Kazakhstan To Qazaqstan

(BBC) Kazakhstan to Qazaqstan: Why would a country switch its alphabet?

31 October 2017

The Kazakh language has long been unsure which alphabet to find a comfortable home in and it’s now in for another transition – but this is not without controversy.

Last Friday Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev finally decreed that the language would shed its heavy Cyrillic coat and don what he hopes to be a more fashionable attire: the Latin alphabet.

Is this going to be easy?

No. The Latin alphabet has far fewer letters: There will need to be creative combinations with apostrophes to catch all the sounds needed for the Kazakh language.

Kazakhstan is in an unusual position: None of the alphabets that exist seem like a perfect fit or have a long enough tradition to be the uncontested host for its language.

Kazakh is a Turk-based language and its history is political: Originally it was written in Arabic. Enter the Soviet Union who in 1929 did away with Arabic and introduced Latin – only to 11 years later shift to the Cyrillic alphabet to have the republic more in line with the rest of the USSR.

The Kazakh version of Cyrillic has 33 Russian letters and nine Kazakh ones, while the Latin script only has 26.

The big changeover is to be official by 2025.

Confused by all this talk about letters and characters? Before you get lost in translation, here are a few spellings of the country’s name just to give you an idea:

So why change?

President Nursultan Nazarbayev has given a lengthy explanation: There are many reasons like of modernising Kazakhstan, but also determined by “specific political reasons”.

Political pundits see it as step to weaken the historical ties to Russia: Shedding not only the Russian alphabet, the thinking goes, but also the influence Moscow still likes to exert over its post-Soviet backyard in central Asia.

There are also more immediate practical reasons: The hope is that Latin letters will make it easier to push for modernisation in a global and digital world.

Of the other four Former Soviet Republics in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan still use Cyrillic while Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are using the Latin alphabet.

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