Repatriates Assembly

A transition into the Latin script is a modern requirement

The main issues of shifting Kazakh alphabet to the Latin graphics

As it was mentioned in the Message of Elbasy, Kazakhstanis in 2050 must be the generation of educated and independent people who speak in three languages. A young Kazakh nation has a powerful potential, our youth is not inferior to anyone in the world in terms of development and education. This can be related to the various International Olympiads, competitions in which our schoolchildren and students win the prizes. Due to that, the transition to the Latin script is one of the significant steps in the progress of state language.

“The responsible language policy is one of the main consolidating factors of the Kazakh nation”, the First President said in His Message. An idea of Romanization was the first to be picked up by linguistic scientists, because by the virtue of their profession, like no one else, they understand the importance and necessity of reforming the alphabet in the era of the revival of the Kazakh language, the spread of information technologies and globalization.

At the moment, there are already many projects dedicated to the new alphabet. After exploring and generalizing the available options, the last word should be interpreted by the scientists of linguistics and philologists. Due to that, a complete and responsible step should involve the linguistic scientists in phonetics, phonology, spelling and orthoepy.

The reform on the alphabet has a great practical importance. It is much easier for the first grader to learn 26 Latin letters compare to 42 Cyrillic letters. As a result of the development of the phonological system in European languages, there are much more phonemes than graphemes. For example, in French language there are 35 phonemes, in English only 45. These numerous phonemes are conveyed by only 26 Latin letters. Also, in Kazakh language, there are 28 primordial phoneme sounds are transmitted by as many as 42 letters. Therefore, it is much more difficult for our little compatriot to learn Kazakh than learning English or French for the little European.

Other than this, an academic writing of Kazakh language had been proposed by the founder of Kazakh linguistics, Akhmet Baitursynov. According to the law of harmony, the Kazakh words can be pronounced in a hard or soft way. For the soft pronunciation of words, the scientist used a special sign, called “Apostrophe”, that was placed at the beginning of the whole word.

The first professor of Kazakh philology, Kudaibergen Zhubanov, also wrote about the need to reduce the letters in the Kazakh language. In 1935, he prepared a draft of changes in the spelling and script of the Kazakh language based on the Latin graphics, in which it was proposed to decrease the number of letters by doubled vowel designations, as well as by separately designating hard and soft varieties of sounds. As you can see, the ideas expressed by our scientists more than half a century ago have not lost their relevance until this day.

In order to summarize the script, the qualified linguists have shared their thoughts on the lively discussion of the Kazakh script based on the Latin alphabet. The difficulty of the transition to the Latin alphabet is that the current alphabet we use is not the original Kazakh alphabet, because it came from Russian language. As it should be, it covers the same three issues on reform, sound, alphabet and spelling rules. In order to find the answers for these issues and investigate the transition of Kazakh alphabet into the Latin script, we have interviewed the Professor of Eurasian National University named after L.N. Gumilyov, the Candidate of Philological Sciences, Sarekenova Karlygash Kurmangalikyzy.


– Were the experiences of Turkic-speaking Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey taken into account when making a concrete decision to switch into the Latin alphabet?

– An experience of Turkic-speaking Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey was taken into account when making a concrete decision on the transition to the Latin graphics. The specialists of the Institute of Linguistics named after Akhmet Baitursynov and the National Research and Practice Center “Til-Kazyna” named after Sh.Shayakhmetov have repeatedly visited these Turkic-speaking countries and exchanged the experiences. Since then, many international online seminars have been held there. These seminars were also attended by journalists from these fraternal countries, who made the presentations, shared their experiences on the transition to the Latin alphabet and made specific recommendations. All these suggestions are taken into account when compiling the alphabet.

Relying on the experience of those countries, for example in Uzbekistan, an Arabic alphabet had been used by the Uzbek language until 1928. From 1928 to 1940, the inscriptions were based on the Latin caption. During 1940-1992, they had been using the Cyrillic alphabet. In 1993, the Uzbek language was converted to Latin and it is still used today. The peculiarity of the Uzbek Latin language is the lack of special symbols and diacritical marks (only apostrophes).

On the other hand, it is the unification of the Turkish world and Kazakhstan. The fact that the writing of countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan is the same and beneficial for our country. Of course, there are difficulties. Although we are approaching the thirtieth anniversary of independence, there are cases when Kazakh schools and universities are not provided with many textbooks. And tomorrow, even on the day of the change of writing, it will be very difficult to translate the textbooks in one day and fiction of primary school, high school and later universities written in modern Latin.

– Will the transition into Latin affect the Kazakh language, which has not achieved the status of the state language yet, specified in the Constitution?

– I would say that this issue is related to the politics and social sciences. Of course, we believe that the transition to the Latin alphabet will increase the status of the state language, if the state has the right language policy.

The contradictory textbooks and scientific works on the Kazakh language are published until today. It hinders the development of the state language as well. All this indicates the need for new reforms in writing of the Kazakh language. It is obvious that the reform should be based on the sound system of the Kazakh language, with the transition to the Latin alphabet, that will allow an easy use of information technology and their effective creation. During the implementation of the reform it is necessary to identify a new spelling, orthographic, morphological and syntactic rules of the Kazakh language, in order to develop technologies for its computer processing and prepare the textbooks for all levels of education.

