Kazakh or Qazaq (Latin: qazaqşa or qazaq tılı, Cyrillic: қазақша or қазақ тілі, Arabic: قازاقشا or قازاق ٴتىلى, pronounced [qɑzɑqˈɕɑ], [qɑˈzɑq tɪˈlɪ]), is a Turkic language of the Kipchak branch spoken in Central Asia. It is closely related to Nogai, Kyrgyz and Karakalpak. Kazakh is the official language of Kazakhstan and a significant minority language in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, China and in the Bayan-Ölgii Province of Mongolia. Kazakh is also spoken by many ethnic Kazakhs throughout the former Soviet Union (some 472,000 in Russia according to the 2010 Russian Census), Germany, Turkey.
|қазақша or қазақ тілі|
قازاقشا or قازاق ٴتىلى
qazaqşa or qazaq tılı
|Native to||Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan|
|13.2 million (2009)|
|Kazakh alphabets (Latin script, Cyrillic script, Arabic script, Kazakh Braille)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||Ministry of Culture and Sports|
The Kazakh-speaking world:
regions where Kazakh is the language of the majority
regions where Kazakh is the language of a significant minority
Like other Turkic languages, Kazakh is an agglutinative language and employs vowel harmony.
In October 2017, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that the writing system would change from using Cyrillic to Latin script by 2025. The proposed Latin alphabet has been revised several times and as of January 2021 is close to the inventory of the Turkish alphabet, though lacking the letters C and Ç and having four additional letters: Ä, Ŋ, Q and Ū (though other letters such as Y have different values in the two languages). It is scheduled to be phased in from 2023 to 2031.
Speakers of Kazakh (mainly Kazakhs) are spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan to the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, with nearly 10 million speakers (based on information from the CIA World Factbook on population and proportion of Kazakh speakers).
In China, nearly two million ethnic Kazakhs and Kazakh speakers reside in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang.
The oldest known written records of languages closely related to Kazakh were written in the Old Turkic alphabet, though it is not believed that any of these varieties were direct predecessors of Kazakh. Modern Kazakh, going back approximately one thousand years, was written in the Arabic script until 1929, when Soviet authorities introduced a Latin-based alphabet, and then a Cyrillic alphabet in 1940.
Nazarbayev first brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan in October 2006. A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that a switch to a Latin script over a 10- to 12-year period was feasible, at a cost of $300 million. The transition was halted temporarily on 13 December 2007, with President Nazarbayev declaring: "For 70 years the Kazakhstanis read and wrote in Cyrillic. More than 100 nationalities live in our state. Thus we need stability and peace. We should be in no hurry in the issue of alphabet transformation." However, on 30 January 2015, the Minister of Culture and Sports Arystanbek Mukhamediuly announced that a transition plan was underway, with specialists working on the orthography to accommodate the phonological aspects of the language. In presenting this strategic plan in April 2017, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev described the twentieth century as a period in which the "Kazakh language and culture have been devastated".
Nazarbayev ordered Kazakh authorities to create a Latin Kazakh alphabet by the end of 2017, so written Kazakh could return to a Latin script starting in 2018. As of 2018, Kazakh is written in Cyrillic in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, Kazakh is written in Latin in Kazakhstan, while more than one million Kazakh speakers in China use an Arabic-derived alphabet similar to the one that is used to write Uyghur.
On 26 October 2017, Nazarbayev issued Presidential Decree 569 for the change to a finalized Latin variant of the Kazakh alphabet and ordered that the government's transition to this alphabet be completed by 2025, a decision taken to emphasise Kazakh culture after the era of Soviet rule and to facilitate the use of digital devices. However, the initial decision to use a novel orthography employing apostrophes, which make the use of many popular tools for searching and writing text difficult, generated controversy.
Therefore, on 19 February 2018, the Presidential Decree 637 was issued in which the use of apostrophes was discontinued and replaced with the use of diacritics and digraphs. However, many citizens state that the officially introduced alphabet needs further improvements. Moreover, Kazakh became the second Turkic language to use the "ch" and "sh" digraphs after the Uzbek government adapted them in their version of the Latin alphabet.
