Language-planning for North Caucasian Languages in Turkey0

Prepared for the Istanbul conference of 6 Oct 2002

By George Hewitt
Professor of Caucasian Languages (SOAS, London University, UK)

My first contact with actual Caucasian communities came in 1974 when I made my first visit to Turkey. I spent some three weeks in Demir Kapi (Balikesir), towards the end of which period I was taken to the last village where Ubykh-speakers could still be found, Haci Osman Köyü. I spent one night there in the house of inn-keeper Fuat Ergün and on the morning of my departure was given a contact-number by which I could reach the last fully competent speaker, Tevfik Esenç, when I returned to Istanbul. My host in şişli phoned Errol Esenç on the Friday evening, and the very next morning his father, Tevfik, appeared at my door! We made recordings together each day of the following week, at the end of which I returned to England. I found this series of meetings with the last speaker of his language, who was so keen to help in any way anyone with an interest in exploring the knowledge that he knew would perish with him, a profoundly moving experience that has coloured my attitude to the study of Caucasian languages ever since. When it came to choosing a topic for my inaugural professorial lecture, which I delivered in London in January 1998, I decided to address the issue of the survival of the remaining Caucasian languages, which, albeit on a smaller scale, is what we have gathered to discuss today.

On the whole, the indigenous Caucasian languages, which form either two or three distinct families (depending on whether or not one believes that North West Caucasian and Nakh-Daghestanian derive from a common ancestor) are spoken today over what are regarded as their ancestral territories (with some local expansion or reduction in certain cases). The great exception to this statement is the N.W. Caucasian family, for, as you know better than I, today the Russian language and ethnic Russians predominate across the whole N.W. Caucasian homeland, whilst other languages along with their native speakers have infiltrated the region (e.g. Armenian, Mingrelian, Georgian, and Svan). The reason for this was the Great Migration (maxadzhirstvo) that occurred at the end of the Caucasian War in 1864. Once that process was completed, all the Ubykhs together with most of the Circassians and Abkhazians had resettled in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, eventually becoming residents of a variety of states (predominantly today's Turkey) once that empire fragmented. The post-1864 peace and under-populated land gave the impetus to immigration into the vacated territories, and one can roughly date the rise of Russian as the main lingua franca of the area to the last quarter of the 19th century -- around this time Mingrelian will have started to expand at the expense of Abkhaz in southern Abkhazia, though the main mass-importation of Mingrelians into Abkhazia did, of course, occur during the period of Stalin-Beria's attempted georgianisation of Abkhazia in the years 1937-53. As for the diaspora, it suddenly became necessary for ethnic N.W. Caucasians to become proficient in the local major language, which in most cases was either Turkish or Arabic, in addition to however many Caucasian languages they used in their home- and village-life.

Some early attempts were made to reduce Circassian and Abkhaz to writing: one thinks of the native Kabardian Shora Nogma's Cyrillic-based representation of his Circassian dialect and the various adaptations of the Cyrillic-based script first devised in the 1860s by Uslar for Abkhaz. Dr. Loewe attempted to render Circassian in both Ottoman script and Roman transcription in his 1854 Circassian dictionary. When the early Soviets decided that the best way to eradicate the burden of illiteracy that they had inherited from the former Tsarist empire was, as far as possible, to make their citizens literate in their native language, they selected a number of previously unwritten (or little written) languages and awarded them literary status, which meant that a script was devised for them, and that this script would be used for instruction of and in the language upto a certain grade at school and that books, newspapers and journals could be published -- later broadcasting-rights were added. Since it would not have made economic sense for every language in the then-USSR to gain such literary status, typically those languages missed out if their speakers were also naturally proficient in some larger (but perhaps still minority) local language -- for example, all speakers of the Andi languages in Daghestan grow up also speaking Avar, and, since Avar became a literary language, nothing was done to produce writing-systems for the Andi languages themselves. And so, at the beginning of the 1920s (or, as in the case of Abaza, a decade later) Abkhaz, West Circassian (Adyghe in the Temirgoi dialect), and East Circassian (in the Kabardian dialect) were awarded literary status: for Abkhaz the Ch’och’ua variant of the original Uslar script was continued, as for the time-being were the Arabic characters that had come to be used for both forms of Circassian. No parallel path was followed by the infant Turkish republic, as a result of which, as far as I am aware, there has hardly ever been any teaching of the N.W. Caucasian tongues either officially or unofficially on Turkish soil -- in fact, it was only when I arrived in Istanbul for this conference that I discovered that some tuition had taken place before World War I in a now rennovated building in Beşiktaş. Ubykh, as we all know, went into a sad decline, becoming extinct in 1992. The various dialects of both Circassian and Abkhaz-Abaza also face a bleak future in Turkey and amongst the diaspora in general, but at least there is now a wonderful opportunity to try to arrest the decline -- hence our participation in today's meeting.

