[lg policy] Kazakhstan: Controversy Over State Language Promotion

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Aug 26 15:07:09 UTC 2011

- Global Voices - http://globalvoicesonline.org -

Kazakhstan: Controversy Over State Language Promotion

Posted By Adil Nurmakov On 25 August 2011 @ 6:41 am In Central Asia &
Caucasus,English,Feature,Kazakhstan,Language,Russian,Weblog | No

In early August 2011, the Ministry of Culture of Kazakhstan developed
[1] [ru] a draft law to introduce some amendments into the state's
language policy. It was quickly labeled by many observers as a move to
further reduce the scope of use of the Russian language, which enjoys
equal status with the Kazakh language, according to the Constitution.

The new move was supposed to make all interactions that citizens have
with the government bodies to be in Kazakh, as well as all internal
documentation of the state structures. All visual and business-related
information (adverts, signs, price lists, forms etc.) was also meant
to be provided solely in Kazakh. The changes were set to be introduced
in 2013.

The gradual move to the state-language documentation has been taking
place in Kazakhstan for several years, but most often comes to the
situations when people are using Kazakh translations (at times, very
poorly made) to observe the formality, but use Russian to keep the
things going. Arkhard [2] writes [3] [ru]:

    I've just fancied how our citizens break their neck to translate
an application into Kazakh, then the officials have hard time
translating it back into Russian. As a result, it would be difficult
to understand what whas meant initially, and it is going to be more
time-consuming as well.

Alpamis_batyr [4] objects [5] [ru]:

    […] You should finally realize that you live in Kazakhstan, the
country whose name derives from the state-forming ethnicity, i.e.
Kazakhs. You thus show your disrespect to the language, and culture,
and history of the nation. Just kill your laziness and wake up a
desire to learn and accept the Kazakhness.

User Russky (a Russian) leaves a comment [6] to the news article [ru]:

    Everybody – with no exception – should study Kazakh, but it should
not turn into conflicts, when one side yells “You have no choice but
to learn”, and the other shouts “No way” (although even saying that
they understand that it would really be better to know the Kazakh
language). […] All citizens will get to know it sooner or later, but
it is necessary to create universally affordable language courses.

Jelsomino agrees [6] that before you require people to use the
language, you should give them a chance to study it [ru]:

    I am a Russian-speaking Kazakh, studied in the Russian-language
high school (in Soviet times there was no other option with only two
Kazakh schools in Almaty, the former capital and the largest city of
Kazakhstan)… Russian language was everywhere – on the street, on a TV,
routinely. Kazakh language was taught very badly in schools, because
nobody really used it in urban environment. Now the times are
changing, rural population us urbanizing, many Russian-speaking people
left the country. So, what shall the generations of Soviet descent do?
Right, we must study Kazakh. But how? Courses are largely
unaffordable, textbooks are of low quality, multimedia CDs only start
to appear, but they are expensive too… I can speak simple Kazakh in
everyday life, but if officials require me to communicate with them
only in Kazakh, I would consider it that the government turned its
back on me.

Basilio [7] suggests [8] pondering on another possible consequence [ru]:

    Such radical measures will once again lead to major brain-drain,
as qualified specialists who don't know the state language – but do
possess expertise – would flee the country. Remember the 1990s, when
almost every fifth non-Kazakh family (Germans, Ukrainians, Russians)
emigrated to the “historic motherlands” […]

Megakhuimyak offers a look [9] from a different perspective – why such
an initiative appeared as all [ru]:

    I will not speak about the draft law's contradiction to the
constitution (who cares about it – our parliament is notoriously known
for being able to change the constitution in half of an hour). The
more interesting question is why. When the presidential administration
found that the Kazakh-language newspapers (subject to control by the
Minister of Culture) publish anti-president appeals, the Ministry was
squeezed, and its mandate of controlling the media was given to the
Ministry of Communications. After the extremist outbreak in Western
Kazkahstan, it turned out that the Ministry failed to succeed I this
direction too – and the Committee for Religions was taken out of the
Ministry… Thus, the minister of culture found himself deprived of both
Realpolitik leverages – media and religions. Now all he's got is
culture, NGOs and language. That hurts – and the Ministry decided to
take on a new agenda at the expense of state language issue.

    The ado did not pass unnoticed. Controversial draft law was pretty
quickly repelled by the Ministry – officials did not insist too
earnestly on the initiative, but indicated that they were not very
pleased with the tone of public debate. The passions calmed down, but
the problem persists.

Thumbnail image of Kazakh flag by Flickr user sly06 [10] (CC BY 2.0).

Article printed from Global Voices: http://globalvoicesonline.org

URL to article:

URLs in this post:

[1] developed: http://tengrinews.kz/kazakhstan_news/193980/

[2] Arkhard: http://arkhard.yvision.kz

[3] writes: http://yvision.kz/community/%D0%9E%20%D0%9A%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%85%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B5/182106.html

[4] Alpamis_batyr: http://alpamis_batyr.yvision.kz

[5] objects: http://yvision.kz/community/%D0%9E%20%D0%9A%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%85%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B5/182106.html#comment1623450

[6] leaves a comment:

[7] Basilio: http://basilio.yvision.kz/

[8] suggests: http://yvision.kz/community/%D0%9E%20%D0%9A%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%85%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B5/182106.html#comment1623495

[9] offers a look: http://globalvoicesonline.org

[10] sly06: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yeomans/2471948845/

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