In 2020, the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for another revision of the Latin alphabet with a focus on preserving the original sounds and pronunciation of the Kazakh language. This revision, presented to the public in November 2019 by academics from the Baitursynov Institute of Linguistics, and specialists belonging to the official working group on script transition, uses umlauts, breves and cedillas instead of digraphs and acute accents, and introduces spelling changes in order to reflect more accurately the phonology of Kazakh. This revision is a slightly modified version of the Turkish alphabet, dropping the letter C and having four additional letters that do not exist in Turkish: Ä, Q, Ŋ and W.
|Comparison using article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights|
|Cyrillic||Arabic||2021 Latin||English translation|
|Барлық адамдар тумысынан азат және қадір-қасиеті мен құқықтары тең болып дүниеге келеді.||بارلىق ادامدار تۋمىسىنان ازات جانە قادىر-قاسيەتى مەن قۇقىقتارى تەڭ بولىپ دۇنيەگە كەلەدى. -||Barlyq adamdar tumysynan azat jäne qadır-qasietı men qūqyqtary teñ bolyp düniege keledı.||All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.|
|Адамдарға ақыл-парасат, ар-ождан берілген,||ادامدارعا اقىل پاراسات، ار-ۇجدان بەرىلگەن ،||Adamdarğa aqyl-parasat, ar-ojdan berılgen,||They are endowed with reason and conscience|
|сондықтан олар бір-бірімен туыстық, бауырмалдық қарым-қатынас жасаулары тиіс.||سوندىقتان ولار ٴبىر-بىرىمەن تۋىستىق، باۋىرمالدىق قارىم-قاتىناس جاساۋلارى ٴتيىس .||sondyqtan olar bır-bırımen tuystyq, bauyrmaldyq qarym-qatynas jasaulary tiıs.||and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.|
Kazakh exhibits tongue-root vowel harmony, with some words of recent foreign origin (usually of Russian or Arabic origin) as exceptions. There is also a system of rounding harmony which resembles that of Kyrgyz, but which does not apply as strongly and is not reflected in the orthography.
The following chart depicts the consonant inventory of standard Kazakh; many of the sounds, however, are allophones of other sounds or appear only in recent loan-words. The 18 consonant phonemes listed by Vajda are without parentheses—since these are phonemes, their listed place and manner of articulation are very general, and will vary from what is shown. The phonemes /f/, /v/ and /t͡ɕ/ only occur in recent borrowings, mostly from Russian.
In the table, the elements left of a divide are voiceless, while those to the right are voiced.
|Nasal||m ⟨м/m⟩||n ⟨н/n⟩||ŋ ⟨ң/ŋ⟩|
|Stop||p ⟨п/p⟩||b ⟨б/b⟩||t ⟨т/t⟩||d ⟨д/d⟩||tɕ ⟨ч/ç⟩||k ⟨к/k⟩||ɡ ⟨г/g⟩||q ⟨қ/q⟩|
|Fricative||f ⟨ф/f⟩||v ⟨в/v⟩||s ⟨с/s⟩||z ⟨з/z⟩||ɕ ⟨ш/ş⟩||ʑ ⟨ж/j⟩||χ ⟨х/h⟩||ʁ ⟨ғ/ğ⟩|
|Approximant||l ⟨л/l⟩||j ⟨й/i⟩||w ⟨у/u⟩|
Kazakh has a system of 12 phonemic vowels, 3 of which are diphthongs. The rounding contrast and /æ/ generally only occur as phonemes in the first syllable of a word, but do occur later allophonically; see the section on harmony below for more information. Moreover, the /æ/ sound has been included artificially due to the influence of Arabic, Persian and, later, Tatar languages during the Islamic period. The mid vowels "e, ө, о" are diphthongised with onsets [j͡ɪ, w͡ʉ, w͡ʊ].
Phonetic values are paired with the corresponding character in Kazakh's Cyrillic and current Latin alphabets.
(Advanced tongue root)
(Relaxed tongue root)
(Retracted tongue root)
|Close||ɪ ⟨і/ı⟩||ʉ ⟨ү/ü⟩||ʊ ⟨ұ/ū⟩|
|Diphthong||jɪ ⟨е/e⟩||əj ⟨и/i⟩||ʊw ⟨у/u⟩|
|Mid||e ⟨э/e⟩||ə ⟨ы/y⟩||o ⟨о/o⟩|
|Open||æ ⟨ә/ä⟩||œ ⟨ө/ö⟩||ɑ ⟨а/a⟩|
|Close||ɪ ⟨і/i⟩||ʉ ⟨ү/ü⟩||ə ⟨ы/y⟩||ʊ ⟨ұ/ū⟩|
|Open||e ⟨э/e⟩ / æ ⟨ә/ä⟩||œ̝ ⟨ө/ö⟩||ɑ ⟨а/a⟩||o̞ ⟨о/o⟩|
Morphology and syntax
Kazakh is generally verb-final, though various permutations on SOV (subject–object–verb) word order can be used, for example, due to topicalization. Inflectional and derivational morphology, both verbal and nominal, in Kazakh, exists almost exclusively in the form of agglutinative suffixes. Kazakh is a nominative-accusative, head-final, left-branching, dependent-marking language.
