Kazakhstan has announced plans to switch the from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet, its third change in less than 100 years.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev has announced that the government of the former Soviet Republic will appoint a commission to oversee the “gradual transition of the Kazakh alphabet to the Latin-based script until 2025,” Al Jazeera reports.
Kazakh is a Turkic language that was written in Arabic script until the 1920s. In 1929 the Soviet Union replaced the Arabic script with Latin, but 11 years later Latin was replaced with the Cyrillic alphabet, to be “more in line with the rest of the USSR”, the BBC says.
Kazakhstan was a Soviet Republic before it declared its independence in 1991, but Russian is still more widely spoken in the country than Kazakh.
The current Kazakh version of the Cyrillic alphabet has 42 characters, 33 are from the Russian alphabet and nine representing specific Kazakh sounds. The new Latin alphabet has 32 letters, leaving some questioning why Kazakhstan is embarking on the confusing quest.
Why the switch?
Nazarbayev has given many reasons for replacing the alphabet, including creating an alphabet that would work better with modern technology. A Kazakh keyboard takes up nearly all number keys, in addition to the standard letter and punctuation keys. The new alphabet will use apostrophes to modify letters. “The country’s name, for example, would be spelled Qazaqstan Respy’blikasy,” says The Guardian.
It could also be an effort to weaken the country’s historical ties to Russia, adds the paper. It will be the third ex-Soviet nation to switch to the Latin alphabet, after Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.
The new alphabet has also been presented as a way to integrate into the modern world. “Given that over 100 countries in the world use the Latin script, it is crucial for Kazakhstan’s integration into the global educational and economic environment,” Gulnar Karbozova, a lecturer at Auezov South Kazakhstan State University, told Kazinform, as cited by Al Jazeera.
The BBC suggests that the transition won’t be smooth. “The Kazakh word for carrot is ‘сәбіз’ and would traditionally be spelled ‘sabeez’ in Latin,” the broadcaster says. “In the new Latin alphabet though, it will end up as ‘sa’biz’. This, again, is awfully close to the Latin spelling of an extremely rude Russian swear word.”
Twitter users had their own concerns.
Can I get a ruling on how this will impact Scrabble?
— Ingvald Akbar (@ingvald29) October 28, 2017
Most kz people are unhappy with the new latin writing approved by the Government. Illustration of Erden Zykybay, animator & illustrator pic.twitter.com/KH4GXw4ql7
— Women of Kazakhstan (@womenofkz) October 29, 2017
This makes no sense. No need to change the name. “Kazakhstan” looks OK in Latin alphabet too.
— Oskar Jaeger (@OskarJaeger) October 28, 2017
By the end of the year all Latin spellings will be finalised and by the end of 2018 new textbooks and teacher training will be developed.
By 2025 all official paperwork in Kazakhstan will be in the Latin script, but as Russian is still spoken by 85% of the population, signs and official documents will remain bilingual.