11. ^ Vladimir Babak; Demian Vaisman; Aryeh Wasserman (23 November 2004). Political Organization in Central Asia and Azerbaijan: Sources and Documents. Routledge. pp. 343–. ISBN 978-1-135-77681-7.
  12. ^ Schiffman, Harold (2011). Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors: The Changing Politics of Language Choice. Brill Academic. pp. 178–179. ISBN 978-9004201453.
  13. ^ Scott Newton (20 November 2014). Law and the Making of the Soviet World: The Red Demiurge. Routledge. pp. 232–. ISBN 978-1-317-92978-9.
  14. ^ Andrew Dalby (1998). Dictionary of Languages: The Definitive Reference to More Than 400 Languages. Columbia University Press. pp. 665–. ISBN 978-0-231-11568-1. Chagatai Old Uzbek official.
  15. ^ Allworth, Edward A. (1990). The Modern Uzbeks: From the Fourteenth Century to the Present: A Cultural History. Hoover Institution Press. pp. 229–230. ISBN 978-0817987329.
  16. ^ Aramco World Magazine. Arabian American Oil Company. 1985. p. 27.
  17. ^ Pengyuan Liu; Qi Su (12 December 2013). Chinese Lexical Semantics: 14th Workshop, CLSW 2013, Zhengzhou, China, May 10-12, 2013. Revised Selected Papers. Springer. pp. 448–. ISBN 978-3-642-45185-0.
  18. ^ János Eckmann (1966). "Chagatay Manual". In Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.). Uralic and Altaic Series. Vol. 60. Indiana University Publications. p. 7.
  19. ^ "Turkmen language". Ethnologue.
  20. ^ a b Clark, Larry, Michael Thurman, and David Tyson. "Turkmenistan." Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan: Country Studies. p. 318. Comp. Glenn E. Curtis. Washington, D.C.: Division, 1997
  21. ^ Balabanlilar, Lisa (2015). Imperial Identity in the Mughal Empire. Memory and Dynastic Politics in Early Modern South and Central Asia. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-0-857-72081-8.
  22. ^ Bodrogligeti A.J.E. Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan’s Apology to the Muslim Clergy // Archivum Ottomanicum. 1994a. Vol. 13. (1993/1994), р.98
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  24. ^ A Turkic Medical Treatise from Islamic Central Asia: A Critical Edition of a Seventeenth-Century Chagatay Work by Subḥān Qulï Khan. Edited, Translated and Annotated by László KÁROLY. Brill’s Inner Asian Library. Volume 32. Editors: Michael DROMPP; Devin DEWEESE; Mark C. ELLIOTT. Leiden. 2015
  25. ^ [1]; Qahhar, Tahir, and William Dirks. “Uzbek Literature.” World Literature Today, vol. 70, no. 3, 1996, pp. 611–618. JSTOR,
  26. ^ МОЛЛА МУСА САЙРАМИ: ТА'РИХ-И АМНИЙА (Mulla Musa Sayrami's Tarikh-i amniyya: Preface)], in: "Материалы по истории казахских ханств XV–XVIII веков (Извлечения из персидских и тюркских сочинений)" (Materials for the history of the Kazakh Khanates of the 15–18th cc. (Extracts from Persian and Turkic literary works)), Alma Ata, Nauka Publishers, 1969. (in Russian)
  27. ^ Kim, Ho-dong (2004). Holy war in China: the Muslim rebellion and state in Chinese Central Asia, 1864–1877. Stanford University Press. p. xvi. ISBN 0-8047-4884-5.
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  29. ^ Onur 2020, pp. 136-157.
  30. ^ "Mabaniul Lughat: Yani Sarf o Nahv e Lughat e Chughatai - Mirza Muhammad Mehdi Khan Astarabadi (Farsi)" – via Internet Archive.
  31. ^ Haïder, Mir; Pavet de Courteille, Abel (1 January 1975). "Mirâdj-nâmeh : récit de l'ascension de Mahomet au ciel, composé a.h. 840 (1436/1437), texte turk-oriental, publié pour la première fois d'après le manuscript ouïgour de la Bibliothèque nationale et traduit en français, avec une préf. analytique et historique, des notes, et des extraits du Makhzeni Mir Haïder". Amsterdam : Philo Press – via Internet Archive.
  32. ^ "Chaghatay manuscripts transcription handbook". Retrieved 2021-11-13.


  • Eckmann, János, Chagatay Manual. (Indiana University publications: Uralic and Altaic series ; 60). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University, 1966. Reprinted edition, Richmond: Curzon Press, 1997, ISBN 0-7007-0860-X, or ISBN 978-0-7007-0860-4.
  • Bodrogligeti, András J. E., A Grammar of Chagatay. (Languages of the World: Materials ; 155). München: LINCOM Europa, 2001. (Repr. 2007), ISBN 3-89586-563-X.
  • Pavet de Courteille, Abel, Dictionnaire Turk-Oriental: Destinée principalement à faciliter la lecture des ouvrages de Bâber, d'Aboul-Gâzi, de Mir Ali-Chir Nevâï, et d'autres ouvrages en langues touraniennes (Eastern Turkish Dictionary: Intended Primarily to Facilitate the Reading of the Works of Babur, Abu'l Ghazi, Mir ʿAli Shir Navaʾi, and Other Works in Turanian Languages). Paris, 1870. Reprinted edition, Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1972, ISBN 90-6022-113-3. Also available online (Google Books)
  • Erkinov, Aftandil. "Persian-Chaghatay Bilingualism in the Intellectual Circles of Central Asia during the 15th–18th Centuries (the case of poetical anthologies, bayāz)". International Journal of Central Asian Studies. C.H.Woo (ed.). vol.12, 2008, pp. 57–82 [3].
  • Cakan, Varis (2011) "Chagatai Turkish and Its Effects on Central Asian Culture", 大阪大学世界言語研究センター論集. 6 pp. 143–158, Osaka University Knowledge Archive.

External linksEdit