In an ideal world it would be nice to report that the Soviet experiment had proved so successful that the linguistic health of the homeland-communities of both Circassians and Abkhazians was so sound that perfect models existed in the Caucasus for direct importation now into the various Turkish regions. But in only one of the Caucasian districts, namely Kabardino-Balkaria does the future of one of the homeland-communities seem at all secure, for this is the sole territory where native N.W. Caucasians have an overall majority of the local population and thus, though fully bilingual in Russian, are in a reasonably strong position to ensure the future of Kabardian in the short and medium terms -- in the last Soviet census (1989) Kabardians constituted 48.2% out of total population of 753,531 -- today we can reasonably assume that the percentage is above 50% because of outward Russian migration. What is the situation elsewhere?

In the mid-1920s the Soviet Union underwent the so-called 'latinizatsija' (or romanisation) drive, which was influenced by Kemal Atatürk's replacement of the Ottoman Turkish script by today's roman-based orthography. At different times different roman scripts were independently introduced for Kabardian, Abkhaz, and West Circassian; also Abaza gained its first ever script (again roman-based) in 1932 -- additionally a particularly complicated script for Abkhaz, developed by the idiosyncratic Nikalaj Marr, had been tried briefly for some Abkhaz publications around 1925-6. By 1936 it had become clear that there was to be no international triumph for Soviet-style communism, and, as part of the aim to create the new homo Sovieticus with universal knowledge of Russian, all the scripts recently created for the Young Literary Languages, as they were styled, were again altered to a Cyrillic base. This process was completed by 1938, but at this period two of the languages concerned had had, for political reasons that favoured Georgia, Georgian-based scripts imposed on them, namely Abkhaz and the Ossetic of South Ossetia. There followed in Georgia an attempt to georgianise these non-Georgian areas with, as we know, the closure of Abkhaz-language schools in 1945 and a ban on publishing Abkhaz materials. These repressive measures were put into reverse with the deaths of Stalin and Beria in 1954, and a new script was devised (by a committee!) for Abkhaz, which was Cyrillic-based, retaining some letter-shapes from Uslar's system, in order to underline the strong Abkhazia desire to display their distinctness from Georgian culture.

As to the scripts themselves, the Circassian orthographies had the typographical advantage of containing only one letter-shape that was no longer part of the standard Russian alphabet, namely the old capital I, a feature shared by the modern Abaza script. However, whether as the consequence of a deliberate policy of 'Divide and Rule!', as many suppose, or simply because different linguists were charged with the task of devising these scripts, there are regrettable cases of mutual inconsistency between the two Circassian writing-systems, viz.

Shared Graphs/Polygraphs with Different Phonetic Values in the Two Scripts in use for Circassian in the Caucasus
NumbersGraphs/PolygraphsKabardian ValueTemirgoi Value
11 = 57"; ';ZJ
17 = 19K= k=q"q(h)
18 = 20K=u k=uqw"qw(h)
44 = 58 ]CS
Additionally, the sound is represented in Kabardian by the tesseragraph kx=u (in Adyghe by the trigraph k=u); whilst the sound is represented in Kabardian by w (= Adyghe by ]), in Adyghe the character w has the value . The frequent sequence of Cyrillic's soft sign (;), used to modify the preceding letter in some way, followed by the vowel-character y, which is so common in Circassian, being the sign for schwa, makes the reading of both Circassian scripts tiring on the eyes, particularly when everything is written in capitals, as in Xatanov/Kerasheva's 1960 Adyghe Dictionary -- this particular sequence of characters is, admittedly, commoner in the current Abkhaz orthography. And in the Abkhaz script, the large numbers of non-Cyrillic characters and a certain amount of inconsistency in representation of phonetic features made its use, particularly in the age of the type-writer with a restricted number of keys, unwieldy and, in my opinion, unnecessarily complicated to learn -- a minor spelling-reform was recently introduced to standardise the marking of labialisation, and even this eminently sensible measure had to be forced through in the teeth of strong opposition, largely stemming from the community of writers. It is for these reasons that I personally would not advocate simple adaptation of the Caucasian models when it comes to writing Circassian and Abkhaz-Abaza in Turkey. But before we look at the choices to be made today, let us quickly note some historical developments elsewhere in former Ottoman lands.

