Monday, November 17, 2008

When You Read You Begin With FXBETKEOJGLHT

I remember when I was in college and studying Greek, the first time that I learned that they had both a middle and a final character to represent the s sound I was thrown for a loop. I thought it was crazy that a language would have two ways to write the same thing. Later when I got into reading old documents in English I was floored to find out we use to have the same thing. At the time it seemed so confusing. But now I find myself longing for those simpler days.

Uyghur is not a language for the faint of heart. In fact it has three distinct alphabets, some of them have two and three different forms… not to mention that most letters in those alphabets have both a beginning, middle and final form.

For years the Uyghur language was written with an Arabic script, but in the 1960’s the government introduced a new Latin based writing system. This quickly became known as the ‘new script’. But in the 1980’s the Uyghur people longed to get back closer to their Muslim roots and started once again using the Arabic script (in many ways it was similar to the original, but a few alterations were made to the vowel system). This is the writing that we find in our textbooks and all around town. Unfortunately this new Arabic script is so closely linked to the former one, which they choose to call the “old script”. This means the old script is the current one that people use, and the new script is now passé (or old). However since we can’t really use the Arabic when typing on cell phones and other modern devices, they also have standardized transliteration to Latin script (which not surprisingly is different than what was used in the 60’s and 70’s). Finally on the other side of the border they traditionally use a Cyrillic script to express this language. I told you it would make your head spin.

I have spent most of my time focusing on learning the Arabic script that is currently being used on this side of the border. In fact I have been using this language so much that my Uyghur typing speed is almost as fast as my English speed. But in the last few weeks I have been helping a friend transliterate a document into Latin script. Which means I am looking at the Uyghur I am use to reading, but trying to type it with an English like script. I have to read it all over so slowly because sometimes when I am typing Uyghur a F is an A, or sometimes an A is an A, and other times an A is a H... that is of course when the H is not a X and the X is not a SH. I am now so glad that my high school typing teacher taught me to type without looking at the keys, because at this point they would only confuse the situation even more.

Here is a small sample:

سىز مېنىڭ دوستۇم Arabic

Latin transliteration: Siz me:ning dostum

English Translation: You are my friend

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