Spring 2002 (10.1)
Conference on Arabic Script Held in Tehran
by Ebrahim Rafraf
In Iran (Southern Azerbaijan),
where an estimated 25 million Azerbaijanis live, the Azerbaijani
language (often referred to as "Turk" or "Turkish"
in Iran) is written in the modified Arabic script (referred to
as "Farsi" or "Persian" script in Iran).
This same alphabet was also used in the Republic of Azerbaijan
(Northern Azerbaijan) up until 1923, when a modified Latin script
was officially adopted. In 1939, Stalin imposed variations of
the Cyrillic script on the Turkic Republics to confound their
ability to communicate easily with one another. Soviet Azerbaijan
continued to use the Cyrillic script until the Soviet Union collapsed
in December 1991. One of the first laws passed by the newly independent
Republic of Azerbaijan was the re-adoption of a modified Latin
similar to the one they had been using 70 years earlier.
Most Azerbaijanis from Iran admit that they are living in a dual
alphabetic period in which both alphabets - Latin and Arabic
- are more or less used and understood. Some want to move toward
the Latin-based alphabet that the Republic has adopted, as they
find it much easier to learn, and more progressive, given the
inevitable impact of English and other Latin-based languages
on access to information and knowledge on the Internet.
Others believe that the religious and historical literary heritage
of the Arabic and Persian scripts might be lost in such a move.
Given that the official alphabet in Iran is Persian, they prefer
to make slight modifications to the existing script to enable
it to embody the sound system of Azerbaijani language.
In September 2001, Azerbaijani scholars met in Tehran to work
on systematizing and standardizing the Persian alphabet for Azeri.
Here Ebrahim Rafraf, who served as Secretary of the Seminar on
Turkish Orthography, explains the importance of this unprecedented
effort to bring a planned approach to standardization.
How exactly should Azeri be
written in the Persian script? Last September, many scholars
and authors of Azeri literature gathered in Tehran at the Seminar
on Orthography of the Turkish Language to debate this vital question.
Since the Persian script is still used extensively, we should
promote its capabilities and establish the necessary standards
of writing as long as it is legally in force, even though the
consonant-oriented Persian alphabet is hardly adequate for effectively
representing the highly developed vowel structure of the Azeri
language. The Arabic script is used for representing the Turkic
languages in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India
By focusing on basic difficulties and practical solutions for
those difficulties, the Seminar aimed to adopt a uniform orthographic
method that would be efficient enough to represent Azeri's unique
linguistic features without upsetting the aesthetic balance of
the script. We believe these new standards will provide a firm
footing and a reliable path for further development of the Azeri
Resurgence of Azeri
Such a seminar would have been impossible even just ten years
ago, as the literary experience compiled up to that time was
not sufficient to bring awareness to all of these critical orthographic
issues. When Iran's strict ban on the use of the Azeri language
was lifted in 1979, naturally there was a renewed interest in
publishing. The "Varliq" quarterly journal, edited
by well-known surgeon Dr. Javad Heyat, published continuously
over the past 23 years, is a good example of the revival of the
language. These days, now that literary Azeri is making a comeback,
it's important that we begin to discuss the important question
of orthographic reform.
Indeed, the conclusions of this Seminar extend beyond the borders
of Iran. They may be applied to all Turkic languages that use
the Arabic script, including those in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, India and China.
The Seminar met in three sessions dedicated to papers on orthography,
with a supplementary workshop to address other questions. Papers
were presented by Dr. Jamal Ayrimlu, Dr. M.A. Farzaneh, Dr. H.
Feyzullahi Vahid, A. Muhammadzadeh, A. Mardani, Solmaz Modarresi,
T. Khodai, A.R. Sarrafi, M. Fiyuzat and others, including myself.
Dr. Javad Heyat served as chairman of the Seminar.
The seminar's resolution provides for the orthography of vowels
as well as consonants, the use of "tashdid" and "tanvin",
the orthography of diphthongs, the application of the "hamza"
(the sign for a glottal stop, usually represented by an apostrophe
in English), proceeding to the orthography of bound morphemes,
whole words, compounds and phrases, as well as the orthography
of geographical and proper names.
The identification of morphemes as the indivisible units of orthography
constituted one of the basic features of the resolution. This
is basically a new concept in orthographic research - well worth
being carefully considered in linguistic studies related to other
languages that use the Arabic script, including Persian.
Many publishers of Azeri books in the Persian script are already
beginning to adopt the principles set forth in the Resolution.
Of course, all of this will take time to gain widespread acceptance.
The Seminar's official Resolution, "Orthographic Rules of
the Turkish Language" (adopted by the Seminar on Orthography
of the Turkish Language, Tehran, September 2001), is available
online at AZERI.org; click on
"Arabic Script". The 25-page resolution is printed
in Azeri in the Persian script in compressed format (PDF).
Ebrahim Rafraf is the author
of two books for study of the Azeri language: "Ana Dil"
(Mother Language) and "Turk Dili Ders Ocagi" (Didactic
Center for the Turkish Language). He has also published a book
of poems called "Ildirim" (Lightning). He is preparing
a fairly detailed Book of Aphorisms in Azeri called "Soz
Incilari" dedicated to sayings, proverbs and quotes from
all over the world with particular emphasis on material related
to Azerbaijani folklore. He teaches Turkish in Tehran colleges.
Contact Dr. Rafraf, Secretary of the Seminar on Turkish Orthography,
For more information, go to: AI
8.1 index page - Alphabet
and Language in Transition (Spring 2000)
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AI 10.1 (Spring 2002)
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