At a N.W. Caucasian linguistic conference held in Istanbul in 1994 the phonetician Ian Catford delivered a paper examining the roman-based script devised as early as 1912 and refined over the course of 30 years in a number of publications in both Turkey and Syria by Harun Batequ for his native Bzhedugh dialect. Kube Csaban Gebelli subsequently published some Circassian materials in a similarly roman-based (but not an identical) script in Syria (e.g. his Adighe Psetlezhxer of 1953). Rogava/Kerasheva in their 1996 Adyghe grammar also refer to early efforts to utilise the roman script in Turkey for Circassian by Muxamed Pchegatluka (1910), Tym Xadzhi and Edychko-Seina (1918), but I have no further information on these pioneers. Amjad Jaimoukha in Jordan has recently used his own roman-based script for his native Kabardian in some publications -- for examples and details see pp.296-324 of his 2001 book. On a web-page Enterprises/2493/latkab.html a further roman-based variant (with adaptations to Jaimoukha's version) is set out with Aesop's fable 'The North Wind and the Sun' shewing the script in an actual text. There is also a scheme from Fathi Radjab.

This, in summary, is the situation in which the N.W. Caucasian communities find themselves. On the whole we are dealing with minority languages that are endangered in the various places in which they are still spoken. How does the situation compare with other languages around the world?

The question of endangered languages has recently begun to provoke quite a lively debate in the linguistic world. In 2000, for instance, at least two books were published in Britain on this theme, one by Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, the other by David Crystal. Let me quote from, or work around, my review of the Crystal volume. One (modest) estimate for the maximum number of languages that might have existed in the course of human history is 12,000, whereas 6,000 is a widely accepted figure for those spoken today. 96% of the world's languages are spoken by just 4% of the population; 500 languages have fewer than 100 speakers; some 1,500 have fewer than 1,000, and 3,340 have fewer than 10,000 speakers. So, upto half of the current total are considered to be threatened with extinction. What is surprising at a time when we are bombarded with so much information about the loss of animal- and plant-species in the context of concerns over the general degradation of the environment is the level of ignorance within both the relevant communities and the world at large about the diminution of variety in the uniquely human achievement which is language. And even when individuals or communities are aware of what is happening, often this is deemed no cause for alarm.
One particular classification scheme (that of Stephen Wurm) so that we can contextualise any discussion of weaker languages is as follows:

Potentially endangered languages: are socially and economically disadvantaged, under heavy pressure from a larger language, and beginning to lose child-speakers; Endangered languages: have few or no children learning the language, and the youngest good speakers are young adults; Seriously endangered languages: have the youngest good speakers aged 50 or older; Moribund languages: have only a handful of good speakers left, mostly very old; and Extinct languages: have no speakers left. Each of you will be determining how to categorise your own mother-tongue. Personally, I would put Caucasian Circassian (with the possible exception of Kabardian) and Abkhaz-Abaza in the first category, whilst amongst the diaspora it is certainly category two, and possibly even category three, that applies.

