The Written Language

Turkmenistan Table of Contents

Beginning in the eighteenth century, Turkmen poets and chroniclers used the classical Chaghatai language, which was written in Arabic script and reflected only occasional Turkmen linguistic features. Famous poets who wrote in this language include Mammetveli Kemine (1770-1840), Mollanepes (1810-62), and the most honored literary figure, Magtymguly (1733?-90?), whose legacy helped mold Turkmen national consciousness. In the years 1913-17, periodicals were published in Chaghatai. Two reforms of this script undertaken in 1922 and 1925 were designed to reflect features of the spoken Turkmen language. From 1928 to 1940, early Soviet Turkmen literature was written in a Latin alphabet that accurately reflected most of its features. Since 1940, standard Turkmen has been written in the Cyrillic script.

In the mid-1990s, language policy in independent Turkmenistan has been marked by a determination to establish Turkmen as the official language and to remove the heritage of the Russian-dominated past. The 1992 constitution proclaims Turkmen the "official language of inter-ethnic communication." In 1993 English was moved ahead of Russian as the "second state language," although in practical terms Russian remains a key language in government and other spheres. That same year, President Niyazov issued a decree on the replacement of the Cyrillic-based alphabet with a Latin-based script that would become the "state script" by 1996. Some publications and signs already appear in this Latin script, but its full implementation will not occur until after the year 2000. The new alphabet has several unique letters that distinguish it from those of Turkey's Latin alphabet and the newly adopted Latin scripts of other republics whose dominant language is Turkic.

Other steps were taken to erase the Russian linguistic overlay in the republic. A resolution was adopted in May 1992 to change geographic names and administrative terms from Russian to Turkmen. As a result, the names of many streets, institutions, collective farms, and buildings have been renamed for Turkmen heroes and cultural phenomena, and the terminology for all governmental positions and jurisdictions has been changed from Russian to Turkmen.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress