Staunton, October 24 – Since the Latin script replaced Cyrillic as the primary alphabet in Uzbekistan in 1993, more than 7.5 million people have studied it in the course of their educations, a figure that represents approximately half of the population. Another 7.5 million Uzbeks are in schools and studying it now.
Despite this, many of these Latin script-trained Uzbeks continue to use Cyrillic. The primary reason is that many materials they need in their daily lives were published earlier and in Cyrillic, but at least some scholars think that the situation can be rectified by introducing further changes in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Among them are researchers at the Navoi University of Uzbek Language and Literature, an institution created a year ago to oversee language issues, including those involving the alphabet. They have proposed modifying the alphabet again in the hopes that that will help more Uzbeks make the transition to Latin script and thus closer to the Turkic world.
But according to a commentary on the Hook Report site, a Russian-language portal that tracks developments in Uzbekistan, tinkering with the alphabet will not achieve its goals because the problems it identifies – the use of multiple letters for single sounds – aren’t the obstacle that the scholars believe (hook.report/2019/10/uz-alfavit/).
Many languages use multiple letters for single sounds and have no problems, so the difficulty of making the transition to the Latin script does not lie there, the Hook Report says. Instead, this discussion reflects the fact that alphabets and even more alphabet changes are a primarily a political issue rather than a linguistic one.
Governments decide what alphabet should be used, the site says; and if the alphabet they decide on is not accepted, the problem is not in the alphabet but in the absence of sufficient government actions and support to overcome the inertia of earlier practices. That often requires enormous resources but do too do any further changes, another reason to reject them.
But in making these arguments, the site also underscores what a radical change there has been in the alphabet situation among the Turkic peoples of the former Soviet space. Since 1991, four of the five now independent Turkic republics have shifted from Cyrillic to Latin script --Kyrgyzstan is the only holdout – as has Karakalpak in Uzbekistan and Gagauz in Moldova.
The transition from one alphabet to another is never easy and takes at least a generation to be fully integrated in national life in many cases, but the change in Uzbekistan is happening for demographic reasons. And while tinkering may slow it, even that will not change the broader pattern of refocusing attention there away from Moscow and toward Turkey and the West.