Western Yugur
Yellow Uyghur
yoɣïr lar
Native toChina
Ethnicity7,000 Yugur (2007)[1]
Native speakers
4,600 (2007)[1]
Early forms
Old Uyghur alphabet (until 19th century) Latin alphabet (current)
Language codes
ISO 639-3ybe
ELPYellow Uyghur
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Western Yugur (Western Yugur: yoɣïr lar[4] (Yugur speech) or yoɣïr śoz (Yugur word)) also known as Neo-Uygur[5] is the Turkic language spoken by the Yugur people. It is contrasted with Eastern Yugur, a 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 also originated from Old Uyghur but substitutes 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", /jɑʰʂ/ "good", and /iʰt/ "meat".

The vowel harmony system, typical of Turkic languages, has largely collapsed. However, it still exists for a-suffixes (back a : front i), however for stems containing last close vowels are chosen unpredictably (/pɯlɣi/ "knowing" vs. /ɯst/ "pushing"). 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 parentheses) found only in loan words.

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


Western Yugur has eight vowel phonemes typical of many Turkic languages, which are /i, y, ɯ, u, e, ø, o, ɑ/.

Diachronical processes

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




Western Yugur has retained many words from East Old Turkic language and is the only Turkic language that preserved the anticipating counting system, known from Old Turkic.[8] In this system, upper decimals are used, i.e. per otus (per: one, otus: thirty) means "one (on the way to) thirty", is 21.[9]

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.[10]


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.

Grammatical cases

After obstruents After nasals After -z
Nominative -∅
Accusative -ti -ni
Genitive -tiŋ -niŋ
Dative Back -qa -ɣa
Front -ki
Locative Back -ta
Front -ti
Ablative Back -tan
Front -tin

Four kinship terms have distinct vocative forms, and used when calling out loudly: aqu (← aqa "elder brother"), qïzaqu (← qïzaqa "elder sister"), açu (← aça "father"), and anu (← ana "mother"). There are two possessive suffixes, first and second person -(ï)ŋ and third person -(s)ï, but these suffixes are largely not used outside of kinship terms (anaŋ, anasï "mother"), similar to the concept of inalienable possessions. Four kinship nouns have irregular 1st and 2nd person forms by eliding the final vowel and using the consonantic variant: aqaaqïŋ "elder brother".


Yellow Uyghur verbal system, like Salar, is characterized by contact-induced (namely, under the influence of Chinese) loss of person-number copular markers in finite verb forms, e.g. contrast the sentence “I have eaten enough” Men toz-dï in Yellow Uyghur and the Uzbek equivalent Men to’y-dïm; the latter has a first-person marker suffix -(I)m attached to the verb while the equivalent Yellow Uyghur sentence doesn't.


Main articles: Old Uyghur and Ganzhou Uyghur Kingdom

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[11] (such as the Xākānī language described in Mahmud al-Kashgari's Dīwān al-Luġat al-Turk[12]) and the Siberian Turkic languages, which include Old Uyghur.[13]

The Yugur are descended from the Ganzhou Uyghur Kingdom, Qocho and the Uyghur Khaganate.

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.[14][4][15][16][17]


  1. ^ a b Western Yugur at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Brown, Keith; Ogilvie, Sarah (2009). Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World. Elsevier. p. 1109. ISBN 978-0-08-087774-7.
  3. ^ Roos, Marti (1998). "Preaspiration in Western Yugur Monosyllables". In Johanson, Lars (ed.). The Mainz Meeting: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, August 3–6, 1994. Turcologica Series. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 28. ISBN 3-447-03864-0.
  4. ^ a b Roos (2000).
  5. ^ Clauson 1965, p. 57.
  6. ^ Olson, James S. (1998). An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of China. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 377. ISBN 0-313-28853-4.
  7. ^ Chen et al., 1985
  8. ^ Erdal, Marcel (2004). A Grammar of Old Turkic. Leiden: Brill. p. 220. ISBN 90-04-10294-9.
  9. ^ Eker, Süer; Şavk, Ülkü Çelik, eds. (2016). Endangered Turkic Languages I: Theoretical and General Approaches, Volume 1 (PDF). Ankara-Astana: Hodja Akhmet Yassawi International Turkish-Kazakh University. p. 445. ISBN 978-9944-237-48-2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-03-23.
  10. ^ Hickey, Raymond, ed. (2010). The Handbook of Language Contact. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 664. ISBN 978-1-4051-7580-7.
  11. ^ Arik (2008), p. 145.
  12. ^ Clauson, Gerard (1965). "[Review of the book An Eastern Turki-English Dictionary by Gunnar Jarring]". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1/2). Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland: 57. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00123640. JSTOR 25202808. S2CID 163362680.
  13. ^ Coene (2009), p. 75.
  14. ^ Poppe, Nicholas (1953). "Remarks on the Salar Language" (PDF). Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 16 (3/4): 438–477. doi:10.2307/2718250. JSTOR 2718250. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-16.
  15. ^ Potanin, Grigory Nikolayevich (Григорий Николаевич Потанин) (1893). Tangutsko-Tibetskaya okraina Kitaya i Tsentralnaya Mongoliya: puteshestvie G.N. Potanina 1884–1886 Тангутско-Тибетская окраина Китая и Центральная Монголія: путешествіе Г.Н. Потанина 1884–1886 (in Russian). Typ. A. S. Suvoryna.
  16. ^ Potanin, Grigory Nikolayevich (Григорий Николаевич Потанин) (1893). Tangutsko-Tibetskaya okraina Kitaya i Tsentralnaya Mongoliya: puteshestvie G.N. Potanina 1884–1886 Тангутско-Тибетская окраина Китая и Центральная Монголія: путешествіе Г.Н. Потанина 1884–1886 (in Russian). Vol. 2. Typ. A. S. Suvoryna.
  17. ^ Potanin, Grigory Nikolayevich (Григорий Николаевич Потанин) (1893). Tangutsko-Tibetskaya okraina Kitaya i Tsentralnaya Mongoliya: puteshestvie G.N. Potanina 1884–1886 Тангутско-Тибетская окраина Китая и Центральная Монголія: путешествіе Г.Н. Потанина 1884–1886 (in Russian). Typ. A. S. Suvoryna.


  • Arik, Kagan (2008). "Central, Western, and Northern Asian Languages". In Austin, Peter K. (ed.). One Thousand Languages: Living, Endangered, and Lost. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 136–153. ISBN 978-0-520-25560-9.
  • Chén Zōngzhèn & Léi Xuǎnchūn. 1985. Xībù Yùgùyǔ Jiānzhì [Concise grammar of Western Yugur]. Peking.
  • Coene, Frederik (2009). The Caucasus: An Introduction. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-20302-3.
  • 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 Uygur) Language: Grammar, Texts, Vocabulary (PDF) (Doctoral thesis). Rijksuniversiteit te Leiden. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04.
  • 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.