I write from a country that has an anthem without lyrics but uses the Jan as an informal identity symbol. Despite this, I say with conviction that the alphabet is the least characteristic of a language. They are the sounds, the ways of building the sentence, but not the letters. These are as upstarts and unexpected as a changing jacket that varies according to our sovereignty. This language that I now write using the Latin alphabet could be written with another alphabet and it would sound more or less the same; In fact, it is a common game for those who learn Greek, Arabic or some Slavic language to write their Spanish name and surname in the Hellenic alphabet, in the letters of the aliphatic or in the Cyrillic alphabet. And when they do that, they continue to write in Spanish, even with another alphabet.
For these reasons, the modification of the traditional alphabet of a language is not only possible but has happened on numerous occasions. Many languages have varied their graphic system intentionally and as a deliberate decision from above. If I slip you examples of Eastern languages, you’ll guess where I’m headed. The Kazakh language today is written in this same Latin alphabet that we use, but in the 20th century it was first written in the Arabic alphabet, then in the Latin alphabet, and then in Cyrillic. In 2017 Kazakh began a process to return to being written only in the Latin alphabet and it is expected that the change, in all its dimensions (school, administrative, bookish), will have ended in 2025.
Does this change the language at all? Apparently not. The reality is that yes. As the alphabet changes, the linguistic landscape suddenly becomes familiar to speakers of other languages with the same alphabet, who can suddenly read, even if they do not understand, words in their same code.
Having a Latin alphabet makes you more akin, albeit visually, to Western Europe, while Cyrillic is in harmony with the territories to the east. It wasn’t always like this. It was the Soviets who, in a first stage, promoted the embrace of the Latin alphabet to try to spread communism throughout the world and, incidentally, give writing to languages of the USSR that were not written. Nearly fifty languages of the USSR were first written in the Latin alphabet in the 20th century. These Latinization campaigns came to a halt in the 1930s, when the initiative to promote the use of Cyrillic in the languages of the USSR was reversed. The curtain was made of steel and also of letters.
A part of their own history that many Eastern countries have tried to build since their separation from the Soviet Union has been the abandonment of Cyrillic. Embedded on Ukraine’s southern border is another country, Moldova, which could be the next target of Russian war expansion. The language of Moldova (let’s call it Moldovan or Romanian) transitioned from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet after the fall of the USSR in 1989. Just in case, in addition to changing the alphabet, Moldova formally applied four days ago to join the European Union. By symbolic and diplomatic means they are trying to defend their sovereignty, they are calling this side of the curtain that we call Europe and that has an unquestionable historical identity in the Latin of its alphabet.
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