Last year, I reported on how the problems resulting from the Azeri language of Azerbaijan being written in Latin script instead of Cyrillic letters. In Azerbaijan, the elderly who haven’t caught on to the new alphabet, can’t read official documents or the election ballots, so they don’t vote.
On my recent trip to Central Asia, I learned that in Uzbekistan, the country switched from the Cyrillic alphabet to Latin letters (like the ones we use in English but with accent marks). The new writing system makes it super difficult for the Uzbek diaspora to communicate.
The ethnic Uzbeks living in Kyrgyzstan still use the Cyrillic alphabet and Uzbek kids in Kyrgyzstan can’t read children’s textbooks from Uzbekistan because they are written in the Latin alphabet.
Why Uzbekistan switched to the Latin alphabet is beyond me. Was it to reject Soviet occupation? It’s one thing to be mad at one’s colonizer, it’s another thing to throw out the baby with the bath water. Why change alphabets when the population is already used to reading in writing in Cyrillic? It seems like an unnecessary burden on the population to learn to read and write anew.
After the wars and demise of the former Yugoslavia, I was upset to discover that in Bosnia-Hercegovina, students don’t learn to read and write in Cyrillic, just in the Latin alphabet. The Bosnian language is almost the same as Croatian and Serbian. (The differences are even less noticeable than the ones between British and American English.) But in Serbia, because it’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian country, the Cyrillic alphabet is used. New generations of Bosnian kids won’t be able to read Serbian texts, even though the language is basically the same! This is ludicrous! I know very well about the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia. I lived in Bosnia after the war for 15 months. My house had shell marks. A genocide and a war do not mean that one should prevent its youth from being able to even read newspapers and books from their neighboring (former enemy) country. If anything, one should promote communication between former enemies, not divisions.
(For the record, I don’t know if Latin script is taught in Serbian schools. But since most Serbian kids learn English, they learn the Latin alphabet.)
Although my India example refers to an entire language and not just an alphabet, it points out why rejecting the colonizer’s language is not in a country’s best interest. If India has rid itself of the English language after British rule, it would have set itself up for failure. One of the reasons India is thriving now is precisely because the educated population speaks English and can work in call centers and staff information technology companies working on the export market.
Alphabet politics lead to political and social divisions.