Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 11: Basic Grammatical Overview of Uzbek for Getting Acquainted with the Language

Assalomu alaykum!

Where in the world is Uzbek spoken? Here's a helpful map from UCLA's LMP.
Happy Sunday! The theme for today is grammar. Grammar is my single most favorite part of a language and is what I always dive headfirst to study when I encounter any given language. I think it's mostly because I'm an INFJ (dominant cognitive function of introverted intuition) and because I happen to really enjoy languages and always ask "Why?" and subsequently "How?" more often than "What?" in my life.

Unfortunately, many people dislike grammar strongly and go out of their way to avoid it. Language teachers often shy away from it. Students often do not study or understand it. Even speakers of a language may be able to communicate yet could not tell you one iota of grammatical basis.

I know that many times language learning is more of a spontaneous, fun activity that involves picking up phrases and words in a casual way. But if you want to learn a language and actually be able to form sentences and speak like an educated native one day, you MUST study the grammar.

I repeat: You CANNOT truly master a language without understanding grammar!

This is a topic I'm very passionate about and anyone who knows me or has been in a language learning environment with me is aware of this. My intentions are not ill-willed, though, and I don't think that grammar acquisition is something that has to be esoteric, distant, or boring at all.

Grammar is patterns. It's how things work. It's how words are formed (morphology) and then it's how those words are put together in meaningful ways (syntax). The topic of linguistics is something I love yet have surely not mastered, but nevertheless I have intuited a general knack for addressing grammatical patterns in languages which has proven to be extremely useful.

The flag of Uzbekistan
For this reason I wanted to share some grammatical resources on Uzbek, since that's the focus for this blog. Feel free to use this information as you wish. Possible purposes: anyone back home who is curious how Uzbek works, classmates or other Uzbek learners interested in familiarizing themselves better to avoid confusion as language learning moves forward, or anyone else stopping by at the site too.

To begin, here is some VERY BASIC grammatical overview material that I have summarized and edited from my Uzbek Dictionary & Phrasebook published by Hippocrene's. This is the only reasonable Latin alphabet combination UZ-EN EN-UZ dictionary/phrasebook I have found, and it does have a little grammatical explanation, which is better than nothing.

Basic Uzbek Grammar

Classification: Uzbek is a Turkic language part of the Altaic family, originating from the Central Asian Altai mountains. It is relate to Turkish, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Azerbaijani, Uyghur, Turkmen, Tatar, Tuvan, and distantly to Mongolian with lots of loanwords and cultural influence from Persian/Tajik, Arabic, and Russian through contact.

Writing System: Until the 1920s it was written in the Arabic script, but various movements in Uzbekistan eventually converted the language to the Latin alphabet (our alphabet). Under Soviet influence, the Russian Cyrillic alphabet was used and its influence is still present today. But with independence in 1991, the Latin alphabet is back in preference and is what is most accessible for beginning language learners considering Uzbek.

Basic Structure: The Uzbek concept and system of language is entirely different from English. This can be exciting but also present unique challenges to the new learner. Uzbek and other Turkic languages use SOV word order (Subject Object Verb) vs our SVO (Subject Verb Object). Wikipedia has helpful info on this here.

Fortunately, there are no irregularities and everything builds up nicely using a basic root word and a series of suffixes depending on the desired meaning. This is called an agglutinative language. Other major agglutinatives include Finnish, Estonian, Quechua, Inuktitut, Tamil, and obviously the other Turkic languages listed above.

Here are some examples of how this works:
ish = work
ish-siz = work-less (= "unemployed")
ish-siz-lik = work-less-ness (= "unemployment")

yoz = write
yoz-ayap = writing
yoz-ayap-ti = he/she/it is writing
yoz-ayap-ti-lar = they are writing
yoz-ma-ayap-ti-lar = they are not writing

Note: Hyphens are not included in standard written Uzbek but have been placed here to emphasize the construction of words using the separate suffixes. This can be taken to a very extreme level to include complex words like tanishtirilmaganligidan, meaning "because they were not introduced to each other". You can look up the morphology of this if you're bored one day! :P

Nouns: Uzbek nouns are great! No grammatical gender to worry about for one thing, not even with pronouns. There is no word for a/an/ or the, as this meaning is contextual. Nouns form a plural by adding -lar, for example "mashina" for "car" and "mashinalar" for "cars". Genitive suffix is -ning, so "kitobning" is "book's" and "kitoblarning" would hence be "books'".

