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How to Retard a Language

In this articleThe Guardian argues that the switch to the Latin script “partly aims to distance country from Russia”. The Economist echoes the opinion by saying that the Latin script “is also to do with decolonisation”. Technically, it sounds credible. But, the harsh reality is a little bit different. Kazakhstan is a testing ground for Russian missiles. From underwear to cars, Kazakh imports have to be approved by Moscow under the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. Apostrophe or not, the pro-Russian authorities of Kazakhstan are highly unlikely to change their loyalty to the Kremlin. The official Kazakh pretext, voiced by The Guardian, that the change “make it simpler to use on digital devices” is laughable, too. Once again, The Economist follows in the footsteps of the newspaper, arguing that the Latin script “is about equipping Kazakhstan for the digital age”. Not exactly. The global high-tech leaders, like China, India or Japan, are quite comfortable with their non-Latin scripts. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan with their Latin scripts lag behind the innovative countries.

By the way, the high-ranking motive force behind the switch, like Adilbek Dzhaksybekov (pictured right) – the Head of the Presidential Administration of Kazakhstan – and Marat Tazhin (left) – its Deputy – are both Russified Kazakhs, who speak broken Kazakh. No wonder that they are not fully aware of a blow, which is to be dealt to the language. On this photo, dated October 26, 2017, the two men report the linguistical issue of the utmost commercial importance to their boss, a Kazakh-speaking Dzungar, Nursultan Nazarbayev (center). He is a surviving descendant of Dzungars – an extinct ethnic group, who were archrivals of Kazakhs. That same day, The Guardian published the quite sympathetic article on the topic. Well-done, PR staff of Astana!

They don’t care that for nearly eighty years, the Kazakh language with the help of the Cyrillic script has amassed a wealth of knowledge in culture and science. If the introduction of the new script succeeds, the younger generation will be effectively cut off from the Soviet heritage in Kazakh. At the same time, the older generation will be be practically illiterate, when it comes to reading fresh information in the Latin script. In 2003, a Kazakh dissident, Karishal Asan Ata (Asanov, 1935-2015), made a suggestion to switch the Kazakh language to original Turkic runes – more than 1,000 years-old Orkhon-Yenisey script. According to the dissident, such switch would establish a firm cultural identity of the Kazakhs amid the globalization – unfriendly to indigenous languages. Of course, the authoritarian regime of Kazakhstan quietly discarded this idea.

As a matter of fact, the switch poses a serious risk to the future of the Kazakh language. If the linguistic reform to be carried out, Kazakh will become more a spoken language of households and television, rather than a written language of books and newspapers. Because, it will be a frustrating experience to introduce completely new script instead of the Cyrillic script of Kazakh, which has had well-established traditions and rules. For centuries, Russian and English languages have had a stable and wide usage. Should the profit-seeking “reformers” implement the worse scenario, many Kazakhs will naturally prefer to use these well-developed foreign languages, rather than the unstable Kazakh language.

For more than a decade, I have had numerous publications against the Latin script switch. Thirteen years ago, on November 3, 2004, a Russian weekly Zavtra (“Tomorrow”) published my essay, where, among other things, I advocated for the Cyrillic script, which has been used successfully by Kazakh writers and poets. In 2007, a Kazakh newspaper Vremya (“Time”) published an interview with me, where, among other things, I proposed to switch the Kazakh language to ancient Turkic runes, thus opposing the Latin script. These are Russian-language articles. And in 2013, a Kazakh opposition site Respublika (“The Republic”), now discontinued, published my letter in Kazakh, where I outspokenly opposed the Latin script, saying that the switch is just a pretext for money-making by publishers, stamps and insignia makers.

 

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