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Kazakhstan: Debates over Latinization of Kazakh Language

Kazakhstan intends to switch the state language to the Latin script. It was announced that the transition will take 12-15 years. As adam_kesher writes, the plan stirred many disputes and arguments – in particular, Russia and a part of Kazakhstan’s Russian-speaking population considers switching to Latin is an adverse move against them. However, the blogger is more favorable towards the prospect:

“It may allow for simplification of Kazakh grammar, reduce the number of letters, as well as ease up digitization of the language, making it more readable throughout the world, giving an educational raise within the country – providing that Russian language retains its status”.

But he points out two concerns: Firstly, the government’s calculation is very underestimated, obviously not taking into account scientific research, monitoring, control and translation of Kazakh and world literature classics into new Kazakh. Secondly – for some reason – the most unsuccessful Uzbek model was chosen for the transition.

The reaction of blogosphere was very intense and heated. The view from abroad Kazakhstan is mostly positive:

Dave, a student of Turkish, says he is looking forward to latinization as a tool to breakdown linguistic barriers throughout the world. A-Guest opines that latinization is the same as switching to Cyrillic many years ago – both have political or economic reasons, having less relation to linguistic advantage or disadvantage. At the same time he says latinization is the only hope to keep distance from Russian influence.

Ataman_Rakin says Russian influence is critical in Kazakhstan – over a third of Kazakhstan's population are ethnic Russian, and many more Kazakhs are assimilated into russianness, while many urban Kazakhs have de facto Russian as their mother tongue. He also supports the idea, suggesting that latinization of the Kazakh could benefit/strengthen the Kazakh identity and the Kazakhs as a nation in general.

But the opinions inside the country are very skeptical:

Adam, keeping in mind his concerns, suspects that the plan is deliberately sabotaged either in order to steal the money, or to discredit the idea, or the sum of all listed above. Aslili warns that it’s no good playing games with the language: “People can learn anything, but blunt copying of models can be dangerous”. Cheerful-Husky thinks that change of graphics is a crime against the nation’s history – although before introduction of Cyrillic in 1940, the Kazakhs had Latin script. Pacifisttt is adverse, saying that latinization can be a vain time and money spending, plus mess –all due to sublimation of the national inferiority complex.

Aitazhi is more concerned not with the political or other reasoning for this step, but with the overall situation in Kazakhstan’s science and education: “Kazakh-style “lingua-globalization” will aggravate the problems around education, literature, translations and terminology. Who will be doing it, if we are still having such poorly written textbooks and dictionaries?” M-kaa agrees: “It’s not a priority today. It’s bad time for jingoism or globalism – there are lot’s of much more important tasks. Just look at insane textbooks that are published now in Kazakhstan”.

Izumcheg disagrees: “I want it Latin. Users of mobile communicators are not able to use Kazakh, because there is no space for 42 letters! You say – it’s wrong time, and the money will be stolen. But when the time will come? When the money will be safe? This time may never come – and the Kazakhs will remain on the roadside of technological progress”. He also made a wise conclusion to the discussion:

“Everyone who is interested – write about it. In blogs, in newspapers, in university theses. Each of us represents a voice, an opinion – the decision is being made here, near us. The officials read Internet and newspapers. What is really necessary – is showing interest and expressing opinions. Then there will be more chances that the process will go in the right direction”.

Amazingly, a couple of days after this discussion took place in the blogosphere, a news item arrived from Turkey, where president Nursultan Nazarbayev was on the official visit. Adam jokingly reacts on the report: “Mr. President has, probably, carefully studied the Kazakhstani bloggers’ views, and announced that he suggests not to hurry with latinization of language”.

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