Turkmen 1993: the ugliest alphabet

Even among linguists working with the Turkic languages, it seems a little-known fact that Turkmenistan’s first post-independence Latin alphabet, adopted on April 12, 1993, was a bizarre creation. For sounds that in other Turkic languages would be denoted with a letter plus a diacritic, e.g. <ş>, it instead used the following currency symbols: £ (capital /ʒ/), $ (capital /ʃ/), ¢ (lowercase /ʃ/), and ¥ (/j/).

I think I know where this idea came from. In the early 1990s I, like every child with a Macintosh computer, spent hours playing with the Key Caps application, which allowed one to access an array of pre-Unicode weird and wonderful exotic characters beyond the ASCII keyboard. I never imagined that it would drive a government’s creation of a new orthography.

Unfortunately, while it is easy to find references on the web to how silly this alphabet was, it has proven much more difficult to find actual texts written in it. The alphabet was quickly revised to replace the currency symbols with letters more customary for Turkic languages, and this presumably happened well before the internet reached Turkmenistan. Plus, Google simply ignores these letters when one tries to search for a Turkmen word spelled in such a way. In a country that, under Saparmurat Niyazov, so drastically revised its history and where the state so completely dominated publishing, it may be that even the few paper materials printed in this alphabet have been destroyed by now.

It definitely makes me want to include a visit to the hermit state during my next trip to Central Asia. In the meantime, perhaps one of the readers of this blog has scanned texts?