Why is the phenomenon of language-loss a matter for concern? Apart from sorrow over the abstract concept of yet another manifestation of ecological impoverishment, possible clues as to the universal defining characteristics of language might be missed if some little studied or unknown tongue dies out -- the canonical illustration is the Khoisan family in southern Africa, for, had this passed into oblivion unrecorded, linguists would have no hint that human speech could make such central use of the click-sounds that are exclusive to this group. Why do some languages disappear? The reasons range from cataclysmic natural disasters, through attrition from quite understandable processes of cultural assimilation, to the results of war or ethno-linguistic persecution. As for possible first steps towards protection/preservation, nothing can be achieved unless members of the speech-community themselves appreciate the need to keep their language alive as the pre-eminent badge of their cultural identity. Here, though care is needed to avoid charges of interference or cultural superiority, foreign players can exert a positive influence by raising awareness among native speakers and/or advising the latter in the latest techniques for teaching and managing their minority-language in the no doubt bi- or multi-lingual environment in which it exists -- I am delighted to have been invited by you native speakers to address this gathering, but my statements of concern for, say, the future of Mingrelian in Georgia are treated as an unwarranted intrusion into Georgia's internal affairs. One regrettable attitude that has to be combatted is the frequently encountered apathy or even lack of pride amongst perhaps the last generation of competent native speakers which might lead them not to bother passing on their linguistic knowledge in the belief that it is better for their (grand)children to concentrate on gaining mastery in the major local or international language(s). The persuasive counter-argument is that it is precisely amongst such generations deprived of their linguistic inheritance that one is likely to (and indeed regularly does) find strong sentiments of remorse at the loss that has been imposed upon them, for they, undoubtedly thanks to better education, may well come to realise the value of the language to their cultural heritage when it is sadly too late to ensure its survival. At this point I can refer to a personal experience: only a few months ago two young Circassian women from Turkey knocked on my office-door. They were in England to improve their English, but the reason for their visit to me was to ask me to help them learn their ancestral language, as if an English caucasologist was in a better position to do this than their (grand)parents!

So, based on his study, Crystal's six recommendations for areas where efforts for amelioration of a language's position should be concentrated are set out in the formulae: 'An endangered language will progress if its speakers: 1. increase their prestige within the dominant community; 2. increase their wealth relative to the dominant community; 3. increase their legitimate power in the eyes of the dominant community; 4. have a strong presence in the educational system; 5. can write their language down; 6. can make use of electronic technology'.
Plainly, it is not just minorities who may require educating firstly in the advantages of safeguarding their linguistic skills and then in the practicalities of how to realise any desire for preservation -- local dominant groups, who are in many cases hostile to minorities living amongst them, might have to be coaxed to evince greater sensitivity and tolerance; after all, whilst the granting/strengthening of cultural (including linguistic) autonomy might lead to a demand for greater political freedom, there is no logical reason why it necessarily should. And this is something that needs to be constantly stressed, for in some government circles in some countries not 1,000 miles from here there is great difficulty in recognising that demands for political independence need not be the logical outcome of the granting of language-rights to a minority.

And so to our central question: how to take advantage of the new rights granted to you as representatives of Turkey's minorities? It was in 1992 while attending the Caucasian colloquium taking place in Maykop that I discussed the question of scripts for the remaining N.W. Caucasian languages with the Circassian specialist from Germany Monika Höhlig and discovered that she had already devised a scheme for writing Circassian in a roman-script and had successfully tried it out with native speakers both in Turkey and in Circassia. She set herself three very sensible limitations: 1. as far as possible, the phonetic values of the roman script as employed for writing Turkish should be retained; 2. any attempt to provide one totally independent character for each phoneme of the language would lead to an unwieldy number of new letter-shapes (as in the case of the 1920s Abkhaz script -- I have never seen any examples of the roman Circassian scripts from that time), and, 3. no diacritic should be employed that is not available on a Turkish typewriter. I have here a copy of the 2nd edition of her primer for this script. Incidentally, Monika was delighted to hear of this conference and would have loved to participate. Well, I fully shared Monika's fundamental principle that it was absolutely essential to produce a script that would appeal to the bulk of the relevant Caucasian community, namely the largest section of the existing population, which, of course, resides in Turkey, for we both felt and still feel that it is unlikely that there will ever be any eagerness on the part of the N.W. Caucasians in Turkey to struggle with the complexities of the Cyrillic-based scripts of the home-communities. It is true that in the two Circassian villages in Israel where (Shapsough) Circassians live, Circassian is reportedly taught successfully by using the West Caucasian Cyrillic-based script, but even so I am simply not convinced that this would work in Turkey. So, working on Monika's pathfinding ideas, I turned my attention to how her script might be used to represent Abkhaz. One of my goals was to avoid any inconsistency in the use of letters or diacritics, and my first proposal for a re-romanised Abkhaz script appeared in 1995.

