Staunton, February 19 – Sixty-six of the most senior Kazakh intellectuals are appealing to President Nursultan Nazarbayev and the Kazakhstan government not to proceed with plans to shift written Kazakh from a Cyrillic-based script to a Latin one lest such a shift further weaken both the Kazakh language and the identity of the Kazakh nation.
In their letter, a Russian translation of which appeared today (zonakz.net/articles/63417
They note that three years ago, it was discovered that 90 percent of the students in the Russian language program of the Nazarbayev School in the capital city of Astana were ethnic Kazakhs, a disturbing fact that was not given wide circulation because of “unpublished directives of the authorities” not to do so.
But even the readily available data are not encouraging, the Kazakh writers say. Forty-sven percent of Kazkah children in Astana ow study in Russian schools. President Nazarbayev himself has noted this, pointing out several years ago that “more than half of the Kazakhs, although able to read their native language cannot write in it.”
And last year, the Kazakh intellectuals continue, one senior official said that “now only 30 percent of Kazakhs do not know their native language,” a figure that in itself is a confession of failure and one that will not be corrected by the shift from Cyrillic to Latin. Indeed, that may make things worse.
What would that mean for Kazakh national culture? Nothing good, the intellectuals say. At present, there are more than 500 Kazakh-language newspapers and journals in Kazakhstan compared to “about 2500” Russian-language ones. That disproportion, the writers of the appeal say, raises the question: “Do we live in Kazakhstan or have we become part of Russia?”
If the government goes ahead with plans to shift Kazakh to the Latin script, they argue, “the number [of Kazakhs} who will not be able to read and write in their native language will grow,” and that will have the paradoxical effect of “strengthening” the position of Cyrillic and hence of Russian at the expense of Kazakh.
It is thus a mistake to assume that “with the shift to the Latin script” there will be an intensification of Kazakh national identity. Instead, just the reverse is likely to happen, with Kazakhs becoming even more deeply split than now between those who use Kazakh and those who rely on Russian.
Of course, the Kazakh intellectuals acknowledge, a shift to the Latin script will make using computers easier and will promote the rapprochement of the Turkic peoples, but they argue that its negative impact on the Kazakh nation itself is “an undertaking” that those concerned with that people can only regret.