Monday, May 27, 2019

Uzbekistan Moves to Make Its Latin Script Closer to One Used in Turkey

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 26 – The Turkic-language countries which emerged on the demise of the Soviet Union have discovered that alphabets based on Latin script can be as divisive as those based on Cyrillic. As a result, their shift from the Soviet-imposed Cyrillic scripts to Latin-based scripts they have chosen for themselves has been difficult.

            Turkey wanted the newly independent Turkic countries to adopt its Latin-script alphabet, hoping thereby to unite them. Many initially moved in that direction, but then for various reasons, including phonetic differences among them, they backed off. Now, Uzbekistan, announcing what it calls the last alphabet reform, has moved back to one like in Turkey.

            This week, Uzbek linguists at Tashkent State University published the final version of a renewed Uzbek alphabet, one that in most respects returns to the 1993 version that was closed to the Turkish, thus doing away with the reforms that were introduced in 1995 (

            If this new version is introduced, it will bring the way in which Uzbek is written close not only to Turkish but also to Karakalpak, Kazakh and Azerbaijani, thus making it easier for speakers of one of these languages to interact with speakers of others and make use of publications from them and encouraging them to think of themselves as a community.

            At the same time, yet another alphabet change in Uzbekistan will complicate things for people there. Often when there is an alphabet reform, those used to the old alphabet will stop reading publications in the new, something that affects not only the news media but society more generally.

            Indeed, such changes can cut one generation off from another, with members of each having their preferred alphabet. Presumably in this case, the changes are not so large than this will be a problem; but that there are again changes at all underscores how difficult making any reform really is.

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