Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

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Stefan
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Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby Stefan » Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:48 am

"By the end of 2017, after consultation with academics and representatives of the public, a single standard for the new Kazakh alphabet and script should be developed. From 2018, (Kazakhstan) must train specialists to teach the new alphabet and produce textbooks for secondary schools." Nazarbayev wrote in the Kazakh-language paper. Nazarbayev has said in the past that the country should switch to the Latin alphabet by 2025.

Source: The Straits Times

According to Wikipedia, they began looking at this in 2007 but I can't find much information about the reasons behind it. Is it just about modernisation or are there political reasons such as trying to detach themselves from Russia/Soviet? I want to avoid a political discussion but I'm interested in the change. Is it a general trend? According to a comment on Quora, Kazakhstan is simply following in the footsteps of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

Here's a simplified but interesting world map of writing systems:

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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby Xenops » Thu Apr 13, 2017 6:24 pm

Turkey's change from Arabic to Latin letters makes sense, because it's a vowel-heavy language (and Arabic is not). I'm not sure why the change from Cyrillic to Latin, though.

Another question: what was the reasoning behind making Cyrillic? Does it fit Russian better than the Greek alphabet?
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby DaveBee » Thu Apr 13, 2017 6:42 pm

Xenops wrote:
Another question: what was the reasoning behind making Cyrillic? Does it fit Russian better than the Greek alphabet?
According to wikipedia it included greek letters.
...is derived from the Greek uncial script letters, augmented by ligatures and consonants from the older Glagolitic alphabet for sounds not found in Greek.

In the early 18th century the Cyrillic script used in Russia was heavily reformed by Peter the Great, who had recently returned from his Grand Embassy in western Europe. The new form of letters became closer to the Latin alphabet, several archaic letters were removed
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby vonPeterhof » Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:01 pm

The report by Kazakhstan's Ministry of Education and Science from 2007 did mention other reasons beside modernization - forging a national identity, marking a clear break with the colonial identity, improving the phonological representation of the language by the orthography, etc. (original report in Russian here). However, the eventual switch to the Latin script only became official government policy in 2012, when President Nazarbayev proclaimed the Strategy "Kazakhstan-2050", and his proclamation mainly focuses on the modernization arguments:
From 2025 we need to modernise our language to use Latin fonts and a Latin alphabet. We make this decision for the sake of the future of our children – it is necessary for Kazakhstan to enjoy full global integration. This will enable our children to have a better understanding of the English language, the internet and reinforce our desire to modernise the Kazakh language.
We should modernise the Kazakh language. It is necessary to make the language modern, to allow agreement on issues of terminology, permanently resolving the issues that come from translating foreign words into Kazakh language. These issues should not be resolved by disparate individuals – the Government should resolve this.


Even if politically and culturally distancing Kazakhstan from Russia was a factor, Nazarbayev won't stress this, at least for now. He has spent much of his tenure in power carefully balancing between the interests of Russia, China and the West, and positioning himself as a guarantor of inter-ethnic harmony within the country. Nevertheless, this action will likely be viewed with suspicion in Russia, especially in the larger context of increasing tensions since 2014 (not to mention somewhat similar processes seemingly happening in Belarus). On the other hand, Turkey will likely welcome this development, since they've been softly pushing for Latinization ever since the Turkic nations of the former USSR got their independence.

It should be noted that there is a generally workable Kazakh Latin script currently used by Kazakhstan's official news agency (and the Kazakh Wikipedia has seen a peaceful coexistence of three scripts for years). There's probably still some questions left to resolve before they fully standardize it, like the treatment of loanwords and foreign proper names, but otherwise the groundwork has largely been laid.

I'd hesitate to call this a general trend, mostly because the process of Latinization has so far lead to very different results in the Turkic countries where it's been implemented. Azerbaijan, likely due to its geographic, linguistic and cultural closeness to Turkey, initiated the process early on and has for all intents and purposes finalized it, with a alphabet highly compatible with the Turkish one yet reflective of local distinctive features. On the other hand, both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan hesitated for some time, ended up diverging from the models proposed by Turkey and still face a situation of parallel coexistence of two scripts with most people having clear preferences for one or the other. Politically both of these countries' leaders have been somewhat isolationist and therefore have expressed even less enthusiasm for Pan-Turkic initiatives than Kazakhstan, so it's hard to see their switch to Latin alphabets as a restoration of historical ties, the way the Azerbaijani switch has been portrayed. Detractors see those scripts less as modernization efforts and more as personal pet projects of the respective leaders (probably the reason why Uzbek-language opposition and foreign media tend to default to Cyrillic). But then, it's not too late for Nazarbayev to introduce similar changes to the Turkish-based script and to create something similar to the Turkmen and Uzbek systems.
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby vonPeterhof » Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:13 pm

