Three alphabets are used to write the Kazakh language: the Cyrillic, Latin and Arabic script. The Cyrillic script is used in Mongolia. An October 2017 Presidential Decree in Kazakhstan ordered that the transition from Cyrillic to a Latin script be completed by 2025. The Arabic script is used in parts of China, Iran and Afghanistan.
The Kazakh Cyrillic alphabet is used in Kazakhstan and the Bayan-Ölgiy Province in Mongolia. It is also used by Kazakh populations in Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as diasporas in other countries of the former USSR. It was introduced during the Russian Empire period in the 1800s, and then adapted by the Soviet Union in 1940.
In the nineteenth century, Ibrahim Altynsarin, a prominent Kazakh educator, first introduced a Cyrillic alphabet for transcribing Kazakh. Russian missionary activity, as well as Russian-sponsored schools, further encouraged the use of Cyrillic in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The alphabet was reworked by Sarsen Amanzholov and accepted in its current form in 1940. It contains 42 letters: 33 from the Russian alphabet with 9 additional letters for sounds of the Kazakh language: Ә, Ғ, Қ, Ң, Ө, Ұ, Ү, Һ, І (until 1957 Ӯ was used instead of Ұ). Initially, Kazakh letters came after letters from the Russian alphabet, but now they are placed after Russian letters similar in sound or shape.
The letters В, Ё (since 1957), Ф, Х, Ц, Ч, Щ, Ъ, Ь and Э are not used in native Kazakh words. Of these, Ё, Ц, Ч, Щ, Ъ, Ь, Э, are used only in words borrowed from Russian or through the Russian language which are written according to Russian orthographic rules. The letter Х in conversational speech is pronounced similar to Қ. The letter Һ is used only in Arabic-Persian borrowings and is often pronounced like an unvoiced Х (as /h/, or a voiceless glottal fricative).
The letter И represents the tense vowel [i] obtained from the combinations ЫЙ /əj/ and ІЙ /ɪj/. The letter У represents /w/ and the tense vowel [u] obtained from the combinations ҰУ /ʊw/, ҮУ /ʉw/, ЫУ /əw/ and ІУ /ɪw/. Additionally, И and У are retained in words borrowed from Russian, where they represent the simple vowels [i] and [u] respectively.
Before the spread of operating systems and text editors with support for Unicode, Cyrillic Kazakh often didn't fit on a keyboard because of the problem with 8-bit encoding, which was not supported at the system level and the absence of standard computer fonts. More than 20 variations of 8-bit encoding for Kazakh Cyrillic have been suggested, including the following government standards: (Note these are historical code pages, modern systems use Unicode Encoding, such as UTF-8)
- СТ РК 920-91 for DOS (a modification of code page 866)
- СТ РК 1048—2002 for Windows (a modification of code page 1251)
СТ РК 1048—2002 was confirmed in 2002, well after the introduction of different Windows character sets. Some Internet resources in part used the government information agency QazAqparat before the encoding of this standard. Today the encoding UTF-8 is being accepted.
The standard Windows keyboard layout used for Cyrillic Kazakh in Kazakhstan is a modification of the standard Russian keyboard, with characters found in Kazakh but not in Russian located on the number keys.
A number of Latin alphabets are in use to write the Kazakh language. A variant based on the Turkish alphabet is unofficially used by the Kazakh diaspora in Turkey and in Western countries. As with other Central Asian Turkic languages, a Latin alphabet was introduced by the Soviets and used from 1927 to 1940 when it was replaced with Cyrillic.
As part of a modernization program, Decree 569 from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered the replacement of the Cyrillic script with a Latin script by 2025. In 2007, Nazarbayev had opposed such a change, stating: "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". But in 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. On April 12, 2017, President Nazarbayev published an article in state newspaper Egemen Qazaqstan announcing a switchover to the Latin alphabet by 2025, a decision implemented by decree. Nazarbayev argued that "Kazakh language and culture have been devastated" during the period of Soviet rule, and that ending the use of Cyrillic is useful in re-asserting national identity.
The new Latin alphabet tries to avoid digraphs (such as "sh", "ch") and diacritics (such as "ä" or "ç"). In fact, President Nazarbayev had expressly stated that the new alphabet should contain "no hooks or superfluous dots". Instead, the new alphabet, which is based on a transliteration of Cyrillic into Latin letters, uses apostrophes to denote those Kazakh letters where there was no direct Latin equivalent. This is similar to the Karakalpak Latin orthography and the Uzbek alphabet.
