A new anthology for Uyghur Studies is in the making and will be published by Brill later this year. With contributions from scholars in the fields of language, history, religion, kinship and gender, this volume in memory of the distinguished Swedish Turkologist, Ambassador Gunnar Jarring (1907–2002), is likely to become an important reference work for future research. One of the anonymous reviewers characterized the edited manuscript as “something of a showcase of the various dimensions of ‘Uyghur studies’ as practiced today”.

The title of the book is Kashgar Revisited: Uyghur Studies in Memory of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring and the editors are Ildikó Bellér-Hann, Birgit N. Schlyter and Jun Sugawara.

From the editors’ preface:

Besides his well-known career as a Swedish diplomat, Gunnar Jarring also excelled as a scholar. Through his voluminous publications he made a significant contribution to Turkic Studies. His work has been fundamental to the emergence of Uyghur and Xinjiang Studies. The aim of this volume is twofold. With contributions on a wide range of topics, we wish to pay tribute to Gunnar Jarring’s scholarly accomplishments while at the same time providing an overview of recent and ongoing research on the Uyghurs and Xinjiang.

The three editors at the symposium (Copenhagen, 2012) preceding the aforementioned anthology.

The three editors at the symposium (Copenhagen, 2012) preceding the aforementioned anthology.

In 2007, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gunnar Jarring was celebrated at different places in Sweden. The following text is an excerpt from my own speech delivered on this occasion at the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities.

[From a speech delivered on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, at the Royal Academy of Letters History and Antiquities, on 12 October 2007, published in Dragomanen, no. 10/11, 2006-2007, pp. 215-218]

Birgit N. Schlyter

Return to the Uighurs …

In 1929 Gunnar Jarring travelled to Kashgar to do field work for his Ph.D. thesis on Uighur – or as they have also been called, Eastern Turki – dialects. His dissertation appeared under the title of Studien zu einer osttürkischen Lautlehre and was defended at the University of Lund in 1933. In 1978, almost 50 years later, he was invited by the Chinese government to visit Kashgar and Xinjiang (Sinkiang) once again. Several visits to libraries, museums and institutes were arranged for the Swedish guest. His Chinese hosts asked for his opinion on various issues. From a discussion of minority languages and literatures at the Nationalities Institute in Peking he reports in his book Return to Kashgar: Central Asian Memoirs in the Present (1986; transl. from Swedish original Åter till Kashgar: memoarer i nuet,1979):

The Uighur dialects had not been studied much, and the number of dialect samples in phonetic transcription was minimal. There existed a wealth of folk tales, folk literature, riddles, proverbs, and speech mannerisms, which all, most likely, dated back to cultures that have long since disappeared. You have asked me for advice, I said, and my advice is: save all that can be saved of Sinkiang’s folk literature, because it is in danger of disappearing. It is based upon an oral tradition, upon memories, not upon books and periodicals. Find people who are fifty, sixty, and seventy years old. They can remember and tell the stories. But there is little time. The twentieth-century modernizations will soon change their way of life. If the minority cultures and literatures are to survive, it will be necessary to spare no effort. [Return to Kashgar, p. 17]

The one who truly heeded this piece of advice, perhaps more than anybody else, was Gunnar Jarring himself. When he retired from the Swedish Foreign Ministry, Jarring returned to the Uighurs and their language. In fact, he had never really left them. However, after his retirement as an Ambassador in 1973, he could once more devote more of his time and energy to them – as he had done before he became a diplomat, as a student of Turkology.

Besides his scholarly work on Uighur lexicography, folk literature and ethnology, Gunnar Jarring took a keen interest in the Central Asian region as a whole, from a linguistic and literary point of view as well as an historical and political one. A large part of his vast library consisted of publications on Central Asia, both from the region itself and from other parts of the world, not least the former Soviet Union, where Jarring was Ambassador from 1964 to 1973. His collection of Central Asia publications belongs to the Swedish Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, which had Ambassador Jarring among its fellows. All of the most renowned accounts of expeditions to Central Asia and adjoining regions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be found in this collection, along with a great number of lesser known accounts, some of which are very rare and accessible at just a few or perhaps no other libraries in the world. Together these publications thus provide us with an exceptionally rich material for studies of the accumulation and formation of Western knowledge about Asia in general and Central Asia in particular during the colonial era up until the cold war era. Linguistic treatises and dictionaries for many Central Asian languages are also to be found in the collection, as well as books on history, religion, literature and several other disciplines. All in all, the collection consists of almost 5000 volumes, a number of manuscripts, catalogues and maps as well as more than 3000 offprints, most of which were signed by their authors with dedication inscriptions to their colleague and friend, Ambassador or Professor Jarring.

A few years before Jarring passed away, this collection was at his own request deposited at the University of Stockholm, where it was catalogued and came to comprise the core of a future “Gunnar Jarring Library”. Ambassador Jarring’s last contribution to his own collection of Central Asia publications was a handwritten manuscript for the second edition of An Eastern Turki-English Dialect Dictionary. Ever since the first edition was published in 1964, Jarring seems to have worked on a revised and substantially enlarged version of this dictionary. He was engaged in this enterprise up until his death at the age of 94. During the same period he published several minor works containing edited texts in literary Uighur and to a still greater extent in oral varieties of this language, together with translations, commentaries and glossaries. The last publication during his life-time appeared in 1997, on the 90th anniversary of his birth: Central Asian Turkic Place-Names – a dictionary of more than 500 pages compiled on the basis of the long series of reports from the Sven Hedin expeditions, Gunnar Jarring’s own transcriptions of Eastern Turki dialect material and many of the accounts of expeditions eastwards in Asia to be found in the aforementioned Jarring Collection of Central Asia Publications. All of these late publications by Gunnar Jarring were included in the extended list of sources referred to in his manuscript of the second, enlarged edition of the Eastern Turki dialect dictionary. With generous grants from The Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities and the Henrik Granholm Foundation at Stockholm University, Jarring’s manuscript has been edited for publication at the Department of Central Asian Studies in Stockholm.

