On November 8, 2018, the Baku Research Institute published my article “Argumentum ad Ignorantiam: Use of Latin Script in Azerbaijani” and a response to it by independent researcher Robert Denis.
An article in response to Robert bey’s allegations was ready and sent a few days later, but, unfortunately, it was not published immediately.
Now, I owe it to myself to answer those questions here.
First of all, I have to say that a foreign expert knowing our language so well and, moreover, devoting his research to its problems, is very commendable and gratifying. I am delighted and deeply grateful to Robert bey for his interest in our language, culture and my article specifically.
Now let us look at the inaccuracies in his response.
Let us start with the key point that everyone who writes research articles knows: the most important part is the author’s conclusion at the end. In his response to my article, Robert Denis came to a completely wrong conclusion about writing systems: “Writing is primarily a tool.”
Apparently, the author either only quickly skimmed the part of the article about history and culture or did not understand it at all.
In any society, changing the alphabet, the writing system never is and or cannot be just a tool. On the contrary, it is a very important and significant civilizational (political and cultural) choice. The project to replace the Arabic alphabet with a Latin-based script by M.F. Akhundov, a key figure in our society and culture, is a clear example of this, as his position on this issue is very well known. The great thinker’s purpose was civilizational/political/social rather than purely linguistic one.
Script change: a civilizational choice or just a tool?
In Bolshevik-ruled Azerbaijan of the early twentieth century, our society was first given an opportunity to implement the idea of the transition to the Latin script, because it was in line with the Communists’ idea of a world revolution and its unified script. The project to convert the Russian language to Latin script as part of this grand plan was discussed in the original article.
This period, which lasted for over ten years, cannot be considered successful and complete for our language. It was not something that could have any real progress and was of a formal nature in that short period of time, which cannot be compared with the end of the twentieth century, both from the viewpoint of literacy rate and in practical terms (incomparable difference in media: newspapers and magazines, television and the Internet, etc.).
Shortly afterwards, in 1939, not only we, but almost all the peoples of the USSR, were forced to switch to Cyrillic script in order to create a “single alphabet space.” In 1941, Mongolia, then a de facto protectorate of the Soviet Union, also converted from the ancient top-down vertical Mongolian script to Cyrillic. Undoubtedly, the goal here was not primarily instrumental, but purely political.
Finally, after gaining independence, our desire to switch to a Latin-based script was a purely political/civilizational/cultural choice, not just a desire to change the tool. I believe the historical context was quite clear in the article, but, unfortunately, it has to be reiterated here.
Why replace the Cyrillic script with a Latin-based one?
The question is, if the script is indeed just a tool, then why was the transition made mandatory in 2001? If in the case of the need to switch from Arabic script M.F. Akhundov put forward enough arguments substantiating the incompatibility of this whiting system and our language, the same cannot be said about the Cyrillic alphabet used in Azerbaijan between 1939 and 2001.
By 1992, when the script was first discussed in parliament, the Cyrillic alphabet had been used quite successfully in our country for over half a century, and in this, it was barely different from the modern Latin-based script. The Cyrillic alphabet was perhaps even more successful, since the letters i and ı were more easily distinguishable in it, there was no confusion with the letters q and x, the apostrophe was in its place, and so on.
Then why did we make this difficult decision to change the script and create so much trouble for ourselves?
When the decision to switch to Latin script altogether was made in 2001, almost a whole generation lost the ability to read, billions of dollars were spent on the transition, and we lost the good and bad legacy accumulated in the Cyrillic alphabet in the 60 years of its use. After the transition, all books had to be reprinted, and many were never published, including many research works, studies, translations, and so on.
Then what was it all for? In practice, in terms of changing the tool, it did nothing but damage. Some of the rare advocates of the Cyrillic alphabet in our society at the time were absolutely right: there was really no need to replace it, was there?
If the choice of script is really just a choice of tool, then this difficult process made no sense. Once again, the transition to another writing system is a civilizational choice, and a different script means a different cultural space—as was repeatedly noted in the original article.
