‘Farewell, My Uyghur Language’: Linguistic anxiety and resistance in Uyghur poetry and songs, 1990s–2010s

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In recent decades, as part of the efforts of the Chinese government first to integrate and, more recently, to forcibly assimilate the Uyghur population into China’s mainstream culture and society, the Uyghur language has been marginalized and repressed to an unprecedented extent. The academic literature on Xinjiang’s language policy has repeatedly acknowledged that this repression is a major source of concern and discontent among many Uyghurs. However, to date, little has been written about the public response of Uyghurs to this policy and their open efforts to challenge it. In particular, with very few exceptions, little is known about the public response of Uyghur writers and artists. In this article I analyse a large corpus of Uyghur poems and songs that engaged openly with the Uyghur language crisis and were published and disseminated in the Uyghur public sphere between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s. Unlike some studies that try to assess the condition of certain languages at a certain point in time through objective methodologies, these literary and artistic works provide an insider view on how the Uyghur cultural elite and many other Uyghurs experienced the repression and loss of their native language, and also, how they struggled against this repression. In the article I examine the diverse sentiments, perceptions, and discourses that these literary and artistic expressions communicate, and the different strategies that the Uyghurs used to struggle against the language policy and its consequences. I also explore what these works tell us about the development of Xinjiang’s language policy over time, the linguistic reality in the region, and the impact that the language policy has had on Uyghur society. Finally, the article also investigates the broad political meanings of these works and speculates on the link between them and the efforts of the Chinese government to further marginalize the Uyghur language.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2022-2066
Number of pages45
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - 25 Nov 2023


  • Uyghurs
  • Xinjiang
  • assimilation
  • bilingual education
  • cultural erasure
  • language policy
  • linguistic anxiety
  • mother tongue
  • resistance

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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