Kazakhstan: President Nazarbayev signs decree to change Kazakh characters from Cyrillic to Latin-based script

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Monday, October 30, 2017

On Friday Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree to change the country's official script for the Kazakh language from Cyrillic script to Latin-based script. The president announced signing the decree on his official website.

Per the decree, "a gradual transition of the Kazakh alphabet to the Latin-based script" is expected through 2025. Kazakh is currently written in a derived version of Cyrillic script, with their alphabet consisting of 42 characters, of which 33 characters which can be found in the Russian language. The other nine characters are for sounds used in Kazakh. Asserting modernisation, the ministry of foreign affairs said, "[Latin] is used by approximately 70 percent of all countries, making it an essential part of communicating across the globe, especially in terms of technology, business, science and education".

The language has been written in Cyrillic script for about 77 years, after it replaced Latin script in 1940, Back then, the modern-day Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, and Latin script was used for Kazakh since 1929. Before that, Kazakh was written in Arabic.

Countries like Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which also became independent after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, had switched from Cyrillic characters to Latin characters after gaining independence. In April, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been in power since the Soviet collapse in 1991, said, "By the end of 2017, after consultation with academics and representatives of the public, a single standard for the new Kazakh alphabet and script should be developed". He called using Cyrillic script "political".

Cyrillic script is used to write the Russian language, the second official language of Kazakhstan. Russians form a large ethnic group in the country, and the 2009 census indicated about 85% of the Kazakh population were Russian-fluent, while about 62 percent of the population could speak and write in Kazakh fluently.