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6.5.13

In Ignorance We Trust

Vartan Matiossian
 
A participant of the Diaspora conference held on April 27 at the University of Southern California shared a savory yet bitter bite with us:
"The 'best' suggestion from the diaspora conference in LA, from an audience member: since western Armenian spelling is difficult, and the Armenian alphabet is not being used on line, why don't we abolish the Armenian alphabet and start using the Latin script, as our neighbor has done... And he was serious....."
We had read a "serious" suggestion along these lines some twenty years ago. To put it mildly, the "suggestion" reeks of lack of seriousness.
Why?
1) "Western Armenian spelling . . ."
Memo to all ignoramuses: There is no such thing as "Western Armenian spelling." There is a common (Classical) spelling that was shared by Western and Eastern Armenian (Armenia and Iran) until 1922. There is today a Classical spelling that is shared by Western and Eastern Armenian (in Iran), and a "Soviet Armenian spelling" that is used in the Republic of Armenia. The communities of Romania and Bulgaria, which had adopted the Soviet Armenian spelling following the establishment of the communist regime, returned to the Classical spelling once that regime had been swept following the fall of the Berlin wall.
And to those who may feel "insulted" in their nationalistic feelings, we do not need to apologize for the use of "Soviet Armenian": the Classical spelling was first changed in 1922 and then in 1940, and both dates fall straight in the Soviet Armenian period of our history.
2) "Western Armenian spelling is difficult"
This is tantamount to say: "English/French/German/Spanish spelling is difficult." Classical Armenian spelling is no more difficult that spelling in those languages. Please explain us:
a) Why English speakers are such supermen that they learn FOUR options to spell ONE single sound and they do not die from a stroke:
Cheese: tʃiːz
Please: pliːz
Sleaze: sliːz
Freeze: friːz
b) Why Armenian speakers are such weaklings that they cannot learn TWO options to spell ONE single sound, otherwise they will die from a stroke:
Սէր։ ser
Սեր։ ser
3) "The Armenian alphabet is not being used on line."
If that is the case, it is not because there is a lack of websites and/or fonts. It is because: 
a) People are lazy enough not to learn how to type in Armenian; 
b) People are lazy enough not to brush up their Armenian in order to avoid the display of their spelling mistakes. 
Thus, they hide behind the use of farfetched Latinized Armenian or the second language of their choice (from English to French and from Spanish to German).
If the solution was so easy, namely, to adopt the Latin script, why didn't we adopt it some time between the first century B.C. and the fourth century A.D.? Why did Armenians need to wait until the birth of Mesrop Mashtots to write down their language? Wasn't the Latin script the alphabet of the lingua franca of the most powerful empire of the time, as it is today the alphabet of the lingua franca of the most powerful country of this time?
Answer: 
1) An alphabet is not only a system to transcribe a language, but also to create a written language.
2) Mesrop Mashtots did not transcribe the Armenian language, he created the written Armenian language.
If our neighbor(s) have done it, left and right, or west and east, let us clarify:
1) Turkey (= Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) adopted the Latin script in the 1920s and got rid of the Arabic script that had been used for a thousand years. Reasons: 
a) To (seemingly) disengage the Republic of Turkey from the Ottoman heritage; 
b) To detach Turkey from the Islamic religious world and approach it to secular Europe; 
c) To provide the Turkish language with an alphabet more suitable to its abundance of vowels.
2) Azerbaijan adopted the Latin script instead of the Arabic from 1926-1939 to follow Turkey, but Stalin thwarted that intention and imposed the Cyrillic script for all Soviet Turkic peoples in 1939. It lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1991 it was replaced by the Latin script, modified again in 1992. 
(A reminder to the furious defenders of the Soviet Armenian orthography that it is alive and well in Armenia despite the disappearance of the Soviet Union: Azerbaijan changed its alphabet and reformed it twice in a year. It seems that our eastern neighbors have more guts that we do; they can change their alphabet, but we cannot change our spelling)
The reader will note that we did not say that Turkey and Azerbaijan abolished the Turkish or Azerbaijani alphabet. They replaced a foreign alphabet with another foreign alphabet.
Our "serious" thinker from California has suggested to replace our alphabet with a foreign alphabet.
Why should be more papists than the Pope? Or more revolutionaries than Turks and Azeris?
We are not thinking for a second that, if we adopted a Latin script for one branch of the language, we would condemn BOTH branches, Western and Eastern Armenian, to be mutually unintelligible. 
The same as Turks are unable to read Ottoman Turkish, Western Armenian speakers would be unable to read Eastern Armenian.
And viceversa.
But... in ignorance we trust, don't we?



 

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