I am interested in the development of the Kazakh language for a long time. I know four languages at different levels: Russian, Kazakh, English, Italian. Multilingualism expanded my horizons of vision, allowed me to catch some patterns and typical problems of different languages.
In this regard, I decided to take the liberty of proposing for discussion my version of the Kazakh Latin alphabet (see the photo below).
But first, few explanations.
I think that after a stormy condemnation by the Kazakh Internet community of a variant of the alphabet with digraphs (double letters for a single sound), it should not be taken seriously. Although it should be recognized that digraphs are still used in some European languages, for example, in English the sound [ʒ] is transmitted by a combination of two letters “zh”, the sound [ʃ] is transmitted by a combination of letters “sh” and so on. But the replacement of our letters “ә” by the combination “ae”, “ө” – by “oe” and so on does not stand any criticism, as it often leads to discrepancies and cacophonousness (just imagine one word “saebis” (carrots).
The second version of the Kazakh Latin alphabet, that was proposed by officials, also did not cause delight. The use of apostrophes is extremely difficult in practical application, since when typing on a smartphone’s keyboard it requires a switch every second from letters to punctuation marks. And after all, according to statistics, most of the communications between people now originate from mobile devices. In addition, in many languages the apostrophe is used in a completely different way – as an abbreviation, for example, the English “it’s” (it is) or the Italian “l’opera” (opera). The use of apostrophes as a diacritical sign (a sign that changes the pronunciation of letters) will create many difficulties when reading Kazakh texts by foreigners.
In regrds with the foregoing, I propose to abandon digraphs and apostrophes and apply diacritical marks.
Here, too, not everything is clear. Especially with respect to Kazakh specific sounds. Practically in each case there are several options.
In the alphabet I proposed, I proceeded from the following principles:
1. If we refuse the digraphs, it is desirable to exclude them even where they are used in many common alphabets. Above I have already given an example with digraphs from English. In addition, double letters are used, for example, in Italian to soften and harden the letters “c” and “g” by adding the letters “i” and “h” to them, respectively. Both these ways of writing are considered anachronisms, which will die in the future. Humanity strives to simplify and facilitate its life in all spheres of activity, including writing. Therefore, following this trend, we need to leave as few variations in reading the same letter in different combinations. Ideally: one letter is one sound. I would not be surprised if, shortly, Americans, striving for simplicity and comfort in everything, begin to write “f” instead of combining “ph” in words like “telephone”. So we can step ahead of Americans and most Europeans and immediately replace unnecessary digraphs with special characters (new letters).
2. If we turn to special characters, it’s more convenient where we want to denote common sounds, to use symbols from the most common languages and alphabets. This will increase the chance for correct perception and correct reading of the Kazakh text by the speakers of these languages. It is from these considerations that I propose not to introduce my own signs, but to borrow such letters as “Ää” and “Öö” from the German language, and such letters as “Ğğ” and “Şş”, from the Azerbaijani and Turkish alphabets that are related to us.
3. When borrowing new symbols, you should use them systematically, subordinate to a certain logic. For example, I propose all changes of consonant sounds to sibilant to be denoted by a subscript cedilla (a diacritic sign in the form of a hook under the letter), as, for example, in the letters “Şş” and “Çç”. Uniformity in the use of additional symbols will allow the person who first reads the text in Kazakh, after some time already intuitively understand how to pronounce this or that sound.
4. We must officially recognize that in the Kazakh language there are no such Russian sounds as [щ], [ц] and others, just as there are no English sounds [ð], [θ], etc. Therefore, we do not have to burden our alphabet with superfluous letters just to sometimes write foreign words and denote them sounds that do not exist in our language. Similarly, in the official Italian alphabet there are no letters “Kk”, “Ww”, “Xx”, “Yy”. They are mentioned in the handbooks as additional letters of the alphabet used in foreign words. On the same principle, I think it is expedient to allocate several letters in the additional alphabet, but only for writing foreign words.
And a few more explanations regarding some specific letters:
One of our specific sounds is [æ] (the current letter is “Әә”). There are several variants of its reflection in the new alphabet. For example, you can apply a ligature (a combination of letters) “Ææ”. This letter is used in Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic languages to designate a sound similar to our [æ] (the letter “Әә”). However, the use of ligatures is difficult in practice in much the same way as digraphs.
The second option is to leave the letter “Әә” as it is. This sign does not apply to either Cyrillic or Latin. Plus this option is that in this form it is used in the related Azerbaijani, Tatar, Kalmyk languages. The downside of this option is that most people in the world who own the Latin alphabet will not understand how to pronounce this letter.
The third option is to use diacritical marks. For example, use the letter “Ää”. This sign was used in our Kazakh alphabet in the edition of Ybray Altynsarin until 1917. Also it is present in German, Swedish, Finnish and means a sound that is close to our sound. Other similar letters with different diacritical marks are not very common and are not worth considering.
Keeping all of the above into the consideration, I tend to use the «Ää» sign in our alphabet.