Writing system as political identification
The same is true for the rest of the world. During the Ataturk period, the Republic of Turkey switched to Latin script at almost simultaneously with us. The decision was made to transform the newly formed state into a modernist European nation state-type country, and was as important as the abolition of the Caliphate.
Now, almost 100 years later, at the behest of Nazarbayev, a Latin script is being developed for the Kazakh language—the transition in Kazakhstan is scheduled for 2025. Why is that? Is this a purely practical decision to change the tool or a political/civilizational one?
Another example: on November 15, 2002, the Russian State Duma introduced an amendment into the law “On the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation” stating that all official languages of the republics within the Russian Federation must use Cyrillic alphabets. According to this law, the republics that tried to convert their languages to Latin script (at that time Tatarstan, and Chechnya-Ichkeria of the Dudayev period) were prohibited from doing so.
That decision was purely political and had nothing to do with linguistics.
If the contrary is true, was the controversial decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation made because the Latin alphabet was inconsistent with the Tatar language? According to this law, the Karelian language did not receive the status of an official language in the Republic of Karelia, as it traditionally uses Latin script, or rather it was not allowed. By the way, according to this law, our compatriots living in Dagestan, which is part of the Russian Federation, must also use Cyrillic script when writing in Azerbaijani (one of the official languages there). For the same reason, our compatriots living in Iran must use Arabic script when writing in our language, whether they like it or not.
In this regard, Robert bey’s conclusion is completely wrong.
The second important mistake made by the author in his response follows from this conclusion. The problem is that Robert bey misses the point of the idea outlined in the original article and does not understand that Latin script is always a political/cultural space.
Different spelling of various names, such as Çingiz xan, Çaykovski or Xomenyni (Genghis Khan, Tchaikovsky, Khomeini), etc. is quite natural, and using them as examples is completely inappropriate, as these names come not from Latin scripts, but from the Mongolian, Cyrillic and Arabic script spaces, respectively. The author lumped everything together, and most of the references have nothing to do with the article at all.
Of course, a name originally written in Cyrillic script, like Чайковский, that does not belong to the Latin-based script spac, will be written completely differently from a Polish or a Spanish name, what is so surprising here? As a musicologist, one of the first things I had to learn was how to spell Tchaikovsky’s name in different languages.
But the name of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes will be spelled in the same way in both languages, and so will that of the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Or Henryk Górecki, another Polish composer who made music history with one work, Symphony No. 3, or Gabriel García Márquez, a world-famous writer.
Of course, there can be some changes here, as was the case with the founder of the dodecaphonic (12-tone) system in music, the Austrian composer of Jewish origin Arnold Schönberg, who moved to the United States after being persecution by the Nazis and first adopted Judaism, and then changed his last name to Schoenberg (substitutions such as ö=oe, ü=ue, ä=ae, etc. in Latin scripts were discussed in the previous article), which he used for the rest of his life. This was a protest, both graphical and moral, against the “Germanism” that was going in the wrong direction at the time.
Personally, I do not know why the part about toponymy in the response is so long. This point was simply mentioned in the original article, and, in my opinion, it is quite natural to cite the Turkish language as an example. It is no secret that Turks, to whom we are close ethnically and linguistically, with their almost 100 years of experience in this issue, can be a positive model for us here.
At the same time, Robert bey says in his article that some proper nouns are spelled differently even within the Latin script space. However, my original article says, “Peoples using Latin-based scripts still experience many difficulties and issues in this area, and occasional attempts at reform continue to this day.“
Unification, standardization and exceptions
This issue is very serious and refers to modern times—because unification and standardization are generally a thing of the New Age.
I point out in the article, “In almost all languages and countries (including Turkey) where Latin-based scripts are used, people’s first and last names are spelled as in the original.”
Robert bey seems to have forgotten that the word “almost” was used and points out exceptions. Of course, some changes in proper nouns occur in some Latin-based scripts, and I gave some examples in the original article—I can add a few more.
