Kazakhstan adopts new version ofLatin-based Kazakh alphabet


ASTANA – President Nursultan Nazarbayev amended his Oct. 26,2017 decree concerning the transition of the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic toLatin script, which if kept, would have put into effect a Latin-script alphabetwith 32 letters including nine characters with apostrophes. The new amendmentreplaces the apostrophes with diacritic signs and digraphs. The deadline tocomplete the switch remains 2025.

The following is the new versionof the alphabet introduced by the amendment.

The government previouslypublished an action plan detailing the phased transfer to the Latin alphabet.According to the document, the three successive phases will cover 1)regulatory-legal framework (2018-2020), 2) issuance of official recordsincluding passports and IDs and trainings for teachers and the adult population(2021-2023) and 3) actual day-to-day use of Latin script in public and stateoffices, as well as publishing the state media in new alphabet (2024-2025).

Before switching to the Latinalphabet (a modified variant for Turkic languages also called Yanalif) in early1920s, the Kazakh language was transcribed in Arabic script. In 1940, however,along with other Turkic-speaking constituent republics of the Soviet Union, thecountry was ordered to adopt a version of Cyrillic, which due to incorporatingKazakh-specific hissing syllables and distinct vowels contains 42 letters.

A public discussion to switchback to Latin script has long continued and grew bigger with Nazarbayev taskingthe government in 2017 with drafting a plan to begin the transfer.

The public reaction to theOctober version of the script deemed it equivocal, objecting, for example, tothe use of apostrophes as a nonstarter in the digital age.

Anticipating the debate, SenateChairman Kassym-Jomart Tokayev warned those who began hastily introducing theapostrophe-based Latin script on outdoor signs and newspapers.

“The national commission has notyet made its final decision on the transfer of the Kazakh language into theLatin alphabet. Therefore, it is too soon to use apostrophes in newspapers andother places,” he said.

Several public figures haveaddressed the latest amendment.

Minister of Information andCommunication Dauren Abayev expanded the reasons behind the amendment.

“The experts working on thematter had concerns over apostrophes, because this mark is used as a spacer orspecial shift-in; it complicates the web search, even creating some financialcomplications,” he said.

The president heard the call and“this version [without apostrophes] will be more effective,” he added.

Predicting the questions from theparent and teachers’ community, Minister of Education and Science YerlanSagadiyev said the ministry is planning to hold open discussions withpedagogues and will draft and pilot a new ABC book. He stressed the switch toLatin script will start with reception grade pupils (a beginning grade with6-year-olds)

“Only then we can come to aschedule for introducing the new alphabet,” he said.

Nur Otan Party First DeputyChairman Maulen Ashimbayev expressed his support for the new version, notingthe decision to switch to Latin script is an important step in modernising thelanguage and adapting it to the global educational, scientific and informationspace.

“The amendments make the Kazakhlanguage more practical and functional,” he said. “It is a strategic decisionaimed to work for the nation’s future.”

Capital deputy mayor andprofessional philologist Yermek Amanshayev told city residents the transfer toLatin script is a systemic work that engaged distinguished Kazakh scientistsand language experts.

“All ideas and suggestions on thematter will always be considered with due diligence. Today, we see a versionthat suits everyone. But most importantly, it is crucial for our people’sfuture,” he said.

Tokayev’s recent tweet offeredcongratulations to fellow Kazakhstanis on the brand-new alphabet, commendingthe amendment as a historic event.


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