There are eight personal pronouns in Kazakh:
|Kazakh (transliteration)||English||Kazakh (transliteration)||English|
|Sen||You (singular informal)||Sender||You (plural informal)|
|Sız||You (singular formal)||Sızder||You (plural formal)|
|2nd sng formal & pl||sız||-siz||-(i)ŋiz||-(i)ŋiz/-(y)ŋyz|
Tense, aspect and mood
Kazakh may express different combinations of tense, aspect and mood through the use of various verbal morphology or through a system of auxiliary verbs, many of which might better be considered light verbs. The present tense is a prime example of this; progressive tense in Kazakh is formed with one of four possible auxiliaries. These auxiliaries "otyr" (sit), "tūr" (stand), "jür" (go) and "jat" (lie), encode various shades of meaning of how the action is carried out and also interact with the lexical semantics of the root verb: telic and non-telic actions, semelfactives, durative and non-durative, punctual, etc. There are selectional restrictions on auxiliaries: motion verbs, such as бару (go) and келу (come) may not combine with "otyr". Any verb, however, can combine with "jat" (lie) to get a progressive tense meaning.
While it is possible to think that different categories of aspect govern the choice of auxiliary, it is not so straightforward in Kazakh. Auxiliaries are internally sensitive to the lexical semantics of predicates, for example, verbs describing motion:
In addition to the complexities of the progressive tense, there are many auxiliary-converb pairs that encode a range of aspectual, modal, volitional, evidential and action- modificational meanings. For example, the pattern -yp köru, with the auxiliary verb köru (see), indicates that the subject of the verb attempted or tried to do something (compare the Japanese てみる temiru construction).
Annotated text with gloss
From the first stanza of "Menıŋ Qazaqstanym" ("My Kazakhstan"), the national anthem of Kazakhstan:
|Менің Қазақстаным||Men-ıŋ Qazaqstan-ym||My Kazakhstan|
|Алтын күн аспаны||Altyn kün aspan-y||The golden sun in the sky|
|[ɑltən kʉn ɑspɑˈnə]||gold sun sky-3.POSS|
|Алтын дән даласы||Altyn dän dala-sy||The golden corn of the steppe|
|[altən dæn dɑlɑˈsə]||gold corn steppe-3.POSS|
|Ерліктің дастаны||Erlık-tıŋ dastan-y||The legend of courage|
|[erlɘkˈtɘŋ dɑstɑˈnə]||courage legend-GEN epic-3.POSS-NOM|
|Еліме қарашы!||El-ım-e qara-şy||Just look at my country!|
|[ɘlɘˈmʲe qɑrɑˈʃə]||country-1SG.ACC look-IMP|
|Ежелден ер деген||Ejel-den er de-gen||Called heroes since time immemorial|
|[ɘʑʲɘlˈdʲen ɘr dʲɪˈɡʲen]||antiquity-ABL hero say-PTCP.PST|
|Даңқымыз шықты ғой||Daŋq-ymyz şyq-ty ğoi||Our glory, emerged!|
|[dɑɴqəˈməz ʃəqˈtə ʁoj]||glory-1PL.POSS.NOM emerge-PST.3 EMPH|
|Намысын бермеген||Namys-yn ber-me-gen||Without losing their honor|
|[nɑməˈsən bʲermʲeˈɡʲen]||honor-3.POSS-ACC give-NEG-PTCP.PST|
|Қазағым мықты ғой||Qazağ-ym myqty ğoi||Mighty are my Kazakh people!|
|[qɑzɑˈʁəm məqˈtə ʁoj]||Kazakh-1SG.POSS strong EMPH|
|Менің елім, менің елім||Men-ıŋ el-ım, menıŋ el-ım||My country, my country|
|[mʲɘˈnɘŋ ɘˈlɪm, mʲɘˈnɘŋ ɘˈlɪm]||1SG.GEN my country (2x)-1SG.NOM|
|Гүлің болып, егілемін||Gül-ıŋ bol-yp, eg-ıl-e-mın||As your flower, I am rooted in you|
|[ɡʉˈlɘŋ boˈləp, ɘɡɘlʲɘˈmɪn]||flower-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, root-PASS-PRES-1SG|
|Жырың болып төгілемін, елім||Jyr-yŋ bol-yp, tög-ıl-e-mın, el-ım||As your song, I will be sung abound|
|[ʒəˈrəŋ boˈləp tœɡɪlˈʲɘmɪn, ɘˈlɪm]||song-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, sing-PASS-PRES-1SG, country-1SG.POSS.NOM|
|Туған жерім менің – Қазақстаным||Tu-ğan jer-ım menıŋ – Qazaqstan-ym||My native land – My Kazakhstan|
|[tuwˈʁan ʒeˈrɪm mʲɘnɘŋ qɑzɑqˈstɑnəm]||birth-PTCP-PST place-1SG.POSS.NOM 1SG.GEN – Kazakhstan-1SG.POSS.NOM|
Comparison with Kyrgyz
Kazakh and Kyrgyz may be better seen as mutually intelligible dialects or varieties of a single tongue which are regarded as separate languages for sociopolitical reasons. They differ mainly phonetically while the lexicon and grammar are much the same, although both have standardized written forms that may differ in some ways. Until the 20th century, both languages used a common written form of Chaghatai Turkic.
