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There are a number of languages which have historically been written in more than one alphabet (Hindi/Urdu, Serbo-Croatian, Uzbek and so on). I am wondering which single language has been regularly written in the most different alphabets.

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There are still materials published in Turkish using Cyrillic, mostly in Bulgaria but I have to imagine there are other places too. –  Caleb May 6 '12 at 6:21
    
@Caleb I am drawing a distinction between Ottoman and modern Turkish here. But in any case, I'm almost certain that I've seen examples of a book in proper Ottoman but written with the Cyrillic alphabet. –  SigueSigueBen May 6 '12 at 6:48
    
Do you really mean just alphabets? Or any orthographic system? Japanese for example is written in: Kanji, katakana (syllabary), hiragana (syllabary), romaji (alphabet). –  Gaston Ümlaut May 7 '12 at 3:22
    
I was thinking of alphabets, but no reason to limit it at that. Incidentally, I'm not sure if Japanese should be considered to have one or multiple systems for the purposes of this question. Clearly there are three distinct scripts in use, but they are used in a single writing system. –  SigueSigueBen May 7 '12 at 3:52
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Isn't Sanskrit written in every writing system of India (and a few more...)? –  JPP Oct 2 '12 at 21:49
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7 Answers

My bet is on another Turkic language, Uighur, especially if we use it to mean both modern Uighur and its ancestor Old Turkic, which was the official language of the Uighur Khaganate (begun in 742) and later the predominant language of Turfan / Turpan, East Turkestan (Xinjiang province, China), where Uighurs settled in 840 and have remained to the present day.

According to the UCLA Language Materials Project, the earliest Uighur texts are written in three scripts: the Old Turkic runes (also called Orkhon-Yenisei runes), the Manichean script and the Uighur script. All three types probably ultimately go back to Aramaic script. (The Aramaic script derives from Phoenician, as do a plurality of the world's orthographies eventually.)

  • The Uighur script derived from the Sogdian alphabet (Ancientscripts). Sogdian was a Middle Iranian language related to Pahlavi. By the seventh century, Sogdian merchants had a strong presence along the Silk Road (Jonathan Skaff), from their origin in Samarkand all the way to the oasis state of Turfan, where many of them came to settle. In 840 the Uighurs came here too, and they eventually adopted the script.

  • The oldest Uighur inscription known, from 732, is from the Orkhon river basin, central Mongolia, in Old Turkic runes, which were possibly based on the Sogdian script or the Chinese script, but there is a powerful argument for a tamga origin too. Tamga is Mongolian for "stamp" or "seal," and the use of Tamgas throughout Eastern Eurasia to differentiate clans from each other, for marking property, for official correspondence and for graves goes back to prehistory.

  • The Manichean script coexisted along the Silk Road with the Sogdian; it is so called because adherents of the Manichean religion seemed to prefer it, and it is said that Mani himself may have devised it. Uighur documents in the Manichean script were found at Turfan by German excavators in the late nineteenth century.

  • Excavations at Turfan have found Uighur documents written in the Syriac, Tibetan, Brahmi, Nestorian, and Estrangelo scripts; 'Phags-pa may have been used as well. Assumedly, writing Uighur in these scripts was an at least somewhat regular occurrence throughout the Tarim basin at various times, the preferences changing from 840 to the 1300s and beyond. This document by Doug Hitch outlines the basic features dozens of variants of writing systems used in Central Eurasia, not all for Uighur.

  • Uighur gradually came to be written predominantly in the Chagatai script, a variant of the Arabic script used originally for the extinct Turkic language Chagatai, which was then widely spoken throughout Central Eurasia.

  • In the 1920s, some Uighur-speaking regions became part of the Soviet Union, and others came under its influence, and at first the Soviet Union tried to Romanize the Uighur script, but then decided to use a Cyrillic-derived alphabet known as Uyghur Siril Yëziqi instead.

  • In the 1950s, the Chinese promoted the use of Yëngi Yëziqi, a mixture of Pinyin (Latin-derived) and Cyrillic, for Uighur. Its predominant usage lasted about ten years.

