[Marxism] Re: Cyrillic vs. Latin alphabet

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Sun Mar 6 18:20:53 MST 2005


I’ve come into this thread pretty late [was at the beach for a week :-) ] 
but my impression is that it started with Ted suggesting that it would be
an advance for Russians to switch to the Latin alphabet, and the evidence
was that Russian shops had signs in that alphabet. From there it went onto
comments about minority nationalities with which I agree.

But I have some reservations about the original point. Firstly, the
Cyrillic alphabet is well suited to Slavic languages. You need only to look
at Polish, with its intimidating consonant clusters, to see how badly the
Latin alphabet can perform in this context. Whereas Cyrillic uses a single
character to render the “shch” sound in Khrushchev. Admittedly the Latin
alphabet can also perform very well, as in the “Yugoslav” languages which
use sensible diacritical marks. My point though is that there’s nothing
artificial about Cyrillic for Russians, Bulgarians etc.

Secondly: the fact that shops use the Latin script does mean Russia is
“joining the world”, but then so does the presence of MacDonalds. We
shouldn’t be too uncritical about these globalisation effects. I haven’t
been to Russia in a long time, but I have certainly observed this at work
in Indonesia, where using English instead of Indonesian is seen as cool.
This has its positive side, enriching the Indonesian language and equipping
middle class Indonesians to communicate better with foreigners. But its
negative side is an annoying elitism and artificiality, particularly in
seminars where English sociological jargon is rampant. Working class people
who don’t know English get frozen ou.

Here’s an example. Indonesian political observers will often say someone is
a “single fighter”. They say this in English, but if you think about it,
it’s not an English expression. We would say something like “s/he fought
alone”. Eventually an Indonesian comrade told me where it comes from: in
the wayang shadow plays, there are “lone fighters” – the Javanese phrase
(also readily comprehensible in Indonesian) is Petarung Tunggal. So
political commentators are using an English phrase where a Javanese phrase
would make more sense to their audience -- because the pseudo-English
carries a spurious prestige.




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