Kazakhstan plans switch to Latin alphabet


Kazakhstan is preparing to officially start using Latin alphabet, instead of Cyrillic, which linguists say is becoming more obscure. The President N. Nazarbayev in his address to the people of Kazakhstan “Strategy Kazakhstan-2050” said that switching alphabets would provide an impulse for the modernization of the Kazakh language. The President set the deadline where transition will take over a 12-to-15-year period.

Ministry of Education and Science examine the experiences of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which have all changed to Latin letters since 1991 after the Soviet collapse. The ministry’s proposed action plan is based primarily on the model used in Uzbekistan. It calls for a six-step program, outlining cost estimates for retraining the country’s workforce to read Latin script, and changing signs on streets and public buildings. The overall cost of switching is estimated at $300 million. However, some experts believe the final cost could be much higher (Bartlett, 2007).

This plan stirred many disputes and arguments. Similar to languages spoken in other Central Asian countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakh is a Turkic language. For centuries, the language was written in Arabic script and, for a brief time, Latin. After Kazakhstan became an official part of the Soviet Union, the language was written in Cyrillic, which makes up the Russian alphabet. Along with the usual arguments for alphabet change, in particular promoting the country’s integration into the global economy, officials have argued that a Latin alphabet could help Kazakhstan develop a more cohesive national identity. Switching the Kazakh alphabet to Latin means for Kazakhs changing the Soviet identity (which still largely dominates the national consciousness) to Kazakh identity. Cyrillic alphabet facilitated and facilitates the orientation of the Kazakh national consciousness towards the Russian language and Russian culture. As a result, Kazakh identity as such remains largely undefined. On this level, moving to Latin will make it possible to form a clearer national identity for Kazakhs (Lillis, 2013).

The move has inspired much discussion, with supporters excited about attaining a new level of national development and about the prospect of convergence with international information websites and with new technologies. Opponents, though, fret about preserving the uniqueness of the language and Kazakhstan’s cultural legacy.

About 70% of countries use the Latin alphabet, making it an essential part of communicating with the world, especially in terms of global science and education. The switch to Latin is unlikely to be a problem for the younger generation. Many school children already study foreign languages, such as English and German, and are thus familiar with Latin letters. However, older members of society may need to be targeted in order to ensure that they do not get left behind in the changeover.


Bartlett, P. (2007). Kazakhstan: moving forward with plan to replace Cyrillic with Latin alphabet. Retrieved from: http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav090407.shtml

Lillis, J. (2013). Kazakhstan: the ABCs of the alphabet debate. Retrieved from: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66778

Strategy “Kazakhstan-2050”. Retrieved from: http://www.akorda.kz/en

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