Chagatai language

Čaġatāy / جغتای
Region Central Asia
Extinct Around 1921
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2 chg
ISO 639-3 chg
Glottolog chag1247

Chagatai[a] (چغتای Čaġatāy), also known as Turki[b][2] or Chagatay Turkic (Čaġatāy türkīsi),[1] is an extinct Turkic language that was once widely spoken in Central Asia and remained the shared literary language there until the early 20th century. Literary Chagatai is the predecessor of the modern Karluk branch of Turkic languages, which include Uzbek and Uyghur.[3] Ali-Shir Nava'i was the greatest representative of Chagatai literature.[4]

Lizheng gate in the Chengde Mountain Resort, the second column from left is Chagatai language written in Perso-Arabic Nastaʿlīq script.

Chagatai literature is still studied in modern Uzbekistan, where the language is seen as the predecessor and the direct ancestor of modern Uzbek and the literature is regarded as part of the national heritage of Uzbekistan. In Turkey it is studied and regarded as part of the common, wider Turkic heritage.


The word Chagatai relates to the Chagatai Khanate (1225–1680s), a descendant empire of the Mongol Empire left to Genghis Khan's second son, Chagatai Khan.[5] Many of the Turkic peoples and Tatars, who were the speakers of this language, claimed descent from Chagatai Khan.

As part of the preparation for the 1924 establishment of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, Chagatai was officially renamed "Old Uzbek",[6][7][3][8][2] which Edward A. Allworth argued "badly distorted the literary history of the region" and was used to give authors such as Ali-Shir Nava'i an Uzbek identity.[9][10] It was also referred to as "Turki" or "Sart".[2] In China, it is sometimes called "ancient Uyghur".[11]


Late 15th century Chagatai Turkish text in Nastaliq script.

Chagatai is a Turkic language that was developed in the late 15th century.[3]:143 It belongs to the Karluk branch of the Turkic language family. It is descended from Middle Turkic, which served as a lingua franca in Central Asia, with a strong infusion of Arabic and Persian words and turns of phrase.

Mehmet Fuat Köprülü divides Chagatay into the following periods:[12]

  1. Early Chagatay (13th–14th centuries)
  2. Pre-classical Chagatay (the first half of the 15th century)
  3. Classical Chagatay (the second half of the 15th century)
  4. Continuation of Classical Chagatay (16th century)
  5. Decline (17th–19th centuries)

The first period is a transitional phase characterized by the retention of archaic forms; the second phase starts with the publication of Ali-Shir Nava'i's first Divan and is the highpoint of Chagatai literature, followed by the third phase, which is characterized by two bifurcating developments. One is the preservation of the classical Chagatai language of Nava'i, the other trend is the increasing influence of the dialects of the local spoken languages.

Influence on later Turkic languages

Uzbek and Uyghur are the two modern languages that descended from and are the closest to Chagatai. Uzbeks regard Chagatai as the origin of their own language and consider the Chaghatai literature as part of their heritage. In 1921 in Uzbekistan, then a part of the Soviet Union, Chagatai was initially planned to be instated as the national and governmental language of the Uzbek S.S.R., however when it became evident that the language was too archaic for that purpose, it was replaced by a new literary language based on series of Uzbek dialects.

The Berendei, a 12th-century nomadic Turkic people possibly related to the Cumans, seem also to have spoken Chagatai.[citation needed]

Ethnologue records the use of the word "Chagatai" in Afghanistan to describe the "Tekke" dialect of Turkmen.[13] Up to and including the eighteenth century, Chagatai was the main literary language in Turkmenistan as well as most of Central Asia.[14] While it had some influence on Turkmen, the two languages belong to different branches of the Turkic language family.


15th and 16th centuries

The most famous of the Chagatai poets is Ali-Shir Nava'i, who – among his other works – wrote Muhakamat al-Lughatayn, a detailed comparison of the Chagatai and Persian languages, in which he argued for the superiority of the former for literary purposes. His fame is attested by the fact that Chagatai is sometimes called "Nava'i's language". Among prose works, Timur's biography is written in Chagatai, as is the famous Baburnama (or Tuska Babure) of Babur, the Timurid founder of the Mughal Empire. A Divan attributed to Kamran Mirza is written in Persian and Chagatai, and one of Bairam Khan's Divans was written in the Chagatai language.

17th and 18th centuries

Important writings in Chagatai from the period between the 17th and 18th centuries include those of Abu al-Ghazi Bahadur: Shajara-i Tarākima (Genealogy of the Turkmens) and Shajara-i Turk (Genealogy of the Turks). In the second half of the 18th century, Turkmen poet Magtymguly Pyragy also introduced the use of the classical Chagatai into Turkmen literature as a literary language, incorporating many Turkmen linguistic features.[15]

19th and 20th centuries

Prominent 19th century Khivan writers include Shermuhammad Munis and his nephew Muhammad Riza Agahi.[16] Muhammad Rahim Khan II of Khiva also wrote ghazals. Musa Sayrami's Tārīkh-i amniyya, completed 1903, and its revised version Tārīkh-i ḥamīdi, completed 1908, represent the best sources on the Dungan Revolt (1862–1877) in Xinjiang.[17][18]

Dictionaries and grammars

The following are books written on the Chagatai language by natives and westerners:[19]

  • Muḥammad Mahdī Khān, Sanglakh.
  • Abel Pavet de Courteille, Dictionnaire turk-oriental (1870).
  • Ármin Vámbéry 1832–1913, Ćagataische Sprachstudien, enthaltend grammatikalischen Umriss, Chrestomathie, und Wörterbuch der ćagataischen Sprache; (1867).
  • Sheykh Suleyman Efendi, Čagataj-Osmanisches Wörterbuch: Verkürzte und mit deutscher Übersetzung versehene Ausgabe (1902).
  • Sheykh Süleymān Efendi, Lughat-ï chaghatay ve turkī-yi 'othmānī.
  • Mirza Muhammad Mehdi Khan Astarabadi, Mabaniul Lughat: Yani Sarf o Nahv e Lughat e Chughatai.[20]
  • Abel Pavet de Courteille, Mirâdj-nâmeh : récit de l'ascension de Mahomet au ciel, composé a.h. 840 (1436/1437), texte turk-oriental, publié pour la première fois d'après le manuscript ouïgour de la Bibliothèque nationale et traduit en français, avec une préf. analytique et historique, des notes, et des extraits du Makhzeni Mir Haïder.[21]

The Qing dynasty commissioned dictionaries on the major languages of China which included Chagatai Turki, such as the Pentaglot Dictionary.


The Chagatai alphabet is based on the Perso-Arabic alphabet and known as Kona Yëziq (old script).