Saving Uyghur books online

One aspect of the current war on Uyghur identity and culture is the mass disappearance of Uyghur publications and attempted rubbing out of Uyghur literary traditions.

Seeking to play my small part in “saving the books” I recently added a new page to this website called eLibrary. On this page I have started putting up reasonably good pdf scans of physical books that I and my friends have in our possession. In most cases you will find a clickable square on first (cover) page which takes you to the table of contents. The items in the table of contents are linked to the relevant start page, and the chapter headings all link back to the table of contents. I hope that it will make it a little easier to move around inside these otherwise rather clunky pdf files.

Future plans for the eLibrary

What I have now on the eLibrary is very modest indeed. As the number of scanned and uploaded books increases I anticipate developing this part of the site into a more user friendly electronic library where books can be searched or by Author, Title, Category and so on.

Another thing I would love to do, pending availability of relevant OCR software, is offer fully searchable texts of each and every publication.

Other online Uyghur book repositories

The eLibrary on this site is by no means the only repository for scanned or electronic books in the Uyghur language. The following is a list of other websites which offer downloads of Uyghur books. They vary greatly in quality and user-friendliness, but you can find all kinds of interesting literary works if you have some time to go looking.


Türkistaniy Kutupxanisi has all kinds of fascinating books, journals and newspapers in a number of languages in addition to Uyghur.

Uyghur Akadëmiyisi offers a library with shared OneDrive folders.

Uyghur Kitab Tor Bëkiti

Yanghin Ëlkitab Ambiri

Memtimin Hoshur: This is Not a Dream, Part 1

One of Memtimin Hoshur’s longer short stories, This Is Not A Dream (بۇ چۈش ئەمەس), could be described as a romantic tragedy.  The story was turned into a movie by director Shirzat Yaqup, with music by Mexmut Sulayman (currently one of the coaches on the The Voice of the Silk Road).  My translation of This Is Not A Dream will hopefully be published in the near future.  In the meantime, here is the beginning of the story.


This Is Not A Dream

 by Memtimin Hoshur

Translated by Robert Peace


That night everyone saw the fire that suddenly appeared on the hill above the village.  At first, it seemed that the wind was bringing the smell of burning cinders.  After that, spectacular flames rose into the air and lit up the surroundings.  Terrified people came out onto the street, shouting.  Horrified women were screaming.

 _ Hey women, what are you screeching about?  It’s not as though your mother is dying.  It’s that Tohtek’s house burning, Tohtek’s house! _ Someone galloped his horse back down from the hill, yelling as he cut straight through the middle of the crowd.

_ Have you heard? Tohti’s house is burning!

_ Tohti’s house!?

_ It was an amazing house eh…!

_ Poor thing, with such hardships he built it too!

_ I wonder how the fire broke out?…


Earlier that day, as evening approached, Gulshen’s three elder brothers had run up to Tohtek’s newly built house.  They stood in the courtyard yelling:

_ Tohtek! Hey Tohtek!…

As soon as Tohti came out onto the landing, all three of them rushed at him and began to give him a severe beating.  Although Tohti was a match for every one of them, he didn’t fight back. Nor did he fall from the blows of their fists which rained down on him. When they had gotten to the point of punching him as though he were not a person at all but a wooden post, insensitive to suffering and pain, for some reason they suddenly stopped. Blood flowing from a split above Tohti’s eye ran down his cheek and dripped onto his shirt.

_ Ptooey! Dog, get away from here!

_ Did you think to yourself that we would give you a girl?

_ Wherever you came from, get a wife from there too!

_ Have you become so cocky from this palace you’ve built? This thing of yours…

But Tohti remained silent.  His eyes were staring off into the distance.  Above the clouds gathered on the dim horizon, the sinking sun’s last reddish rays were flashing; the moon too had appeared in the sky.  But it was a different group of scenes that passed before Tohti’s eyes.

…There, the rocky roads of the south… that bus he sneaked onto… the days he spent wandering hungrily around Aksu bazaar… the kindly cook who took care of him for a few days in Urumchi… How had he ended up stopping in a little village at this edge of such a wide land?  He had been searching for life…, a good living…, happiness…

By the time Tohti had gathered himself again, Gulshen’s brothers were gone.  He could scarcely control the crying which burst from the very depths of his being.  The humiliation tormented him, as though it was lighting a fire in his heart.  Was this anger? Regret? Grief? Or the conscience’s desire for revenge? He himself didn’t know.

Only a few evenings previously Tohti had met secretly with Gulshen.

