TASHKENT -- A decree issued by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev seeks to hasten the full transition of the Uzbek language from the Cyrillic to Latin alphabet, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported last week.
Mirziyoyev's decree, issued on October 21, outlines language policy for the 2020-2030 period.
One part calls for the creation of a government working group within three months to submit a schedule for a complete transition to the Latin alphabet.
Another part suggests starting by April 2021 a process for testing government officials' fluency in Uzbek.
By 2030, 80% of pre-schoolers should know Uzbek, according to the decree, which also aims to increase the hours devoted to teaching the Uzbek language.
Until the late 1920s, Uzbek was written in Arabic script. Soviet authorities switched Uzbek to Latin script in an effort to distance the Muslim Central Asian nations from the Islamic world, according to RFE/RL.
Subsequently, in 1940, the Soviets introduced Cyrillic in part to distance the Central Asian states from Turkey.
In the early 1990s, newly independent Uzbekistan began transitioning back to Latin script. However, Cyrillic still enjoys widespread use.
A working group at Tashkent State University in 2019 presented a final draft of an updated, 30-character Uzbek alphabet based on the Latin alphabet after several attempts.
Moving away from Russia
In Kazakhstan, then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev first instructed the government in 2017 to prepare a timetable for the country's transition to the Latin alphabet.
As part of the plan, the country intends to switch to the Latin alphabet by 2025.
Kazakh schools in 2018 began teaching the Latin alphabet, with other schools nationwide planning to transition in coming years.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Kyrgyzstan have discussed a similar switch.
In Central Asia, the move to shift to Latin script stems partially from efforts to shed Russian influence and to develop a stronger national identity, RFE/RL reported. Latin script matches Turkic languages better than Cyrillic script does, according to some linguists.
After gaining independence in 1991, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan all raised the status of their nations' languages, deeming Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek, respectively, as state languages.
The change comes among other indications that Central Asian states are trying to curb their reliance on Russia.
Mirziyoyev in January sent a strong signal to Moscow that the country plans to fortify its independence by saying that Uzbekistan would not sign on to the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union. Instead, Uzbekistan chose observer status.
"We will not be a member of this union," Mirziyoyev said in a speech to the first session of the upper chamber of parliament since parliamentary elections last December.
"Bear in mind one thing: nobody will ever give away our independence to anyone. Independence rests in the hands of a president whom the people trust," he said.