Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Pages 56

Caucasian Albanian Script
The Significance of Decipherment
by Dr. Zaza Alexidze

Also spelled Zaza Aleksidze

Related Articles

1 Caucasian Albanian Alphabet: Ancient Script Discovered in the Ashes - Dr. Zaza Alexidze and Betty Blair
2 Udi Language: Compared with Ancient Albanian - Alexidze
3 Quick Facts: Caucasian Albanian Script - Alexidze and Blair
4 Albanian Script: How Its Secrets Were Revealed? - Alexidze and Blair
5 Zaza Alexidze. Decipherer: Glimpses of Childhood - Blair
6 Udins Today: Ancestors of the Caucasian Albanians - Zurab Konanchev
Heyerdahl Intrigued by Rare Caucasus Albanian Text - Alexidze

Until 2001 when Dr. Zaza Alexidze succeeded in deciphering the Caucasian Albanian written language from manuscripts that dated possibly back to the 5th century, some specialists in Caucasian studies were skeptical that the Albanian culture was even sophisticated enough to have an alphabet. Alexidze's discovery proves otherwise and has the following implications for theoretical or practical consideration:

Unknown Alphabet discovered
This is the first time that modern scholars have been provided with irrefutable proof that Caucasian Albanians had a highly developed alphabet system that had been used for extended texts. Previously, only a few inscriptions of the Caucasian Albanian script had been found in short inscriptions on the cornices of buildings, candlesticks and ceramics, but even to this day, these examples have not been successfully deciphered.

First in History
To Alexidze's knowledge, this is the first time in history that the person who discovered an unknown ancient written script also went on to decipher it. In 1990, under a Georgian text, Alexidze found what turned out to be the Caucasian Albanian script. In 1996, he identified the script as Caucasian Albanian and the forerunner of the contemporary Udin language. In 2001, he identified the text as one of the earliest Lectionaries (and possibly the earliest Lectionary of the Orthodox Church) that exists in the world.

Implications for Science
The Albanian written language provides insight into some of the historical, political and cultural forces that were at work in the region, especially as they relate to the ethnogenesis of the people who lived there-Albanians, Armenians and Georgians. Scholars will now be able to speak with more preciseness and pursue more research regarding the essence of the Albanian state, phases of its development, its boundaries, religion, ethnic and literary situation and other relevant issues.

Language Family Trees
The Albanian written language, which is the only known ancient literary language among numerous Caucasian languages, can be used as a springboard to reconstruct earlier stages of 40 some Caucasian languages.

Linguistic Analysis
A study of the etymology of words and loan words used in the Caucasian Albanian Lectionary can provide clues as to possible relationships and exchanges of early people who obviously had contact with each other, especially Caucasian Albanians, Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, Syrians and Jews.

Re-examine History
Present day Udi language is a descendent of the ancient Caucasian Albanian written language. In fact, the languages are much closer than anticipated. A written form of language tends to help standardize oral language. But modern Udi and the ancient written Caucasian Albanian do not appear to be so distant from each other. This would seem to indicate that the written Caucasian Albanian language did not disappear as early as previously believed in the 10th century. Otherwise, the process of oral transmission is likely to have introduced more distance and changes between written Albanian and contemporary Udi language.

Bible Translation
The discovery of the written Albanian language confirms that the Caucasian Albanians who embraced Christianity also had access to Scriptures in their own language. The Albanian Lectionary includes many passages of the New Testament as well as instructions to recite some of the Psalms from the Old Testament. Such references would not have been made if these portions of the Bible were not available to the Caucasian Albanians in their own language and script. This realization is new. Many scholars did not believe that the Caucasian Albanians had had a translation of the Bible in their own language.

Biblical and Liturgical Studies
If the accurate measure of the antiquity of a Lectionary can be judged by its complexity over time, then the Albanian Lectionary may be one of the oldest, or perhaps, the very oldest extant Lectionary in the world. Its church calendar is viewed as very simple.
If this is true, after the decipherment is completed, Biblical scholars will have access to texts, especially New Testament sources, that are likely to be closer to the original scriptures in the Greek manuscript which has since been lost. According to Alexidze, the Albanian Lectionary "is like a moment frozen in time" - like Pompey after the nearby volcano erupted. It may prove to be a great treasure and resource for Biblical scholars.

Reclaim ecclesiastical language
As Caucasian Albanian Orthodox Christians were forced to become Armenian Gregorian Christians or to convert to Islam more than 1,000 years ago, they soon lost their own belief system and the corresponding vocabulary that went with it. Now they will have a chance to reclaim their own ecclesiastical vocabulary that they once used in ancient Orthodox services and incorporate these terms in contemporary services.

Udi Alphabet
Theoretically, the Udi language, which has a complicated phonological system [more than 50 letters], as well as the other languages of Caucasian highlands will have the possibility of using the ancient Caucasian Albanian alphabet, instead of either the Russian or Latin script which are brimming with diacritical marks. In the ancient Caucasian Albanian alphabet, just like Georgian and Armenian, each phoneme (sound) is represented by only one grapheme (symbol). This will enable the modern Udi people to have the option of reclaiming their ancient alphabet.

Reverse language extinction
The Udi language, a descendent of the Caucasian Albanian language, is currently listed in the Red Book of Languages, signifying that this language is on the path to world extinction. Fewer than 8,000 people are estimated to speak Udi. The Albanian translations can facilitate the ability of the Udins to reclaim interest in their own roots as they reclaim ties back to the 4th-5th centuries. Already, this awareness has bolstered the Udi language and culture. Small literary works and samples of folklore are already being published in a modified Latin script.

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