Kazakhstan no more

Published 6th November 2017
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Kazakhstan no more

Kazakhstan is changing its name, and its alphabet…. Again! The Kazakh President decreed that the language would leave its Cyrillic lifestyle and move to Latin. This isn’t the first time the country and changed their name and alphabet… The question is why? And more important, how easy a transition will this be?


Latin alphabet

The Latin alphabet has fewer letters than the Cyrillic one the country currently has. This means there will need to be some creative combinations to catch the sounds of the Kazakh language. It seems like most alphabets would not be a perfect fit for them. Don’t think I would like to create a new alphabet either! Looks like they will try with the Latin alphabet. The Kazakh version of Cyrillic has nine Kazakh letters as well as 33 Russian letters. The switch to Latin would leave them with 26 letters, so quite a bit change in the alphabet’s capacity!


Kazakh language

Kazakh is a Turk-based language. Its modern history is rather political as well. In the 19th and early 20th century the Kazakh language was written in Arabic. In 1929 when the Soviet Union controlled the area, they switched from Arabic to Latin. 11 years after that then then moved to Cyrillic so the country would be more in line with the rest of the Union. The change to move to Latin is once again a political move as well as to try and modernise the country. Moving away from their Cyrillic alphabet means moving away from the Russian letters…. Moving away from Moscow links. Russian will remain as their second official language, so they won’t be getting rid of Cyrillic from their signs and documents all together.


Former Soviet Republics

Out of the 5 former Soviet Republics in Central Asia, only 2 now remain on Cyrillic. Though this switchover in alphabet isn’t going to be finalised until 2025! Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have currently using the Latin alphabet while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan remain on Cyrillic.


This isn’t the first time that the country and expressed its wish to move away from the Cyrillic alphabet, but this time, it looks like it might just happen. The support needed for the switch wasn’t there before. You can understand the peoples worry. With the change of alphabet means that the name of the country itself will change.

Enter Qazaqstan. Kazakhstan no more.

Although it will sound the same, the spelling is enough to confuse many. Everything will have to change. Expect confusion in the supermarket, let alone in school or government! The main example being thrown around to show how much of a change an alphabet can cause is Carrot. As it stands, the Kazakh word for carrot is “сәбіз”. This is traditionally being spelled “sabeez” in Latin. In new Latin alphabet though, it will end up as “sa’biz”. It’s looking like the new alphabet will have to include a lot of apostrophes to catch all the sounds the language holds. Quite a difference from the original spelling. The change of alphabet will cause mass confusion to everyone.

Luckily the government are aware of this and allowing 7 years to get everything in place before the switchover. So new parents now must now try and figure out how to spell their children’s names. Whether to spell their children’s names in the Cyrillic alphabet then translate it for the switch over, or go straight in to the Latin alphabet when it will be confirmed in the next few months. And we all thought picking a name was hard enough!


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