_ Leave! Leave! _ the girl had said to him, trembling, _ Get as far away as you can… my brothers are in a foul temper, they could even beat you to death. At the very least, stay out of sight for a couple of months…

_ Gulshen, I am not going anywhere without you.  Come, if we’re going to leave, let’s leave together right away.  What is it that we promised each other?  They will force you to marry someone else…

_ I’m scared!  Will I never again come back to this village?  My brothers, my relatives… how would I ever look them in the face…?

From then on, Gulshen’s brothers kept her locked up in their storehouse.  On the door swung a great, rusted-out lock that couldn’t be opened without at least half an hour of fiddling.

Thinking about all this, Tohti became anxious. He returned home and began to pace back and forth…

The faithful girl who had run away blushing after kissing him on the cheek for the very first time… who had given him those furtive looks… who had exchanged whispers with him on moonlit nights…, was nothing like today’s dejected and fearful Gulshen.  Tohti was not afraid of the sky falling down, or of the opposition all those people who had no understanding of the human heart.  It was just those nagging doubts – Will Gulshen weaken her resolve?  Will she go back on her promise? – that were pushing him into despair.

(to be continued)

© Peace Translation 2015



Works of Memtimin Hoshur: The Test

Memtimin Hoshur has been writing stories for more than five decades and it is no surprise to find works of very different kinds in his corpus. This story was written in 1961, in a period of intense socialist construction in China, complete with radical labels and slogans. The political background weighs heavily upon this story, effectively turning it into a propaganda piece. It is impossible to imagine Hoshur writing such a story today. Yet, for all that, the tale still manages to be somewhat surprising.

Two notes which will help the reader understand this story

1. The name of the female protagonist, Güli, means “flower.

2. “Iron Girls” refers to a movement of state feminism which was designed to liberate women by engaging them in the means of production.

The Test

by Memtimin Hoshur

Translated by Robert Peace with Ayshemgül Yolwas

Do you remember? This was the conversation we had last spring. We were talking by a canal with lush green pasture land on either side. Beside us lay a road that stretched away into the far distance. It was there that I shyly confessed my love for you.

“What? I will test you,” you said. “After all, everyone knows that boys are like butterflies flitting from flower to flower, right?”

“How am I supposed to explain my feelings for you?” I asked. “We don’t have enough time together. Our tractors are already on their way to help plough the fields in the neighbouring villages. Güli, how are you going to test me?”

“I am going to test you from this spring through to the next, during which time we will see each other four times. You will set the times and places for our meetings.”

“Fine, I will do whatever you wish. Go ahead and test me,” I said, before setting off hurriedly down the road.

When I looked back at you after firing up my tractor, you were waving goodbye with your handkerchief. My tractor, too, put-putted as if to say “Bye bye! Bye bye!” as I drove away.

Later that spring, the day I came back from completing the task of helping the neighbouring villages, I invited you to the mountainside above our village. I really love standing up on the heights and looking down over our beloved village. When a gentle spring breeze brushes your face as you gaze into the distance, you feel as though your chest is going to burst, it is filled with such vigour. Looking at the waves of grain in serried rows of wheat fields billowing like the sea, the whitewashed new houses of the village residents dotting their respective orchards and gardens, the channels of water stretching into the distance like threads of silver, you can’t help wanting to burst into song.

You did not come that day.

If you had come, we would have enjoyed the springtime scenery in our new village together. I would have regaled you with stories of the successes I achieved during my days of labour.

Later, when I asked you, “Güli, why didn’t you come?”

“Come on, how could you invite me to such a faraway place?” was your reply.

For our second meeting, I invited you out to the fields at the height of the harvest. The commune had called on us to complete the summer harvest quickly, and the fields were a hive of activity. Anyone who saw this year’s bumper harvest and the joyful and lively spirit of the harvesters could not help but take up a sickle and join in…

But, you didn’t come.

I had hoped that you would come and challenge the others with a, “Hey, let’s see who finishes first?”, and become one of those “Iron Girls” singing as they worked their way down the rows of wheat.

If you had come, we would have sung the songs of the farming folk together; If you had come, we would have shown everyone our labouring skills; If you had come, we would have drunk from cool spring water together after work, and talked about this year’s bumper harvest as we walked home.

“Güli, why didn’t you come?” I asked you later.

“Oh please!” you said, taking me to task. “What did you mean by inviting me out to the fields under the blazing sun? Is our village lacking in cool gardens to walk in?”

The bountiful season of autumn.