Here are some useful noun-related suffixes:
-chi = one who does, doer
Ex: ish, "work" >> ishchi, "worker"

-cha = language or speech
Ex: ingliz, "English (person)" >> inglizcha "English (language)"

-lik = conceptual noun
Ex: issiq, "hot" >> issiqlik, "heat"

Adjectives: Adjectives can take the same endings as nouns, and fortunately come before the nouns like in English as Uzbek is head-initial. They do not need to agree grammatically by number or anything like in many other languages which is also nice. Using the -li and -siz suffixes you can create a huge variety of adjectives.

Here are some examples of adjectives:
yangi = new
eski = old
yaxshi = good
yomon = bad

And with the suffixes:
kuch = strength
kuchli = strong
kuchsiz = weak

foyda = use
foydali = useful
foydasiz = useless

Pretty cool so far, right? I love agglutinative languages.

Adverbs: Adverbs are usually just a single form that does not change. They are pretty self explanatory and from what I have seen they go before predicates and other key verbs or phrases, often at the beginning like Chinese to emphasize a time phrase (for example, putting "yesterday" at the beginning of the sentences like we do too). Sometimes adjectives are just used adverbially without changes like even in spoken English or German, or they are reduplicated for emphases.

Here are some examples of adverbs:
ertaga = tomorrow
hozir = now
bu yer(da) = here

Postpositions: Unlike in English, where we use prepositions (ex: in, on, from, before, after) to express relationships between words, Uzbek uses postpositions. This means they come after the modified word instead of before like we are used to (think: pre vs post). It's like saying "who with?" instead of "with who(m)?" and so on.

Here are some examples of postpositions:
-ga = to/for
-da = at/in
-dan = from/off of
bilan = with
uchun = for
-dan keyin = after

So this could look something like:
O'zbekistanda = in Uzbekistan
O'zbekistandan = from Uzbekistan
O'zbekistanga = to Uzbekistan
O'zbekistan uchun = for Uzbekistan
And so on.

Pronouns: Personal pronouns are pretty easy and add endings just like nouns. I have reviewed a lot of pronoun information at my post here summarizing Chapter 2 of my textbook, so I will link you there.

To review:
Men = I/me (1st person singular)
Sen = you (2nd person singular informal)
Siz = you (2nd person singular formal)
U = he/him, she/her, it (3rd person singular)
Biz = we/us (1st person plural)
Siz = you (also 2nd person plural informal)
Sizlar = you (2nd person plural formal)
Ular = they/them (3rd person plural)

Here are demonstratives:
bu/shu = this
u/o'sha = that
bular = these
ular = those

Verbs: Verbs are pretty interesting in Uzbek. They are easy to form with a variety of suffixes, though I have not truly "gotten" exactly how they work, but here is some information from this phrasebook I'm adapting from. Verbs basically have a root word that carries a meaning, and tense/person/mode/etc are all indicated again through suffixes.

Here is an example of a verb:
ber- = to give (root)
bermoq = to give (infinitive)
berdim = I gave
beraman = I give/will give
beryapman = I am giving

And suffixes may carry more information:
berdir- = cause to give
berol = able to give
bermoqchi = want to give

Verb ends are more or less as follows for past tense:
-dim = I
-dingiz = You (s)
-di = He/she/it
-dik = We
-dinglar = You (p)
-lar = they

The word for "not" is indicated with "emas" plus a personal ending. And for "to be" verbs that are inherently added as suffixes (there is no real expression of "to be" or "to have" in Uzbek), consult the link above again so I don't have to copy things over. Uzbek is stunningly regular with verbs. Here is some more free information on grammar if you'd like to learn more from my Free Online Uzbek Resource Collection:

To close, here are some photos from around town today. Sort of a relaxing day but got a few fun things done and am ready for Week 2.

Found an awesome book store on the way back from the post office!
Cute little cat hanging out by the books
Cheap languages book for my collection from the store
View of Tempe from above
At the top of "A" mountain. Love it here!
Last but not least, I wanted to pass along the link to my Brian on Health website if you're not familiar with it, as this is where some of my more in depth articles and ideas are posted. Check it out at


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