Image courtesy of bbc.com
La Cañada High School

How One Country is Switching Alphabets

Think about what you could do with around $664 million. Now think about what you could do with that money over a seven year period.

This is exactly what the country Kazakhstan is going to have to consider as it is reforming its alphabet. As of now, the Kazakh language is written with Cyrillic, a writing system used for different languages throughout Eurasia, but this is going to change. Given that most of the population is more fluent in Russian than Kazakh, this is going to be difficult for everyone involved.

This won’t be the first time the country has changed its alphabet. This new change is being made since the last alphabet was quite unpopular.

The country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, wants to change over to an alphabet that is based off of the Latin script, the same script that is used to write major languages such as English.

In October 2017, the government signed off on this alphabet, but that didn’t come without clear backlash from some of the population.

The backlash was caused by the apostrophes that were going to be used to represent specific and distinct sounds. Since the apostrophes received so much hate, they were eventually removed, and they are now replaced with accent marks. This system of accents is the same as the neighboring Turkmenistan’s system.

There was also another alphabet before this one that was signed off by the president. It included 32 letters and the dreaded apostrophes.

“Eurasianet says that the new system will not only make the language look more elegant, but it will save Kazakhs extra key presses on their electronic devices. As well as saving users repetitively pressing apostrophes, the new system also means that the letters a’, g’, n’, o’, u’, y’ will disappear from the language,” according to BBC.

The letters “s” and “c” will be replaced with “sh” and “ch”, and these two will become the alphabet’s 31st and 32nd letters.

President Nazarbayev said that changing the alphabet “is not only the fulfillment of the dreams of our ancestors, but also the way to the future for younger generations.”

The New York Times wrote that “Kazakhstan has steadily chipped away at the legacy of Moscow’s political and cultural hegemony. The shift to the Latin alphabet, to be completed by 2025, has been widely cheered as a long overdue assertion of the country’s full independence from Russia — and its determination to join the wider world.”

Dossym Satpayev, a Kazakh political commentator who supports the reform to the Latin script, but not the version the president has proposed, said that “The president is thinking about his legacy and wants to go down in history as the man who created a new alphabet. The problem is that our president is not a philologist (a language expert).”

 

Information for this article came from: bbc.com and nytimes.com

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