Kazakh language

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қазақ тілі, qazaq tili, قازاق تىلى
Pronunciation [qɑˈzɑq tɘˈlɘ]
Native to Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan
Native speakers
11 million (2007)[1]
Kazakh alphabets (Cyrillic, Latin, Perso-Arabic, Kazakh Braille)
Official status
Official language in
Regulated by Kazakh language agency
Language codes
ISO 639-1 kk
ISO 639-2 kaz
ISO 639-3 kaz
Glottolog kaza1248[2]
The Kazakh-speaking world:
  regions where Kazakh is the language of the majority
  regions where Kazakh is the language of a significant minority
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Kazakh (natively Қазақ тілі, Қазақша, Qazaq tili, Qazaqşa, قازاق ٴتىلى‎; pronounced [qɑˈzɑq tɘˈlɘ]) is a Turkic language belonging to the Kipchak (or Northwestern Turkic) branch, closely related to Nogai, and especially Karakalpak.

Kazakh is an agglutinative language, and it employs vowel harmony.

Geographic distribution[edit]

The Kazakh language has its speakers (mainly Kazakhs) spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan mountains to the western shore of Caspian Sea. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, in which nearly 10 million speakers are reported to live (based on the CIA World Factbook's estimates for population and percentage of Kazakh speakers). In the People's Republic of China, more than one million ethnic Kazakhs and Kazakh speakers reside in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The 2002 Russian Census reported 5,000,000 Kazakh speakers in Russia. Other sizable populations of Kazakh speakers live in Mongolia (fewer than 200,000), Uzbekistan, other parts of former Soviet Union, as well as in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and Germany.

Writing system[edit]

Main article: Kazakh alphabets
Kazakh Arabic and Latin script in 1924
A 1902 Kazakh text in both Arabic and Cyrillic scripts. In modern orthography: «Бұрыңғы өткен заманда, бір данышпан кісі, Бағдат шаһарының бір үлкен қазысының үйіне келіп қоныпты. Қазыменен сөйлесіп, қазыны сөзге жеңе беріпті. Сонда қазы қорқып, — „Бұл маған келген бала — менің қазылығымды тартып алса керек! Не де болса, бұған жалынып, сый беріп, орнымда қалайын!“ — деп, қатынына ақылдасыпты.» Note the differences between the older Cyrillic here and the current Cyrillic alphabet.

Today, Kazakh is written in Cyrillic in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, while more than one million Kazakh-speakers in China use an Arabic-derived alphabet similar to the one that is used to write Uyghur.

The oldest known written records of languages closely related to Kazakh were written in the Orkhon script. However, it is not believed that any of these varieties were direct predecessors of Kazakh. Modern Kazakh has historically been written using versions of the Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic scripts.

In October 2006, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan.[3][4] A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that Kazakhstan could feasibly switch to a Latin script over a 10- to 12-year period, for a cost of $300 million.[5] The transition was halted temporarily on December 13, 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”.[6] However, on January 30, 2015, the Minister of Culture and Sports Arystanbek Mukhamediuly announced that a transition plan was underway, with specialists working on the orthography in order to accommodate the phonological aspects of the language.[7]

Cyrillic Script Arabic Script Latin Script English translation
Барлық адамдар тумысынан азат және қадір-қасиеті мен кұқықтары 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. Barlıq adamdar twmısınan azat jäne qadir-qasïeti men kuqıqtarı teñ bolıp dünïege keledi. Adamdarğa aqıl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, sondıqtan olar bir-birimen twıstıq, bawırmaldıq qarım-qatınas jasawları tïis. 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.


Kazak 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;[8] 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 in bold—since these are phonemes, their listed place and manner of articulation are very general, and will vary from what is shown. The borrowed phonemes /f/, /v/, /ɕ/, /t͡ɕ/ and /x/, only occur in recent mostly Russian borrowings, and are shown in parentheses [ ] in the table below.

In the table, the elements left of a divide are voiceless, while those to the right are voiced.

Kazakh consonant phonemes
Labials Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m м n н ŋ ң
Plosive p п b б t т d д k к ɡ г q қ
Affricate (t͡ɕ) ч
Fricative [f] ф [v] в s с z з ʃ ш ʒ ж (ɕ) щ [x] х ʁ ғ h һ
Approximant l л j й w у
Tap ɾ р


Kazakh has a system of nine phonemic vowels, three 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.

According to Vajda, the front/back quality of vowels is actually one of neutral versus retracted tongue root.[citation needed]

Per convention, rounded vowels are presented to the right of their unrounded counterparts. Phonetic values are paired with the corresponding character in Kazakh's Cyrillic alphabet.

Kazakh vowel phonemes
Diphthongised /i̯ɘ/, е /œ~ø/, ө /u̯ʊ/, о
Close /ɘ~ɪ/, i /ʉ/, ү /ə/, ы /ʊ/, ұ
Open /æ/, ә /ɑ/, а

Morphology and syntax[edit]

Kazakh is generally verb-final, though various permutations on SOV (subject–object–verb) word order can be used.[9] Verbal and nominal morphology in Kazakh exists almost exclusively in the form of agglutinative suffixes.


