In his article «Course towards the future: modernization of Kazakhstan’s identity», President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that the Cyrillic alphabet would be abandoned in favor of a new script based on the Latin alphabet. This, he noted, «is not only the fulfillment of the dreams of our ancestors, but also the way to the future for younger generations». Here it should be clarified what is meant by «the way to the future for younger generations».
The Kazakh leader’s point is that Latin is the alphabet of all the developed countries in the world, the transition to the Latin alphabet will help promote the development of the country’s economy.
It turns out, that his move regarding the language reform partly relates to modern technology. Nursultan Nazarbayev also states that all those young people «who study English, are already used to Latin letters, and they will not have problems».
As in many newly independent post-Soviet republics struggling to create a sense of national identity after gaining independence from Moscow, the language issue in Kazakhstan was a sensitive one. A lot of people here, including ethnic Kazakhs, do not know or have insufficient knowledge of the state language. But on the other hand, the wide-scale implementation of the teaching Kazakh to speakers of other languages contributes substantially to improving that situation.
Over the years since Kazakhstan’s independence, the number of those representatives from non-indigenous groups, that have mastered the state language, has steadily been growing, especially among young persons from non-Kazakh-speaking backgrounds. This contrasts starkly with the reality of the Soviet epoch. Back then, few non-Kazakhs could fluently speak Kazakh, because they didn’t see the need for special efforts to thoroughly acknowledge the national history and language of Kazakhstan. Such a need has developed since the break-up of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The constitutional law of 16 December 1991 on national independence proclaimed the national independence of Kazakhstan. A lot has changed since then.
New times and new challenges need new responses. Now, the language reform is on the agenda. This requires that its authors proceed with the utmost care, searching relentlessly for consensus. Anyway, changing the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style is to be completed by 2025. And, as stated by Nursultan Nazarbayev in the above-mentioned article, it is necessary to start now in order to complete this task in time.
This move has prompted a strong public reaction, both in Kazakhstan and abroad, mainly in Russia. It should be noted at the outset that not all of the comments are positive. According to some Russian observers, this language reform means trying to get close to Turkey. And there are those who do not share such a view.
Kommersant.ru, in an article by Kirill Krivosheyev and Alexander Konstantinov entitled «Из Казахстана в Kazakhstan» – «From Казахстан to Kazakhstan» and published on 12 April 2017, quoted Arkady Dubnov, a Russian political analyst and expert on Central Asia, as saying: «It doesn’t try to get close to Turkey. I think it’s a matter of internal politics. This step will allow the president to obtain support from that part of the Kazakh population that wants to separate from the ‘Russian world’ and values national identity».
For reference: The Kazakh language had been written in Arabic script (what is often called «Totenshe Zhazu») until the 1920s when the Soviet Union briefly introduced a Latin alphabet. This was later replaced by a Cyrillic one in 1940, based on the Russian alphabet.
The Latin alphabetic writing system appeared in the 7th century BC in Magna Grecia (south of present-day Italy) from the western variant of the Greek alphabet. Currently, it is used by more than 2.5 billion people around the globe. Two newly independent Turkic-speaking republics, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, as well as Romanian-speaking Moldova officially adopted Latin alphabets for their languages. Kyrgyzstan and Iranian-speaking Tajikistan kept the Cyrillic alphabet, chiefly due to their close ties with Russia.