Next on the Menu for Kazakh Diners: Alphabet Soup

Next on the Menu for Kazakh Diners: Alphabet Soup

Nation’s leader revives a pet project to modernize the alphabet, and with it, Kazakh national identity.

Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbaev has dismissed fears that swapping Cyrillic for Latin letters would turn many Kazakhs illiterate.

Nazarbaev on Wednesday laid out a timetable for the switch from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet in a newspaper article and asked the government to prepare the first stage of the transition by the end of this year, Deutsche Welle reports.

Saying the nation used Cyrillic as the result of a “political” decision, the long-serving leader noted that Latin had been used from 1929 until 1940.

Nazarbaev’s plan involves designing a new Latinized script for the Kazakh language. Nazarbaev wants the new script to have completely replaced Cyrillic by 2025, according to Newsweek.

One question is how the change would affect the large Russian minority. Russian is still an official language in the country along with Kazakh. They might not be too concerned, though, seeing that Latinization has been a talking point ever since Kazakhstan split from the Soviet Union.

In 2007, a feasibility study ordered by Nazarbaev proposed to phase in a new alphabet over a 12- to 15-year period.

“Switching the Kazakh alphabet to Latin means for Kazakhs changing the Soviet (colonial) identity, which still largely dominates the national consciousness, to a sovereign (Kazakh) identity,” the study stated.

Like other Turkic-speaking nations in the Soviet empire, taking their cue from Turkey itself, Kazakhstan was an early adopter of the Latin alphabet after abandoning the Arabic one in the early 20th century.

Next on the Menu for Kazakh Diners: Alphabet Soup

Kazakh Arabic and Latin script in 1924. Public domain image.

Uzbekistan has also toyed with the notion of Latinizing its alphabet, going so far as to begin using it in schoolbooks back in 1995, but several deadlines for replacing Cyrillic have come and gone, recently wrote.

The high cost, and the problems that could result for the millions of Uzbeks who work in Russia, are the main arguments against the move.

  • Azerbaijan embraced the Latin alphabet right after leaving the Soviet Union and Cyrillic is rarely used now, EurasiaNet says.
  • The Turkmenistani parliament voted to adopt a modified Latin alphabet in 1993. A biography of President Saparmurat Niyazov was the first book in Turkmen published using the new script.
  • A Kyrgyzstani parliamentarian today proposed following Kazakhstan’s lead, but at a slower pace. Kanybek Imanaliyev said the country could adopt the Latin alphabet by 2030 or 2040, AKIpress reports.

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer