Quick, which one of the languages on this sign is Uzbek?
All of them are in Uzbek – at least according to Wikipedia (so correct me if I’m wrong). Uzbek has been through multiple changes of writing systems of the past century. Up until the 1920s, Uzbek (a Turkic language) was written in an Arabic-derived script (an example is here). That all changed when the Soviets moved in – they altered the classical script around 1920 into Yaña imlâ – a way to represent the sounds of Turkic languages better in Arabic script. Okay, that’s good, right? I guess we’re done.
Well, no. Not even a decade had passed, and in 1928 the old Arabic scripts were replaced with a Latin-based script called Yañalif. This was inspired by the latinization of Turkish in Turkey, and for about a decade, the Soviets were creating Latin scripts for non-Slavic languages … and even looking at latinizing Russian.
Well, that’s it, then? Nope! Only 12 years later, in 1940, the official decree was that Uzbek and other languages were now to be written in Cyrillic. That lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union, and in 1992, Uzbekistan decided it would transition back to a Latin alphabet – however it is a gradual process, and formal documents are often still written in Cyrillic, and with newspapers often mixing one script for headlines and text in the other. The government has set 2023 to be the final date of the full changeover to Latin, with added tweaks to the current writing system.
Uzbek is not the only language spoken in Uzbekistan either – Russian remains important as a lingua franca and, while an official language, is often used in government or technical documents. Karakalpak, also a Turkic language but closer to Kazakh is spoken in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, which is the western end of Uzbekistan (I definitely want to learn more about that region!) Other Central Asian languages are also spoken around Uzbekistan.
Tajik is widely spoken in Samarkand and Bukhara. It’s a Persian language – see my post about Bukharian, a dialect of Tajik, spoken by Uzbekistan’s Jewish community and understandable to Afghans and Iranians. There’s no intelligibility, or even same sounds, between Uzbek and Tajik:
Interestingly, Uzbek is most closely related to the Uyghur language in China, and they are both understandable to speakers of Turkish: