Spring 2000 (8.1)

Afshan Mammadova
Computer Sciences

I was so pleased when we were finally able to claim that we had our very own alphabet. It used to bother me that the other republics in the Caucasus - Georgia and Armenia - both had their own alphabets, but that we had to use Cyrillic.

But the process of transition has been long and difficult. It's like changing our national treasure completely. What does "national treasure" mean, you may ask? Well, it's the repository of our books and manuscripts, which distinctly reflects our own culture.

Some major steps should be taken before any nation attempts to change its alphabet. No country should undertake to change its alphabet like we did. We neither prepared our elderly nor our youth. Such fundamental changes require well-thought out, careful preparations.

When I first started learning the Latin alphabet, it was difficult for me to get used to some of the letters. I used to put the two alphabets - Azeri Latin and Azeri Cyrillic - in a chart side by side on my desk so I could refer to them often.

Why is the Apostrophe Gone?
It seems to me that it was a mistake to have eliminated the apostrophe in the Latin version. We've always used an apostrophe - both in Arabic and Cyrillic - to indicate certain sounds [glottal stops in some words of Arabic origin]. I don't understand why they took the apostrophe away. Some words require it if you're going to pronounce them correctly.

LUKOIL Petrol Station

Photo: The petrol station of Russian-owned LUKOIL had its signage in Azeri Latin and English. Unfortunately, the station was totally demolished by a landslide this spring.

Of course, I'm glad that Latin is being adopted now for nearly all of the Turkic-speaking nations [such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tatarstan, Turkey] With few exceptions, all the letters in our Azeri Latin alphabet are identical to Turkish - so it's a good sign of unity.

Few Books in Azeri
When I was growing up, I enrolled in the Azeri track at the Institute. My daughter followed my example but my son enrolled in the Russian track. He's the only one who has never had any problem gaining access to books. There were thousands of books in the Russian language in Azerbaijan during the Soviet times, while considerably fewer were available in Azeri Cyrillic.

Now here we are again 30-40 years later and the situation is repeating itself. There are so few books that have been published in Azeri Latin. What will happen to the level of education in the coming generations? These alphabet changes will lead to an information blockade if we don't do something about it.

The few Latin textbooks that are available are of very poor quality. They're designed poorly and have a lot of mistakes and misspelled words. This discourages kids from reading. I recently bought some schoolbooks for my grandchildren when I was in Moscow. They were so beautiful, so full of illustrations and had such interesting texts. Why can't we have such books in Azeri Latin?

There are still hardly any books available in Azeri Latin for institutions on the university level. Future generations will be affected even more because they will know only the Latin script and will be cut off from Cyrillic. Today's Institute students have learned both Cyrillic and Latin, so it's not hard for them to read both scripts.

Take my field of computer sciences. Only one computer science textbook has been published in Azeri Latin. When I was in Moscow recently, I found hundreds of books on the subject. But there are hardly any computer books printed in the Azeri language, much less in the new Latin script.

I've written two books. One of them - "Computer Science Graphics" - was published recently in Azeri Cyrillic. I'm writing a second text, "The Novelty of Windows in Computer Science," which will be published in Azeri Latin.

Another problem is lack of standardization of an Azeri Latin font set to use on computers and the Internet. I'm really sorry that the font problem has not yet been solved. Why can't I find any Web sites in Azeri Latin? Instead, I have to find materials about computers on the Internet in English, then translate them for my students. This is just another one of the headaches of the new alphabet.

Of course, evidence of our new alphabet surrounds us these days - notices, billboards, advertisements and store names. I sense a trend among Azerbaijanis to speak in their mother tongue more and more, even among those who used to speak only Russian. And among Russian-track students at the university, especially in informal settings, there's a greater tendency to hear Azeri rather than Russian these days. So times are changing.

Afshan Mammadova (born 1937) is an Assistant Professor of Computer Sciences at the Azerbaijan Institute of Cooperation. She grew up speaking Azeri and Armenian, as she was born in Yerevan, Armenia. The one school that offered instruction in Azeri was too far from her home, so she attended Armenian schools. In 1956, she entered the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics at Yerevan Pedagogical Institute, which was the only Azeri Faculty among all the Armenian Institutes. Though Afshan claims that her ability in both Azeri and Armenian is stronger than her Russian, she did have to defend her doctoral thesis in Russian, as is customary for all doctoral students. At home, she speaks Azeri.

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

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