Our village had successfully finished the harvest and everyone had been given the day off. Nature had taken on a golden colour, while, after the autumn ploughing and sewing, the fields had assumed yet another hue.

But it was not to the fields that I invited you. Rather, it was to pleasant orchards filled with the sweet scent of fruit. But when I passed the fields and came to the production group’s great apple orchard, I was taken by surprise. Young people clutching baskets were making their way into the orchard.

“Hey, what’s going on? Today is a rest day isn’t it?” I asked the “Iron Girls” I saw there.

“There’s been urgent news from the weather station. It looks like a wild dust storm is coming this way. So the brigade youths have been called out to pick the apples quickly.”

It was true, the weather was changing and a black cloud was already rolling towards us. I took one look at those apples, so thickly clustered that the branches could hardly support them, and immediately removed my coat so that I could join in with the apple pickers…

Not long after, the first signs of the storm were upon us. But we beat the storm with our frenetic apple-picking efforts. By the time it hit with full force, the apples had all been brought in. In this battle with nature, a plentiful harvest had been saved.

I didn’t even have time that day to notice whether you had come or not. Perhaps, if you had come, you would have made yourself busy with the group of girls picking apples.

Later, when I ran into to you, “Güli…”

But as soon as I began to speak, you cut me off with your excuses, “Don’t be upset, I couldn’t go out that day either. Didn’t you see that storm? I had gotten all ready, but just as I was getting up to leave, the storm arrived and was whipping dust and dirt up into the air.”

The last time I invited you out was on a freezing winter’s day. Nature had been covered with a cloak of pure white, and even the ice was cracking in the intense cold. Trees were weighed down with brilliant white blossoms of hoarfrost, their branches sagging. The winter air created fantastic patterns on window panes. In the village schoolyard, lively children were throwing snowballs at each other. Girls with cheeks as red as pomegranates were bringing water up from the fog-shrouded springs below the village. Their laughs resounded in the cold air, echoing even in the far distance.

“See, it may be winter outside, but in their hearts it is spring!” I couldn’t help blurting out.

Again you did not come.

If you had come, we would have taken a walk in the countryside, enjoying the winter landscape. We would have left our footprints in the pure white snow. The crisp air would have nipped at our cheeks. With the stick in my hand, I would have written on the snow, “Güli, I love you!”

Sadly, you didn’t come. Maybe you just didn’t feel like going out into the cold of that day.

Now another new spring has arrived. The hills are covered with spring flowers. Today I am supposed to be going to see you. You are expecting to tell me the result of the test…

But, Güli, don’t wait for me. You should understand that I was also testing you. Whenever I envisioned your slender form and your moon-like features, I would think to myself, “If only such a beautiful flower would embrace with passion the ups and downs of life, how much more beautifully would it bloom?” But not even once did I see you with a fire for real life.

Güli, whenever I used to ask you, “Güli, what kind of flower are you?”

You would answer, “I am a beautiful mountain wildflower that blooms just the same in all four seasons.”

But now I know. You are not a proud mountain wildflower blossoming eternally on the snowy peaks; you are a potted flower sitting behind a window, witnessing nothing but the dim light of the sun.

Ghulja, 1961.

Asterix translator Anthea Bell on literary translators

Asterix translator Anthea Bell on literary translators.

One language is not enough for bookworms. If you want to read books in the original, ironically enough you qualify yourself to be a translator. There are in fact no special qualifications. I feel upset when young people write to me saying they’ve never done a post-graduate course in translation theory; can they still become translators? Translation theory is probably fun in its way, but I have never met a publisher who cared in the least whether you knew anything about it.

Read the original article here.

Works of Memtimin Hoshur: The Boy Who Was Taken to the City

Memtimin Hoshur is probably the best-known and loved Uyghur writer alive today. I was privileged to meet him recently and speak with him about translating some of his works into English for publication. With his kind agreement, I have started the process of translating some of his short stories for publication. In the near future I hope to have his romantic tragedy This is not a dream published as an e-book. In the meantime, I will be publishing translations of some of his other short stories periodically right here on

This simple but moving story consists solely of a series of short dialogues between a son and his father, who is taking him from his mother and the traditional rural Uyghur lifestyle to live with a new mother in the strange world of the big city. The emotional and psychological impact on the boy is conveyed through series of questions he asks his father as he attempts to make sense of what is happening. This is a poignant insight into the personal and cultural alienation that can result from family breakdown and urbanization.

The Boy Who Was Taken to the City

 by Memtimin Hoshur

Translated by Robert Peace with Ayshemgül Yolwas

– Dad, where were you when I was little?

