Spring 2000 (8.1)

Afet Babayeva
French Teacher

Actually, I wasn't shocked at all when they announced that we would be changing our alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin. It seemed rather normal for me. I'm fluent in French, and since the letters are quite similar, I didn't expect that I'd have any problems with the Latin. Also, I was really happy that at last Azerbaijan would have its own distinct alphabet - not Cyrillic, which had been imposed on us by Russia.

The Cyrillic script always seemed a bit difficult. I mean, some of the letters are complex and difficult to write. I think the Latin letters are much more aesthetic and beautiful. Our new script is so close to other major languages, like English and French.

In terms of getting adjusted to the new alphabet, I haven't had too many problems. When it first came out, I used to get confused with some of the letters. But now I'm used to it. I'll have to admit that when I take notes for myself, I still do it in Azeri Cyrillic. I guess it's out of habit. I've noticed that many of my students at the Pedagogical Institute do the same thing. You can't blame them. They learned Cyrillic at school and it's difficult to completely transfer to Latin. But I think it's just a matter of time before everyone gets used to the Latin.

Generation Gap
I'm really sorry that so few books have been published in Latin. It was a good idea to adopt the Latin script, but I think the government should have been better prepared for it. They should have thought about the development of the country. What kind of development can we have if our youth are uneducated? The government should publish as many books in Latin as possible so that one generation won't be separated from the next. Now the young people can't read what the older people read, and vice versa. Most kids still have to learn Cyrillic just to be able to gain access to the books that their parents are reading.

Photo: These days, newspapers in Azerbaijan often have headlines in Azeri Latin, but text in Azeri Cyrillic.

Many of the books printed in the new Latin have a lot of mistakes. Often I've encountered books - mostly school textbooks - where letters that have similar forms are confused.

Homework for Kids
The Latin script does create difficulties for quite a few families. For example, I have neighbors who don't know Latin. They send their kids over to me so that I can help them with their homework. The parents themselves say they don't have time to learn Latin because they have so many other things to do. The father works from early morning until late at night. He's constantly having to think about how to support his family, especially since we're living in difficult economic times. The same with the mother. They have other things to worry about. And so they miss out helping their kids in school.

Foreigners in Baku
I've noticed that many of the signs on the streets are changing to Latin. That's a good thing - now foreigners can easily figure out where they're at. That was quite difficult when we had Cyrillic.

In the past, the foreigners who came to Baku used to learn Russian. When asked why they didn't learn Azeri, they would say that Russian was more widely used than Azeri. They didn't want to learn Azeri, even though the scripts were nearly identical. Still Azeri Cyrillic seemed more difficult to them. I thought that maybe after we had our own alphabet, more foreigners would learn Azeri. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like that's happening. Most foreigners still opt for Russian.

When I ask foreigners why they're learning Russian instead of Azeri, they tell me it's because it's still widely used in Azerbaijan. It makes me really sad. Why not learn how to say "salam" (hello) in Azeri instead of "zdravstvuy" in Russian? It's not that difficult to do.

More Azerbaijanis Learning Azeri
As far as Azerbaijanis are concerned, it seems more people are learning Azeri nowadays, even those who used to speak only Russian. I was astonished to discover this one day at work. Our staff organized a kind of competition around a poetic form called "bayati" (short poem of four lines). The person who could recite the most bayatis would win. We were really surprised when some of the Russian-speaking girls left the rest of us behind. They knew more poems in Azeri than we did. That was amazing.

Afet Babayeva (born 1973) is a French teacher at the Azerbaijan State Pedagogical Institute named after Tusi. Azeri is her mother tongue and at home, she speaks it with her family, even though they also know Russian fluently. She also knows French, English, Russian and some Spanish. She followed the Azeri Track in her studies at school and at the Institute.

Azerbaijan International (8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

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