Considers Laws on Language Usage
Nearly ten years have
passed since Azerbaijan adopted the Latin alphabet in December
1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Parliament
is considering legislation to facilitate the transition to the
Latin script and to strengthen the use of the Azeri language
throughout society. A special Parliament committee, led by Anar,
Head of the Writers' Union, has been debating these issues.
One of the main concerns is to differentiate between the aspects
of language usage that can be legislated and the processes that
will emerge naturally in language development within the society.
What restrictions would be considered an infringement of one's
Photo: Even though Azeri
Latin is now the official script in Azerbaijan, many notices
and signs like this one are still printed in the old Cyrillic
script. Parliament is presently considering a law that would
require all signs to be printed in the Latin script.
Naturally, Azeri Latin is the official script for street signs,
government buildings, birth and death certificates, passports,
diplomas, court proceedings and other official contracts, correspondence
and documents. But what about private commercial endeavors, such
as store names or descriptive labeling on imported goods? What
about private publications?
Many members are concerned that Azeri is still not being used
extensively, especially when it comes to print advertisements
and billboards, store names, as well as newspapers and magazines.
For instance, many newspapers have taken on foreign names such
as "Express" or "Alternative". Other people
are concerned that, to date, not a single newspaper publishes
in the Azeri Latin alphabet. Often, the publications have headlines
and titles in Azeri Latin but follow with text in Azeri Cyrillic.
This situation becomes problematic in creating an informed society,
as many young people can only read the headlines, while the elderly
people can only read the text.
A proposed law would require that Azeri Latin be used for such
documents and store signage. In regard to merchandise that might
be used for commercial exchange, any additional labeling in any
other language or script could not take precedence in size or
position over Azeri Latin.
To ensure that all university students are literate in Azeri,
Parliament may rule that students who do not graduate from high
school with satisfactory grades in Azeri may not be admitted
to an Azerbaijani university until they pass an Azeri entrance
exam. Also, fluency in Azeri would be required of all high-level
Recognizing the incredible influence of television and radio
in educating the public, some Parliament members have argued
for establishing certification in Azeri for all announcers. The
proposed law would require all reporters to meet the standards
of oral Azeri, based on guidelines determined by Azerbaijan's
Cabinet of Ministers.
Proposed legislation may require that all national meetings and
conferences take place in Azeri. Speeches made by non-Azeri speakers
- including Russian - would have to be translated into Azeri.
Speeches that were broadcast on television or radio would also
require an Azeri voiceover.
Exceptions would be allowed for religious ceremonies and observances,
which could continue to follow tradition in terms of language
choice. There is no official State religion in Azerbaijan, so
this law would make allowances for all religions - Russian Orthodoxy,
Judaism and Christianity - as well as the traditional religion
of the nation, Islam.
Some Parliament members recognize that initiatives undertaken
in Azerbaijan will affect the development of the Azeri language
elsewhere, in places where Azeris reside or have settled, including
Iran (Southern Azerbaijan), Russia and Georgia. They believe
that educational initiatives should encourage the opening of
Azeri language schools and the elevation of Azeri instruction
to international standards.
Proposed legislation would honor the languages of national minorities
and ethnic groups but require the use of Azeri as a means of
communication on the State level.
The orthographic rules of written Azeri would be established
by the Cabinet of Ministers, and all would be obliged to follow
them. Usage rules for the spoken language would be confirmed
by the same body and, though not imposed, would be used as criteria
by which to judge an individual's cultural level.
Foreign companies would be expected to respect Azeri as the State
Language and follow these policies in regard to its written usage
in addresses, official correspondence, contracts and written
appeals to the Azerbaijani government.
These issues outline the major discussions that have taken place
in committee meetings held during the early months of 2000. Soon
these principles are expected to be introduced to Parliament,
where no doubt, serious debate will continue.
Editor: Surprisingly little
discussion has taken place in these sessions in regard to a solution
for standardizing Azeri Latin and Azeri Cyrillic font sets or
for standardizing a computer keyboard layout. Both issues are
critical to facilitate computer and Internet usage. It seems
that many committee members are completely unaware of the problem,
perhaps because they themselves do not use computers. They do
not seem to realize the severe and crippling consequences of
ignoring these issues in this age of technological communication.
So much time has already passed since Azeri Latin was first adopted.
If the problem is not addressed at a State level, confusion will
only continue to proliferate and hamper other legislation that
the State wishes to put into effect. We would suggest that a
standardized font set and keyboard layout needs to be identified
or at least recommended on the State level, so that the computer
can be utilized in its full capacity throughout the Azeri-speaking
community and around the world.
From Azerbaijan International (8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.
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