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A New Era for the Kazakh Language

A New Era for the Kazakh Language
Фото: ©El.kz/Артем ЧУРСИНОВ 27.05.2024 14:32 2489

The Head of State, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, at the 33rd Session of the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan “Unity. Creation. Progress,” expressed confidence that the Kazakh language will become the language of inter-ethnic communication. In recent years, the state has done significant work in developing the Kazakh language, and large-scale projects are being implemented in this direction.

“For many countries, the language issue has been a topical one. Historical experience shows that its successful resolution largely predetermines the stability of the socio-political situation in a country. Kazakhstan is no exception.

We must show strategic restraint and tolerance in this extremely sensitive area, taking into account external and internal factors. However, this does not exclude but rather necessitates increased attention to the comprehensive development of the state language, which, I am sure, will in time become the language of inter-ethnic communication.

In fact, it is gradually happening. Today we will present awards to people who, on their own initiative, have mastered the Kazakh language very well and popularize it in our society. I believe that this is very useful and politically important work,” said Mr. Tokayev.

Last year, the government adopted the Concept of Language Policy Development for 2023-2029. According to this document, by 2029, the share of the population speaking the state language should reach 84 percent. Additionally, 94 percent of document circulation in state bodies and national companies must be conducted in the Kazakh language. The concept also details the shortcomings in the development of the Kazakh language and ways to overcome them. Measures such as the opening of Kazakh language teaching courses, conducting video lessons, and updating the programs of higher educational institutions and further educational organizations are provided. In addition, new dictionaries and handbooks are being published.

However, some people in society are dissatisfied with the work being done on language development policy and criticize it. For example, they claim that the government does not pay enough attention to the Kazakh language and that Russian is given priority over other languages. Furthermore, they misunderstand the status of the Russian language in the Constitution. How valid are such criticisms? Is all this true or not? To what level is the Kazakh language developing?

Let's say right away that the state language in Kazakhstan is Kazakh. This is written in our Constitution. However, in some cases, official documents may be conducted in Russian as well as in Kazakh. Some people, who have taken this at face value, do not hesitate to promote the opinion that the Russian language has the status of an official language in Kazakhstan. But this is completely untrue. It doesn't matter whether you speak the state language or the official language. The main language in Kazakhstan is Kazakh. In some cases, the use of Russian is a remnant of the Soviet era.

Some people, who misunderstood these norms in the Constitution, got the wrong idea that the official language of Kazakhstan is Russian. But officially equal usage and official language are two different concepts. In the first case, any language can be officially used equally. Due to the massive colonization policy and forced teaching of the Russian language under the Soviet government, the majority of the population learned Russian by compulsion. Gradually, the number of people who know our mother tongue decreased. This is also evidenced by statistics. At the time of independence, only 37 percent of Kazakh speakers were in Kazakhstan. Thankfully, now this figure exceeds 80 percent.

For this reason, the official equal use of the Russian language is a historical necessity. Moreover, many legacies from the Soviet Union were mostly written in Russian. It is impossible to change all this in one day. Therefore, attention was paid to the gradual development of the state language through the simultaneous use of two languages.

As for the issue of the official language, right now there is only one language that deserves to be called the official and state language in Kazakhstan: Kazakh. In the near future, if we establish one language as the state language and another as the official language, every citizen should know both Russian and Kazakh fluently. However, there is no such requirement in the country. One can hold various positions without knowing Russian, but the opportunities for a person who does not know Kazakh are limited.

There is one more issue to consider. Kazakhstan prioritizes inter-ethnic peace and harmony. That is why, in addition to promoting the traditions and customs of the titular nation, the diasporas inhabiting the Great Steppe are not neglected. The state ensures that these communities can learn and develop their mother tongues, maintaining a connection to their past. The People's Assembly of Kazakhstan, established about thirty years ago, is at the forefront of this work.

All of the above is the legislative side of language policy. However, the writing of the Constitution is one issue, and the people's ability to learn the language is another. If you look around the world, you will find that many countries have two or more official languages. For example, in Canada, French and English are written into the country's constitution as official languages. Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. Ireland recognizes both Irish and English by law.

