Revolutionary Scripts: The Politics of Writing Systems
by Richard Oliver Collin
Department of Politics and Geography
Coastal Carolina University
[Presented 26 October 2005 at the Vernacular 2005 Conference
on Language and Society, held at the Universidad de las Américas,
Puebla, Mexico and sponsored by the American Political Science
Association and the Policy Studies Organization.]
This paper studies the relevance of scripts or writing
systems to politics, drawing on recent work in sociolinguistics,
linguistic anthropology, and the sociology of language, and applying
these insights to the study of political conflict.
After an attempt to establish a common vocabulary, the paper explores
how divergent writing systems may exacerbate conflicts within a speech community
(Hindustani and Serbo-Croatian are examples) and, conversely, how a
common writing system can confer national unity upon a linguistic
group that has actually fragmented into separate speech communities
(Chinese and Arabic are cases in point).
After a glance at governmental interference with writing systems, the
paper surveys several cases of deliberate script shift, examining the
Korean and Turkish examples before reviewing the massive Soviet effort
to configure writing systems within the USSR to achieve ideological objectives.
With the collapse of the Soviet Empire, countries in Central Europe and
Central Asia are now making politically significant choices about
future writing systems.
The paper concludes with a note on the importance of writing system
analysis to the understanding of ethnic and nationalist conflict.
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