Code-switching as a strategy for a social cohesion in Kazakhstan (data interpretation)

Kazakhstani society has been featured by the dominance of linguistic purism at least on an official level (Fierman, 2006). Monoglossic ideology also retained during independence with Kazakh language promoting policy and such linguistic practices as code-switching, that is, the use of both languages in the same sentence was academically and politically despised (Muysken, 1995). Although, as it was mentioned above, code-switching was an unfavorable phenomenon especially on official levels, it turned to be widely practiced among both russified and Kazakh-speaking population. Code-switching along with code-mixing became an indispensable part of linguistic practices of bilinguals, that was considered as a “colloquial language use” (Muhamedowa, 2009). The practice of mixing languages in some cases became a means of claiming identity or the demonstration of belonging to a certain community, for example, international school students’ use of code-switching in their daily conversation (Akynova, Zharkynbekova, Agmanova, Aimoldina, & Dalbergenova, 2014). The following data interpretation is based on about two-minute long video clip called “Мен казакпын” (“I’m Kazakh”)  made by Ivanov, a Kazakhstani blogger of Russian origin, who uses code-switching attributed to his Kazakh affinity. The author is known for creating his comic videos about social life in Kazakhstan, which sometimes reflect main issues in a society and satires on such detrimental phenomena as corruption, high-rolling habits, the low responsibility of government bodies.

YouTube blogger Fim Ivanov published his video clip of a song “Men kazakpyn” right before the celebration of Peoples of Kazakhstan Unity Day, which he remarked at the description box. Meaning of the word “peoples” here attributes to “nations”, which symbolically reminds us that the 1st of May is the day of celebration of other nationalities of Kazakhstan, indicates this video as his tribute to the solidarity and peace among other ethnicities of Kazakhstan.

Use of intersentential code-switching in the first line of the song “Я казах”, “Meн казакпын” (“I’m Kazakh”, first sentence in Russian, second in Kazakh); “Весит кредит”, “Мен Туркияга кеттим” (I have a credit (Russian), I’m going to Turkey (Kazakh) and intrasentential in such utterances as “Казахша сойле, а то,” (“Speak Kazakh (KZ), otherwise” (RUS), “Дома сижу, мен шай ишемин” (“Sitting at home (RUS), having a tea (KZ)”, etc. illustrate that author wanted to become appropriate to Kazakhs’ lifestyle and demonstrated it through adding Kazakh phrases or words to his Russian text, or changing his name “Fima” to more Kazakh styled “Fimeke”. But then, the presence of grammatical mistakes in phrases and a lack of Kazakh typical letters, that were substituted with Russian alternative letters in words like “ишемин” (“drinking”) instead of Kazakh letter “і”, or “казахпынгой” instead of “қазақпын ғой”, where several letters have been kept in Russian, and grammatically were incorrect: two separate words were connected. At the first sight, those mistakes and Ivanov’s poor Kazakh pronunciation may seem to be the result of low language competence of the blogger, but his description near the title reveals another point:

“For those who do not understand why there are errors in the text. This is done deliberately, as many Kazakhs do not know their language. And when those people start talking it, they are immediately humiliated. When you speak abroad, in bad English, you will simply be corrected or kept quiet. Do not necessarily discourage people from speaking the Kazakh language, everyone will learn it in the future. Peace for everyone!”

This message explicitly conveys the author’s attitude towards the state language, his belief that it will be acquired by majorities. He draws public’s attention to Kazakh-speaking part of the population, so-called “nagyz” (“true”) Kazakhs opposed to those who do not or hardly ever speaks Kazakh – “shala” (“half”) Kazakhs. The first one tends to react aggressively to the latter who are not fluent in Kazakh, even in those cases when “shala-Kazakhs” are learning it, but struggle with speaking. Hence, the author calls “nagyz” Kazakhs for understanding and compassion to Kazakh learners, not endless shameful blaming. Moreover, author through the use code-switching implicitly shows how language can be learned with the help of the first language and “one nation-one language ideology” not always works effectively (Woolard, & Schieffelin, 1994).

Another distinctive feature of a song is its ambiguity, presence crossing or possible absence of it. Crossing is a form of code-switching that is executed by a performer who tries through that to become closer to the imitated language or language community (Rampton, 1998). However, Ivanov tries to imitate Kazakhs through depicting their lifestyle in a stigmatized manner: he collects and names well-known sometimes infamous facts from everyday lives of Kazakhs, such as endless tea parties with excessive consumption of it, a habit of coming late to weddings, a necessity of having friendship with influential individual and impractical high-rolling of money even at the expense of low family budget. The audience in the comments section has been divided into two different groups: those who support the author and claim his crossing in lyrics have positivity, and others, who asserted Ivanov was mocking at Kazakhs and was focused only on flaws based on stereotypes. Personally, I could not find any offense in the video content and in the song, except the use of features of stereotypes about Kazakh culture, which I am sure were used for humoristic effect.

To conclude, the author demonstrates how through code-switching a universal language may be shaped for both nagyz-Kazakhs and shala-Kazakhs, bilinguals and thus, viable in conversation. Following his claim on keeping tolerance, understanding and positive attitude towards those who learn the Kazakh language for more than longtime Kazakhstani society will witness gradual full acquisition of a state language and will not kill Russophones’ desire to learn it.

His video encourages interethnic solidarity and harmony in Kazakhstani society who barely speak state language, but could use code-switching for communication. Also, it develops patriotism among Kazakhstanis, when they see a young non-Kazakh man performing in a popular among young people trap style and claiming his Kazakh national identity through his own language.

Akynova, D., Zharkynbekova, S., Agmanova, A., Aimoldina, A., & Dalbergenova, L. (2014). Language choice among the youth of Kazakhstan: English as a self-representation of prestige. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 143, 228-232.

Fierman, W. (2006). Language and education in post-Soviet Kazakhstan: Kazakh-medium instruction in urban schools. Russian Review, 65(1), 98–116.

Matuszkiewicz, R. (2010). The language issue in Kazakhstan-institutionalizing new ethnic relations after Independence. Economic and Environmental Studies, 10(2), 211-227. Retrieved from

Muhamedowa, R. (2009). The use of Russian conjunctions in the speech of bilingual Kazakhs. International Journal of Bilingualism, 13(3), 331-356.

Muysken, P. (1995). Code-switching and grammatical theory. In L. Milroy, & P. Muysken. One speaker, two languages: cross-disciplinary perspectives on code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rampton, B. (1998). Language crossing and the redefinition of reality. Code-switching in conversation: Language, interaction and identity, 290-317.

Woolard, K. A., & Schieffelin, B. B. (1994). Language Ideology. Annual Review of Anthropology, 23(1), 55–82.


1 thought on “Code-switching as a strategy for a social cohesion in Kazakhstan (data interpretation)

  1. This is an insightful post showing the value of microscopic linguistic analysis to highlight broad trends in a society. It is very well written, and conveys a confident author persona. I found no mistakes and I certainly learned something new!



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