There is no language dispute in these states. The reason for this is that they understand well that the main function of language is as a means of communication. Therefore, these societies show an advanced example of mutual agreement. By the way, the official languages of Pakistan are English and Urdu, but most people learn them as a second or third language. Most of them have a different mother tongue.

From here, another problem arises. Since the dawn of mankind, language has been considered a means of communication. Therefore, whoever has the upper hand in the society, his mother tongue is widely used. At the time of independence, there was a large number of different diasporas in Kazakhstan. Add to this the forced teaching of the Russian language by the Soviet government. As a result, the population mainly spoke Russian.

Now the situation has completely changed. The number of Kazakh speakers is increasing day by day. Learning the Kazakh language has become fashionable among young people and among diasporas. All this, of course, is the result of showing strategic restraint and tolerance, as Tokayev said. If the Kazakh language were to be taught forcibly in the near future when our country gained independence, would it have reached the same situation as it is now? Who knows. But looking at the current situation in countries with an aggressive language policy, we see that such an approach will not lead to good results. So, the path of moderation and tolerance chosen by Kazakhstan has proven to be viable and fruitful. The Kazakh language is spreading its wings naturally.

President Tokayev has repeatedly emphasized that the development of the state language will be the main political direction. Apart from that, there are enough negative comments about the Kazakh language. For example, in an interview with "Egemen Kazakhstan" newspaper, he stated that "the Kazakh language is the soul of the Kazakh". Recently, at the meeting of the National Congress, it was pointed out that the demand for the Kazakh language in the country has increased. On the instructions of Tokayev, in the past few years, a large-scale work was carried out on the spread of the Kazakh language.

From here, another problem arises. Since the dawn of mankind, language has been considered a means of communication. Therefore, whoever has the upper hand in society, his mother tongue is widely used. At the time of independence, there were a large number of different diasporas in Kazakhstan. Add to this the forced teaching of the Russian language by the Soviet government. As a result, the population mainly spoke Russian.

Now the situation has completely changed. The number of Kazakh speakers is increasing day by day. Learning the Kazakh language has become fashionable among young people and among diasporas. All this, of course, is the result of showing strategic restraint and tolerance, as Tokayev said. If the Kazakh language had been taught forcibly when our country gained independence, would it have reached the same situation as it is now? Who knows. But looking at the current situation in countries with an aggressive language policy, we see that such an approach does not lead to good results. Thus, the path of moderation and tolerance chosen by Kazakhstan has proven to be viable and fruitful. The Kazakh language is organically flourishing.

President Tokayev has repeatedly emphasized that the development of the state language will be the main political direction. Despite this, there are still enough negative comments about the Kazakh language. For example, in an interview with "Egemen Kazakhstan" newspaper, he stated that "the Kazakh language is the soul of the Kazakh." Recently, at the meeting of the National Congress, it was pointed out that the demand for the Kazakh language in the country has increased. On Tokayev's instructions, large-scale work has been carried out over the past few years to promote the Kazakh language.

The language of science and knowledge

The development of the state language in Kazakhstan should be considered from two perspectives. Firstly, the Government pays special attention to the Kazakh language and implements various programs. Secondly, the scope of the Kazakh language is expanding naturally. However, it is incorrect to separate these two directions, as both are intertwined and contribute to the rapid development of the Kazakh language.

For example, in 2021, a law on advertising language was adopted. According to the document, the texts of data and visual information should adhere to orthographic standards, and "the same original translation of the text" should be used. This legislation aims to curb the incorrect usage of the Kazakh language in advertisements and other visual information. Additionally, all advertising texts must have a version in the state language.

During the National Congress held in Atyrau, Tokayev drew attention to the fact that the Kazakh language has become the language of business, science, and technology. Indeed, we are currently witnessing these industries transitioning to the use of Kazakh. For instance, systematic measures are being taken to strengthen the role of the state language in public life, including initiatives to promote the use of Kazakh in scientific discourse. In 2022, 32 projects in the field of linguistics were implemented through grant funding.

