Sunday, September 17, 2017

"Kazakhstan’s planned transition to the Latin alphabet raises complex questions"

My late father used to talk about how Kazan Tatars became illiterate twice in one generation, first as the Arabic script was abandoned in favor of the Yangälif, and then again when that “new alphabet” was abandoned in favor of Cyrillic. Individual Cyrillic alphabets were introduced for Soviet Turkic languages in the 1930s; Kazakh adopted the Cyrillic alphabet only in 1940.

There are inescapable social costs to this change, such as the older generation potentially becoming illiterate, or at least disadvantaged. Then there is the cultural cost, such as the younger generation potentially becoming cut off from its past — for the second or third time! Turkey experienced this shock beginning in 1928, and it still has not gotten over it completely. Although Turkey undertook this as a kind of “shock therapy,” Kazakhstan has chosen a gradual path by choosing the final form of the alphabet by the end of 2017, training educators in the new alphabet, and then finally completing the switch to the Latin alphabet by 2025.