It will be obvious from the table that, having followed Höhlig's use of the letter 'u' to mark the secondary feature of labialisation, I have taken the letter 'i' to mark the corresponding feature of palatalisation. This immediately introduces a disparity between the use of 'i' in the Adyghe script and its use here in Abkhaz, for, not being faced with the necessity of having to indicate palatalisation in Adyghe, Höhlig was free to use this vowel-character in the way she chose. However, in Abkhaz we cannot avoid marking palatalisation, and, having followed Höhlig's lead in using the vowel-sign 'u' for labialisation, the simplest choice for palatalisation was 'i'. For in Abkhaz, which phonologically is /åj/, I recommend writing it according to its phonological makeup, namely 'iy'. For the corresponding long vowel I recommend a parallel solution, namely , which again mirrors the phonological structure of this long vowel. It would be convenient to adapt Höhlig's Adyghe script in both these ways, so that in place of her dunayer I would write diwnayer, and in place of her zi I would write ziy.
Phonological labialisation in Abkhaz has at least three realisations (lip-rounding, as in , vs labio-dentalisation, as in , vs double articulation with bilabial trill, as in ); no distinction is made between these three types in the script. It should also be pointed out that whilst t’u in Adyghe has the bilabial type of labialisation (to give ), in Abkhaz this same alphabetic sequence is realised as double articulation of the type .

Literary Abkhaz lacks the Adyghe opposition of voiced/voiceless velar fricatives vs voiced/voiceless uvular fricatives. Most commentators seem to place the Abkhaz pair of back fricatives in the uvular region, but over the years I have tended to describe them merely as 'back fricatives' whose precise point of articulation is largely determined by their phonetic environment. I have, therefore, chosen to indicate them in the script rather as velars, hence their representation as gh/x (etc...) rather than as g“/x“. This leaves the diacritical sign x“ free to act as base for the representation of the extra uvular (or pharyngalised uvular) voiceless fricatives possessed by the northern Bzyp dialect.
Long (or double) 'a' is written, as now, by doubling the 'a'-character (viz. aa). Latin 'o' corresponds to present-day Cyrillic 'o' in such verb-forms as: ditson 'X was going' (currently dcon) <= /då-ca-wa-n/ = '(s)he-go-DYNAMIC-FINITE(IMPERFECT)'; diq’owp’ 'X is' (currently dy˜oup) <= /då-q’a-w-p’/ = '(s)he-be-STATIVE-FINITE(PRESENT)'.

Only minor adjustments were needed to render the script complete for use with literary Abaza (based on the T’ap’anta dialect). The labialised lamino-post-alveolar affricates can be written cu/cçu/cç’u to reflect their standard articulation as . The letters q/qu are simple insertions for the plain and labialised voiceless uvular plosives. The plain and ejective lateral affricates can be tlh/tlh’, or, since there is no contrast between voiceless fricative and voiceless affricate, we could simplify these to lh/lh’. The voiced lateral fricative, which together with the two previous sounds, is found only in loans could be marked by l ;. This, of course, introduces an unfortunate disparity between Abkhaz-Abaza, on the one hand, and Adyghe, where l is suggested by Höhlig as the exponent of the voiced lateral fricative (Adyghe lacks the simple voiced lateral continuant ). Perhaps uniformity could be achieved by using l ; in place of l in Adyghe. The glottal stop will obviously be ’. This leaves as the most difficult case the voiced pharyngal fricatives (plain and labialised). In the IPA the glottal stop is signalled by an undotted question-mark and the voiced pharyngal fricative has this character back-to-front. Since we are using the apostrophe to mark the glottal stop, perhaps the simplest solution is to make the question mark the voiced pharyngal fricative marker in our Roman script (thus: = for the plain fricative vs =u for the labialised fricative).

