Learning from Uyghur movies: Alimjan Bolumsizmu?

The best situation for language acquisition is, of course, “immersion” or being a “growing participant” in a particular language community (that’s how you learned your first language!) When I started learning Uyghur in earnest I was in fact part of several new (to me) language communities. Quite early on someone introduced me to Uyghur movies, and in particular, to the Uyghur comedy film Alimjan Bolumsizmu? (“Is Alimjan Good-For-Nothing?”). Now, Uyghur films are by-and-large low-budget affairs and the production values are not great. But they can still be enjoyable to watch, especially if you are looking for insights into culture and language.  I ended up watching Alimjan Bolumsizmu? so many times I could recite many of the funny lines from it, much to the amusement of my Uyghur friends.

Movies for language learning

One of the advantages of movies for language learning is that you can “immerse” yourself in the visual and aural experience, listening to language used by real people in real situations. Of course, you cannot participate in the action, but what you can do is play it over and over again until you are able to make out all the individual words and the way the sentences are put together. You also grow in understanding the contexts in which people use certain ways of speaking. 

So, over several years I worked sporadically on transcribing and translating all the spoken lines in Alimjan Bolumsizmu?, roping in friends to help me along the way. I am pleased to finally be offering the results to a wider readership through this website. With this post I am putting up the text and translation from “Disc 1, Scene 1” (most Uyghur movies came in VCD format out on a 2-disc set!) and you can find it here. I have only recorded spoken lines so you will need to watch the movie to make sense of it – it’s on YouTube here.

The Opening Scene

In this opening scene we meet Alimjan, singing raucously then yelling at his donkey as he lazily drives his cart along. On the road he encounters the lovely Adalet. He comes off looking quite the buffoon, but somehow later interprets Adalet’s mild teasing as an indication that she is eager for a marriage proposal from him. 


The prologue to the movie includes some interesting words that are used to describe someone, including:

مۆتىۋەر، گومۇش، جىمىغۇر

and a couple of words with the suffix -kesh. If you know what the stem means, you might be able to tell the personal characteristic being described:

ھەزىلكەش، دىلكەش

Now have a look at the verbal commands Alimjan uses with his donkey:

!خې! خې! چۇھ! چۇھ! ۋو، ۋو، ۋو

“Chuh!” is typically used to make horses go and “Xë” is apparently the word more commonly used with donkeys. What about “Wo!”? Is the translation accurate?

Finally, there is one word no one I’ve asked seems to be quite sure of – qalqay. After falling from his cart, Alimjan tells Adalet here:

.ئاۋۇ قالقاي دېگەن كاساپەت قولۇمنىڭ مەيېرىنى چېقىۋالدى

From the context I guess it is a stinging nettle or thorny bush since the verb chaqmaq suggests something that bites or stings.


I will mention just a couple of points of grammar on this one.

First, at the bottom of the page 3 Adalet says to Alimjan:

ھەي، ئالىمجان ئاكا. ئېشىكىڭىز بەكمۇ مىلجىڭ ئىكەن. ئۇخلاپ قالماڭ يەنە؟

The “yene” at the end of the line is acting as a particle. According to Hemit Tömür’s Modern Uyghur Grammar (p. 519), when this word follows a negative imperative it “indicates a request made in an anxious manner.” In this context, it is a rather feigned anxiety on Adalet’s part as she is teasing Alimjan about falling asleep on his cart because his donkey is so listless.

Second, have a look at the use of -du/-tu in the following sentences:

قاتتىق چۈشۈپ كەتتىڭىز-دە؟ نېمانچىلا ھودۇق سىز ئەمدى. بىر يېرىڭىز ئاغرىمىغاندۇ؟

مۇىداق قىلىڭا. ھېچقىسى يوقتۇ هە؟

Rather than giving an explanation of the meaning, what I am going to suggest is that you watch and listen to these lines again in the context of the scene, and try to “feel” the nuances in the way Adalet is expressing herself. What emotions or communicative intentions are present? How it would feel different if the -du/-tu suffix was omitted?

We will come back to this feature of spoken language in a later post.

Have fun learning the Uyghur language while watching the movie “Alimjan Bolumsizmu?”

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