Another important point made in the article was the ghost of the Cyrillic script still lingering in our language, which is fully confirmed by many examples of personal names, concepts and toponyms. For example, it is not true that names spelled in our writing system as Freyd (Фрейд/Freud), Sveyq (Цвейг/Zweig), Heyne (Гейне/Heine), Veymar Respublikası (Веймарская республика/Weimar Republic), Braunşveyq (Брауншвейг/Braunschweig), etc., are pronounced in our language the same way as they sound in the original. The spelling of abbreviations, such as YUNESKO (UNESCO), Latin expressions, such as Karpe Diem (Carpe Diem), etc. in our current Latin-based script does not follow logic, clearly having been taken from the Cyrillic script space in which we have lived for a long time.
I am not sure whether I should add to the examples of names of world classics cited in the original article: Bax (I mentioned in the footnotes that there was an English composer by the name Bax, and if we continue to spell Bach like this, there will definitely be some confusion) and Höte, but such examples really lead to phonetic and grammatical inaccuracies.
I did not go into detail in the previous article about the problems existing in musicology, since it is not a field of common knowledge. But there are major issues with language and script here as well, for example, when writing in Cyrillic, the name of a certain well-known instrument may be spelled as Скрипка (which is what it does sound like in our language), but in Latin script it looks very interesting: Skripka.
So, after many developments resulting from the aforementioned decree of 2001, the name of this instrument finally began to be written in our language as Violin (adapted from Italian, as it is written in the scores). Many instruments, musical forms—for example, forms and musical tempo that should be written, for example, as Adagio or Scherzo, following the original Italian, but are spelled as Adajio and Skertso instead, following the Cyrillic legacy, because the spelling of these words in Russian is Адажио and Скерцо—and musicological terms and concepts are still being misspelled.
Latin script is at the very least a civilizational and cultural space, and the communities that belong to it—be they of Roman, German or Slavic origin, and even Turks, who joined in relatively recently (about 100 years ago), who are the closest to us ethnically and can serve as a model to us in this regard—have gone through unification in personal names and some other issues. The reform of the Turkish language in this particular area has been very successful, and at least they do not change spelling of personal names.
My own last name is currently written in 3 different ways: Mirzəyev in Azerbaijani and Mirzayev in English in my passport, and Mirzoev in the professional life and culture. This is the case with almost all our compatriots, with some exceptions. This is an indication of how big the problem is.
 On 15 September 1999, the parliament of the Republic of Tatarstan issued Law No. 2352 “On restoring the Tatar alphabet based on Latin script”. However, this law, which came into force on September 1, 2001, was rescinded by the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation dated November 16, 2004.
 Thus, the name of Camal Qaşıqçı, whose horrific assassination was covered widely in the world media, should be spelled exactly as it sounds in our language, and since it belongs to a non-Latin-based script space, there is no need to write his name as Jamal Khashoggi, as it is used in the world press. We can add to the examples given by Robert bey such names from non-Latin-based scripts as Hussein Abu-Ali ibn Sina, Harun al-Rashid or Shah Ismail Khatai, Anton Chekhov or Dmitry Shostakovich, Mao Zedong or Mikhail Saakashvili.
 Some of the examples given date back to the Middle Ages, outside of the unification period.
 I remember my brother, pianist Samir, being surprised to find his name written in Latvian style as Mirzoyevas Samiras in his diploma of the 1983 competition for young pianists held in Latvia. The last name of an Austrian Slavicist, who recently attended to a conference in the Czech Republic, was spelled in the brochure not as Frank, but as Frankova, because she was a woman, and the rules of the Czech language require indication of gender in proper names. Some languages, unlike ours, have such peculiarities; Georgians, for example, always add the letter i to the endings of first and last names.
 At first, it was written in Russian style as Mirzoev, then changed to Mirzayev based on English. However, it should actually be Mirzəyev and it should be spelled like this everywhere, because we already belong to the Latin-script space, and it cannot be considered right for a person’s name to be spelled in several different ways in the same writing system in our times.