The origins of the Kazakh language

Kazakh is an Altaic language belonging to a branch of the Turkish languages. It is an agglutinative language with seven cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, ablative and instrumental) and distinction of number (singular and plural) but no distinction of gender. The term “Kazakh” derives from the Turkish qazāq which means nomad or vagabond. This makes sense given that the tribes and families of different ethnicities that started to settle in the Kazakh territory around the 14th century were nomads.

Kazakh writing

It would appear that an early form of the writing used in areas that are now part of current-day Kazakhstan was established from a system of runes belonging to ancient Turkish that date back to a period between the 5th and 10th century A.D. However, this writing system does not seem to be linked directly to the Kazakh tribes as much as it does to the migration flows that led to the formation of the State that we know today.

It is not until the late 19th century that a written Kazakh literature appears, replacing the existing oral tradition of cantors. The Kazakh language can be written with three different alphabets:

  • Arabic, used in some areas and associated with Islam (which started to considerably influence the territory from the 15th century) spread during the 19th century due to groups of Islamic intellectuals who opposed the Russian occupation.
  • Latin: the alphabet was introduced between 1927 and 1940 in opposition to nationalist Kazakh movements, and as an integral part of a campaign to latinise the USSR for the non-Latin alphabets in countries under Russian occupation.
  • Cyrillic: Having already been introduced by the USSR between the 19th and 20th centuries in order to foster a secularisation of the Kazakh territory, it was reintroduced from 1940 to replace the Latin alphabet.

Currently, Kazakhstan still uses the Cyrillic alphabet (except for a few prefectures in which the Arabic alphabet is present); however for the sake of cultural uniformity among the various ethnicities present in the area and in order to combat illiteracy, the government is examining the possibility of officially reintroducing the Latin alphabet into the territory.

From 1927 to 1940, writing in Latin characters surpassed that of the Arabic alphabet. However, from 1940 the written Kazakh language with Cyrillic letters was reintroduced and is still in use today. By 2020, the Latin written version of the language (Qazaqsa) should become the official version used in Kazakhstan.

The language today

Kazakh is not only spoken in Kazakhstan, but also in Mongolia (where it is written using the Cyrillic alphabet), in Turkey (where the Latin alphabet is used) and in China and Iran (where the Arabic alphabet is used).

Translations into Kazakh

Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997. Twenty years later in 2017 Astana will host the next EXPO event, themed “ Energies of the future” to encourage foreign investments. More than a hundred countries will be participating, including Italy: the relationship between Kazakhstan and Italy has strengthened since 1992 and today Italy is Kazakhstan’s fifth largest import partner. Translation into Kazakh therefore has a growing importance in the international and economic context; SMG, along with its network of professional partners, provides quality translation services and linguistic advice.

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