Allied Committee: Common Voice Vol. 1 1988 Changes in Uighur Script During the Past 50 Years

Common Voice

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Common Voice: Volume 1 1988

Changes in Uighur Script During the Past 50 Years

Abdullah T. Emiloglu

This report concerns the changes in the Uighur script which have occurred in the recent half century, and the historical background against which these developments took place.

Widespread use of the Arabic script among the Uighurs began in the 16th century. Before that time, while Uighurs who were followers of Islam used the Arabic alphabet for their own language, the remainder of non-Muslim Uighurs continued to use the old Uighur script.

Until the time of the so-called Djadid movement, which arose in Central Asia, the Arabic script, so similar to that of the Persians, was used throughout all Turkestan, and was called the "Chagatai" script.

The Arabic orthography makes no provision for writing vowels explicitly, therefore this defect in expression was also conspicuous in the Uighur script. By the third decade of this century, in order to meet the contemporary needs of modern Uighur writers, the traditional orthographic system of the religious schools, as well as the religious texts of these academies, written in a style based on Arabic grammar, were confronted with an absolute need for reform. At the same time, there was a widespread awareness that the Chagatai script was also no longer suitable to meet contemporary needs, and in a brief time, the reform call was taken up on all sides. At this time intellectuals of Ili organised the so-called Dernek Society, while activities of reformers in Tarbagatai were centred in the Association for Turan Studies, and these two groups simultaneously carried out the work of reform. More specifically, reformers of Ili followed the model of Turkey and the Central Asian reform movement, whereas those of the Tarbagatai group imitated the reformers among the Turks in the Volga-Ural area, and both these trends are to be seen reflected in the literature of the time. But at this time the general Uighur society of Kashgaria did not cease in its conservative attitudes nor did it abandon use of the script of the religious academies. Therefore, these trends of the 1920's favouring reform of writing failed to achieve any concrete results in regard to change of the Uighur script itself, before the following decade.

In the USSR, however, the decisive period in the reform of Uighur writing was the late 1920's. In the eleven years from 1918 to 1928, Uighur writers in the USSR continued to follow a middle path, using the Uighur script based on Arabic in such publications as SADAI TARANCHl (Alma Ata 1918), KEMBEGHELLER AWAZI (1922), QUTULUS: SARQ HAQIQATI, etc. At a scholarly meeting of Uighurs from all Central Asia, held in Samarkhand from 29 April to 4 May 1918, a proposal was raised favouring a reform which would adopt an orthography based on the Latin alphabet. From 1930, the entire literary and publishing fields undertook use of this Latinised Uighur script.

In Eastern Turkestan, a compromise script was used, called Orta Imla. However, this orthography, unlike Latinised script mentioned above, was not the product of collective discussion and group agreement, but was rather the result of influences developed from the reform movement in the USSR. So even up to 1948, matters had not reached the stage of concrete results. In 1948, the author attended a meeting at Urumchi devoted to language reform. However, while there were some concrete ideas put forward at that time, nevertheless, due to the influence of political circumstances at the time, this meeting became just a transitory phenomenon.

After 1949, the Arabic style Uighur script continued to be used in Eastern Turkestan, but in 1958, a set of graphs for a new Uighur script was introduced at a so-called Second All-China Nationalities' Linguistic and Orthographic Conference held in Peking. In November of 1959 a draft proposal for a new Uighur script was adopted by the National Linguistic and Orthographic Conference of the Uighur Autonomous Region and was approved by the People's Committee of the Uighur Autonomous Region and in turn by the Central Committee for Nationality Affairs in Peking. In 1960 it began to be used experimentally, and then in March of 1964, on the basis of the results of this experimental period, a revised proposal for a Uighur and Khazakh orthography was approved. Thus the orthographic reform of the Uighur and Khazakh languages left the experimental stage and entered the stage of wide scale promulgation. However, the traditional script of the religious academies still continues in use among the Uighurs outside Eastern Turkestan.

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