Summer 1997 (5.2)


What's Happening?
Alphabets of Central Asia and Azerbaijan

One of the first laws passed by Parliament after the Soviet Union collapsed was the adoption of a modified Latin alphabet (December 1991). Azerbaijanis opted for a script similar to one they had used between 1928 and 1938 before Cyrillic was imposed.

Implementation of the new alphabet, however,, has been rather slow, primarily due to economic pressures, especially those related to the Karabakh war. The government has been burdened with the care of 1 million Azerbaijani refugees who fled their homes as a result of the military occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijan'[s territory by Armenians.

This spring, however, Latin has received a tremendous boost from the government. On numerous occasions, both the President and the Parliament Speaker have strongly advocated for the widespread and rapid implementation of Latin. The government has just begun issuing documents in the Latin script.

In 1992, schools began introducing the new alphabet to first graders, and TV began using Latin for titles and dubbing.

For the past several years, new businesses have been posting their store signs in Latin. Billboards in Cyrillic are increasingly rare. However, newspapers still print text in Cyrillic although the headlines and titles are often in Latin. Books are also published primarily in Cyrillic, even though the covers may be in Latin.

Along with this gradual transition to the Latin script, there is a stronger tendency for the usage of the Azeri language. Foreign companies are finding they now need to hire translators who are fluent in both Azeri and Russian, instead of Russian only.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
Discussions about shifting to Latin have taken place, but there seems to be little inclination to make changes for fear of alarming the large Russian populations living in these republics.

Prior to the civil war, Tajikistan adopted a language law which equated Tajik with Persian, and they began teaching school children to read and write the Arabic script. However, a systematic shift to Arabic has not taken place. Since the war, the government has been too absorbed with more pressing problems.

The Tartars in Crimea (eastern Ukraine) have just adopted Latin this May (1997).

Turkmenistan adopted a new alphabet on their independence day in October 1996. Currently, an idiosyncratic version of a Latin-based script is used which substitutes symbols of money for some letters. For example, the dollar mark "$" and cent mark " ///" are used for upper and lower case "sh." The British pound mark "///" and the upper half of the mathematical integral symbol are being used for "Zh" / "zh." Many public signs are using these new mathematics symbols. Books and newspapers continue to be published primarily in Cyrillic.

Uzbekistan officially adopted first one version of the Latin alphabet, and then another. The current version avoids any symbols not available on the standard English keyboard, using "o" for "+," "sh" for /sh/ and "gh" for /gh/.

From Azerbaijan International (5.2) Summer 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.

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