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AUA Public Lecture: The Case for a Pan-Caucasian Alphabet

YEREVAN–On Friday March 22, guest lecturer Dr. Vazgen Ghazaryan, Ph.D. in Physics from Yerevan State University, presented his proposal for a Pan-Caucasian Alphabet that maintains the phonetic nuances  of Caucasian languages, which have been lost with the usage of oversimplified Cyrillic alphabets.

The lecture, organized by the American University of Armenia (AUA)’s Digital Library of Classical Armenian Literature, included a presentation by Dr. Ghazaryan, followed by a discussion with Academician at the National Academy of Sciences Levon Abrahamyan, anthropologist Hranush Kharatyan, and Professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies Aleksan Hakobyan.

They discussed the propagation for the idea of a Pan-Caucasian alphabet, and related issues related to the survival of many North Caucasian languages currently on the verge of extinction. The proposal to create such an alphabet may give rise to the development of greater speech communities in the Caucasus, as well as aid the smaller ones in their quest for preservation.

Dr. Ghazaryan has examined the phonetics of 37 Northwest and Northeast Caucasian languages, possessing up to 86 distinct consonants. Speakers of these languages use Cyrillic alphabets, which in 1930s were modified and adapted to express the totally dissimilar phonetic structures of these Caucasian languages. These “alphabets,” or as Dr. Ghazaryan stated during his lecture, quite inconsistent systems of symbols, are not phonetically sufficient, thereby presenting serious difficulties in the functionality of these languages.

Because these languages cannot be effectively expressed in written form, the subtle nuances of these phonetically rich languages are lost, and the languages themselves are marginalized in a Russian-speaking media and environment.

In light of the shortcomings of these Cyrillic-based writing systems, Dr. Ghazaryan has introduced a completely original, easily legible, and, most importantly, phonetically perfect and grammatologically thorough writing system for the North Caucasian linguistic area. This general alphabetic system maintains the phonetic subtleties of all 37 North Caucasian languages.

Following the lecture, audience members posed questions on the phonetics of North Caucasian languages, the peculiarities of the proposed system, its applicability, and methods of computerization. Particularly, the last issue was thoroughly examined by Dr. Ghazaryan, who presented the prepared beta version of the fonts and the general principles of the software that shall allow users to type on a standard keyboard with no difficulty whatsoever. Moreover, the growing popularity of tablet PCs considerably eases the case as there is no more need for hardware peripherals, such as specifically designed keyboards.

Established in 1999, the AUA Digital Library of Classical Armenian Literature collects, digitizes, preserves, and presents the enormous global, cultural wealth of Armenian literature.

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