As you can see, in the alphabet proposed by me there is no letter “Cc” at all. I thought how to use it. The sound [s] in the Latin alphabet is already firmly occupied by the letter “Ss”. Leave it as in English or Italian, so that it would sound like [k], [s] or [tʃ] depending on the combination with other letters, would contradict the principles mentioned above. So I removed this letter from the alphabet at all.
Another one is our specific sound [ɣ] (the letter “Ғғ”), which requires special designation. With the transition to the Latin alphabet, it becomes obvious that the preservation of our previous letter “Ғғ” is impossible, since it is similar to the degree of confusion with the Latin “Ff”. Their similarity already now breeds misunderstandings among English-speaking readers. Keeping this misunderstanding does not make sense.
It should be noted that the sound [ɣ] is present in the related Turkic languages: Azerbaijani, Tatar, Crimean Tatar. In their scripts, it already received its’ designation with the letter “Ğğ”. I see no reason to invent a new sign for myself. It is more reasonable to use it. In any case, 30 million Azeri speakers, 5 million Tatar and half a million carriers of the Crimean Tatar language will unerringly read and pronounce this letter and sound.
“h” and “Xx”
I join many experts that the letters “h” and “Xx” perform the same role in the current Cyrillic Kazakh alphabet, so it makes no sense to create two different letters in the new alphabet for them. It is clear that the letter “h” is used in words of Arabic origin and performs, perhaps, only a reminder of this function. But what is the practical benefit of it now? As far as I understand, there is no benefit. In regards with the foregoing, I left one of the two letters “Hh” for the sound [h].
There are problems with the sound [ʒ] (the letter «Жж» in our current alphabet). The fact is that this sound is transmitted in different languages using the Latin alphabet, in different letters. This can be the letter “Gg” in combination with some vowels, or maybe the letter “Jj”. And they both give the sound [dʒ]. In its pure form, the sound [ʒ] appears when reading “Ss” in certain cases. By the way, the use of the first two letters can serve to distort this sound in the Kazakh language. I think that the words “Jambul”, “jailau”, “gazelle” appeared in Russian through the transcription of these words from the English transliteration of Kazakh words.
Nevertheless, the carriers of the Turkic languages (Turkish, Azerbaijani, Tatar) were inclined in favor of the letter “Jj”.
I think that the danger of turning the Kazakh sound [ʒ] into [dʒ] still does not outweigh the need to search for an entirely new letter from the extended Latin alphabet, so I also tend to use the letter “Jj”.
“Éé” and “Êê”
Two of our specific sounds [ɘ] (the current letter “Ii”) and [ɯ] (the current letter “Ыы”) have a difficult fate. In its purest form, as far as I know, they are not found in any other language. Accordingly, they do not have an established international writing. Even in our language, with each change of the alphabet, they changed their writing. I think that in respect of the sound [ɘ] (the current letter “Ii”), the Committee on the New Alphabet under the CEC of the SSR in 1929 made a fatal mistake. It was decided to designate the Latin letter “Ii” and mislead all speakers of languages with Latin script, and through English, also Russian-speaking readers. The fact is that in English the letter “Ii” in most cases is read as [i], for example, in the word “interest”. Russian-speaking readers began to mechanically pronounce the same sound when reading Kazakh words with this letter. As a result, instead of transcription (sound transmission), transliteration (letter transmission) was obtained. And the wrong letter. And now the Kazakh word “іні” (younger brother) is read by the Russians and English as “ini”, which greatly hurts the rumor to the Kazakhs.
Now we have a unique opportunity to correct the error of the predecessors and separate the Kazakh sound [ɘ] from the letter “Ii”.
Since the sounds [ɘ] (the current letter “Ii”) and [ɯ] (the current letter “Ыы”) are paired (the first is soft, the second is hard), then it is logical to make their writing as similar as possible, providing only the distinguishing marks. But which sign should I take as a basis? I would like to use a common sign, which designates a sound as close as possible to them.
Personally, I tend to think that the sound [ɘ] is closer to the Russian sound [e] or English [e] in its sound. In any case, it’s closer than the sound [i]. Proceeding from this, I propose to take as a basis the Latin letter “Ee” and modify it. For a soft sound [ɘ], use the acoustics above it: “Éé”, and for a solid sound [ɯ] apply a circumflex: “Êê”.
If the non-native speaker of the Kazakh language sees these letters for the first time and tries to pronounce them based on their skills, then he will pronounce the sound [e] (the English letter “Ee”) and will be closer to the truth than pronouncing the sound [i] (the English letter “Ii” ).
Honestly, I did not understand why the compilers of the new Kazakh Latin alphabet combined the letters “Ии” and “Ii” of the current alphabet in the first version, and combined the letters «Ии» and «Йй» in the second variant. As far as I know, the sounds in the words «инабат» и «іс» are completely different and cannot be assimilated. Also the letters «Ии» and «Йй» play different roles. Therefore, for the sound [i] I left a separate letter “Ii”.
