Though I’ve often heard that there is a rich pre-1917 literature in Tatar that is no longer widely accessible because of the change of script, I probably wouldn’t have learned how to read Tatar in Arabic script had I not come across a couple of very useful guides. One, the more serious, is Гарәп язуы нигезендә татарча әлифба by Dž. G Zainullin (Татарстан китап нәшрияты, 1989).
The other, a colourful children’s reader entitled الفبا (Alifba), was published by the Tatar diaspora in Berlin in 1918. I’ve scanned this and uploaded it as a PDF (18MB).
Any adaptation of the Arabic script to a Turkic language would have to indicate the frontness of the vowels in a word, but one solution for this that I wasn’t expecting is the use of certain Arabic emphatics to specify back vowel words. However, this doesn’t hold for all cases – as one works through these books, exceptions pile on exceptions. All in all, this system is so bloody complicated that it’s no surprise that Tatar activists pine instead for the Latin script of the 1930s. Still, I am hoping that a knowledge of this script will let me discover some unjustly forgotten literature over the centuries before the October Revolution.