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The problems of switching to the Latin alphabet in the Republic of Kazakhstan

The statement of president N.Nazarbayev about necessity of livening up the switching
process of the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet, made by him in October, 2006 at session of
Assembly of peoples of Kazakhstan, is a turning point in a language policy of the republic. Now
from eight "Asian" states of CIS Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have transferred their
alphabets from Cyrillic into Latin. Georgia and Armenia being the part of the USSR possessed
the right to use alphabets on a national graphic basis. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as a
basic alphabet are still continuing to use Cyrillic. Therefore declarations on plans of switching of
the Kazakh alphabet to Latin were unexpected for majority.
The issue about the choice of the national alphabet has in Kazakhstan rather a long history.
During the pre-revolutionary period when literacy was destiny of the narrow educated layer,
Kazakhs used Arabian script. The Soviet period became the period of numerous language
experiments. In 1920th writing of all indigenous ethnos of Central Asia and Kazakhstan has been
transferred from Arabian to Latin and at the end of 1930th - to the Cyrillic alphabet.
Numerical domination of Russian has led to that Kazakhstan became the most Russified
republic of region. According to census of 1989, ¾ of inhabitants of Kazakh SSR mastered
Russian, including 2/3 of Kazakhs owned. Russian was fluently spoken by overwhelming
majority of not indigenous ethnos - Germans, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Tatars, Poles, Koreans,
etc., and also the majority of the urban Kazakh population. The rural Kazakhs having little
contact with the Russian-speaking cultural-language environment knew Russian much worse.
Russian population, on the contrary, almost did not know Kazakh language. Before the collapse
of the USSR only 0, 9 % of Russian population of Kazakhstan could speak Kazakh [1].
In comprehensive schools of the Kazakh SSR Russian was the basic language of teaching.
In the higher educational establishments the value of Russian was even higher, the consequence
of which was the difficulties of translation of the educational and scientific literature, and the
insufficient attention was given to teaching Kazakh language. In curriculums of high schools of
Kazakhstan up to the end of 1980th in general there were no rates of studying of the Kazakh
language that put obstacles in the way of expansion of sphere of its application. The majority of
periodicals published in republic was in Russian, and on Kazakh - only all 1/3 of all books,
magazines and newspapers [2].
In September, 1989 in Kazakh SSR according to the new law Kazakh language acquired
the status of being the state one. The regulations about the state status of the Kazakh language
have been included in the constitution of 1993 in which the status of Russian was not stipulated.
Introduction as a condition of employment in authorities, and also a number of other fields of
activity, including an education system, knowledge of a state language has led to sharp narrowing
of social prospects of non- indigenous population put before a choice: integration into the local
cultural-language environment or emigration.
Facing a problem of migratory outflow of non- indigenous ethnos, which threatened by
reduction of able-bodied population and shortage of the qualified experts, Kazakhstan has gone
on a way of partial liberalization of the language legislation. In the constitution from 1995
Russian has received the status of being official, enabling to use it on the same level with Kazakh
in authorities. According to the law «About languages» from July, 11, 1997, Russian could be
used equally with Kazakh in office-work, registration-statistical, financial and the engineering
specifications of authorities, armed forces, law enforcement bodies and the bargains of all kinds
of transactions. Primary usage of the Kazakh language was provided in acts of the state bodies
and legal proceedings, but also if necessary could be conducted in Russian. The state guaranteed
reception of the higher, special and secondary education in Russian and Kazakh languages, and
also equal usage of both languages in scientific activity.
The dramatic role which played till now Russian in Kazakhstan, shows that switching of the
Kazakh alphabet to Latin script will not be simple. But, in any case, it should not be a barrier to
the put forth aims.

[1]. National structure of the population of the USSR. According to All-Union population census
of 1989 Goskomstat of the USSR. М., 1991.P. 98-99.
[2]. Social development of the USSR. The statistical collection. Goskomstat of the USSR. М.,
1990 P. 226-228.