In my 1999 paper I revisited the question. And the relevant table differs in two respects from the initial proposal: firstly, the voiceless retroflex fricative I think would be better indicated by sç– than sç, as I at first thought (even though in that same article when I demonstrated how the script could be used for the divergent Abaza dialect, I was guilty myself of inconsistency and did in fact utilise this sç– on p. 340 of the published version!). This slight revision has the advantage of establishing an exact parallelism with the corresponding voiced pair, namely palato-alveolar j vs retroflex j–. Secondly, I should like to accept the proposal given to me in Turkey in 1997 by a native Turkish Abkhazian, Hayri Ersoy, that the special Turkish character g“ be used for the voiced back fricative. If literary Abkhaz's back fricatives are to be regarded as basically uvulars, their representation in the orthography being proposed would have to be altered accordingly; for those who take this view, the extra fricatives of Bzyp would presumably be treated (and marked) as pharyngalised uvulars. I also proposed at the time of revising my initial proposal that word-stress should be indicated by a grave accent on the relevant syllabic nucleus.

In the 1999 paper I also looked at another suggestion for romanising and unifying the Abkhaz and Abaza scripts (Kandzharia.1995) -- I also referred there to the ideas of Abkhazian linguist Slava Chirikba, who had independently been working on a roman-based script for Abkhaz. Whilst not being attracted to the Kandzharia system, I did find appealing the idea of unity of scripts and went on to address the possibility of creating, by extending the basic proposed system for Abkhaz, a single, roman-based orthography that would suit ANY North Caucasian language.

The starting-point was a reconsideration of the representation of the voiceless pharyngal fricative of Abkhaz. Since Abkhaz lacks an opposition between (voiceless) pharyngal and laryngal fricatives, nothing is lost by selecting h for the purpose. But, for those North Caucasian languages where such an opposition does exist, we would need a barred h (Ì) for the pharyngal vs simple h for the laryngal. I, therefore, proposed that the Abkhaz system should henceforth incorporate Ì and Ìu in place of h and hu.

Using, as stated above, x and g“ for the voiceless vs voiced velar fricatives, I suggested X and R for the corresponding uvular pair; the voiceless and (if necessary) voiced uvular plosives would obviously be shewn by q and G respectively. Using the apostrophe, like Chirikba, to mark both glottalisation and the glottal stop, I earlier suggested incorporating the question-mark for the voiced pharyngal fricative, but this is open to the clear objection of being counter-intuitive (given that in the IPA system an undotted question-mark serves to indicate the glottal stop itself). Keeping to the principle that characters should be those found on a basic Turkish typewriter, I went on to propose the voiced pharyngal fricative be indicated by the reversed apostrophe (or its nearest equivalent on a Turkish typewriter, namely '), which will produce the digraph |u for the labialised voiced pharyngal fricative. The secondary feature of pharyngalisation (as in the now extinct Ubykh and some Daghestanian languages) can be marked by superscript dot (e.g. mæ, pæ, XÆ, RÆ, etc...). Strong consonants (or non-aspirated voiceless obstruents in Bzhedugh/Shapsugh Circassian) will be marked by the colon (e.g. s>, k>\, ts>, cç>\, etc...). This really only leaves the multiplicity of laterals that are associated especially with the Andic/Avaric family. Since the dead macron-key on Turkish typewriters would strike through the middle of an l to give something approaching the IPA representation of the voiceless lateral fricative, namely , let us employ this for this sound, so that \ will be the ejective equivalent, as in Circassian. The fortis lateral fricative will naturally be >, whilst plain l will be the voiced lateral continuant, and I suggested L for the voiced lateral fricative. For the lateral affricate series, since they seem to be pronounced with a combination of voiceless velar plosive plus lateral fricative, the following sequences would seem most fitting: k, k>, k\, k\>. This last is the only quadrigraph needed in the now complete list of consonantal representations.

As to the vowels, length follows the same pattern as for the strong consonants, being marked by a colon; similarly, pharyngalisation will be universally indicated by superscript dot. Nasalisation in Nakh can be shewn by a double quotation-sign, which has the advantage of being visually somewhat similar to a raised small n, itself regularly used for this purpose (e.g. a", i", etc...). Unrounded (umlauted) front vowels can be most conveniently marked by the diæresis (umlaut), to give u/, o/, a/ (for this last vowel one would presumably have to write a and in these languages are morpho-phonemic /iw/ and /iy/ respectively, I kept these latter sequences for the orthography, where in any case there is no need for the short vowel equivalents. And so, there is a problem for those languages with the contrast /u/ vs /u:/ and /i/ vs /i:/. The easiest solution would be to adopt Chirikba's suggestion for marking labialisation and palatalisation (viz. u[ and i[ respectively) and use the normal vowel-signs for the vowel phonemes, thus: u vs u:, i vs i:, u/ vs u/>, etc..., though I would still keep the morpho-phonemic sequences for N. W. Caucasian. The problem with this solution, however, is that the diacritic [ now has up to three functions. Perhaps the wide phonetic range manifested by the totality of the North Caucasian languages is just too large to be accommodated by a single writing system without some degree of local flexibility.

