Navo’iy on the Superiority of Turkic to Persian

Alisher Navo’iy, the great Central Asian statesman, poet, linguist, painter, and otherwise all-around amazing person wrote much on the subject of language policy. A native of Herat who spent most of his life in the court of Timurid ruler Husayn Bayqara, Navo’iy is considered to be among the founders of Turkic literary culture.  At the time, few Turkish poets wrote in the Turkic language (by ‘Turkish’ I mean Turkic-speaking people of Central Asia, not citizens of the Turkish Republic. Their language, known to them as simply Turki and to scholars as Chaghatai, is essentially proto-Uzbek). He was one of the first people to vocally advocate the use of Turki as a literary language, worthy of poetry and literature. It seems he also had a bit of an attitude about the Persian language and Persian speakers.

“Turkish is much superior to Persian as regards the formation of words and expressions and contains nuances and eloquences which, God willing, will be explained at the proper place…

“There are more literates among the Persians. But although that is true, Turks from notables to commoners and from slaves to lords are acquainted with the Persian language and speak it according to their specific stations. Turkish poets can even write beautiful poems in Persian. In contrast, not one member of the Persian nation, be he brigand or notable or scholar, can speak Turkish or understand anyone who does. If one in a hundred or even in a thousand learns and speaks this language, everyone who hears him knows that he is a Persian. With his own language he makes himself an object of ridicule.”

Muhakamat al-Lughatain, translated by Robert Devereux

~ by Josh on October 24, 2010.

One Response to “Navo’iy on the Superiority of Turkic to Persian”

  1. Josh, my only gripe is with calling Chaghatay proto-Uzbek, but that is what the Soviets called it and it seems to have stuck… but I think it muddies the already not-clear waters of linguistic identity, since which “Uzbek” is it the proto of? And if Chaghatay doesn’t have vowels, it’s rather hard to say which branch it is, though the consonant choices hint at the appropriate vowels (back vs front, anyway). I’m planning on trying to prove that Chaghatay might just as easily be called proto-Kazakh or proto-Karakalpak, etc… But nice to see you blogging about our boy Navoiy

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