The new Latin alphabet is also a step to weaken the traditional Russian influence on the country, as Russian language is the country's second official language.
The Uniform Turkic Alphabet was used in the USSR from 1927 to 1940, when it was replaced by the current Cyrillic script. Kazakh speakers in countries that use the Latin script also use a different Latin alphabet based on the Turkish alphabet.
The Arabic script is the official alphabet for Kazakhs in the Altay Prefecture and the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. It was first introduced to the territory of Kazakhstan in the eleventh century, and was traditionally used to write Kazakh until the introduction of a Latin alphabet in 1927. In 1924, Kazakh intellectual Akhmet Baitursynov attempted to reform the Arabic script to better suit Kazakh. The letters ۆ, گ, ڭ, پ and چ are used to represent sounds not found in the Arabic language.
A modified Arabic script is also used in Iran and Afghanistan, based on the alphabet used for Kazakh before 1927.
The Kazakh Arabic alphabet contains 29 letters and one digit, the 'upper hamza' used at the beginnings of words to create front vowels throughout the word. The direction the alphabet is written in is right to left.
Forms of the Kazakh Arabic alphabet
|ي||يـ||ـيـ||ـي||я екі ноқат||и|
|ي||يـ||ـيـ||ـي||я екі ноқат|
|ڭـ||ـڭـ||ـڭ||еңге / кәф үш ноқат||ң|
|ـۋ||уа / уау үш ноқат||у|
|ۇ||ـۇ||дамма-уа / дамма-уау||ұ|
|ـٷ||һәмзә-уа / һәмзә-дамма-уау||ү|
Correspondence chart of official and most widespread writing scripts
|Braille||Arabic||Name of Arabic Letter||IPA transcription|
|А а||A a||A a||⠁||ا||Alif||/ɑ/|
|Ә ә||A' a'||Ä ä||⠜||ٵ||Hamza + Alif||/æ/|
|Б б||B b||B b||⠃||ب||Ba||/b/|
|В в||V v||V v||⠺||ۆ||Waw with V||/v/|
|Г г||G g||G g||⠛||گ||Gaf||/ɡ/|
|Ғ ғ||G' g'||Ğ ğ||⠻||ع||Ghain||/ʁ/|
|Д д||D d||D d||⠙||د||Dal||/d/|
|Е е||E e||E e||⠑||ە||Ha||/e/, /ʲe/|
|Ё ё||Yo yo||⠡||يو||Yo||/jo/|
|Ж ж||J j||J j||⠚||ج||Jeem||/ʒ/, /ʐ/|
|З з||Z z||Z z||⠵||ز||Za||/z/|
|И и||I' i'||Ï ï||⠊||ٸ||Ya||/əj/, /ɘj/|
|Й й||I' i'||Y y||⠯||ي||Ya||/j/|
|К к||K k||K k||⠅||ك||Kaf||/k/|
|Қ қ||Q q||Q q||⠹||ق||Qaf||/q/|
|Л л||L l||L l||⠇||ل||Lam||/ɫ/, /l/|
|М м||M m||M m||⠍||م||Meem||/m/|
|Н н||N n||N n||⠝||ن||Noon||/n/|
|Ң ң||N' n'||Ñ ñ||⠩||ڭ||Kaf with 3 dots||/ŋ/|
|О о||O o||O o||⠕||و||Waw||/o/, /ʷo/|
|Ө ө||O' o'||Ö ö||⠣||ٶ||Hamza + Waw||/œ/, /ʷœ/|
|П п||P p||P p||⠏||پ||Pa||/p/|
|Р р||R r||R r||⠗||ر||Ra||/ɾ/|
|С с||S s||S s||⠎||س||Seen||/s/|
|Т т||T t||T t||⠞||ت||Ta||/t/|
|У у||Y' y'||W w||⠥||ۋ||Waw with 3 dots||/w/, /ʊw/, /ʉw/|
|Ұ ұ||U u||U u||⠌||ۇ||Waw with damma||/ʊ/|
|Ү ү||U' u'||Ü ü||⠬||ٷ||Hamza + Waw with damma||/ʉ/|
|Ф ф||F f||F f||⠋||ف||Fa||/f/|
|Х х||H h||X x||⠓||ح||Kha without dots||/χ/|
|Һ һ||H h||H h||⠧||ھ||Initial Ha||/h/|
|Ц ц||C c||⠉||تس||Ta + Seen||/ts/|
|Ч ч||C' c'||Ç ç||⠟||چ||Cheem||/t͡ɕ/|
|Ш ш||S' s'||Ş ş||⠱||ش||Sheen||/ʃ/, /ʂ/|
|Щ щ||Şş şş||⠭||شش||Sheen + Sheen||/ɕː/|
|Ы ы||Y y||I ı||⠮||ى||Ya without dots||/ə/|
|І і||I i||İ i||⠽||ٸ||Hamza + Ya without dots||/ɘ/|
|Э э||É é||⠪||ە||Ha||/e/|
|Ю ю||Yw yw||⠳||يۋ||Ya + Waw with 3 dots||/jʉw/, /jʊw/|
|Я я||Ya ya||⠫||يا||Ya + Alif||/jɑ/|
Symbols in parentheses are for bi-directional transliteration only; See Meniñ Qazaqstanım.
