Saturday, February 09, 2019

Abdurehim Heyit's "Mother Tongue"

While I was doing my PhD at SOAS, I found myself one term helping teach a field methods class focusing on Uyghur, a Turkic language closely related to Uzbek spoken in Xinjiang in far western China (textbook here). At the time, as far as I gathered, it was a sleepy borderland region; these days, it's best known for the massive reeducation camps into which the Chinese government has thrown a substantial proportion of the population, in what appears to be an ambitious effort to eradicate their language, culture, and religion. ("Kill the Indian to save the man" was the American version.) Today, it's being reported that the talented Uyghur musician Abdurehim Heyit (ئابدۇرېھىم ھېيىت, equivalent to Arabic عبد الرحيم عيد), from Kashgar, died in detention at the age of 55, after two years in the camps. [UPDATE: It now seems that he's alive and still being imprisoned without trial.]

One of his best-known songs, originally a poem by Qutluq Shewqi, is a good fit for this blog: Ana til (ئانا تىل), "Mother Tongue" (lyrics, translation). When he sang it, language was still a relatively politically acceptable element of Uyghur identity to emphasise; traditional Communist Party policy for officially recognised ethnic minorities emphasised development of their languages. Now, with hundreds of thousands of people arbitrarily imprisoned, the rapid loss of language rights is the least of anyone's worries.

ئانا تىل بىلگەن كىشىنىڭ ئىززىتىن قىلغۇم كەلۇر،I salute the people who speak my mother tongue,
ئانا تىلنى ئاغزىدىن ئالتۇن بەرىپ ئالغۇم كەلۇر.I am willing to pay in gold for the words they speak.
بۇ ئانا تىل بولسا گەر ئامەرىكا-يۇ ئافرىقىدا،Wherever my mother tongue is found, be it Africa or America,
سەرپ ئەتىپ مىڭلارچە تىللا ئاندى مەن بارغۇم كەلۇر.I would go there, whatever the cost and expense.
ئانا تىل بىلگەن كىشىنىڭ ئىززىتىن قىلغۇم كەلۇر،I salute the people who speak my mother tongue,
ئانا تىلنى ئاغزىدىن ئالتۇن بەرىپ ئالغۇم كەلۇر.I am willing to pay in gold for the words they speak.
ئەي ئانا تىل بىزگە سەن قالغان ئۇلۇغلاردىن نىشان،Oh, my mother tongue, you are the sacred bequest to us from our great ancestors,
سەن بىلەن روھىي زىمىندا ئىپتىخارلانغۇم كەلۇر.With you, I desire to share my pride in you in the spiritual world.

2 comments:

Whygh said...

Thank you very much for this.

I seems that the Chinese fashion for projects at a grand scale now extends itself to grand scale ethnocide as well. My understanding is that in the long run they aim to eradicate the Cantonese lanuage as well.

Tom Dawkes said...

On the position of Cantonese in the PRC, there are several postings from Language Log, the most recent being at http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=41267