The handout closes with a selection of North Caucasian versions of Aesop's North Wind and the Sun fable to give an idea of how (relatively) straightforward it would be to achieve this goal.

Of course, if it were the wish of the Turkish Circassian and Abkhazian communities to follow the homeland-models, the advantages would be that you could import already published teaching-materials and, possibly, bring over experienced teachers to give instruction to future teachers here in the diaspora. But for the reasons outlined earlier in my paper, I have grave doubts that such an experiment would work. If you decide to go down the road of romanisation, you clearly have a number of existing suggestions to compare, to choose or to use as a starting-point for your own creations. It seems to me that the romanisation-road is the one to follow, even though it presents the problems of starting the publication of teaching-materials from scratch, with perhaps negative economic implications. However, I really do urge you to consider this alternative very seriously. It would not be necessarily the case that you would have to devise teaching-materials yourselves, for it would be easy to put the homeland-materials into whatever script you select. And that, of course, would be the answer back in the homeland to those (largely writers) who strongly oppose any move away from the now established Cyrillic-based orthographies, for their fear seems to be that their writings that have been published in those scripts will never be read -- an unreal fear, as anything worth reading would presumably be republished in the new scripts. A recent difficulty introduced by Moscow politicians for those who advocate romanising any minority-language script in the Russian Federation is the ruling that all such writing-systems have to be based on Cyrillic. However, if such a move were really to become popular and successful amongst the diaspora, it might well prove a spur to (in my view) forward-looking changes in the homeland. But for any success to be achieved here in Turkey, the first task is to persuade those who still have full competence in the ancestral mother-tongues to take pride in them, recognise the positive effects of handing those languages on to the younger generations, and to start the teaching-process when their children are as young as possible, for language-learning comes as naturally as shelling peas for infants, whilst it is one of the hardest accomplishments for most people once they have passed the age of puberty. There is still a chance to do something really positive to help preserve the unique and beautiful languages that your ancestors brought with them when they left the Caucasus. I wish you great success in realising that dream, which I know that all of you present today must share. Needless to say, I am ready and willing to offer whatever help I can in this thoroughly worthy endeavour.


Catford, J.C. 1997. The Circassian Orthography of Harun Batequ, in A. Sumru Özsoy
(ed.) Proceedings of the Conference on Northwest Caucasian Linguistics, 20-36.
Chirikba, V. To appear. A latinized alphabet for Abkhazo-Adyghean languages.
Crystal, D. 2000. Language Death. Cambridge: University Press.
Hewitt, B.G. 1995. A suggestion for Romanising the Abkhaz alphabet (based on
Monika Höhlig's Adighe Alfabet, in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and
African Studies, LVIII, 334-340.
Hewitt, B.G. 1999. Roman-based alphabets as a life-line for endangered languages,
Tipologija i teorija jazyka. Ot opisanija k objasneniju. K 60-letiju Aleksandra
Evgenjevicha Kibrika [Typology and Linguistic Theory. From Description to
Explanation], edited by Ja.G. Testelets & E.V. Rakhilina, 613-621pp. Moscow:
Jazyki Russkoj Kul'tury.
Höhlig, M. 1983 (2nd ed. 1990). Draft of an orthography for Adyghe, Abdzakh
dialect, on the basis of the Turkish alphabet (with Turkish and English gloss
(2nd edition only)).
Jaimoukha, A. 2001. The Circassians. A Handbook. Richmond: Curzon.
Kandzharia, G. 1995. Universal'nyj abxazo-abazinskij alfavit [A universal Abkhaz-
Abaza alphabet], in the journal Abaza, 1, 70-71.
Nettle, D. & Romaine, S. 2000. Vanishing Voices. The Extinction of the World's
Languages. Oxford: University Press.

Source: Demokratik Çerkes Platformu

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