Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Linguistic Infrastructures and Information Politics: The Case of the Chinese Latin Alphabet, 1928-1936

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Maryland Suite C, Lobby Level

This paper offers a media archaeology of the Chinese Latin Alphabet (CLA), the mother of contemporary pinyin. Asprevious scholarship has already shown, CLA was devised in the late 1920s in the Soviet Union. Less known is the fact that the first CLA was by and large the same with the Unified New Turkic Alphabet, which was invented to Latinize the Turkic languages in the Soviet Union written in the Arabic script. What were the historical conditions that allowed a transnational flow of literary technology from the Turkic world to China in the 1920s? What did a Latin alphabet mean in Eurasia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution? And how was the Latin alphabet appropriated by the Chinese when it was put in practice during the 1930s? Historicizing the Chinese Latinization Movement within a greater technological and ideological context, this paper suggests that phonetic scripts, such as the CLA, were not neutral representations of speech, but material manifestations of language and information politics. The leaders of Latinization sought to create a common interface for all the languages in the world, integrate humans and machines to optimize mental labor, and build a socialist network of nations through letters. And when it finally arrived in China, the Chinese Latin Alphabet functioned as a linguistic infrastructure that generated a platform for radical language politics.

Ulug Kuzuoglu

Columbia University, New York

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1 - Linguistic Infrastructures and Information Politics: The Case of the Chinese Latin Alphabet, 1928-1936



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