The new edition of An Eastern Turki-English Dialect Dictionary is not only a linguistic treasure. It is as much a treasure of cultural history, providing us with information and knowledge from a great number of sources not so easily accessible. Just to offer one example: You have all heard the word burka and you know what discussions and emotions this concept may stir up. At present it is mostly associated with women in Afghanistan. Did the burka ever appear among the Uighurs? In Gunnar Jarring’s manuscript for the new extended edition of the Eastern Turki dialect dictionary, Jarring quotes an article published in 1871 in the British Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, and he writes in the lexical entry for this word:

burka veil; burkha a sort of sack, which covers them (the women) from head to foot, a piece of muslin, with eyeholes, being used as a cover for the face. This is a new custom in Kashgar, introduced by the order of Atalik, which the women particularly dislike (Montgomerie, Journal R. Geogr. Soc. 41 (1871), p. 178); cf. WB [W. Radloff, Versuch eines Wörterbuches der Türk-Dialecte, 1893-1911] IV:1890 rkä Schleier

The author of the article, Major Montgomerie, presents a report of a journey from Kabul to Kashgar at the end of the 1860s – an expedition that for various reasons did not return until two years later. The traveller was not Montgomerie himself but a local silversmith, the “Mirza”, as he was called – trained as an “explorer” and sent off on his mission by the British in 1867. The “atalik” mentioned in this quotation was Yaqub Beg. He was the leader of an Islamic state in Eastern Turkestan for about 10 years, from 1866 to 1877 – a strict and demanding Islamic leader who put the Islamic law into force and who did not allow women to be unveiled outdoors. The word burka cannot be found as an entry in the first, 1964 edition of Jarring’s lexicon. Nor is there any entry for atalíq. Jaqob as a proper name is there as well as beg. However, there is no information about Yaqub Beg. The new extended edition, on the other hand, has them all – burka, ataliq and Yaqub Beg. We even find Yaqub Beg’s full title: atalíq gha:zí.

In 1964 Jarring called his dictionary an “index” to his collection of Eastern Turki oral texts published in four volumes between 1948 and 1952 under the title of Materials to the Knowledge of Eastern Turki. A number of other texts were included as well. In the same preface he commented that it had been his intention to take into account all published Eastern Turki texts and to include the total word material of all these texts. However, lack of time had prevented him from doing so, he wrote, and for this reason he had decided to draw exclusively on his own material.

There had, thus, been a desire to produce the ultimate exhaustive dictionary of Eastern Turki, or as he also commented in the 1964 preface, the Eastern Turki language up until the mid 1930s – the language of a non-modernized society – since the time he was working on the first version of his dictionary. This desire apparently never left him. During the last thirty years of his life he worked constantly on this project and produced hundreds and thousands of handwritten pages.

Ambassador Jarring finished his manuscript and could have it all typed before he died. He also took an active part in the preparations for the transfer of the files and printouts to the Department of Central Asian Studies at Stockholm for the final editing and publishing of the manuscript.



  1. Dear all, would anyone know if Gunnar Jarring (btw – that was not his surname when he started out – he took that name to show his friendship for Uyghur people) by any chance published a Swedish Uyghur dictionary? That would help me immensely. I am Swedish and very interested in Uyghur culture and want to learn some basic Uyghur. I can only say little things like ”Mening ismim Jenny, siz bilen tonushqinimgha intayin xoshalmen” – would love to learn some more. Have bought ”Uyghur – an elementary textbook”. Thank you!! Rahmat! Jenny Ekberg


  2. PS. I know that somewhere this dictionary does exist in its Swedish – Uyghur version, I just can’t find it. In the past it was available through Lund University but not anymore.


  3. Hi Jenny!

    Thank you for your question!

    Gunnar Jarring published ”An Eastern Turki – English Dialect Dictionary” in 1964 (Lund). An extended version of this dictionary is being edited for publication at present. However, Jarring did not publish any Swedish-Uyghur dictionary. There may exist some Swedish-Uyghur glossary among Uyghurs living in Sweden. If you have friends among them, that would probably be the best way of finding out about dictionaries and even course material for Modern Uyghur.

    You can follow us on Facebook for updates on blogposts and research!

    Best of luck to you!


Lämna ett svar till Jenny E. Avbryt svar

Fyll i dina uppgifter nedan eller klicka på en ikon för att logga in:

WordPress.com Logo

Du kommenterar med ditt WordPress.com-konto. Logga ut /  Ändra )


Du kommenterar med ditt Google-konto. Logga ut /  Ändra )


Du kommenterar med ditt Twitter-konto. Logga ut /  Ändra )


Du kommenterar med ditt Facebook-konto. Logga ut /  Ändra )

Ansluter till %s