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Kazakh: A question of alphabets

Kazakh: A question of alphabetsLanguages do not exist independently of the people, families, and communities that use them. For languages to survive and thrive, they must be integrated into the lives of their speakers.

One of the countries that's realizing this is Kazakhstan - a country and language that is largely unknown outside its region. The world is gradually becoming aware of Kazakhstan, largely thanks to its oil, a growing economy, and, yes, even Borat.

Kazakh is the official language. Russian is also an official language in Kazakhstan; it has been designated as the "language of inter-ethnic communication" and is used in much of the government and in everyday business.

in the late 1920s, Soviet policy dictated that Kazakh writing, along with that of other Turkic languages of the USSR, shift from Arabic to Latin letters. This was the first of two fundamental breaks that affected Kazakh; the second, a decade after Latinization, was the shift to modified versions of the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.

In October 2006, Kazakhstan's President brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh. A Cyrillic-Latin alphabet change is not a new concept in the region. Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan -- whose languages belong to the same Turkic language group as Kazakh, and who also had Cyrillic imposed on them when part of the Soviet Union -- have already switched back to the Latin script.

But why change alphabets?

Along with the usual arguments (in particular, promoting the country's integration into the global economy), officials have argued that a Latin alphabet could help Kazakhstan forge a more cohesive national identity, moving it out from under Russia's shadow.

One of the most notable facts about Kazakhstan is that the public is well aware of the role of language and ethnic identity in social, cultural, and political life. This understanding of the need for equilibrium between linguistic role and identity repertoires has helped to develop policies on ethnicity and language which are more or less even-handed and conciliatory.

For more details, read our entire article on Associated Content.

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  1. cgtradmed said...
    You know, Kazakhstan is merely known, at least in France, for its cycling team "Astana", after its capital city, to which belung Alberto Contador, the last winner of the Tour de France (that he might have won for the last time in his career :-) )
    Dmitry Surovtsev said...
    I have not read such a biased anti-Kazakhstani article for quite a while.

    Note the quotes which I leave without comment:
    "The area was conquered by Russia in 18th century.."
    "Russians STILL account for 1/3 of population..."
    "resorting Kazakhstan to Kazakhs..."

    One of the important achievements in this country (a rare phenomenon even on the world scale) is its multicultural polyethnical identity where each of 100+ nationalities feel here at home working for the future of the country and own families.

    [Via LinkedIn]
    Uwe Lenhardt said...

    Why do you think the article from Andres is anti-kasakhstani?
    If anything (and I am not saying it is) it might be anti-russian, no?

    But lets get back to your uncommented points:
    1.) Nearly every website I googled stated: The area (meaning Kazakhstan) was conquered by Russia in the 18th century, and Kazakhstan became a Soviet Republic in 1936.
    I assume you don't like the word "conquered". With which verb would you want to replace it?

    2.) You took this part out of the context. The whole paragraph says:

    Despite a slowly decreasing presence over the past 20 years, Russians still account for one third of Kazakhstan's population, and their language and culture remain a predominant part of the country's identity. The Russian population consists largely of city dwellers who reside in the northern parts of the country, making many of these urban centers predominantly Russian in character. The impact of the Russian population extends beyond the economy; many aspects of Russian culture influence Kazakh society, especially the Russian language, which remains the most widely used tongue, even among Kazakhs. As mentioned previously, the Kazakh share of the country's population increased partly because of a higher birth rate among Kazakhs, although this was not the only influencing factor.

    I do not find the article to be biased anti-kazakhstani or against any other nationality

    [Via LinkedIn]
    amaxson said...
    @Dimitry: It was never ForeignExchange's intention to write an anti-Kazakhstani article. The point of the article was to discuss the potential change of the alphabet from Cyrillic characters to Latin.

    @Uwe: Thank you for standing up for us!

    Perhaps a better question to ponder in regards to this article, is this: what do you, personally think the merits (or setbacks) of converting to a Latin alphabet could be? Do you think converting to a Latin alphabet would harm Kazakh, as a language?
    cgtradmed said...
    To Amaxson : I don't think that conversion to Latin alphabet will harm any part of the Kasakh soul. The same adventure was launched in Turkey in 1928, when the Arabic alphabet was given up. It was called the "linguistic revolution" (Dil Devrimi). The result was the elimination of the illiteracy and the amazing economic progress this country has made. In 1928, only 10% of the population was literate.
    For more information about the Turkish linguistic revolution, you can have a look at :
    It's in French, but there are certainly equivalent sites in English.
    SDaulet said...
    I will be more than happy if Kazakstan will change back to the Latin script. I will feel more identified with my nation and the other Turkic nations. Please do it whatever cost it will be. It's the best option we can make to save the Kazak language. Our children will thank us for this!
    SDaulet said...
    There's a discrepancy in the article:
    "Native Kazakhs are a mix of Turkic and Mongol nomadic tribes who migrated into the region in the 13th century".
    Kazakhs are descendents of numerous nomadic tribes, both of Turkic and Mongol origin, that existed on the territory for many centuries starting from ancient Sakas (7th-4th centuries BC). We may have a problem with our language but we do remember our history.

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