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Barbara Sonnenhauser (Munich)

Crimean Tatars return to Latin?

Crimean Tatar constitutes an interesting example of digraphia or biscriptatily, the term preferred in this conference and indeed better fitting the situation of Crimean Tatar. Since both the language and its script are still in the process of getting standardized (on the linguistic situation cf., e.g., Schulze 2002), an overlap of diachronic and synchronic biscriptality (following Dale 1980) can be observed. As has been the case with other Turkic languages in the former Soviet Union, the alphabet for Crimean Tatar was changed first from Arabic to Latin (in 1928), and then from Latin to Cyrillic (in 1938). With the end of the Soviet Union, the question of script was raised again, and in 1997, the Crimean Tatars decided to return to Latin (on that decision and the principles of writing cf. Qoñurat 1999). Even though this decision was rather late as compared to the other Turkic peoples, it was considered – mainly for historical and political reasons – the most promising among those attempts and it was expected to be the first one to be implemented completely (Nissman & Hill 1997).

However, this prediction has proven much too optimistic, as can be seen from the fact that the issue of returning to Latin and its implementation was still – or again – discussed in 2010, at a linguistic conference in Simferopol. This time, the question of script was connected to the standardization of the Crimean language, not only that of the Tatars living in Crimea, but also that of the Crimean Tatars living in the diaspora. Accordingly, the president of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars emphasized that “there is no other alternative for the creation of a productive, communicative system for understanding between all Crimean Tatars than returning to the Latin alphabet and developing a single Crimean Tatar language” (RFERL 2010). For that reason, the launch of the women’s magazine Nenkecan was received with great enthusiasm for linguistic reasons – not only in Crimea, but also in Turkey. This is indicated by a letter to the editors stating that “Nenkecan is the first edition perfectly written in pure Crimean Tatar language, in the Latin alphabet without any mistakes and brought to the readers in the modern version” (TKA 2011). Apart from constituting the basis for a unified Crimean Tatar language, the choice of script and its implementation in Crimea might also have political consequences, most importantly for the linguistic situation of Tatars and Bashkirs living in the Russian Federation, whose intent to switch to Latin has been denied by Russia (cf. Goble 2010). However, the implementation of Latin is still far from being completed. Websites such as Kirim alemi (‘Crimean World’) and Qırım ve qırımtatarlar aqqında mültimedia sayt (‘Mulitmedial site on the Crimea and the Crimean Tatars’) have their contributions in Crimean Tatar written both in Latin and in Cyrillic. That even the implementation of Crimean Tatar as a language is not yet achieved on all levels of language use – even though this is allowed by the Constitution of Ukraine (Constitution, esp. articles 10, 138) – is indicated by the fact that the Crimean News Agency (Qirim Haber Ajansi) provides its news in English, Russian – and Turkish, with only very few contributions in Crimean Tatar. In addition to discussing the choice and implementation of Latin from the perspective of language policy, this presentation also aims at assessing the motivations of individuals for using one script instead of the other.


Constitution: Constitution of Ukraine.

Dale, I. R. 1980. Digraphia. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 26, 5-13.

Goble, P. 2010. Latinization of Crimean Tatar could mean more than russianization of that region.

Nissman, D. & D. Hill. 1997. Crimean Turks return late to Latin script.

Qoñurat, K. 1999. Qırımtatar edebiy tiliniñ imlâ qaideleri toplamı. Günsel 2.

RFERL 2010. Linguists urge Crimean Tatars to switch to Latin alphabet (taken from Islam News).

Schulze, W. 2002. Krimtatarisch. Okuka M. (ed.). Lexikon der Sprachen des europäischen Ostens. Klagenfurt, 799–804.

TKA 2011. Issue of Nenkecan in Latin alphabet is new stage in the development of Crimean Tatar language, Turkish historian. TKA (Association of Turkic Speaking News Agencies), March 22, 2011.


(access to web references: June 17, 2011)