Language Guide

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Uzbek is the state language and more importantly, will break the ice on any occasion, opening up the bounteous world of Uzbek hospitality. Thought, Russian remains the most useful language for the traveller in Uzbekistan.


Uzbek language is part of the Eastern Turkic group of languages. Uzbek is diverged from other Central Asian tongues in the early 14th century. Known as Chagatai, or old Uzbek, it was enriched by poet Alisher Navoi (1441-1501) to rival the literary pretensions of Arabic and Persian, source of numerous loanwords.


In 1923, a new Uzbek language was adopted, using a modified Arabic alphabet. To speed literacy campaigns, Arabic was replaced by Latin script in 1927. In 1940, Cyrillic superseded Latin script as Sovietization was stepped up.


In 1989, Uzbek language was reinstated as the official language of the republic. In 1993, parliament accepted a degree to a transition to a Latin script, while madrasahs nationwide reintroduce Arabic through the Quran.


A smattering of Uzbek will benefit the traveller when among the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Turkman, and also among the Uighur in northwest China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region. The reason is that all these people speak mutually intelligible Turkic languages, at least to some degree. Only Tajikistan stands out, for its Persian-based population use a language more akin to Farsi. Since independence, a number of local English-Uzbek phrasebooks have become intermittently available, though the best choice is Lonely Planet's Central Asia Phrasebook.


You may master survival phrases in our Alphabet and Key Glossary sections. It is most advised that you take a comprehensive Russian phrasebook and dictionary on your trip.