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Researcher of Belarusian Arabic books Anton Antonovich

Published in the magazine “Rodnaje slova” ‘Native word’, June 2010, pp. 35-36. Tags “pioneers”, “language’s transcendent features”. If citing, please give the original reference.

Mikalaj Pryhodzič, fac.doc. PhD

Modern linguistics associates the name of Anton Antonovich
Anton Konstantinovich Antonovich, a researcher of Belarusian Arabic texts
with Belarusian writings in Arabic script. And his arrival in Arabic studies may not seem accidental to us: he comes from the village of Kazly (bel. cyr. Казлы́) in the part of the Niesviž rigion adjacent to the Tatar settlements Arda (bel. cyr Aрда́) and Damatkanavičy (bel. cyr. Даматка́навічы). Is it in childhood that he first became acquainted with Tatar words and concepts of the Tatar way of life. Those words and concepts were well-known all across Belarusian territories because of the continuous presence of the descendants of the first gentiles from the Golden Horde, who had settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the time of Vitovt.

Anton Antonovich was born on June 6, 1910 in a poor peasant family. Faced with hard physical work and life’s hardships, he came to Vilnius as a teenager, where numerous Belarusian educational circles were active in the 1920s. He persistently engaged in self-education, which allowed him to enter a technical school, although after graduating in 1932 he could not find a job in his specialty. He also had a chance to work as a laborer at a construction site, and as a dispatcher at a railway station, and as a teacher in an elementary school in Ašmiany (bel. cyr. Ашмя́ны), and finally as an employee of the Belarusian Museum in Vilna. In 1944, at the Vilnius male gymnasium, he passed an external exam for a matriculation certificate. After serving in the army (1944 — 1945) he entered the department of the Russian language and literature of the philological faculty of Vilnius State University. After graduating, he began working in the manuscript department of the university’s scientific library, where he was took interest in Belarusian writings of the 15th – 17th centuries. This resulted in a thorough article “Phonetics of the Belarusian act language of the XVI century. According to the materials of the judicial (act) book of the Kaunas territorial Court of 1566 — 1567 ”(1960, 28 p.) And“ Graphical system and spelling of the judicial (act) book of the Kaunas territorial Court of 1566 — 1567 ”(1961, 13 p.), which formed the basis of the dissertation, successfully defended in 1961. By the way, in Belarusian linguistics this was the first monographic study of a specific monument of ancient writing — cursive manuscript with a volume of 237 large-format pages.

The act book of the Kaunas (bel. cyr. Ко́ўна) territorial Court 1566 — 1567 was not chosen by chance. It contains 721 records of various contents — complaints and statements of residents about beatings and robberies, thefts, unauthorized seizures of property and land allotments, there is even a message about a woman being burned at the stake for sorcery, etc. Analysis of graphical system, phonetics, morphology and vocabulary showed that the language of these documents is traditional, characteristic of other monuments of that time. However, Anton Antonovich was widely known for his monograph “Belarusian texts written in Arabic script and their graphic-spelling system” (Vilnius, 1968), defended in 1969 as a doctoral dissertation. In a short time, this work received as many as 7 scientific reviews in various Slavistics journals in Belarus, Poland, Russia, then Czechoslovakia, and its author became one of the most recognized researchers of works of Arabic literature — the so-called Kitabs.

In general, the first who drew attention to the Kitabs was the German orientalist G. Fleischer, who, presumably, did not know about the Belarusian-Lithuanian Tatars, nor about the written Belarusian language (he placed the hamael in the catalog of oriental manuscripts). The discoverer of Tatar-Muslim literature in Belarusian and Polish should be considered Anthony Mukhlinsky, who first drew attention to the existence of a significant number of written documents among the Tatars of Belarus and Lithuania (he printed samples of this literature in Vilna in 1857). Since that time, Tatar manuscripts (V. Volsky, I. Krachkovsky, Ya. Stankevich, etc.) were repeatedly mentioned in the press, however, these were mainly works of a popular nature, intended for a wide range of readers.

