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Uzbekistan Aims For Full Transition To Latin-Based Alphabet By 2023

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends the Youth Forum of Uzbekistan in Tashkent on December 25.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends the Youth Forum of Uzbekistan in Tashkent on December 25.

Uzbekistan plans to fully transition the Uzbek language from the Cyrillic script to a Latin-based alphabet by January 1, 2023.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement on February 11 that the government approved the target date and a corresponding road map for the plan a day earlier.

The government's decision comes less than four months after President Shavkat Mirziyoev issued a decree to expedite the full transition of the Uzbek language to a Latin-based alphabet.

Uzbek, as well as other Central Asian languages, was written in an Arabic script until the late 1920s. It then switched to Latin script as part of a larger Latinization of Turkic languages, before the Soviets introduced Cyrillic in 1940.

In 1993, less than two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan began to transition back to a Latin script but Cyrillic is still widely used.

After going through various iterations, a working group at Tashkent State University presented a final draft of the updated Uzbek alphabet based on the Latin alphabet in 2019.

The updated alphabet consists of 30 characters: 29 letters and an apostrophe to denote a hard sign, specific sounds, or intonations..

In neighboring Kazakhstan, the process of switching to the Latin alphabet has been going on since 2017, when former President Nursultan Nazarbaev first instructed the government to work on the transition to a Latin-based alphabet by 2025.

Another Central Asian country, Turkmenistan, switched from the Cyrillic script to Latin in 1993, while Azerbaijan, a Turkic-speaking former Soviet republic in the South Caucasus, replaced its Cyrillic-based alphabet with the current Latin-based script on December 25, 1991.

The move to shift to Latin script was in part driven by political considerations, in order to distance the Turkic-speaking nations from years of Russian influence and develop a stronger national identity in the young states. The Latin script is also considered better suited to Turkic languages.

The Soviet-era transition of Turkic languages to Cyrillic was in part implemented to distance Central Asian states and Azerbaijan from Turkey, which as part of a Westernization drive changed its Persian-Arabic script to a Latin one in the 1920s.

The switch away from Arabic script among Turkic languages in the former Soviet Union was designed to distance the Muslim Central Asian nations from the Islamic world.

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