Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A word on spelling in the vocabulary lists

In English, we’ve been make dictionaries and spelling guides for a few centuries. In Turkish, they’ve been making them since Attaturk. As a result, the spelling for Turkish, like the spelling in English, is pretty well fixed.

Uzbek and Uighur have been written with Arabic letters (adapted from the Persian usage), with Cyrillic (when the Soviet Union occupied major stretches of their homelands) and with Roman letters (in Uighur’s case, based on Chinese pin-yin’s use of that alphabet).

When you’re writing in English and Turkish, you consult a dictionary for spelling. In Uzbek and Uighur, things aren’t so clear. Spelling reforms are underway and it may even be that official spellings exist in the eyes of different governments and other institutions. But companies like Lonely Planet and Hippocrene and amateur web publishers have a way of offering their understandings of these (and many other) languages while government presses sit idle or turn out volumes that are too expensive to gain widespread use and set the standard, even among the people they ostensibly govern.

At multilingua.info, we had the choice, therefore, of creating our own spelling conventions or deciding whom to follow. For Uzbek, we are for the most part following the Hippocrene Uzbek Dictionary and Phrasebook by Awde et al. For Uighur, we are following the Lonely Planet Central Asian Phrasebook by Rudelson, with the following exception:

For Uighur, we are writing the front “a” as “æ” and leaving the back “a” as “a”. We like the idea of using the umlaut for all front vowels, but remark that “ä” carries a variety of different sounds in different Germanic languages (especially “eh” in German), and preferred the a-e ligature for the sound of “a” in “cat”; “ö” and “ü” are roughly the same in German and in Rudelson’s transcription system, so we have left them alone.

Regardless of source, we will do our best to stick to the spelling conventions mentioned here, adapting material as necessary.

Therefore, a word to the wise: whether you follow our conventions or someone else’s, for Uzbek and Uighur you’re going to have to be conscious of different ways of representing the same word depending on where you’re reading.