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The Chagatai language (جغتای - Jaĝatāy; Uyghur: چاغاتاي Chaghatay; Uzbek: ﭼﯩﻐﻪتاي Chegheta'iy; Turkish: Çağatay) is an extinct Turkic language which was once widely spoken in Central Asia, and remained the shared literary language there until the early twentieth century. It was also spoken by the Mughal rulers in Indiamarker.

Name of language

The word Chagatai relates to the Chagatai Khanate, a descendant empire of the Mongol Empire, which was left to Genghis Khan's second son, Chagatai Khan. Many of the Chagatai Turks and Tatars who were the speakers of this language claimed descent from Chagatai Khan.


Chagatai belongs to the Uyghur branch of the Turkic language family. It is descended from the Old Uyghur that served as a lingua franca in Central Asia, with a strong infusion of Arabic and Persian words and turns of phrase. It was developed as a sophisticated written language using the Perso-Arabic alphabet. It can be divided into three periods:

  1. Pre-classical Chagatai (1400-1465)
  2. Classical Chagatai (1465-1600)
  3. Post-classical Chagatai (1600-1921)

The first period is a transitional phase characterized by the retention of archaic forms; the second phase starts with the publication of Mir Alisher Navoi'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 Navoi, the other trend is the increasing influence of the dialects of the local spoken languages.The Chagatai Turkic language lived its heyday in the Timurid Empire. Chagatai remained the universal literary language of Central Asia until the Soviet reforms of the early twentieth century.

Influence on later Turkic languages

Uzbek and modern Uyghur are the two modern languages most closely related to Chagatai, and Uzbeks regard Chagatai as the origin of their own language and claim Chagatai literature as their own. In Uzbekistanmarker, then a part of the Soviet Unionmarker, Chagatai was replaced by a literary language based on the local Uzbek dialect in 1921. The so-called Berendek, a 12th century medieval nomadic Turki people possibly related to the Cumans, seem also to have spoken a language which ultimately was identified as Chagatai.

Ethnologue records the use of the word "Chagatai" in Afghanistanmarker to describe the "Tekke" dialect of Turkmen. Up to and including the eighteenth century Chagatai was the main literary language in Turkmenistanmarker as elsewhere in Central Asia, and had some influence on Turkmen, but in fundamentals the two languages belong to different branches of the Turkic family.


The most famous of the Chagatai poets is Mir 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. 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 Turkic as is also the famous Baburnama (or Tuska Babure) of Babur, the Timurid founding the Mughal Empire.

Important works continued to be written in the Chafatai language into the early twentieth century. Among them are Musa Sayrami's Tārīkh-i amniyya (completed 1903) and its revised version Tārīkh-i ḥamīdi (completed 1908), representing the best sources on the Dungan Rebellion in Xinjiang.

Chagatai literature is still studied in modern Turkey and regarded as part of the Turkish heritage.



  • Eckmann, János, Chagatay Manual. (Indiana University publications: Uralic and Altaic series ; 60). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University, 1966. Reprinted edition, Richmond: Curzon Press, 1997, ISBN 0-7007-0860-X, or ISBN 978-0-7007-0860-4. .
  • Bodrogligeti, András J. E., A Grammar of Chagatay. (Languages of the World: Materials ; 155). München: LINCOM Europa, 2001. (Repr. 2007), ISBN 3-89586-563-X. .
  • Erkinov A. “Persian-Chaghatay Bilingualism in the Intellectual Circles of Central Asia during the 15th-18th Centuries (the case of poetical anthologies, bayāz)”. International Journal of Central Asian Studies. C.H.Woo (ed.). vol.12, 2008, pp.57-82 [29388]

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