Lezgins - Language and Literacy

Until the mid-nineteenth century the Lezgins, like all Muslim peoples of Daghestan and neighboring Chechnia, used the Arabic language as their only literary language. The first attempts to create a Lezgin literary language, written in Arabic script appropriating the dialect spoken in Kurakh, were made in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite efforts to establish a distinct Lezgin literary language, Arabic remained the dominant written language of the Lezgins through the early Revolutionary period (i.e., into the 1920s); it was used both for religious and secular purposes by virtually all of the intellectuals in Daghestan. Early attempts at writing this language in the Cyrillic script in 1904-1905 met with utter failure. As part of the anti-Islamic campaign of the 1920s, the Soviets changed Lezgin (and all other literary languages of the Moslem peoples of the USSR) from the Arabic to the Latin script. Then, as part of the Russification policy initiated in 1938, the literary form was changed from Latin to Cyrillic script. A major attempt was also made to replace Arabic and Persian words with Russian words. Lezgin is currently one of the nine official languages of Daghestan. Between the 1920s and 1960s Lezgin served as the language of instruction through the fifth grade among the Lezgins of Daghestan and among the Aghuls. Since the 1960s all education among the Lezgins of Daghestan has been in Russian only. Although books and journals are printed in the Lezgin language, most are translations of works from other languages (few works are written in Lezgin). Most of these translations are from the Russian language and, to a lesser extent, from other Daghestani languages. The Lezgins have a long literary tradition; however, most works by Lezgin authors of the past were written in Arabic or Azerbaijani Turkish, and contemporary works are written in Russian. Among the more renowned writers of Lezgin origin are the theologian Sa'id of Kochkhur, the mystical poet Etim Emin, the Azerbaijani historian Hasan Alkadari, and the poets Saifullah Chobanzade, Emir Arslan, and Hadji of Akhti. Soviet literature began with Sulaiman Stal'ski (the "national" poet of Daghestan) and has been followed by others, such as Tahir Alimov of Khurug, Alibek Fatahov, Shah Emir Maradov, and others.

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