Our specific sound is [q] (the letter “Ққ”). I am risking raising a lot of criticism from many Kazakhs, especially from “Qazqom”, who spent a lot of money on re-branding, but personally, in my perception, the letter “Qq” does not fit in with our guttural sound [қ]. In most modern European languages, the letter “Qq” is combined with certain vowels and pronounced softly. And only in Arabic, this letter means an emphatic guttural sound [q]. One could follow their example and borrow this letter. But since we agreed with the introduction of specific signs in our alphabet, I believe that it is more expedient to leave our old letter “Ққ”. It shows the proximity of the indicated sound to the sound [k] and at the same time makes it clear about some kind of its change. And at the same time, Europeans will not be associated with soft [k] as in the word “Queen” (queen).
It was an uneasy dilemma when choosing a letter for our specific sound [ŋ] (the current letter “Ңң”). It is clear that now we need to build on not from the Cyrillic letter “Нн”, but from the Latin “Nn”. But here are several options, of which two are the most optimal.
The first is to apply the already familiar ponytail at the end of the letter and get a specific “Ŋŋ” sign. Advantage of this option is the that, although not in a letter, but in the phonetic transcription of many languages, it denotes a velar nasal consonant sound, as close as possible to our sound [ŋ]. For example, English-speaking readers will intuitively understand what kind of sound they are talking about, because they saw in the textbooks the “ŋ” icon under the combination of “ng”, as in the word “thing” (thing). The contra argument of this option is that it is not used in the printed alphabet of any of the most common languages (only in some African and American languages of the aborigines).
The second option is to apply the superscript tilde and get the specific letter “Ññ”. For this option there is an argument that this sign is used now in one of the most widespread languages of the world – in Spanish, although it means a slightly different sound – the palatal nasal consonant (the mid-lingual nasal). This sign is also adopted in modern Tatar Latin.
Considering all of the above, I finally was inclined to the variant “Ññ”.
When looking for a sign for one more of our specific sound [ø] (the current letter “Өө”), there are two most acceptable options.
The first is to leave our specific letter “Өө”. The advantage of this form is that it is familiar to all local Kazakhs (living in Kazakhstan), and also that it is used in Bashkir, Buryat, Kalmyk and in some other languages.
The second option is the letter “Öö” of the extended Latin alphabet. In this form, to indicate a similar sound, it is used in German, Swedish, Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Turkish, Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Tatar and some other languages.
I believe that such coverage of the alphabets with the letter “Öö” makes its advantage undeniable.
Only two variants deserve serious consideration for the sound [ʃ] (the current letter “Ш”): the letter “Šš” with a diacritical sign “gachek”, widespread in the Eastern European countries (Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) and the letter “Şş” with cedil, common in the Turkic countries (Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tatarstan and others).
I think that the relation of our language to the Turkic group undoubtedly predetermines the choice in favor of the letter “Şş”.
I am absolutely against the use of the letter “Ww” to denote the sound [u]. I speak and write in English, where this letter is used. So, I declare that it is absolutely not associated with the stretching sound [u]. In most cases, it passes a short [w] before another vowel, as, for example, in the word “what”. There is no separate transitional vowel in the Kazakh language. There is simply a sound [u], which, depending on the location, can be long or short. Since the letter “Uu”, which transmits the sound [u] in our new alphabet already exists, I suggest that the letter “Ww” should not be used at all.
“Úú” and “Ûû”
Two specific Kazakh sounds [y] (the current letter “Үү”) and the sound [ʊ] (the current letter “Ұұ”) are similar in pronunciation to the sound [u] (the Latin letter “Uu”), so it is indisputable to rely on it in writing. There are several diacritical signs that could be used. It should be noted that none of them gives in other alphabets a sound similar to our [y] and [ʊ]. Therefore, you can use any of them. By following the principle of uniformity I decided to apply the same signs as for the letters “Éé” and “Êê”. Of course, I would like to use the letter “Üü” for a soft sound [y], so that it can be logically built into a number of softened vowels “Ää” and “Öö”. However, if I followed this path, I would have to replace the first “Éé” and “Êê” with the vowels “Ёё”, and this would cause the Kazakhs, most of them Russian-speaking, to undesirably mix with the Russian letter “Ёё”.
Based on the above, I decided to apply a couple of letters “Úú” and “Ûû”.
I absolutely disagree with the developers of the new Kazakh Latin alphabet, who decided the palatal approximant [j] (the letter “Йй”) with the letter “Jj”. I guess that they took this step from despair, since the letter “Yy” was forced to sacrifice for the sake of sound [ɯ] (the current letter “Ыы”). However, I think this is not the best solution.
In most modern European languages, the letter “Yy” is read as “Йй”. For example, “buy” (buy), “coyote” (coyote). Accordingly, in Kazakh words, after a vowel (and so often it happens), this letter will be read as “й” by the majority of European speakers.
That’s why I propose the letter “Yy” to be used for “йотирования”( iotating).
I ask the public to consider my version of the Kazakh Latin alphabet and express their opinion.
I am sure that the more variants of the alphabet will be put to open discussion, the more there will be opportunities for choice and for competition of ideas. And in the competition, as we know, the best decisions win.
Good luck to all of us!