Uyghur läghmän and Mandarin lāmiàn.

Victor Mair has a post at the Log involving exactly the kind of detailed historical-linguistic analysis I like, about the apparent but hard-to-parse relationship between the Uyghur and Mandarin terms for pulled noodles, läghmän and lāmiàn respectively; as several commenters point out, läghmän can’t be of Turkic origin because Turkic words don’t start with l, but where is it from? Stefan Georg says it’s “very likely just the Chinese word. The inorganic velar may be an encroachment from/contamination with Uzbek /lagan/, Modern ‘Uighur’ /lägän/, which is a kind of dish or plate”; Peter Golden says “You may want to think of an Iranian provenance, although I cannot think of any term in Persian.” Fascinating stuff, and it should be of particular interest to our Central Asia maven John Emerson. (Also, I’m now hungry for pulled noodles.)


  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    How is one supposed to pronounce Uighur? In News fromTartary Peter Fleming called them Turki, which is not only a lot easier to say but also (I think) tells us something about their language.

  2. WEE-gur, rhymes with Pete Seeger. And “Turki” just means “any old Turkic language”; Peter Fleming is a typical British travel writer of the old school who preferred lively anecdote to scientific accuracy. To quote from his Wikipedia article, for Fleming China “had the aspect of a comic opera land whose quirks and oddities became grist for the writer, rather than deserving any respect or sympathy in themselves”.

  3. The pronunciation given by Hat is standard for English, but in the language itself it appears to be [ʔʊjˈʁʊr], where [ʁ] is the uvular voiced fricative, the backed version of [ɣ]. In particular, Uyghur lacks [w]. A better anglicization would be /u.iˈgur/, oo-ee-GOOR.

  4. I seem to recall that, when Uyghurs began appearing frequently in the news, NPR had a Uyghur journalist on one of their programs. As part of the interview, she pronounced “Uyghur” in the native fashion. I can’t seem to find the story on their archives at present, however.

  5. A better anglicization would be /u.iˈgur/, oo-ee-GOOR.

    “Better” if you hold to the newfangled credo of all trying to be as “authentic” as possible. I say it’s horseshit, and I stick with the good old anglicized forms I know. I wish we still said MY-lən for Milan, and CAL-is for Calais.

    *waves cane*

  6. I asked the counter guy at an Uighur fast-food place in Munich last fall, and what he said sounded to me half-way between Wee-Gur and Oo-Ee-Gur, and not entirely unlike a French ‘oui’ plus Gur. To put it another way, I couldn’t tell whether it was a two- or three-syllable word, it was sort of half-way in between.

  7. Just realized: I wrote ‘an Uighur’, which implies the second pronunciation, where ‘a Uighur’ would have implied the first. Hmmm: even more complicated than I had thought.

  8. Hat: How are you on Peking? But I should have said “would have been”.

  9. I like Peking (and will always use it for the duck) but am reconciled to Beijing, so long as it’s pronounced with an honest English j and not the pseudo-foreignizing zh sound that some people for some reason feel impelled to insert.

  10. Ah, but Hat, go easy on your poor fellow humans. In the vast majority of cases, the reason they feel ‘impelled’ to use the ‘zh’ in Beijing is that that’s the way they hear it pronounced by others. They’re not each engaged in individual but convergent campaigns of misguided pseudo-foreignising. People rarely invent pronunciations, meanings, structures and so on; they copy them. It’s normal. That’s how we learn language. If people could bear that point in mind it would stop a lot of peeves in their tracks. Or at least re-focus them: how the ‘zh’ pronunciation got off the ground is obviously a fair question, and presumably the influence of French as one of the more common L2s among Anglophones is part of the answer.

  11. Origin of lagman is clearly linked to very common Turkic word lagsha (noodles) which was since then borrowed in many languages, including Russian (lapsha with the same meaning).

    A Buryat-Mongolian blogger I follow, did a research on its origins a while back and came to conclusion that original Turkic word for noodles was ugre, but the Mongolian had a native term lahsha (from lahshih – to become sticky), therefore, Turkic lagsha was a 13th century borrowing from Mongolian which was then borrowed into Russian and in 20th century was adopted in Russian form back into Mongolian.

    He proves this by this by quote from 14th century hexaglot dictionary where Mongolian column says lahsha and Turkic column gives ugre for noodles.

    He follows by proving convincing Mongolian origin for lahsha and listing a number of possibly related words with same root. Finally, he notices another sense of this word – someone blubbering nonsense which every Russian speaker can easily understand as common idiom Lapshu na ushi veshat – literally “hanging noodles on [someone’s] ears” means lying, bluffing or deceiving someone.

    Full post in Russian

  12. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    how the ‘zh’ pronunciation got off the ground is obviously a fair question, and presumably the influence of French as one of the more common L2s among Anglophones is part of the answer.

    Maybe, but in France they still mostly call it Pékin.

  13. John Emerson says

    Buell and Anderson’s “Soup for the Khan” might have some clues on the noodles.

    This might be the hexaglot:

  14. Thanks for refering to “Soup for the Qan”.

    The book only lists Turkic names for noodles of several varieties:

    Tutum Ash

    None of them can help us solve mystery of laghman and lagsha.

    Mongolian dishes listed don’t mention any kind of noodles at all.

  15. David Marjanović says

    in the language itself it appears to be [ʔʊjˈʁʊr]

    Apparently that’s a very conservative version:

    “Uyghur displays vocalic assimilation, atypical among Turkic languages. Syllable-final /r/, /l/, and /j/ are optionally assimilated to the preceding vowel which is lengthened, in the case of e and u, made lower and less tense; e.g., xelqler [xæːqlæː] ‘the nations’. However, this never occurs when /l/ and /j/ are word final. This phenomenon occurs most common in colloquial speech, but is often avoided when reciting, reading, or singing. As a result, Uyghur speakers often hypercorrect by inserting an [r] after a long vowel where there is no phonemic /r/, especially after attaching a vowel-initial suffix (e.g. bina ‘building’, binarim or binayim ‘my building’). In addition, although this is not represented orthographically, a few cases of “r-deletion” have been lexicalized, such as تۆت töt ‘four’.[11]”

    Source 11 is a book titled “Spoken Uyghur”.

    In particular, Uyghur lacks [w].

    No, it generally lacks [v] instead.

    Maybe, but in France they still mostly call it Pékin.

    The idea is that [ʒ] is seen, because of French, as the default value of j in Generic Non-English.

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