Concerning the fact that our language is becoming more and more obscure, today's intellectuals and the public supported the initiative of the President and considered it a very positive decision. In general, the linguists have long said that along with the introduction of the Latin alphabet, a number of reforms are needed in the Kazakh language. The phonetic scholars, former citizens of Alash, people of Abai's time would say that it would not be easy to understand us, if they were resurrected too. It is scientifically proven that the Cyrillic alphabet, that has a different nature, changes the Kazakh sound, speech, acoustics, speech, language and jaw, and thus, the shape of the face. The phonetic scholars often said that the nature of the Kazakh language acknowledges the economy, but, the law of synharmonism is violated now. It turns out that even if there are 42 letters in the Cyrillic alphabet, the Kazakh pronunciation of words can not be realized fully.


– How can the transition of Kazakh language into the Latin alphabet be perceived by other nationalities in a multinational state?

– I think this is also a political issue. As a citizen of this state, it must be properly accepted under constitutional law.

– What should be done to switch into the Latin alphabet fully? Is the infrastructure ready?

– There is a special state plan for the full transition into the Latin alphabet. The plan is provided for the phased transition, that also takes into account the infrastructure.

Kazakhstan has a very strong philological and linguistic school, we have the infrastructure, and the majority of the population is ready for it. English is very popular in Kazakhstan: even, the British TV series “Sherlock Holmes” is shown in the original version on the Kazakh TV channel, with English and Kazakh subtitles. You see, we have raised a whole generation that wants to get closer to the European (in a positive sense) values over the past 30 years.

– Will the new Latin script eliminate the Cyrillic alphabet?

– I think that the introduced Latin alphabet, if it is convenient to read and write, can eliminate the use of the Cyrillic script.

You know, we gained independence about 30 years ago, and all these years have passed by, and the whole generation, who do not know what communism is and who Brezhnev is, is growing up today. So, if this is a strategically correct decision, I don't think it will be difficult for people. Yes, there will be some inconvenience, but the Cyrillic alphabet will disappear gradually.


– Is it possible to use the Cyrillic alphabet widely, despite the introduced standards?

– It is planned that the state will eventually implement the transition into the Latin graphics. According to this plan, if everyone does their job properly, there will be no need to use the Cyrillic alphabet after the full transition to the Latin alphabet.

For some time, the Cyrillic alphabet will be accompanied by the Latin script. And, I think the older generation still lives in the Cyrillic alphabet. After all, many books, publications, and magazines are written in Cyrillic.

– How close is this Latin alphabet to the Turkish version of the Latin alphabet?

– Turkey is one of the longest-running Turkic-speaking countries in the Latin alphabet. The Turkish version of the Latin alphabet is also a well-established, time-tested graphics. Therefore, the Kazakh alphabet with Latin script is very close to the Turkish version.

But, it is no exaggeration here. Turkish (even if we are all Turkic-speaking) should not be associated with Kazakh. Therefore, this is not a guide for us. Giving the modern reality and Latin alphabet adapted to it, the fulcrum is our Kazakh language.

– How do you think in general, is this decision political or just linguistic?

– In general, the theory of the alphabet is a matter of linguistics, and the implementation of the alphabet is a policy.

Besides that, writing and changing the alphabet is a matter of great political significance. On the other hand, it is not just a policy, it is a necessary condition for solving the linguistic problems of language purely. First of all, in order to carry out the decolonization process correctly, it is very important to change the alphabet. What we are saying is that our spelling, rules, and symbols in many languages ​​are derived from the Cyrillic alphabet. Due to the fact that it was taken in the Soviet period, we have left in our language the superfluous symbols that do not mark the original sounds of the Kazakh language. In these words, if we say that we write in accordance with the Kazakh sound system now, the style of pronunciation, people who have used the old Cyrillic alphabet will not accept it.

– In general, what are the benefits of switching to the Latin alphabet?

– The Kazakh language is our spiritual basis. We should begin to translate our alphabet into the Latin alphabet by 2025. This is a fundamental issue that must be addressed as a nation. We took this step in the relief of history. We need to make this decision for the future of our children, and it will allow us to get along with the world, and gives the opportunity for our children to master English and the Internet, and most importantly – to modernize the Kazakh language.

In case of transitioning to Latin, when the words are written in the new Latin alphabet, everyone will accept it again. As a new word, the eye learns to accept the spelling as a spelling norm. This is especially necessary for the nature of the language, to ensure the correct spelling and pronunciation of superfluous sounds, words in the language. There are some advantages and disadvantages in transitioning process. On the positive side, we need to preserve our linguistic identity, global integration, and increase our access to information. There is no doubt that the Latin alphabet, like English language, is the most widely used alphabet in the world. In this way, we will be able to get more information in the field of science and education in the modern Internet, and our young people will have the chance to get to know, read faster and accept the information.

(The pictures were taken from open sources)