More than just alphabets

Peter Spinella, Shabtai Gold and Ergin Hava –
Kazakhstan is leaving behind the Soviet-imposed Cyrillic alphabet for its Turkic national language as part of a state-sponsored globalisation drive that is sure to reduce Russian influence in the Central Asian state.
“It should not be for Russia to dictate how former colonial subjects in the Russian Empire (and former union republics in the USSR) speak or in what alphabet they write their national language,” said Uli Schamiloglu, a Turkic language professor at the prestigious Nazarbayev University in the capital, Astana.
The university, named after the former Soviet republic’s leader of almost three decades, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was founded in 2010 and English is its primary language of instruction.
Changing the Kazakh alphabet on a national level into one compatible with English exemplifies the country’s pivot towards the West in shaping its self-identity.
“The Cyrillic alphabet and the Russian language have made it difficult for the Kazakh language to become a strong national language.
That is a problem for the future of Kazakhstan as a nation-state,” Schamiloglu said by email.
Several other Turkic nations have undergone a similar transition.Turkey switched from an Arabic script to a Latin-based one in the1920s.
“The transition to a Latin alphabet paved the way for Turkey to integrate with the rest of the world culturally, socially and economically, and also in terms of technology,” Sevgi Ozelof the Turkish Language Association said.
The Soviet Union, “worried that the Latin alphabet would unite Turks, imposed Cyrillic on Turkish people under its rule,” said Gulden Sagol Yuksekkaya, a Turkic language expert at Marmara University in Turkey.
Kazakhs are late in switching to the Latin alphabet when compared with other ethnic Turkic nations in the former Soviet space, such as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, Sagol Yuksekkaya said.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan maintained close ties with neighbouring Russia, with which it shares an almost 7,000-kilometre border.
Russians make up Kazakhstan’s largest ethnic minority, and the Russian language, along with Kazakh, is given national status in the constitution.
“The Russian language is still strong here and will continue to be taught in the schools,” Schamiloglu said by email. — dpa