I haven't weighed in to date on the
Uighur versus Uyghur issue, partially since I've considered it a
question of fairly minor importance, and partially since I have no
strong preference myself either way. Since the question doesn't seem to
have died down, however, I've thought about it a bit and have decided
to send along my own proverbial two cents' worth, in the hopes that I
won't make any permanent enemies thereby.
Although normally somewhat of a traditionalist and thus fairly sympathetic to Michael's position, I also find the spelling "Uighur" to be particularly unattractive, and even un-English, regardless of its historical pedigree, and believe as well that the "Uyghur" rendering is in fact supplanting it fairly rapidly in common usage among scholars and linguists working in the field. No matter how well-established "Uighur" may be in certain writing on the
Central Asian area, it seems to me that it has not really penetrated the active or passive vocabulary of most well-read native speakers of English, unless they be specialists on the area.
Looking at recent publications on the language per se, I see that Reinhard Hahn entitled his book "Spoken Uyghur", while Michael Friedrich entitled his (in German) "Uyghurisch". Henry Schwarz also used "Uyghur" for his dictionary. The relevant sections in the compendium "The Turkic Languages" (again written by Hahn) uses "Uyghur", while Anne Lee's translation of the Hamit Tomur grammar is entitled "Modern Uyghur Grammar". Indiana University's Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region uses "Uyghur", Radio Free Asia uses "Uyghur", the Uyghur Dictionary Projects uses "Uyghur", etc. There thus seems to be a trend in the recent Western writing on the language and people itself toward "Uyghur", although the traditional spelling of "Uighur" obviously continues to be widely used as well.
Given that most of the Turkic languages and peoples are not that well known to most English speakers, it strikes me as only natural that, at least in some cases, there may be in time a trend away from the more traditional spellings to ones that more closely resemble their actual native pronunciations. This is especially the case when sovereign states weigh in to have the English versions of their names changed. "Tartar" gave way some time ago to "Tatar", "Turkoman/Turcoman" has largely given way to "Turkmen", "Kirghiz" to "Kyrgyz" (no matter how strange the latter looks to English speakers), etc. "Sinkiang" is, I believe, the traditional spelling for the geographical region inhabited by the Uyghurs/Uighurs, but given the
ascendancy of Pinyin these days, I suspect that few of us are still using that earlier spelling, and that it will eventually take on the
patina and associations of an earlier age, just as "Hindoo" does for "Hindu", or "Mahometan" for "Muslim".
If I'm not mistaken, the Chinese government also prefers the "Uyghur" spelling, which regardless of the tradition in English will also, I suspect, eventually lead officials and others in the wider world to adhere to that spelling over time. So although Michael is indeed correct, in my view, in saying that "Uighur" has an established place in English, it strikes me that this place is considerably less safe than it would be if the word were commonly used in English, which it is manifestly not. Given this situation, I believe that alternative renderings by interested writers, whether English-speakers or not, will likely impact the matter, and that "Uyghur" thus may well continue to compete with, and perhaps eventually win out over, "Uighur". Traditionalists may not like it, and it may indeed introduce some confusion (such as, for instance, in searching for one
version or the other in databases and not coming up with documents using the other version, etc.), but it does seem to me that, judged on recent writing, there is a trend in the direction of "Uyghur" that may be irreversible.
Conclusion: It is better to use "Uyghur".
(Bu maqalining yazghuchisi melum
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