A New Dictionary Devoted to Uyghur Cultural History

A long editing process is about to end.

To appear

An Eastern Turki–English Dialect Dictionary, 2nd edition
Compiled by Gunnar Jarring and edited by Birgit N. Schlyter

In 1964, at the height of his diplomatic career, the Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Jarring (1907-2002), who was as much known to Turkologists for his works in Uyghur Studies, published his by now classical Eastern Turki–English Dialect Dictionary. His corpus was almost exclusively elicited from his own recordings of oral Eastern Turki (i.e. non-standardized modern Uyghur) folk literature, published in his Materials to the Knowledge of Eastern Turki. Tales, Poetry, Proverbs, Riddles, Ethnological and Historical Texts from the Southern Parts of Eastern Turkestan with Translation and Notes, Parts I – IV, Lund 1946-1951.

In fact, Ambassador Jarring never left this project. For the rest of his life, he continued to work for a revised and substantially enlarged version of his dictionary drawing from not only his own published and unpublished materials but also an enormous number of, if not all, other sources that could possibly contain Eastern Turki words and phrases – besides treatises in Turkic philology, travel accounts and, not least, printed matters and notebooks from Swedish missionaries living and working in Eastern Turkestan from the last decade of the 1800s till 1938. Some of these sources have been digitized and are accessible online from the Gunnar Jarring Digital Library, www.jarringcollection.se.

Ambassador Jarring finished his compilation and had his handwritten manuscript typed before he died. He also took an active part in the preparations for the transfer of the files and printouts to my research team in Central Asian Studies at Stockholm University for the final editing and publishing of the manuscript. More than half of the new sources not present in the first 1964 edition of the dictionary were not fully specified in Jarring’s manuscript, at times just notified by an abridged title, an acronym or the like. For the editing of the manuscript, it was part of my job to identify and search for these sources, most of which have been found in The Gunnar Jarring Central Eurasia Collection at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul and in the Jarring Collection at Lund University.

The new edition of An Eastern Turki–English Dialect Dictionary is not only a linguistic treasure. It is also a treasure of cultural history providing us with information from an abundance of sources not always very easily accessible. For example, let us look up the word burka, for a female outfit heard of at the present day first in connection with women in Afghanistan and eventually also in diverse Muslim circles elsewhere. Did the burka ever appear among the Uyghurs and, if so, when and under what circumstances did it appear? In his manuscript for the new extended edition of the Eastern Turki dictionary, Jarring quotes an article published in 1871 in the British Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Vol. 41 (pp. 132-193), “Report of ‘The Mirzas’ Exploration from Caubul to Kashgar” by Major T.G. Montgomerie:

burkha …, 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

The author presents a report of a journey from Kabul to Kashgar. The traveler was not Montgomerie himself but a Turkic-Persian immigrant to India. The “Mirza”, as this local silversmith was called, had been employed previously by the British and trained as an “explorer”. By the end of 1867 he was sent out on this new mission to Kashgar. The “atalik” mentioned in this quotation was Yaqub Beg – the ruler of Eastern Turkestan from 1866 to 1877. Yaqub Beg was a strict and demanding leader, who put Islamic law into force and who did not allow women to be unveiled outdoors.

Before we arrive at burka in this dictionary, we find the word burgut, ‘the golden eagle’ (Aquila chryseatus) with reference to a frequently quoted source, A Sketch of the Turki Language as spoken in Eastern Turkistan (Kashghar and Yarkand), Part 2, The Vocabulary, published in 1880 by Robert Barkley Shaw, presented as “Political Agent, late on special duty at Kashghar, Gold Medallist, Royal Geographical Society”. The political agent Shaw apparently took a special interest in birds and plants, listing them in a special section of his vocabulary.

Further down in the text belonging to the entry of burgut, we find the same Shaw, however, this time written out as Shaw, since the book referred to in this case is not the aforementioned vocabulary of Turki but Visits to High Tartary, Yarkand, and Kashghar (Formerly Chinese Tartary) and Return Journey over the Karakoram Pass (1871), where one finds the following passage about a burgut or “birkoot”, as it is spelled there (p. 157f.):

At one of these places I was shown a newly-caught black eagle of the sort called ‘Birkoot,’ which are trained to catch antelope and deer as falcons do birds. The unfortunate creature was hooded, and wrapped up, wings, talons and all, in a sheep-skin and this bundle was suspended (head downwards) from the man’s saddle during the march. They consider this treatment has a tendency to tame the bird!

The passage ends with a note about Marco Polo (13th c.) having observed similar eagles at the court of the Chinese Emperor.

Still today, the “burgut” is used for hunting in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia:

An eagle trained for hunting in present-day Kyrgyzstan. The photo is from an article by Serkan Ocak in the Turkish daily Hürriyet, 7 April, 2018, “Tanrı Dağı’nın son efendileri… Tarihimizin başladığı yer” [The last masters of God’s Mountain … The place where our history begins].

In contemporary Ukrainian (via Russian), Turkic bürküt ~ burgut ~ birgut, etc. has become “berkut”, which appeared in the international news media a few years ago as the name of a special police force in action and finally dissolved during the 2014 crises between Russia and Ukraine.

You will find more about Gunnar Jarring’s lifelong study of Uyghur language and culture in the following two publications of mine:

Schlyter, Birgit N., ”From the Private Library of Gunnar Jarring and His New Eastern Turki Dictionary”, in Bellér-Hann, Ildiko, Birgit N. Schlyter, and Jun Sugawara (eds), Kashgar Revisited: Uyghur Studies in Memory of Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, Leiden/Boston 2017, pp. 13-33.

Schlyter, Birgit, Utsiktsplats Istanbul: Berättelser från turkfolkens värld [Viewpoint Istanbul: Accounts from the Turkic world], Stockholm 2015, pp. 183-198 and 300-313.


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