In the past few years, 13 projects aimed at providing information in the state language have been launched. New platforms such as "Tilqural.kz", "Abai.institute", "Tilmedia.kz", "Balatili.kz", "Soyle.kz", "Bala.soyle.kz", "Qazonline", and "Ana tili" are dedicated to independent learning of the Kazakh language. Additionally, electronic resources such as "Termincom.kz", "Emle.kz", "Sozdikqor.kz", "Qazcorpora.kz", "Qazgramma", "Qujat.kz", "Atau.kz", and "Qazlatyn.kz" are available to everyone. All of these projects are aimed at effectively implementing language policy and optimizing the teaching process. The adoption of modern terms is part of language development work, with the State Terminology Commission approving about four thousand terms in the country every year.

Five years ago, Apple officially added the Kazakh language to the new version of the operating system for its products. The American giant did not stop there and, in 2022, introduced the autocorrect function in the iOS16 operating system. It has been a few years since Google added the Kazakh language to its translation system, indicating that artificial intelligence has begun to process Kazakh. Meanwhile, the knowledge of the Kazakh language using artificial intelligence technologies such as ChatGPT is improving day by day. Even the popular 2GIS program in the country now supports Kazakh. In short, there is every reason to believe that the day of the IT industry's dominance in the Kazakh language is not far away.

Harry Potter speaks in Kazakh

An effective and rapid method for language development is through education. Therefore, during the implementation of language policy, special attention is given to increasing Kazakh language content. This includes the translation of scientific collections, business-oriented works, and renowned pieces of world literature. The National Translation Bureau has spearheaded 100 new textbook projects, ensuring that the best works from around the world are made available in libraries nationwide.

Furthermore, the proportion of works in the Kazakh language on the shelves of major bookstores has increased significantly. Large-scale translations of world bestsellers have commenced. For instance, the "Foliant" publishing house translates around a hundred books into Kazakh annually, including works by renowned authors such as Stephen King, Victor Hugo, and Orkhan Pamuk. Additionally, popular titles like John Tolkien's "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" have been translated into Kazakh, while George Martin's book "Blood and Flame" is currently in translation. Steppe & World Publishing has released Joan Rowling's beloved "Harry Potter" series in Kazakh, catering to a wider audience.

Efforts in teaching the Kazakh language are also underway with great intensity. There are 111 state centers (comprising 84 main centers and 27 branches) dedicated to teaching the Kazakh language to adults across the regions. In 2022, three new centers were inaugurated in the Akmola, Atyrau, and Zhambyl regions. According to statistics, 41,325 individuals completed Kazakh language courses in 2022 alone. Since 2011, the cumulative number of individuals who have studied Kazakh through these courses has surpassed 700,000.

The Kazakh language has caught the attention of the media industry

The media industry plays a significant role in language development. As per the current law, television and radio channels are required to allocate broadcast time in the state language that is not less than the total volume of programs in other languages. Recently, the lower House of Parliament, the Majilis, passed the "Mass Media" bill, which mandates an increase in the volume of programs in the national language on national TV and radio stations. Starting from 2025, at least 55 percent of programs should be in the state language, increasing to 60 percent by 2027.

For instance, "Qazaqstan" corporation consistently ranks among the top three television channels nationwide. On April 28, "Qazaqstan" was recognized as the most watched TV channel in the country. Additionally, channels like "Kazsport" and "Balapan" are household staples, broadcasting around the clock. Notably, "Qazaqstan" is the sole channel broadcasting entirely in the state language. Considering that TV ratings are calculated in major cities like Almaty and Astana, it's evident that the audience consuming Kazakh content is increasing even in the bustling metropolises of the Great Steppe.

Furthermore, 83 percent of media content distributed within Kazakhstan is published in the state language. This includes 77 percent of TV channels, 85 percent of printed publications, and 87 percent of Internet resources. With 5,407 registered mass media outlets in the country, only 710 exclusively broadcast in the Kazakh language. However, the number of media representatives working in both Kazakh and Russian totals 1,969. Hence, despite the relatively small number of media outlets exclusively in the state language, the volume of content in Kazakh remains substantial.

There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the Kazakh language is gaining popularity in the film industry. However, there remains a drawback specifically in the realm of dubbing. Unfortunately, Hollywood stars still cannot fully speak Kazakh. Amendments to the Law "On Cinematography" offer three options for translation during distribution: dubbing, subtitling, or off-frame translation.