– I was in a city far away, studying.

– Dad, why are you taking me to the city?

– From now on you will be living with me in the city.

– Why isn’t my mum coming with us?

– I got a divorce from your mother. I need to have one of my children with me, son! But we are not bringing your mother to the city.

– Dad, is the city far away?

– Yes it is. We’re going to go by motor vehicle.

– Am I going to ride in a motor vehicle too?

– Yes, you are going to ride in a motor vehicle too, my son.


– Dad, is this the city?

– Yes, we have arrived in the city.

– Why are there so many people in the streets?

– In the city there are a lot of people.

– Hey, what kind of motor vehicle is that?

– That’s called a “car.”

– Why are those houses so tall?

– Houses in the city are all that tall. The place we are going to live in is just as tall.

– Dad, when you go to work, am I going to be afraid?

– Why would you be afraid? I am going to bring you a beautiful new mother.


– Why do you keep opening the window and looking outside. Haven’t you had enough of looking at the city?

– Dad, why aren’t there any hills to run around and play on here?

– There wouldn’t be any hills in the city.

– Dad, why aren’t there any canals to swim in, or any springs where kids can lie on their tummies to drink the water?

– Silly! What would springs be doing in the city?

– Why aren’t there any cows leading their calves around?

– Cows don’t walk around the streets of city.

– What about sheep with their lambs?

– Sheep don’t walk around here either.

– Dad, why don’t you sleep beside me anymore?

– You are a big boy now, you will sleep separately in this room.

– Dad, why does my new mother rub paint on her lips?

– Don’t ask stupid questions.

– Dad, why does my new mother say I should call her “Aunt?”

– Civilized city kids call their mothers “Aunt.” It would be good if you called me “Uncle” too.

– Dad, why don’t you bring my own mother here?

– …


– When you were away from home my mum would always say to us, “Your father is a good man.” My older brother never stopped talking about how you would pick him up and play with him. Whenever they spoke about you, I would wonder what you were like.

– So, what is your dad like?

– …


– You miss your mother don’t you?

– Yes, I miss her. Every morning when mum would get up and stoke the fire to make breakfast, I would roll over into her place. Her quilt was still warm. I don’t know how many times I thought, “If only my dad was home too, how wonderful it would be to lie between mum and dad, and then roll into mum’s arms and then dad’s arms again and again.” Oh dad, please dad! If you just take me back to my own mother, I will run to her calling out “mum!”, and throw myself into her arms.

Uyghur’s myriad verb forms produce over 42 million words

In a previous post I wrote about the latest candidate for longest word in the Uyghur language. In that post we saw that agglutinative languages like Uyghur can produce extremely long words. Another feature of such languages is the sheer number verbs forms that can be produced.  Mood, voice, aspect, tense person and number are all conveyed by suffixes which must be attached to the root verb in the appropriate order.

Recently Alim Ahat, founder of Uighursoft, wrote an article suggesting that Uyghur may have a store of some 50 million words when you include all the possible forms of every verb. Alim was working on a new edition of Uighursoft’s spell-checker when he took the opportunity to carry out some mathematical analysis of Uyghur verb inflections.

By his calculations, the total number of possible verb forms in modern literary Uyghur is 8,455. When he ran that by all available verbs in his software he came up with a store of an astonishing 42,613,200 synthetic words!

Alim says that no matter what form of what verb you write, his spell-checker will find it 99.99% of the time, and the total number of words and expressions stored in his software tool approaches 50 million.

In case you’re having trouble believing all this, he provides an example of what happens when you enter the verb root aptomatlash- (“to be automated”) into the software. With the press of a button it generates a list of 5040 different forms. Here are the first ten, and the 5040th:

1. aptomatlashmaq
2. aptomatlishish
3. aptomatliship
4. aptomatlashqan
5. aptomatlishidu
6. aptomatlashti
7. aptomatlishidighan
8. aptomatlishe
9. aptomatlishishqa
10. aptomtalishishi
5040. aptomatlashturulghudekla

Perhaps most astonishing of all is that as I look down the list I am yet to see a form that I do not recognize as a possible form of the word. In other words, a person who knows the language could (in theory) form and use any of these words. It seem the human brain is indeed “hard-wired” for language (Chomsky?) and has an amazing capacity to synthesize language according to the “rules”.

How long can one word be?

One of the fun little sidelines that come with learning an agglutinative language like Uyghur is  competing to find the longest possible word.   Things that need a whole sentence to say in English can be expressed in Uyghur with one long word.

