Opposition to Kazakh alphabet change stirs

ALMATY, Sept. 24 (The Conway Bulletin)  — Four years ago dozens of Kazakh intellectuals wrote to President Nursultan Nazarbayev expressing their opposition to a plan to ditch the Kazakh language’s use of Cyrillic in favour of the Latin alphabet.

They said that the switch would damage the Kazakh language, undermine literature written in Cyrillic and reduce the size of the media.

This opposition is still around today but now that this switch is being heavily pushed by the Kazakh government, a government that doesn’t tolerate opposition and is often described as autocratic, it has withered.

The government and the pliant Kazakh media have presented plans to switch the alphabets by 2025 as the overwhelming will of the people and a necessary modernisation of the Kazakh language that had, in any case, only been switched from Arabic script to the Cyrillic alphabet under Soviet rule in the 1920s.

But there has been no canvassing of public opinion and no poll has been published on how ordinary Kazakhs really feel about it – possibly because the results may not be as overwhelmingly in favour of the changes as the government says.

Online, there are hints of frustration. Many say the money would be better spent developing the, frankly, Third World state of rural Kazakhstan or improving the education system, which is hardly drowning in accolades. One user said he was “fed up with the caprices of the few chosen elites”.

Dariya is a well-educated PR specialist living in Almaty. She speaks English but she is still against the switch.

“The process of adaptation will be really hard, I think, especially for the older generation,” she told The Conway Bulletin’s correspondent.

There are also concerns over how a 25-letter Latin alphabet, it will lose the ‘x’, can replace a 42-letter Cyrillic alphabet, which had nine letters unique to Kazakh.

The Kazakh language’s switch to Latin is not the clear-cut issue that the government likes to describe.


>>This story was first published in issue 344 of the weekly Conway Bulletin

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