Kazakhstan Prepares New Document to Boost Development and Prevalence of Kazakh Language

ASTANA – The Kazakh Ministry of Science and Higher Education has developed a draft concept for language policy development for 2023-2029 that addresses priorities, the future outlook, and measures to boost the development of the Kazakh language. The draft, published on the Open Legal Acts website, is available for public discussion until April 25. 

Kazakh dictionary. Photo credit: total.kz

The Kazakh people have increasingly embraced the Kazakh language and identity in the past decade. In parallel, the government has made efforts to promote the use of the Kazakh language in all areas of public life, including government, media, and business. 

According to the 2021 National Population Census, Kazakhs make up 70.4 percent of the 19 million people in Kazakhstan, making it the largest ethnic group in the country. 

“This demographic reality requires intensive work related to the expansion of the scope of the Kazakh language,” reads the document. 

The number of Kazakh speakers is also growing. The census shows that over 13 million people, or 80 percent of the population aged five years and older, speak the state language, and almost half of them speak it daily. 

“It shows the majority of the population understands spoken Kazakh, reads and writes fluently,” reads the document. 

Among other nationalities, 72 percent of Uzbeks, 71.7 percent of Uighurs, and 58.5 percent of Kyrgyz have a good spoken command of Kazakh, while 12 percent have an advanced level.

Among the citizens of Slavic origin, the percentage of people who understand spoken Kazakh varies between 22-25 percent. The share of those who read and write professionally in the Kazakh language is 2.9 percent.

By 2029, the share of the Kazakh-speaking population in Kazakhstan should reach 84 percent, and the share of the population speaking three languages (Kazakh, Russian, English) should reach 32 percent. 

The transition of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin has long been on the national agenda. The table is one of the latest 2020 versions of how the new alphabet might look. Photo credit: egov.kz

Within Kazakhstan, language proficiency level differs between regions. In the southern and western regions, in particular, many people know the Kazakh language and use it in everyday life.

Russian is predominantly spoken in the northern, central, and eastern regions, where the majority of Kazakhstan’s Slavic ethnic groups live. 

In the Constitution of Kazakhstan, Russian has the status of an official language. For decades it has also been a language of communication or lingua franca between the post-Soviet countries.

According to the concept, in this context of bilingualism, an algorithm for language policy will be developed, taking into account the demographics of each region.

Despite the fact that the Law On Languages states that the state language (Kazakh) is the language of state administration, legislation, legal procedure, and record-keeping, used in all spheres of public communication across the country, public affairs in Kazakhstan are mainly conducted in Russian.

While documents in the public administration sphere are usually translated into Kazakh, the use of the state language in public administration is limited. The main law-making language in the country is also Russian.

Significantly, the popularity of the English language is also on the rise. Kazakh citizens consider it important to master English.

Main principles and approaches to language policy development

The draft concept encourages exploring ways to promote the Kazakh language, an integral and enriching part of identity that keeps it alive and thriving.

The aim is to establish modern approaches to counter the challenges the Kazakh language faces today.

“A harmonious language policy should be implemented and aimed at modernizing the Kazakh language on the basis of the Latin script, further enhancing the linguistic culture, as well as developing the linguistic capacity of citizens, ensuring the full use of the Kazakh language as the state language,” reads the draft.

The concept highlights several approaches, such as improving language teaching methods, expanding the use of the language in science, information technologies, media, and public administration, and increasing the volume of content in the Kazakh language.

Part of the measures to increase Kazakh language visibility is to increase online Kazakh content. In 2022 Steam games platform added search support for the Kazakh language. Photo credit: a screenshot of store.steampowered.com.

New ways of teaching and studying the language should be developed. The work should be carried out with research centers to form a common system of teaching and curriculums based on the best national and international practices and to implement advanced training of methodologists and teachers of the Kazakh language.

The specific measures will include increasing the network of Kazakh-language schools.

The concept emphasizes the importance of improving the quality of Kazakh scientific content. The document proposes to invest in the translation of science and research papers to make them available to Kazakh-speaking audiences.

Kazakhstan needs to form a scientifically grounded terminological base to optimize the use of terms and make the process of finding Kazakh equivalents more flexible. The terminological dictionaries in the Kazakh language will be monitored, and terminological dictionaries of new branches of science will be compiled.

In terms of expanding the use of the Kazakh language in public administration, consideration will be given to including the preparation of documents in the state language as a criterion to evaluate the performance of civil servants. 

According to the concept, the share of record keeping of the central state and local executive bodies in the state language should reach 94 percent by 2029.

Another objective is to increase the share of content in the Kazakh language in the IT and media sectors. There is a relative imbalance as there is more Russian-language content than in Kazakh.

The development of high-quality content in the Kazakh language to meet the demands of children and adolescents will help the language become more prevalent among young people.

Measures will also be taken to publish industry dictionaries, collections of sayings, proverbs, children’s books, works of fiction, and foreign prose in the Kazakh language.

The recent introduction of the Kazakh language in Steam, a digital store and distribution platform for video games and related content, opened up great opportunities for game developers in the Kazakh language. More group games will be developed in the Kazakh language, such as Minecraft, Pubg mobile, Call of Duty, Clash of Empire, and Clash of Clans.

In a similar vein, cartoons and series will be dubbed to fill video hosting sites such as YouTube with high-quality children’s content in the Kazakh language.

Kazakhstan’s state language was included in Microsoft translation apps, Office programs, Bing translator, and Azure Cognitive Services translation service for businesses and software developers.

Work is underway to develop a voice assistant in Kazakh.

Transition of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin

The transition of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin has long been on the national agenda. Kazakhs used to write in Arabic until the early 20th century, which was later replaced by A mixture of Latin and Cyrillic in 1929, before being replaced by a Cyrillic-based alphabet in 1940.

The draft concept aims to oversee the gradual transition from Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet.

Apart from the fact that the transition is expected to increase the popularity of the Kazakh language globally and its adaptability to modern technologies, it will also allow the formation of new writing rules and orthographic norms corresponding to the nature of the Kazakh language. It also facilitates integration with Turkic-speaking nations.

The transition will take place in phases involving working groups of orthographic, methodological, and technical support to ensure the correct sound composition of the Kazakh language and spelling of toponymic names.

At the initial stage of transitioning the Kazakh alphabet into Latin, which is going to take at least five years, the Kazakh alphabet in the modern Cyrillic script will be used in parallel with the alphabet in the Latin script.

The concept emphasizes the need to acquaint the public with the alphabet variants by conducting open lectures and meetings. It also envisions the development of methods of teaching the new variant of the alphabet and orthographic rules for different social groups and ages.

The concept sets a target to teach at least 15 percent of the population in the new alphabet and spelling norms. 

Get The Astana Times stories sent directly to you! Sign up via the website or subscribe to our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, YouTube and Tiktok!