The switch of Kazakhstan to the Latin alphabet has caused many controversies in the Kazakhstani society.
Let’s try to understand this issue as objectively as possible, without emotion.
What are the arguments for the switch to the Latin alphabet?
First is the rapprochement of Kazakhstan with the world community, in which the overwhelming majority of countries use this alphabet.
Indeed, if you look at the map and statistics, it is clear that apart from China, India, the Arab world and South-East Asia, most countries of the world use the Latin alphabet. If we take into account that English is the language of international communication, then we can say that the absolute majority of people on Earth understand and can read the Latin letters.
What does this mean for us? The fact that most foreigners who speak English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and many other languages will be easier to understand and learn the Kazakh language. In its turn, it will be easier for Kazakhs to learn English, write, read and talk on it in the future.
But, perhaps more than in common communication, for example, tourists, it is important to interact between countries in various practical fields of activity, such as science, technology, industry, agriculture, pharmaceuticals. All the main documents, regulations, instructions, classifiers in these industries, first of all, are written in English and only then translated into other languages. Reading them, even in other languages, of course, is easier if you know the Latin alphabet. It is a no brainer, that programs with catalogs in English often do not recognize Cyrillics, and you have to switch. Users of computer programs will understand what we are talking about. The international names of hundreds of thousands of medicines have a Latin spelling. It is certainly easier for those who write and read in the Latin alphabet to read them on the original alphabet.
The second argument for switching to the Latin alphabet is getting out of Russia’s influence.
In fact, for many Kazakhstanis this is the main argument. It must be admitted that at present time the national-patriotic sentiments in the country have intensified, and the idea of further retreat from the former metropolis is gaining popularity. And although some observers try to soften the tone of the statements on the Internet on this topic, I believe that the switch from Cyrillic to Latin will indeed become a factor that distances us from Russia. Certainly not of rapprochement.
But is it bad or good?
I think it’s good.
I want to note right away that I have nothing against Russia, in capacity as a neighboring state, as a nation that lived near us from beginning of time, who had a common history with us. But … times have changed. Now we are freestanding independent state. Do we need to be so close to a neighbor, pander to it so much to prefer its writing to a more promising international writing system? I think not.
Imagine that you are walking with your best friend with hands around each other. This shows how close you are together. But at some point you understand that in this position it is uncomfortable to talk with other friends. After all, you also need say hello to them, hug, even whisper. What’s your action? You politely take your friend’s hand off your shoulder, but keep walking along with him. If your friend is an adequate person, he will understand everything and will go along with you, but no longer in embrace. At the same time, he will remain a friend. Only quick to take offence and envious person will push you away and say: “You are no longer my friend!”. The same here, I hope that Russia won’t get us wrong and not see in our desire to choose a more convenient and widespread alphabet as some kind of hostile gesture.
What are the arguments of opponents of the switch to the Latin alphabet?
The first argument: we will split the country into two camps, writing in Cyrillic and writing in Latin. I think, in fact, it implies confrontation between Kazakh-speaking and Russian-speaking Kazakhstanis. However, I believe that such confrontation already existed. It did not come from switch of the state language into Latin alphabet.
In addition, I would like to remind you that the Russian language in Kazakhstan will continue to circulate in Cyrillic. That is, for those who mostly write and read in Russian, nothing will change. They will continue this in Cyrillic. As for Kazakh-speaking citizens, strangely enough the overwhelming majority of them enthusiastically took the switch to the Latin alphabet. Although all the burden will fall on them. In this case, the question arises why Russian-speaking citizens are so concerned about this innovation. In this regard, a joke appeared on the Internet: “Those who do not know and do not want to learn Kazakh are outraged that now they will not have to know it in Latin.”
The second argument of the opponents of innovation is that we are drifting away from Russia.
Yes, incredible as it may seem, some of our citizens perceive this factor as positive one, and the others – as negative. Of course, the latter are mainly ethnically Russian citizens, who retain strong mental ties with their “second homeland” and want to have as many ties between Kazakhstan and Russia as possible. It is understandable. In this case, they would feel more secure and have more opportunities in Kazakhstan. However, the situation is changing. In Kazakhstan, there are more and more people who would like to politely but firmly “take the old friend’s hand off their shoulder and chat with other friends around.”
The third argument – the innovation will require enormous financial expenses from the state budget.
I agree. Certain additional costs will be required. But not so big, that it can stop us from the move to the right direction. The thing is that Latin will not be inserted in one year, but gradually. This means that documents, signs, stamps and so on will not lose their force due to the fact that they are written in Cyrillic, but will continue to exist until their natural wear and tear, or until a replacement is needed in the normal procedure. Of course only long-lasting data holders, as, for example, inscriptions on monuments in stone, metal structures on buildings have to be remade.
The next, fourth, argument follows from the previous argument. Something like, now is not the best time for additional expenses. Crisis is knocking on our doors.
I do not agree with this. I suppose, in society there will never be such time when all citizens would unanimously say: “Well, that’s all, now we are living well. We can spend money on something else.” As far as I know, there is never such unanimity. It always seems that it is not the time that there will be better times. We thought like this even when recent years were rich in petrodollars.
In addition, I would like to cite Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and other republics that resolutely switched to the Latin alphabet during the crisis. This transition did not affect their economic situation.
The fifth argument – a new generation of Kazakhstanis will be cut off from a huge layer of information in the Cyrillic alphabet, accumulated over the past seventy years.
In response to that, I want to remind you once again that all information in Russian in Kazakhstan will continue to exist in Cyrillic. It is only information in the Kazakh language. Here, I must admit with regret that such information has not been generated much over all these years and nowadays. The gradual rotation of all new books and magazines in the Latin alphabet, in my opinion, in a few years will smoothly replace the entire layer of necessary Kazakh literature. That is, the Kazakh who wants to read Abai in Cyrillic alphabet, will have time to find many books in Cyrillic alphabet in seven or eight years, until they disappear completely from circulation, even in libraries. Additionally, according to my own observations, Kazakh-speaking citizens can very quickly switch from Cyrillic to Latin while reading Kazakh texts. In regard of the younger generation, who studied English at school, I am not worried at all.
Summing up the argument between supporters and opponents of the transition of the Kazakh language to the Latin alphabet, I will say that I see more advantages, both in political and practical terms. All arguments of opponents, in my opinion, do not outweigh the benefits of switching to the Latin alphabet.