- BGN/PCGN romanization of Kazakh
- Turkic languages
- Kazakh literature
- Languages of Kazakhstan
- "Central Asia: Kazakhstan". The 2017 World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 26 October 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
- Map showing the geographical diffusion of the Kazakh and other Turkish languages
- Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2017). "Kazakh". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (20th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
- Mukhamedova, Raikhangul (2015). Kazakh: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. ISBN 9781317573081.
- Назарбаев, Нұрсұлтан (26 April 2017). Болашаққа бағдар: рухани жаңғыру [Orientation for the future: spiritual revival]. Egemen Qazaqstan (in Kazakh). Archived from the original on 28 June 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "Kazakhstan switching to Latin alphabet". Interfax. 30 October 2006. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
- "Kazakh President Revives Idea of Switching to Latin Script". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 24 October 2006. Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- Bartlett, Paul (3 September 2007). "Kazakhstan: Moving Forward With Plan to Replace Cyrillic With Latin Alphabet". EurasiaNet. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev". Kazinform. 13 December 2007, cited in "Kazakhstan backtracks on move from Cyrillic to Roman alphabet?". Pinyin News. 14 December 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet – MCS RK". Kazinform. 30 January 2015. Archived from the original on 19 February 2017. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
- "Kazakh President Orders Shift Away From Cyrillic Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 12 April 2017. Archived from the original on 6 July 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "From Я to R: How To Change A Country's Alphabet – And How Not To". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 16 May 2017. Archived from the original on 23 May 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
- О переводе алфавита казахского языка с кириллицы на латинскую графику [On the change of the alphabet of the Kazakh language from the Cyrillic to the Latin script] (in Russian). President of the Republic of Kazakhstan. 26 October 2017. Archived from the original on 27 October 2017. Retrieved 26 October 2017.
- Illmer, Andreas; Daniyarov, Elbek; Rakhimov, Azim (31 October 2017). "Kazakhstan to Qazaqstan: Why would a country switch its alphabet?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 31 October 2017. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
- "Nazarbayev Signs Decree On Kazakh Language Switch To Latin-Based Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 27 October 2017. Archived from the original on 27 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
- "Alphabet soup as Kazakh leader orders switch from Cyrillic to Latin letters". The Guardian. 26 October 2017. Archived from the original on 28 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017 – via Reuters.
- Higgins, Andrew (2018). "Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
- "Kazakhstan adopts new version of Latin-based Kazakh alphabet". The Astana Times. 26 February 2018.
- Decree No. 637 of February 19, 2018
- "Kazakh President Tokaev introduces reforms". Modern Diplomacy Europe. 7 January 2020.
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- Yergaliyeva, Aidana (18 November 2019). "Fourth version of Kazakh Latin script will preserve language purity, linguists say". The Astana Times. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
- Some variations occur in the different regions where Kazakh is spoken, including outside Kazakhstan; e. g. ж / ج (where a Perso-Arabic script similar to the current Uyghur alphabet is used) is read [ʑ] in standard Kazakh, but [d͡ʑ] in some places.
- Vajda, Edward (1994), "Kazakh phonology", in Kaplan, E.; Whisenhunt, D. (eds.), Essays presented in honor of Henry Schwarz, Washington: Western Washington, pp. 603–650
- Wagner, John Doyle; Dotton, Zura. A Grammar of Kazakh (PDF).
- Robert Lindsay. "Mutual Intelligibility Among the Turkic Languages". Cite journal requires
- Kara, Dävid Somfai (2002), Kazak, Lincom Europa, ISBN 9783895864704
- Mark Kirchner: "Kazakh and Karakalpak". In: The Turkic languages. Ed. by Lars Johanson and É. Á. Csató. London [u.a.] : Routledge, 1998. (Routledge language family descriptions). S.318-332.
|Kazakh edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Kazakh.|
- Kazakh Cyrillic–Latin (new) converter
- Kazakh Cyrillic–Latin (old)–Arabic converter
- Kazakh language, alphabet and pronunciation
- Aliya S. Kuzhabekova, "Past, Present and Future of Language Policy in Kazakhstan" (M.A. thesis, University of North Dakota, 2003)
- Russian–Kazakh Kazakh–Russian dictionary
- Kazakh language recordings, British Library
- Kazakh – Apertium
- Kazakh<>Turkish Dictionary
- Kazakhstan in the CIA World Factbook
- US Peace Corps Kazakh Language Courses transcribed to HTML