Xenops wrote:Turkey's change from Arabic to Latin letters makes sense, because it's a vowel-heavy language (and Arabic is not).
It should be noted that the very first orthographic reform that the Turkic languages of the former Russian Empire underwent wasn't a switch to Latin or Cyrillic alphabets, but a simplification of their Arabic scripts to make them more reflective of the languages' phonologies. This included their transformation into full-vowel alphabets. These scripts survive in official use in China for Uyghur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz. There isn't a one-to-one match between the Kazakh Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets, but the correspondences are straightforward enough to automatically convert from one to the other, which is exactly what the Kazakh Wikipedia does. Just because vowels are scarce in Arabic doesn't mean that an Arabic-based script has to be that way.
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby PfifltriggPi » Thu Apr 13, 2017 11:32 pm

:( I think it is sad to see Cyrillic shrinking.

I don't speak Kazakh, but Cyrillic's vowels seem to fit how Kazakh works decently well. If they used Latin they would have to have that dotless I thing like Turkish as well as a bunch of other Turkic letters, which in all honesty seems like about as much of a bother as having their special Turkic Cyrillic letters. I don't know too much about this, but I agree with vonPeterhof that the other moves towards Latinization seem to be more simply for the sake of being different (or sticking the tongue out at Russia) and I am happy to learn that Cyrillic is still used there.

Sorry if this got too political. :oops:
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby Chung » Fri Apr 14, 2017 5:10 am

PfifltriggPi wrote::( I think it is sad to see Cyrillic shrinking.

I don't speak Kazakh, but Cyrillic's vowels seem to fit how Kazakh works decently well. If they used Latin they would have to have that dotless I thing like Turkish as well as a bunch of other Turkic letters, which in all honesty seems like about as much of a bother as having their special Turkic Cyrillic letters. I don't know too much about this, but I agree with vonPeterhof that the other moves towards Latinization seem to be more simply for the sake of being different (or sticking the tongue out at Russia) and I am happy to learn that Cyrillic is still used there.

Sorry if this got too political. :oops:


With all due respect, how can you post that Cyrillic vowels "seem to fit how Kazakh works decently well" after having admitted that you don't speak Kazakh? Did you want give the impression that you don't quite know what you're talking about?

Raising Cyrillic over Latinic (or vice-versa) to represent a language's sound is about as absurd as believing that the balance in your bank account is more accurately represented in rubles and kopecks rather than dollars and cents (or vice-versa) without realizing how phonemic (and accessible) the convention is in practice. Serbs and Montenegrins have used Latinic and Cyrillic to express their native language in print without batting an eye.

The key for me (and a lot of learners, I suspect) when it comes to script is if the correspondence between a sound and a grapheme is nearly one-to-one, if not one-to-one, then the writing system in question can work very well and be less demanding on the user to figure out the pronunciation. The modern Turkish script works fine, regardless of your feelings about І/ı, because it's highly phonemic. If Atatürk had devised a Cyrillic script for Turkish that would have been just as phonemic as the Latinic one, I'd take to that just as well (either convention would be an improvement on the Perso-Arabic-based script of Ottoman Turkish which among other problems let one symbol represent several sounds and inconsistently marked vowels).

See this thread for slightly related discussion on using Cyrillic or Latin script. Hell, I've just rehashed my views from that old thread...
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby PeterMollenburg » Fri Apr 14, 2017 7:06 am

I suspect that, whatever reasons have been given- even if they sound totally logical, are not the real reason, or at least only part of the story. Leaders are finely polished and presented to the public via a public relations machine for a reason. Imo this is a likely step towards further acceptance of the spread of the global language. The more various cultures align, however small the steps appear, the easier it is to get everyone on the same page. Leaders are not representing our interests, that ought to be kept in mind.
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Re: Kazakhstan sets timeline for switch from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet

Postby vonPeterhof » Fri Apr 14, 2017 8:14 am

PeterMollenburg wrote:I suspect that, whatever reasons have been given- even if they sound totally logical, are not the real reason, or at least only part of the story. [...] Imo this is a likely step towards further acceptance of the spread of the global language.

See the quote from Nazarbayev's address in my first post; he's not exactly making a secret of it. There's also this bit a few paragraphs later:
Nowadays we take active measures to create the conditions for our children to learn Russian and English equally with the Kazakh language.
This three language policy should be encouraged on a State level.
We should treat Russian language and Cyrillic writing in the same careful way we do Kazakh. We appreciate that knowing the Russian language provided a historic advantage to our nation.
No one can ignore the fact that for centuries, because of the Russian language, Kazakh citizens have gained additional knowledge, expanded their world view and been able to better communicate both domestically and abroad.
We should work towards a similar breakthrough in learning the English language. Being able to communicate in the language of the modern world will reveal new and unlimited opportunities for each citizen of our country.
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