A thorough scientific study of Belarusian kitabs began only in the second half of the 20th century, and Anton Antonovich has an unconditional priority in this matter. Thanks to hard work in archives, libraries, museums, private book collections, relations with scientists from Kazan, St. Petersburg, Krakow, Leipzig, Warsaw, Wroclaw, the scientist found 24 known and unknown until then manuscripts of Tatar-Muslim writing of the XVII — early XX century and provided their comprehensive description. In the genre respect, these manuscripts are dominated by hamaels (manuals for Muslim priests), kitabs (collections of narratives about the life and work of Mohammed and his associates, biblical legends, descriptions of rites, rituals and duties of Muslims, chivalric and adventure narratives, etc.), tefsirs ( texts of the Koran in Arabic with interlinear translation into Belarusian language. The researcher found and analyzed the Belarusian-Turkish dictionary (circa 1836), which was intended for people who were planning to leave for Turkey, as well as a business document of 1759 in Polish, but with numerous Belarusian features. For the first time in his monograph, Anton Antonovich provided accurate information about the places of storage of Arabographic manuscripts, described the history of origin, expressed opinions on the time and place of their occurrence, interpreted the content of the texts, described the volume and state of conservation of each monument. For the first time in scientific practice, he developed a system for transliterating Arabic letters into modern Belarusian. It is worth noting that this was extremely difficult to do, because the texts were created in different territories, and often different graphemes were used to transmit the same sound, and diacritical and lowercase characters that have no independent sound meaning are generally found. Linguistic analysis of the monuments revealed such an unexpected feature: a much greater degree of accuracy in the transmission of the phonetic phenomena of the Belarusian language (akanye, different pronunciation of sound [g], assimilative softness of individual consonants) using Arabic graphics than the then Cyrillic alphabet. Belarusian arabographic monuments have witnessed a wide display of many features of regional dialects in them; these manuscripts contain texts in Polish, Serbian, Turkic and Arabic, which can be successfully used not only by Slavists, but also by Orientalists. A. Antonovich considered his research “as the beginning of the enormous work that still needs to be done in the future”, he reasonably expressed the hope that “the work would arouse the interest of the scientific community to the texts being studied and that they would occupy a proper place among other monuments of the Belarusian language” . And so it turned out in the future.

With the light hand of Anton Antonovich, more and more Belarussian kitabs began to be studied, and other monuments of Belarusian writing were introduced into scientific circulation. The scientist became a frequent guest at the Yakub Kolas Academic Institute of Linguistics, and his apartment in Vilnius was a hospitable refuge for Belarusian scientists. Today, Corresponding Member of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Professor A. Bulyka and Dean of the Philological Faculty of P.M. Masherov Vitebsk State University, Associate Professor V. Nesterovič, among others, remember, A. Antonovich as the scientific adviser of their dissertations. So do other well-known scientists who had the opportunity to use the unique fruits of research and a rich library of the scientist. Not so many years were allotted by fate to Anton Konstantinovich Antonovich. He died on December 27, 1980. The creative account of the scientist only counts 11 scientific publications, but each of them is the result of hard work and non-stop searches, a vivid testimony of his life principle: stray from the beaten track in the science.


  1. Voĺski, V. Nakont nacyjanaĺnaj litaratury bielaruskich tatar / V. Voĺski // Uzvyšša. – 1927. – № 8-9.
  2. Hiermanovič, I. K. Antanovič Anton Kanstancinavič / I. K. Hiermanovič // Bielaruskija movaznaŭcy : u 2 t. / sklad., pradm. M. R. Pryhodziča, I. S. Roŭdy. – Minsk, 2006. – T. 1.– S. 12 – 16.
  3. Kanapacki, I. B. Historyja i kuĺtura bielaruskich tatar / I. B. Kanapacki, A. I. Smolik. – Minsk, 2000.
  4. Мухлинский, А. Исследования о происхождении и состоянии литовских татар / А. Мухлинский. – СПб., 1857.
  5. Nieściarovič, V. I. Staražytnyja rukapisy bielaruskich tatar / V. I. Nieściarovič. – Viciebsk, 2003.
  6. Stankievič, Ja. Bielaruskija musuĺmanie i bielaruskaja litaratura arabskim piśmom / Ja. Stankievič. – Viĺnia, 1933.
  7. Tondzieĺ, M. Išoŭ niatoranymi ściežkami / M. Tondzieĺ // LiM. – 1982. – 19 liut.
  8. Lapicz, Cz. Kitab tatarόw litewsko-polskich (paleografia, grafika, język) / Cz. Lapicz. – Toruń, 1986.

Published in the magazine “Rodnaje slova” ‘Native word’, June 2010, pp. 35-36. Tags “pioneers”, “language’s transcendent features”. If citing, please give the original reference.

Mikalaj Pryhodzič, fac.doc. PhD (bel. cyr. Мікалай Прыгодзіч)

Belarusian Arabic script
Belarusian Arabic script

Researcher of Belarusian Arabic books Anton Antonovich - February 15, 2020 - Maxime Seveleu-Dubrovnik