Orkhon-Yenisey Runes have a superficial similarity to Germanic Runes in shape. Unlike the Germanic runes, Old Turkic alphabet runes are read right to left as opposed to the Germanic runes that are read left to right. The script was used in some parts of Kazakhstan's territory in the fifth to the tenth centuries. The language of the inscriptions was the Old Turkic, the language of the Turkic Khaganate.
They migrated from the Armenian kingdom in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Armenians had an extensive liturgical, legal and other literature in the Kipchak language that differs from Old Kazakh only by the abundance of the Armenian-Christian vocabulary. These texts were written using the Armenian alphabet. Their descendants who settled around the world, almost to the end of the nineteenth century, the Armenian-Kipchak were writing business records, personal correspondence and more.
Catholic missionaries in Crimea produced holy books in the Kipchak language, the ancestor of the Kazakh language, they produced the Gospel and the other liturgical books.
Other writing systems
There are epigraphic monuments of Turkic tribes (mainly to the period of Islamization).
|Барлық адамдар тумысынан азат және қадір-қасиеті мен құқықтары тең болып дүниеге келеді. Адамдарға ақыл-парасат, ар-ождан берілген, сондықтан олар бір-бірімен туыстық, бауырмалдық қарым-қатынас жасаулары тиіс.||بارلىق ادامدار تۋمىسىنان ازات جانە قادىر-قاسيەتى مەن كۇقىقتارى تەڭ بولىپ دۇنيەگە كەلەدى. ادامدارعا اقىل-پاراسات، ار-وجدان بەرىلگەن، سوندىقتان ولار ٴبىر-بىرىمەن تۋىستىق، باۋىرمالدىق قارىم-قاتىناس جاساۋلارى ٴتيىس.||Barlyq adamdar ty’mysynan azat ja’ne qadir-qasi’eti men quqyqtary ten’ bolyp du’ni’ege keledi. Adamdarg’a aqyl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, sondyqtan olar bir-birimen ty’ystyq, bay’yrmaldyq qarym-qatynas jasay’lary ti‘is.||All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.|
- "Kazakh President Orders Shift Away From Cyrillic Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. April 12, 2017. Archived from the original on July 6, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 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. October 26, 2017. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
- Назарбаев, Нұрсұлтан (April 26, 2017). "Болашаққа бағдар: рухани жаңғыру" [Orientation for the future: spiritual revival]. Egemen Qazaqstan (in Kazakh). Archived from the original on June 28, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
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- "Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet – MCS RK". Kazinform. January 30, 2015. Archived from the original on February 19, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2015.
- Smailova, Damira (September 14, 2017). "Назарбаев обсудил с журналистами девальвацию, «saebiz», ЭКСПО и Головкина" [Nazarbayev discussed devaluation, "saebiz", Expo and Golovkin with journalists] (in Russian). KTK. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
- "Kazakhstan to Qazaqstan: Why would a country switch its alphabet?". BBC.
- Minglang Zhou (2003). Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 149. ISBN 3-11-017896-6 – via Google Books.
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Kazakh ed.) – via Wikisource.