  • The most commonly used, and official, Uighur script today is Uyghur Ereb Yëziqi, a newer Arabic-derived script.

  • Some of the Uighur people have pressed for a change to a Latin-based script known as Uyghur Latin Yëziqi instead, for ease of use with information technology. Many Uighurs know both this script and the Ereb Yëziqi.

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Thanks for the very complete answer! I have some trouble thinking of modern Uyghur and Old Turkic to be the same language, however. Anatolian Turkish also has its roots in Turkic written in runes, but we wouldn't consider them the same language. Even the languages of the pre-Ottoman Anatolian Turks were quite distinct from that of the twentieth century Ottomans. –  SigueSigueBen May 7 '12 at 4:00
    
Do you have any information on how regularly the scripts you've listed were used? The alphabets I suggested for Ottoman Turkish were all used in a number of spheres (books, newspapers, correspondence, religious texts and so on). I wonder if all the Uyghur scripts were similarly widespread? –  SigueSigueBen May 7 '12 at 4:05
    
Lastly, I wanted to say that the Chaghatay and modern Uyghur alphabet are both really just modified Arabic, so I wouldn't consider them to be separate examples. Likewise, the Nestorian, Estrangelo and Syriac (meaning Serto, I presume) are in fact the same script. –  SigueSigueBen May 7 '12 at 4:10
    
So when we add up, is it about a tie? The biggest problem in figuring this out on the Uighur side is use vs. attestation. It's possible these scripts were all used regularly, as well as a few other completely different ones that we have no record of. Just to highlight the difficulty, multiple resources claim that Uighurs used the Sogdian script from the 5th century, but there are no records of this. –  Daniel Briggs May 7 '12 at 6:16
    
As far as Old Turkic vs. Chagatay vs. Uighur: One would say that the Uighurs spoke Old Turkic in addition to regional Uighur dialects from the 9th to 14th centuries, Chagatay in addition to regional Uighur dialects from the 14th to early 20th centuries, and Modern Uighur in the 20th & 21st. Chagatay was a little different since it was intended as a pan-Central Asian language, but (I'm guessing) the rest would pass the tests of continuity and mutual intelligibility. –  Daniel Briggs May 7 '12 at 6:20
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I think the answer may be: Ottoman Turkish.

In the twentieth century alone, it could be found regularly written in the Arabic, Greek, Armenian, Hebrew and Syriac alphabets. And, since the language reforms of the 1930s happened after the alphabet reform of 1928, we can add the Latin alphabet to that list. I think there were Ottoman Turkish books published in Bulgaria using the Cyrillic script as well.

That makes at least six –and possibly seven– alphabets.

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Sigue, are you actually asking that question? If this is not an answer, post it as a comment to your question or under the answer it refers to. –  Alenanno May 6 '12 at 11:16
    
Fixed. I accidentally copied that when moving text from my question to this answer. –  SigueSigueBen May 6 '12 at 13:20
    
I'm going to mark my own as the best answer for now. Hopefully someone can find a better example. –  SigueSigueBen May 12 '12 at 17:44
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I think it is Sanskrit, which has been written in a large number of Asian scripts plus Latin. See

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanskrit#Writing_system

for a graphic of 17, which I suspect is not all.

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A possible answer may be Mongolian. Alphabets used are: Mongolian script (traditional, Galik, Vagindra, Todo), Phags-pha, Soyombo, Chinese Hanzi, Arabic, Latin, Cyrillic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_alphabet

Mongolian in literature involved a lot of vocabulary originated from foreign languages like Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese which is why Galik alphabets where used at the time. However, everyday Mongolian uses most of these alphabets, because some dialects like Khalkha (official dialect of Mongolia) uses sounds not originally inclusive in the traditional script. Vagindra is the name for the Mongolian script with Buryat dialect-specific alphabets while Todo or Clear script is the one for Oirat dialects. Vagindra had been used and Todo is still officially used in Mongol autonomies in Xinjiang.

Phags-pha was created by a Tibetan scholar in service of Kublai Khan. It was created on a decree by the Khan. This script was intended to be used officially by the Mongols. However, it had only been used extensively in the court thus there are a lot of documents written in Phags-pha. The alphabets are still used in Mongolia and Tibet for decorative, artistic and religious purposes.