In 2022, the Ministry of Culture and Sports allocated significant funds for film dubbing. As a result, films like "Avatar: The Way of Water" and "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" were translated into Kazakh. The outcome was promising. "Avatar: The Way of Water" attracted 42 thousand viewers and earned 70 million tenge, with about 26 million tenge spent on dubbing.

However, it's worth noting that some movie theaters schedule screenings too late or too early, citing insufficient viewership for Kazakh-language films. Nevertheless, the number of viewers interested in Kazakh films is steadily increasing. For instance, the film "Dastur," meaning tradition, released in December last year, set a box office record in Kazakhstan, grossing 1 billion tenge. It even surpassed the globally renowned "Aquaman" during that period. This underscores the high demand for products in the Kazakh language.

The Kazakh language is flourishing organically. According to the latest census, the proportion of the Kazakh population has surpassed 70 percent, with over 80 percent proficient in Kazakh. Some surveys even suggest that the number of individuals familiar with the state language has reached 92 percent. Among the diaspora communities in Kazakhstan, Uzbeks lead in mastering the state language, with 72 percent fluent in Kazakh. Additionally, 71 percent of Uyghurs and 63.6 percent of Tajiks are proficient in Kazakh. Remarkably, every fourth German, Russian, and Ukrainian in the country is well-versed in Kazakh. This represents a significant increase compared to the 37 percent who knew Kazakh at the time of independence. Thus, the growing number of the titular nationality naturally leads to a rise in native language speakers.

Furthermore, the era of the Kazakh language is currently flourishing in the realm of show business. Apart from established singers like Kairat Nurtas and Dastan Orazbekov, young talents such as Raim, Kalifarniya, Irina Kairatovna, Miras Zhuginisov, Ayree, Sadraddin, and Kazybek Kurayish have emerged as true hit makers. Their songs resonate not only in Kazakhstan but also in countries worldwide. Among them, Dimash Kudaibergen stands out as a global sensation, with many individuals learning Kazakh in order to sing his songs. Thus, there is ample reason to assert that the state language is "in trend" among young people, exerting a soft influence that contributes to the development and recognition of the Kazakh language.

One notable example is the song "Heart" by singer Faruk Toktamuratov, known by the nickname Adam, which has garnered an impressive 5 billion listens to date. Currently, this track holds the 13th position in the Shazam ranking and has accumulated 56 million views on YouTube. "Heart" has touched the hearts of many and has become a sensation on platforms like TikTok, where it competes with millions of foreign songs. Originating from Zhambyl, Adam previously sang exclusively in Russian, making "Heart" his debut work in Kazakh. With such remarkable achievements, how can one doubt the recognition of the Kazakh language?

Purchasing power parity is increasing

Additionally, the population of the Kazakh-speaking diaspora is on the rise. Particularly with the proliferation of social platforms like TikTok, young individuals residing in various regions of Kazakhstan have gained recognition. Furthermore, Russia's conflict with Ukraine has led to a shift in attitude among members of the ethnic group towards language issues. Consequently, speaking Kazakh has become fashionable.

The business community also places significant emphasis on the state language. There is a prevailing belief among entrepreneurs that a company failing to offer services in Kazakh will face bankruptcy within 6-10 years. Notably, a few years ago, Ramil Mukhoryapov, the founder of the Chocofamily holding, faced consumer backlash and product boycotts due to his negative stance on the Kazakh language. Under societal pressure, Mukhoryapov issued an apology and pledged to rectify his mistake. Given that entrepreneurs prioritize profitability, the prioritization of the state language in business indicates an increase in Kazakh-speaking clientele and their purchasing power.

The aforementioned data clearly illustrate that the spread of the Kazakh language is advancing both organically and with state backing. Any assertion that the authorities neglect the language of Abay and Mukhtar is entirely unfounded. Therefore, those who frequently raise language issues, causing societal rifts, challenge the harmony of the people. Conversely, the language's scope of application expands annually. While language policy does not prohibit discrimination or the use of other languages, every diaspora in Kazakhstan retains the right to speak and preserve its native language. Nevertheless, demographic trends and modern "trends" have made speaking Kazakh fashionable.

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