Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Fri Sep 14 14:26:20 UTC 2007

A couple of quick questions and an observation:

1. The article states: "Another reason for the switch is linked to the
representation of the sounds of the Kazakh language. 'In many cases the
phonetic nature of Kazakh is not shown according to Cyrillic script'" What
is the orthography? Noting that in the case of many other languages,
shortcomings of the Latin script have been compensated for with use of
diacritics, digraphs and modified letters (borrowed from IPA), I'm curious
to know: What is the case with Kazakh?

2. In other countries where such shifts have recently been made and/or where
alternative scripts co-exist to some measure, to what extent are IT tools
for transliteration used? Many years ago I encountered Chinese word
processors that let one toggle between simplified and traditional characters
(1-to-1 correspondences, basically). Transliteration between alphabetic
scripts can be quite a bit more complicated, but softwarre to facilitate
back and forth transliteration of Kazakh in Cyrillic & Latin could in theory
make the transition and perhaps coexistence of alternate transcriptions of
the language easier. (Then the Arabic transcription?)

3. Others have written on the politics of scripts in various places, but in
some ways the Latin alphabet (often in expanded versions), though just as
connected with colonial experience in many other parts of the world, seems
to have "transcended" to having an "international" identity. Hence in places
as diverse as Kazakhstan and the Oromo-speaking areas of Ethiopia, a switch
to a Latin script is seen as an issue of identity in some local / regional
contexts where other scripts dominate.

Don Osborn

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu [mailto:owner-lgpolicy-
> list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Harold Schiffman
> Sent: Friday, September 14, 2007 8:30 AM
> To: lp
> Paul Bartlett: 9/04/07
> Even as Kazakhstan maintains close economic and political ties with
> Russia, Astana is moving ahead with plans to replace Cyrillic script
> with the Latin alphabet. A feasibility study prepared over the summer
> proposes that the alphabet change be phased in over a 12-to-15-year
> period.
> President Nursultan Nazarbayev revived the possibility of an alphabet
> switch last fall, requesting that the Ministry of Education and
> Science examine the experiences of Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan
> and Uzbekistan, which have all changed to Latin letters. The
> ministry's proposed action plan is based primarily on the model used
> in Uzbekistan. It calls for a six-step program, outlining cost
> estimates for retraining the country's workforce to read Latin script,
> and changing signs on streets and public buildings. The overall cost
> of switching is estimated at $300 million.
> Some experts believe the final cost could be much higher. The ministry
> report, for example, provided no estimate for the cost of changing
> official documents and re-printing official forms and materials. The
> publishing sector could also assume substantial costs connected with
> changing equipment. Along with the usual arguments for alphabet
> change, in particular promoting the country's integration into the
> global economy, officials have argued that a Latin alphabet could help
> Kazakhstan forge a more cohesive national identity, moving it out from
> under Russia's shadow.
> "Switching the Kazakh alphabet to Latin means for Kazakhs changing the
> Soviet (colonial) identity, which still largely dominates the national
> consciousness, to a sovereign (Kazakh) identity," the report stated.
> "Among the many arguments in favor of switching the Kazakh alphabet to
> Latin, boosting the national identity of the Kazakh people is the main
> and decisive one."
> This explicit statement marks a break with Kazakhstan's earlier,
> low-key approach to discussing the switch to Latin. While Azerbaijan,
> Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan acted quickly after the 1991 Soviet
> collapse to embrace Latin script, Kazakhstan took a more cautious
> route: it did not want to alienate its large Russian-speaking
> population. In addition, officials felt that with the country in the
> grip of economic crisis in the early 1990s, changing the alphabet at
> that time was not a fiscally justifiable move.
> The report pulls no punches in identifying the Cyrillic alphabet as
> being a major barrier to developing a Kazakh national identity: "It
> [Cyrillic] facilitated and facilitates the orientation of the Kazakh
> national consciousness towards the Russian language and Russian
> culture. As a result, Kazakh identity as such remains largely
> undefined. On this level, moving to Latin will make it possible to
> form a clearer national identity for Kazakhs."
> Another reason for the switch is linked to the representation of the
> sounds of the Kazakh language. "In many cases the phonetic nature of
> Kazakh is not shown according to Cyrillic script," Professor Kobey
> Khusayn, director of the Academy of Sciences' Institute of
> Linguistics, told EurasiaNet in an interview. As a result, he said,
> certain Kazakh sounds are not properly represented and this leads to
> difficulties with correct pronunciation. The introduction of Cyrillic
> in 1940 was "imposed from above" for ideological reasons, he added,
> with no consideration of how this alphabet suited the Kazakh language.
> The plan for switching to Latin will have a five-year preparatory
> stage, during which the practicalities will be worked out. The next
> step will see publications being printed using the new alphabet,
> alongside the existing one for the initial changeover period, and the
> working-age population will be trained in using the new script.
> Teaching materials using Latin will be introduced into the country's
> school system. The final phase will be the consolidation of Latin as
> the Kazakh language in Cyrillic fades from public use.
> Kazinform, the state news agency, has already set a precedent for the
> use of Latin for Kazakh: it offers a newswire using both the Latin and
> Cyrillic alphabets for the Kazakh language, with the Latin version
> aimed at non-Russian-speaking ethnic Kazakhs in countries such as
> China, Mongolia and Iran.
> The switch to Latin is unlikely to be a problem for the younger
> generation in Kazakhstan. Many school children already study foreign
> languages, such as English and German, and are thus familiar with
> Latin letters. However, older members of society may need to be
> targeted in order to ensure that they do not get left behind in the
> changeover.
> With the country awash with petrodollars from its booming energy
> sector, financing the switch should not be a problem. It remains to be
> seen, however, whether officials will retain the political will to
> press ahead, given that the measure could cause disruption at home,
> and seems likely to vex one of Kazakhstan's key allies, Russia. [For
> background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
> Editor's Note: Paul Bartlett is an Almaty-based freelance writer
> specialising in education issues.
> http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav090407_pr.shtml
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