Kazakh has 7 cases. Case endings are applied only to the last element of a noun phrase—e.g., a noun, an adject, or a nominalised verb phrase. The endings outlined in the chart below are applied to a word ending in a front vowel, a word ending in a back vowel, a word ending in each of those with a voiced consonant, and a word ending with each of this and an unvoiced consonant. Note that the suffixes for the instrumental case do not follow vowel harmony—the vowel is a front vowel regardless of the other vowels in the word.

Declension of nouns
Case Morpheme Possible forms кеме "ship" ауа "air" шелек "bucket" сәбіз "carrot" бас "head" тұз "salt"
Nom кеме ауа шелек сәбіз бас тұз
Acc -NI -ні, -ны, -ді, -ды, -ті, -ты, -н кемені ауаны шелекті сәбізді басты тұзды
Gen -NIŋ -нің, -ның, -дің, -дың, -тің, -тың кеменің ауаның шелектің сәбіздің бастың тұздың
Dat -GA -ге, -ға, -ке, -қа, -не, -на кемеге ауаға шелекке сәбізге басқа тұзға
Loc -DA -де, -да, -те, -та кемеде ауада шелекте сәбізде баста тұзда
Abl -DAn -ден, -дан, -тен, -тан, -нен, -нан кемеден ауадан шелектен сәбізден бастан тұздан
Inst -Men -мен(ен) -бен(ен) -пен(ен) кемемен ауамен шелекпен сәбізбен баспен тұзбен


Kazakh has eight personal pronouns:

Personal pronouns
Singular Plural
Kazakh (transliteration) English Kazakh (transliteration) English
Мен (Men) I Біз (Biz) We
Сен (Sen) You (singular informal) Сендер (Sender) You (plural informal)
Сіз (Siz) You (singular formal) Сіздер (Sizder) You (plural formal)
Ол (Ol) He/She/It Олар (Olar) They

The declension of the pronouns is outlined in the following chart. Singular pronouns (with the exception of сіз, which used to be plural) exhibit irregularities, while plural pronouns don't. Irregular forms are highlighted in bold.

Declension of pronouns
Nom мен сен сіз ол біз сендер сіздер олар
Acc мені сені сізді оны бізді сендерді сіздерді оларды
Gen менің сенің сіздің оның біздің сендердің сіздердің олардың
Dat маған саған сізге оған бізге сендерге сіздерге оларға
Loc менде сенде сізде онда бізде сендерде сіздерде оларда
Abl менен сенен сізден онан бізден сендерден сіздерден олардан
Inst менімен сенімен сізбен онымен бізбен сендермен сіздермен олармен

In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.

Morphemes indicating person
pronouns copulas possessive endings past/conditional
1st sg мен -MIn -(I)m -(I)m
2nd sg сен -sIŋ -(I)ŋ -(I)ŋ
2nd formal sg сіз -sIz -(I)ŋIz -(I)ŋIz
3rd sg ол -(s)I(n)
1st pl біз -MIz -(I)mIz -(I)K
2nd pl сендер -sIŋdAr -(I)ŋ -(I)ŋ
2nd formal pl сіздер -sIzdAr -(I)ŋIz -(I)nIz
3rd pl олар -(s)I(n)

Tense, aspect and mood[edit]

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. For example, the (imperfect) present tense in Kazakh bears different aspectual information depending on whether basic present-tense morphology is used, or one of (commonly) four verbs is used:

Aspect in the Present Tense in Kazakh
Kazakh Aspect English translation
Жеймін non-progressive "I eat."
Жеп жатырмын progressive "I am eating [right now]."
Жеп отырмын progressive/durative "I am [sitting and] eating." / "I have been eating."
Жеп тұрмын progressive/punctual "I am [in the middle of] eating [this very minute]."
Жеп жүрмін habitual/frequentative "I eat [e.g., lunch at home every day]."

In addition to this aspectual distinction, Kazakh also exhibits a number of lexicalized pairs of varying converbs. For example, verbs of motion in Kazakh that are rendered in any kind of progressive tense are obligatorily realized with the helping verb жатыр, 'to lie', however the verb must take a unique participial form, -а/е/й. For example, "I am going [right now," would be rendered in Kazakh as мен бара жатырмын, and not *мен барып жатырмын.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kazakh". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Kazakhstan switching to Latin alphabet
  4. ^ Kazakh President Revives Idea of Switching to Latin Script
  5. ^ Kazakhstan: Moving Forward With Plan to Replace Cyrillic With Latin Alphabet
  6. ^ Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev, Kazinform, December 13, 2007
  7. ^ "Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet – MCS RK". Kazinform. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  8. ^ 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 [ʒ] in standard Kazakh, but [d͡ʒ] in some places.
  9. ^ Beltranslations.com

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]