A NY Times Magazine piece by Lydia Kiesling about her experiences with the Uzbek language begins:
Four years ago, the federal government paid me a large sum — a year of graduate-school tuition, plus a stipend — to study Uzbek at the University of Chicago. Uzbek is among the least commonly taught of the so-called Less Commonly Taught Languages, or L.C.T.L.s. So uncommonly is it taught, in fact, that without federal largess it would hardly be taught at all. Because I happened to speak decent Turkish, a cousin of Uzbek, and because I spent a week in Uzbekistan when I was 22, and because life is nothing if not a sequence of odd choices vaguely considered, for two years I sat in a room with two other students and produced some extremely literal translations.
It’s a charming reminiscence, but I’m bringing it here for this brief section:
The grammar is simple, but the history is complex. National borders can be risibly at odds with reality, especially in Central Asia, where Turks, Mongols, Persians and others roved and mingled, where “Uzbek” was, for a time, more of a descriptive antonym of “Tajik” — nomadic versus settled — than an ethnic classification. Later, the Soviets complicated things with mass reorganizations of their Central Asian subjects. The question of whether there is mutual intelligibility among Turkic languages is not simply a linguistic matter but an ideological one, at the core of nationalist movements that have formed and reformed across time and empires.
There is more actual, verifiable, sensible information about language and history packed into those few sentences than in the entirety of most Times “news” articles on linguistic topics. Well done, Ms. Kiesling!