The 2017 Latinization Project for Kazakh: A Report from the Field

Uli Schamiloglu (Nazarbayev University)

The project to introduce a Latin alphabet for the official language of the Republic of Kazakhstan has a long and complicated history. In the early 20th century Kazakhs used a version of the Arabic script based on the Chagatay Turkic literary language. Later, following the Bolshevik Revolution, most Turkic peoples adopted the common “New Latin” alphabet (Yaŋälif). Rather later in comparison to the other Turkic-speaking republics and autonomous republics, the Kazakh SSR adopted a Cyrillic-based alphabet Moscow in 1940. Most recently President Nursultan Nazarbayev has called for agreement on a new Latin-based script for Kazakh by the end of 2017 so that Kazakhstan can convert completely to a version of the Latin alphabet by 2025.

This process has many aspects, ranging from the linguistic to the political, social, economic, and cultural. Whichever proposal is chosen, the lead time proposed by the President includes preparing teachers to use this alphabet in Kazakh language courses so that this process is spread out over the course of the greater part of a decade. While this process has not been as open as what one might have wished, there are still many aspects which are accessible to the Turkologist and which will be of historical interest to future generations of scholars. This presentation many aspects of this process, including linguistic aspects.

Looking back at the conversion of the Republic of Turkey to the current Latin alphabet beginning with its announcement in July 1928 until now, we can say that this was a moment of great import in the history of the modern Turkish language. The conversion of the Kazakh language from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet is a topic with many implications whose study is incumbent upon Turkologists and scholars from a wide range of fields, whether they are specialists in Turkic languages or not.