Kazakhs to return to the Latin alphabet, abandoning Cyrillic by 2023
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The decision of the Ministry of Education risks implosion of literacy in the country and could result in a generational rift. After the fall of the Soviet empire there was a cultural impoverishment of the Central Asian republics. Latinization could lead to a rapprochement with Turkey and other neighbouring countries, but also create confusion.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - By 2023, Kazakhstan will return to the Latin alphabet, renouncing the Cyrillic language now used also for the Kazakh language, as well as for the Russian one which is still dominant.

The decision was made public by the education ministry on April 16. The choice, however, risks an implosion in literacy levels in the country as well as provoking a generational rift.

In European civilization there are two basic models of writing, the Roman-Germanic and the Anglo-Saxon one. Both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, with the countries connected to it, have always adhered to the former, to which the Cyrillic alphabet also refers. After the collapse of the USSR, the various post-Soviet republics, especially in Central Asia, lost many ideological and political foundations, and there was also a collapse of social and civil models, with an exchange between the models of writing and expression.

The discussion in Kazakh society has been going on for several years, and in view of 2023 the full transcription of the Kazakh language into the Latin alphabet is being prepared. The decision is not very popular, and is considered a whim of the elites; the transformation, proposed since 2012, began in 2017, at the behest of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

The renunciation of Cyrillic brings with it a significant number of complications and contradictions, starting with the educational level of the majority of the population, largely linked to the Russian language and the Cyrillic alphabet. The new generations are destined to cross a chasm that will separate them from the previous generations, but also with those immediately preceding them. There will also be considerable distances between the country's ethnic groups, adding the alphabetic difference to the linguistic one.

Even citizens who today express themselves mainly in the Kazakh language will have great difficulty in recognizing it in the Latinized variant, which they will not be able to read or understand, as the pronunciation rules in the two alphabets are very different. Not to mention a factor that is very common to younger generations around the world today, namely an ever increasing distance from the printed word.

Although the season of Communist totalitarianism is criticized, and with obvious reasons, it cannot be denied that under the Soviet Union there was a great diffusion of printed texts, books and magazines, even in the national languages ​​of the 15 republics of the Union. The current ex-Soviet countries would have neither the means nor the strength to continue or renew mass publishing policies, and private individuals have no interest in this. So future generations are condemned to read less and less, and only what is decided for publishing for political convenience by the holders of political and economic power.

A further problem concerns the very structure of the Kazakh language, as well as of other languages ​​of the countries of the region, but also of the more western ones of the ex-Soviet empire, such as Moldovan or Belarusian: they are often spoken languages, with poor definition literary. Precisely in the period of the pandemic there was a general problem in expressing scientific theories and definitions in the local language, always ending up resorting to Russian, and at certain levels to English. How to develop medicine in the Kazakh language? So far there is no answer.


Not to mention the enormous problem of the staff of teachers, at all school levels, to prepare which will take at least another decade. Many also consider the risk of flooding the national language with Anglicanisms, or in any case with expressions not coming from the national culture, which today also lacks writers and exponents capable of establishing themselves at the popular level.

In the past, in the history of Kazakhstan there were already the runic alphabet and the Arabic script, and even the Latin letters between 1929 and 1940. Moreover. Kazakhs live not only in their homeland, but also in other countries, such as for example in Mongolia, where the Cyrillic alphabet is still used.

 Latinization could lead to a rapprochement with Turkey and other neighbouring countries that use this form of writing, but the risk of confusion is very great, and could lead to the crisis of the Kazakh national identity. In the past 30 years, none of the ex-Soviet countries which have completely rejected Russian and the Cyrillic script, have gained real benefits from these choices.

In the photo: an inscription of Russian words ("summer terrace") in Latin letters.