Soyombo was created by Zanabazar, a noble khutagt. Late Bogd Khan of Mongolia was the last reincarnated avatar of him. The script is still used extensively in the temples. Also, the first letter in the alphabet made national symbol for Mongolia.

It is evident that Chinese Hanzi was used for writing Mongolian by transliterating the language. A famous book from the Middle Ages (The Secret History of the Mongols) was first found in a Mongolian edition written using Chinese Hanzi characters.

Arabic and Persian alphabets where used by the Mongol Empire's presence in the Middle East and the later Ilkhanate dynasty. There are many written documents including stamps and paizs (modern-day passport) issued by Mongol khans and nobles and letters to Pope and other European entities.

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That is a very interesting answer. The only caveat would be that some scripts (Galik for example) just seem to be the addition of a few extra characters to an existing script and that Latin was only used for two months (does that qualify as 'regular'?). I also didn't see any reference to Todo or Vagindra in the Wikipedia article, but a few other scripts are mentioned. Could you perhaps expand your answer to describe the scripts that are unique to Mongolian (that is to say, excluding Chinese, Arabic, Latin, Cyrillic)? –  SigueSigueBen Sep 18 '12 at 14:39
    
Writing of these made me realize that it would be great if all Mongols knew these alphabets very well and all were officially used. :D –  Dagvadorj Sep 19 '12 at 6:51
    
Please do move the comments into the answer! –  SigueSigueBen Sep 19 '12 at 13:38
    
I know nothing of Mongolian, so excuse any misunderstandings... From your answer, I understand that Mongolian has been written in eight alphabets: traditional; Clear/Todo [Oirat dialect only]; Phags-pha; Soyombo; Chinese; Arabic; Cyrillic; Latin. Omniglot states that, although related to Mongolian, Buryat is a different language. –  SigueSigueBen Sep 20 '12 at 3:19
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There are many different classifications of Mongolic languages (Mongolian, Mongour, Bonan, Moghol etc) and Mongolian dialects (Khalkha, Buryat, Oirat etc). Lately, some of dialects in Mongolian are regarded as different Mongolic languages in parallel to Mongolian in some sources. However, most of these classifications are rather political. –  Dagvadorj Sep 24 '12 at 2:16
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Ossetic: first in Greek script; then in Church Slavonic script; then (in South Ossetia) Georgian script; then in amplified Cyrillic (Russian script with several newly invented characters); then Latin script; then simple Cyrillic script (Russian script with only one special sign: æ). Six alphabets, not bad for a still living language.

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By Church Slavonic Script you mean Glagolitic right? –  hippietrail Apr 8 at 22:36
    
The oldest printed book in Ossetic is a bilingual (Church Slavonic-Ossetic) catechism from 1798. It is printed in what is usually called “old Cyrillic” script, the script then used for Church Slavonic, as opposed to the civil script used for writing Russian. –  fdb Apr 9 at 10:58
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Ah OK I know what you mean. I usually considered it more a style of Cyrillic script but I'm no expert. In fact the same style is used in churches in Bulgaria and in Romania but in the latin script. I noticed this when travelling there a couple of years ago. But very different from the Glagolitic script. –  hippietrail Apr 9 at 14:15
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It's probably not a record holder, but to be precise with Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, it has been written in the Latin, Cyrillic (both in the standard form and in an extinct, western form called Bosančica), Glagolitic, and Arabic (the so-called Arebica). Arebica saw use until WWII, Bosančica seems to have gone extinct by the 18th century, and Glagolitic for the vernacular was probably extinct by the end of the 18th century---Glagolitic for Croatian Church Slavonic lasted until 1927, albeit with partial use lasting until Vatican II.

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Kurdish has been written in the Arabic alphabet, in the Latin alphabet, in the Cyrillic alphabet, Kurdish has even been written in the Armenian alphabet in Soviet Armenia.

Originally, Gagauz was written in the Greek alphabet. Then, it has been written in Cyrillic letters, and then in Latin letters.

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