Spring 2000 (8.1)

Ruhangiz Gulmammadova
Office Administration

To tell you the truth, I was shocked when I heard that the alphabet was going to change. I thought: "Oh my God, what's going to become of us? I'm too old to start learning a new alphabet. And what's going to happen to the next generation?"

At that time, all of our books were in the Cyrillic script - both in the Azeri and Russian languages. So it meant that the kids who were now learning just the Latin script would not have access to thousands of Cyrillic books. Yes, we have officially adopted the Latin script. But so what? It really has not yet thoroughly penetrated into the everyday fabric of our lives.

For example, we buy newspapers that are mostly written in the Cyrillic script. But the headlines are in Latin, while the article itself is in Cyrillic. How absurd! How can today's kids grow up to be intelligent and knowledgeable if they can only read the headlines and have to guess what the articles are about?

Russian Track - Still Stronger
And still the Russian-track education is stronger. One of my friends is Russian-educated. When it was time to decide which track to choose for her son's schooling, her family decided that Azeri would be better than Russian. The family wanted their child to know Azeri well and to be able to serve his country without being ashamed of not knowing Azeri properly.

So the boy went to school. He was really smart - eager to learn so much. He soon learned to read and write Azeri Latin, but he wasn't satisfied with the books offered by the school. He wanted to read literature like fairy tales and poems. My friend tried so hard to find him children's books in Azeri Latin, but most books were in Azeri Cyrillic. She succeeded in finding a few short fairy tales in Latin, but not enough to satisfy him. In the end, the family gave up and decided to transfer the boy to the Russian track. Staying in the Azeri track would have held him back intellectually.

Slow Progress
For those of us who are used to the Cyrillic alphabet, the process of changing to Latin has been really slow and initially, very confusing. For instance, at first we had a letter that looked like an "a" with two dots (ä), and then suddenly a decision was made to change it to an "upside-down 'e'" () shape.

At my office at the Railway Board of Azerbaijan, we receive documents from the State Statistics Committee. All of them are in Azeri Latin. For people of my age and older, it's difficult to read the Latin script. In our department, I'm the only one who is somewhat used to it. I can read Latin script because I studied English and French when I was younger. Sometimes I have to read a document aloud to the entire staff, which takes a lot of time and slows down the work flow. My co-workers have all learned Azeri Latin, but it still takes them a long time to read anything.

Photos: Warnings in Azeri Latin posted in the boxcar train refugee school at Saatli tell children to watch out for land mines. The poster campaign is sponsored by the International Red Cross.

Russian Speakers Learning Azeri
As far as speaking is concerned, I've noticed lately that people are using more and more Azeri, and that's a good sign. For example, Azerbaijani families who have been Russian-speaking for several generations now have a tendency to learn Azeri these days. I think this is real progress. They understand how important it is to know one's mother tongue first. Of course, one's native language must be loved and cherished. I love Azeri deeply despite the fact that I'm considered to be a Russian speaker.

I always try to speak properly in Azeri, and my Azeri-speaking friends say that I never mix Russian words into my Azeri. But this is characteristic of Russian-speaking people who speak Azeri. We try to avoid mixing Russian words in our speech, while Azeri speakers do have a tendency to use Russian words in their Azeri speech.

I've also noticed that store names and names of organizations are now written in the Latin script. There's a little store near our house. For a long time, its title was written in Azeri Cyrillic: "Chorak", meaning "Bread". A couple of weeks ago, I saw a man changing the title to be Azeri Latin. I thought, "At last!" Though he could have done it a long time ago since Latin was adopted several years ago, as we say, "Better late than never."

This signified a step forward - not backward - and it gives us hope. But I continue to ask myself: How long will it be before Latin has completely penetrated our lives?

Ruhangiz Gulmammadova (born 1937) is the Head of the Statistics Department of the Railway Board of Azerbaijan. Russian is her mother tongue, and she usually speaks Russian in her home. She also knows Azeri and a little French and English. Gulmammadova studied in the Russian track at school.

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

Back to On the Street: Alphabet Viewpoints Index

Home | About Azeri | Learn Azeri | Contact us