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What Is an Official Script?

China has a long history of official scripts.
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  • Written By: J.E. Holloway
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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An official script is a form of writing chosen by the government of a nation to be its standard way of writing. Official scripts usually exist in countries where the dominant languages can be written using two or more different alphabets. While the official script is not necessarily the most common method of writing the language, the official publications produced by the government will be in this script. This practice is similar to establishing an official language, with which the chosen script is usually associated.

In a country with more than one competing script, an official script serves several functions. Standardizing the script used by the government makes communication between government departments easier, and simplifies the process of printing or copying government documents. It can also make a statement about identity, enhancing the prestige of those who use one script over those who use another. For example, the official script of the Republic of Serbia is Serbian Cyrillic, despite the fact that the Serbian language can expressed using either the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets. The choice of the Cyrillic alphabet makes a statement about Serbia's role in Eastern Europe and its relationship to neighboring states such as Croatia, which has a similar language but uses the Latin alphabet.

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China has a long history of official scripts. China developed a sophisticated government bureaucracy early in its history, necessitating a standardized writing system for official business. The style of calligraphy that developed from the official correspondence of the Qin Dynasty and Warring States periods is known as "official script" and still appears in some Chinese documents, although it is no longer a government script. Another attempt to create a standardized script for Chinese came in 1956, when the People's Republic of China introduced the Simplified Chinese script in an attempt to increase literacy by making the written language easier to understand. Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan continued to use the more complicated Traditional Chinese script, emphasizing the cultural differences between these areas and mainland China.

Official scripts have been associated with important political movements in several countries. In Turkey, for instance, the official script of the Ottoman Empire was based on a version of the Arabic alphabet, since Ottoman Turkish contained a large number of loan-words from Persian and Arabic. Opposition to the script developed throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in the introduction of the Turkish Latin alphabet in 1928. There were a number of practical reasons for replacing the earlier script with a Latin alphabet, but the shift also symbolized the reformist program of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which advocated modernization and increased ties with Europe.

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