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Kazakhs express approval of new Latin-based alphabet

By Kanat Altynbayev

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A picture taken September 25, 2018, shows Kazakh children attending a class at Astana (now Nur-Sultan) School No. 76, one of several pilot schools in the city where a Latin alphabet was undergoing testing. Kazakh has been written in Cyrillic for more than 80 years. [Stanislav Filippov/AFP]

ALMATY -- Efforts to transition the Kazakh alphabet from Russian Cyrillic to Latin script have been well received in Kazakhstan, where orthographic reform is largely seen as positive socioeconomic and political step.

In addition to benefiting the language itself, by helping it to develop, the adoption of the Latin script will align Kazakhstan with the world community more closely, Kazakh citizens said.

In 1929, the Soviet government replaced Arabic-based alphabets in the Soviet Union with Latin versions. The move by the atheistic rulers in Moscow cut off future generations of Central Asians and Azeris from all the texts, including Islamic ones, that their ancestors had known for centuries.

In 1940, it introduced the Cyrillic alphabet, linking these languages ​​to Russian.

A public discussion on the proposed revision of the Kazakh alphabet into Latin script, initiated by the government, took place between April 22 and May 6.

Kazakh Prime Minister Askar Mamin has expressed confidence that the Latin alphabet will become standard.

"The improved version of the alphabet will give new momentum to the development of the Kazakh language and will help overhaul it in accordance with modern trends," Mamin said at a January 28 cabinet meeting.

It will be necessary to conduct preparatory work for the gradual transition to the Latin script, including "an extensive awareness campaign among the public", he noted, with a phased transition to Latin script slated to begin in 2023.

The transition is expected to end by 2031.

'Returning to our historical past'

The Latin alphabet follows the principle of "one sound, one letter", which is similar to the previous written form of Kazakh. The proposed transition has so far met with widespread approval among the Kazakh people.

"This alphabet is best suited to the Kazakh language," said Alua Konysbayeva, a manager and consultant for the Magnum retail chain, adding that she believes Kazakhstan should have switched to the Latin alphabet a long time ago.

"Before the Kazakh language switched to Cyrillic, our grandfathers and grandmothers used the Latin script," she said. "We are returning to our historical past."

Linguist Kanat Tasibekov, who authored the self-study book "Situational Kazakh", also favours the transition to the Latin alphabet.

"This is an obvious necessity, since the study of the Kazakh language is often complicated by its insufficient standardisation in Cyrillic, which causes problems," said Tasibekov, who lives in Almaty.

"For example, it is unclear how to write certain words," he said.

The transition to the Latin alphabet will propel the Kazakh language's development and will allow reform of the language, he said.

"A modern alphabet in Latin script should be convenient and practical so that you can type in Kazakh using a QWERTY keyboard," he said.

Declining Russian influence

Kazakhstan's then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev first voiced the need to give Kazakh a Latin alphabet in 2017.

The government developed dozens of alphabet variants, as well as spelling rules for the Kazakh language and the order of Kazakh letters on the keyboard. It organised open discussions to collect public opinion.

Since 2017, various drafts of the Kazakh alphabet have undergone public discussion. They included digraphs -- a combination of two letters representing one sound -- and apostrophes. All of them received criticism from linguists and the general public and did not pass final muster.

Primary school children will start using the new Kazakh alphabet in Latin script in 2023, Murat Baktiyaruly, a member of the Kazakh senate and the National Alphabet Commission, told the Anadolu news outlet in February.

The transition from Cyrillic to Latin letters is both socioeconomically and politically important, he said, adding that it "will become an important factor in the wide adoption of the Kazakh language among the young".

Orthographic reform has been seen as part of an aspiration to expand Kazakh culture and to further insulate Kazakhstan from Russian influence.

Moving away from Cyrillic is a natural attempt to build a society where Kazakh values dominate, said Aydos Sarym, a member of the lower house of parliament (Mazhilis).

"Russia's influence is becoming a thing of the past," said Nur-Sultan resident Sarym.

"We see that the new generation of Kazakhs speaks Kazakh," Sarym added. "It has a higher level of ethnic self-identification than the older generation that grew up in Soviet times."

Current trends in Kazakhstan irritate Russia, he said, since its cultural influence in the Central Asian republic continues to decline.

After gaining independence in 1991, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan made Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen and Uzbek their respective state languages.

The next step was to gradually abandon the Cyrillic alphabet and replace it with a Latin alphabet. In 1993, Uzbekistan began its long transition to Latin script, which is expected to end by 2023. Turkmenistan switched to Latin in 1991.

Cyrillic is still used in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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Good bye, Cyrillic )))

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Latin script is cool.

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