A staffer’s paean to Uzbek

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Four years ago, UC Berkeley staffer Lydia Kiesling had an opportunity to learn Uzbek, a Turkic language without articles or gender, “tied inextricably to the history of Islam” and packed with Persian.

Kiesling — who directs outreach for the campus’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (and rarely uses her Uzbek these days) — penned an appreciation of the language in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine.

“Years before I studied Uzbek,” she recalls, “it seemed like a cosmopolitan miracle, with my bumbling Turkish, to be able to read an exit sign or negotiate a cab fare in Tashkent,” the capital of Uzbekistan.

That “miracle” is thanks to a surprising uniformity between Turkic grammars and numbers, she writes, making it “theoretically possible for someone to buy milk in Sevastopol (Crimean Tatar) or Ashgabat (Turkmen) or Bishkek (Kyrgyz) using more or less the same words.”

Read Lydia Kiesling’s “Letter of Recommendation: Uzbek.”