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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Regions Ditch Cyrillic To Learn Their ABC's




In October, Tatarstan elected to switch over to using the Latin alphabet for writing the Tatar language, part of a growing trend that has seen the Cyrillic alphabet disappearing all over the former Soviet Union.


While ideally suited to the Slavic languages (it is used for writing Ukrainian, Belarussian, Bulgarian and Serbian, as well as Russian), other languages that had the script imposed on them by Stalin (Uzbek, for example, which was written in the Arabic script until 1928, then in Latin, and then in 1940 changed to Cyrillic) are looking to dispense with it as an unwelcome hangover from the Soviet past. It's not just in the Commonwealth of Independent States, either - Mongolian is also written in Cyrillic.


But in Russia, of course, the Cyrillic alphabet is here to stay, although the Latin script, here as elsewhere, dominates the world of computers. People are often forced to write Russian e-mail messages in Latin letters, because not every computer in the world has Cyrillic fonts, and even within Russia, a variety of no less than five Cyrillic fonts means one constantly gets messages that look like this: "Trbhh-ana ry wo+=kjaas*skjbn."


What consequences this may have for the future of Cyrillic is anyone's guess. But, having a different alphabet does have its advantages. It has to be said that every language that uses the Latin alphabet uses it differently.


How is one to know how to pronounce the Polish town of Szczebrzesyn without prior knowledge of the way this language uses the Latin script?


There is also a certain snobbery in pronouncing foreign names correctly in English, which does not exist in Russian because all names are transliterated, with varying degrees of accuracy. Freud may not really be pronounced Frayed, and Hamburg may not be pronounced Gamburg, as they are in Russian, but as long as everyone agrees, there won't be any cause for feeling socially superior.


We can't forget the ????§-© "_†™, or hard sign - nearly abolished in the spelling reforms of 1918 because it was redundant in all but a few cases - which has been making a bit of a comeback because of its associations with pre-revolutionary Russia. Smirnov vodka that is produced in Russia uses a ????§-© "_†™ at the end of its name to distinguish it from the Smirnov that is produced in Connecticut, which in its turn, distinguishes itself from the Russian variety for those of us who can't read Cyrillic by transliterating its name Smirnoff.


A recent search for a new sign for the ruble had people suggesting that the ????§-© "_†™ be adopted for that purpose. Should this happen, we'll see at least 1/32 of the Cyrillic alphabet become internationally known since everyone would follow the world currency markets to see how the ? is faring.