I remember talking some years ago with a linguist who was studying the Kyrgyz language. Kyrgyz morphological rules  are so utterly strict and consistent that he was able to devise a computer program to produce for him the longest possible word in Kyrgyz. (He never told me the actual word and I am afraid I do not remember how many syllables it had.) In any case, once ha had the word, the next question was: Is this word a real part of the living Kyrgyz lexicon or is it purely hypothetical?

To find the answer, the linguist went to a remote part of Kyrgyzstan and sought out and elderly Kyrgyz man.  He presented a scenario involving a certain person carrying out a certain action in a certain way in a certain context, and so on.  He then asked how this man would sum up the situation in his own words.  Sure enough, so the linguist claimed, this senior Kyrgyz spontaneously used the very same word the computer had come up with.

Uyghur has some features that would make it harder to program than Kyrgyz. Nevertheless, the search is always on for the longest word. Recently I came across a contender that was put forward with the offer of a prize to anyone who could beat it. The word consists of 47 letters and 18 syllables.

Here it is in kona yeziq and UKY:



I am not convinced that the construction “-mayliwat-” is valid.  If we reduce it to “-maywat-” then the word looks correct to me.  Even then, this word still weighs in at a respectable 17 syllables.

So, what does the word actually mean?

Here’s my stab at it:

I dunno, maybe it’s because you all are unable to bring them together.

What do you think?

Studying Uyghur in the States

If you are wanting to study the Uyghur language, nothing beats spending time in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.  It isn’t that the language schools are great – you may be lucky enough to get one of the better teachers but the overall teaching quality is not high, and none of the programs lead to any kind of certification.  It is, of course, the immersion expMehmud Kashgari studyingerience that would be the biggest boon to your Uyghur language learning.

However, if you cannot make it to Xinjiang but are fortunate enough to be able to study in the USA, there are some options. Here is a brief introduction to the handful of universities offering courses in Uyghur, listed in no particular order.

Indiana University
An undergraduate program with three levels of Uyghur language study is offered through the Department of Central Eurasian Studies.

IU also hosts the Center for Languages of the Central Asia Region (CeLCAR), which offers Uyghur language learning material online as well as distance and intensive courses.

University of Kansas
KU’s Uyghur program is offered by its department of East Asian Language and Cultures.  This university has also published what is widely regarded as the best first-year Uyghur textbook and grammar, Greetings from the Teklimakan: a Handbook of Modern Uyghur, by Tarjei Engesæth, Mahire Yakup and Adrienne Dwyer, which is available for download at no cost here.

University of Washington

This university has a fairly comprehensive Turkic department, including elementary, intermediate and advanced Uyghur courses. The courses in comparative grammar of Turkic languages look really interesting too. If you have an historical bent you can even study Old Uyghur!

Harvard University
If you have always wanted to be able to put Harvard on your CV, you could try taking the Uyghur courses at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

University of Wisconsin-Madison
An 8-week intensive summer program with first- and second-year Uyghur instruction is run by the Center for Russia, East Europe and Central Asia (CREECA) providing there are a sufficient number of  enrollments.

Is there anywhere else to study Uyghur in the English language?
To date I have not found any information about courses being offered in other English-speaking countries. Please leave a comment or contact me if you know of any.


Writing Uyghur – The Arabic Script

Note: If you want to type in Uyghur-Arabic script, click here to see the standard keyboard.

Of the numerous scripts that have been used throughout the history of the development of the Uyghur language, three of them are in use today – the Arabic script, the Cyrillic script, and the Latin script.   The vast majority of Uyghurs today use the Arabic script, called Kona Yeziq (“Old Script”).  This is the official script for Uyghur in the People’s Republic of China, and can be seen, for example, on Chinese currency (along with Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Zhuang).


For the beginner who has no background with Arabic-based scripts, learning the Uyghur Arabic script can appear quite daunting.  Especially when you discover that most letters take different forms depending on their position in a given word!   However, there is a certain aesthetic and logic to the Arabic alphabet and it should take no longer than a week or two to become fairly familiar with it.

One thing I found very helpful in learning both the letters and the order of the alphabet was to understand that letters with the same basic shapes are grouped together. So, for example ت ,پ ,ب appear together and in that order in the alphabet. The image below (click to enlarge) shows how this works for the entire alphabet.  Read from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. You will see that most letters have an ې added, which simply indicates the pronunciation of that letter.  It also means that you are seeing the word-initial form of each letter.

I hope this helps.

Elipba (Arabic)

Uyghur language and culture for English-speakers