Western Yugur language

Western Yugur
yoɣïr lar
Native to China
Region Gansu
Ethnicity 7,000 Yugur (2007)[1]
Native speakers
4,600 (2007)[1]
Early forms
Old Uyghur language
  • Western Yugur
Old Uyghur alphabet (until 19th century)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ybe
Glottolog west2402[4]

Western Yugur (Western Yugur: yoɣïr lar[5] (Yugur speech) or yoɣïr śoz (Yugur word)) is the Turkic language spoken by the Yugur people. It is contrasted with Eastern Yugur, the Mongolic language spoken within the same community. Traditionally, both languages are indicated by the term "Yellow Uygur", from the endonym of the Yugur.

There are approximately 4,600 Turkic-speaking Yugurs.


Besides similarities with Uyghuric languages, Western Yugur also shares a number of features, mainly archaisms, with several of the Northeastern Turkic languages, but it is not closer to any one of them in particular. Neither Western nor Eastern Yugur are mutually intelligible with Uyghur.[6]

Western Yugur also contains archaisms which are attested in neither modern Uyghuric nor Siberian, such as its anticipating counting system coinciding with Old Uyghur, and its copula dro, which originated from Old Uyghur but substitute the Uyghur copulative personal suffixes.[7]

Geographic distribution

Speakers of Western Yugur reside primarily in the western part of Gansu province's Sunan Yugur Autonomous County.


A special feature in Western Yugur is the occurrence of preaspiration, corresponding to the so-called pharyngealised or low vowels in Tuva and Tofa, and short vowels in Yakut and Turkmen. Examples of this phenomenon include /oʰtɯs/ "thirty", /jaʰʂ/ "good", and /iʰt/ "meat".

The vowel harmonical system, typical of Turkic languages, has largely collapsed. Voice as a distinguishing feature in plosives and affricates was replaced by aspiration, as in Chinese.


West Yugur has 28 native consonants and two more (indicated in paretheses) found only in loan words.

Consonant phonemes
Labial Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless aspirated
plain voiceless p t k q
Affricate voiceless aspirated (t͡sʰ) ʈ͡ʂʰ t͡ɕʰ
plain voiceless t͡s ʈ͡ʂ t͡ɕ
Fricative voiceless (f) s ʂ ɕ x h
voiced z ʐ ɣ
Trill r
Approximant l j w


Diachronical processes

Several sound changes affected Western Yugur phonology while evolving from its original Common Turkic form, the most prolific being:




Western Yugur is the only Turkic language that preserved the anticipating counting system, known from Old Turkic.

For centuries, the Western Yugur language has been in contact with Mongolic languages, Tibetan, and Chinese, and as a result has adopted a large amount of loanwords from these languages, as well as grammatical features. Chinese dialects neighboring the areas where Yugur is spoken have influenced the Yugur language, giving it loanwords.[8]


Personal markers in nouns as well as in verbs were largely lost. In the verbal system, the notion of evidentiality has been grammaticalised, seemingly under the influence of Tibetan.

Writing system

Main article: Old Uyghur alphabet

Grigory Potanin recorded a glossary of Salar language, Western Yugur language, and Eastern Yugur language in his 1893 Russian language book The Tangut-Tibetan Borderlands of China and Central Mongolia.[9][10][11][12][13][14]


Modern Uyghur and Western Yugur belong to entirely different branches of the Turkic language family, respectively the Karluk languages spoken in the Kara-Khanid Khanate[15] (such as the Xākānī language described in Mahmud al-Kashgari's Dīwānu l-Luġat al-Turk[16]) and the Siberian Turkic languages, which include Old Uyghur.[17][18]

The Yugur people are descended from the Gansu Uyghur Kingdom.


  1. 1 2 Western Yugur at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World. Contributors Keith Brown, Sarah Ogilvie (revised ed.). Elsevier. 2010. p. 1109. ISBN 0080877753. Retrieved 24 April 2014. horizontal tab character in |others= at position 13 (help)
  3. Johanson, Lars, ed. (1998). The Mainz Meeting: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, August 3-6, 1994. Turcologica Series. Contributor Éva Ágnes Csató. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 28. ISBN 3447038640. Retrieved 24 April 2014. horizontal tab character in |others= at position 12 (help)
  4. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "West Yugur". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  5. Roos, Marti (2000). The Western Yugur (Yellow Uygur) Language. Grammar, Texts, Vocabulary. (PDF) (PhD). University of Leiden. OCLC 67439751.
  6. Olson, James (1998). An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 377.
  7. Chen et al, 1985
  8. Raymond Hickey (2010). The Handbook of Language Contact. John Wiley and Sons. p. 664. ISBN 1-4051-7580-X. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  9. https://web.archive.org/web/20120316172207/http://altaica.ru/LIBRARY/POPPE/poppe_salar.pdf
  10. http://members.home.nl/marcmarti/yugur/biblio/ROOS_WesternYugurLanguage.pdf
  11. "Yugurology". Archived from the original on October 5, 2003.
  12. Grigoriĭ Nikolaevich Potanin (1893). Tangutsko-Tibetskai͡a okraina Kitai͡a i TSentralnai͡a Mongolii͡a.
  13. Григорий Николаевич Потанин (1893). Тангутско-Тибетская окраина Китая и Центральная Монголія: путешествіе Г.Н. Потанина 1884-1886. Том 2. Тип. А.С. Суворина.
  14. Григорий Николаевич Потанин (1893). Тангутско-Тибетская окраина Китая и Центральная Монголія: путешествіе Г.Н. Потанина 1884-1886. Тип. А.С. Суворина.
  15. Arik 2008, p. 145
  16. Clauson, Gerard (Apr 1965). "Review An Eastern Turki-English Dictionary by Gunnar Jarring". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1/2): 57. JSTOR 25202808.
  17. Coene 2009, p. 75
  18. Coene 2009, p. 75


  • Arik, Kagan (2008). Austin, Peter, ed. One Thousand Languages: Living, Endangered, and Lost (illustrated ed.). University of California Press. ISBN 0520255607. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  • Chén Zōngzhèn & Léi Xuǎnchūn. 1985. Xībù Yùgùyǔ Jiānzhì [Concise grammar of Western Yugur]. Peking.
  • Coene, Frederik (2009). The Caucasus - An Introduction. Routledge Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe Series. Routledge. ISBN 1135203024. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  • Coene, Frederik (2009). The Caucasus - An Introduction. Routledge Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe Series (illustrated, reprint ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0203870719. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  • Léi Xuǎnchūn (proofread by Chén Zōngzhèn). 1992. Xībù Yùgù Hàn Cídiǎn [Western Yugur - Chinese Dictionary]. Chéngdu.
  • Malov, S. E. 1957. Jazyk zheltykh ujgurov. Slovar' i grammatika. Alma Ata.
  • Malov, S. E. 1967. Jazyk zheltykh ujgurov. Teksty i perevody. Moscow.
  • Roos, Martina Erica. 2000. The Western Yugur (Yellow Yugur) Language: Grammar, Texts, Vocabulary. Diss. University of Leiden. Leiden.
  • Roos, Marti, Hans Nugteren, Zhong Jìnwén. 1999. On some Turkic proverbs of the Western and Eastern Yugur languages. Turkic Languages 3.2: 189-214.
  • Tenishev, È. R. 1976. Stroj saryg-jugurskogo jazyka. Moscow.
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