Kazakh Language
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Kazakh Language

? or ?
?‎ or ?
Qazaqsha or qazaq tili
[q?'z?q t?'l?]
Native toKazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
RegionCentral Asia
Native speakers
22 million (2019)[1]
Kazakh alphabets (Latin script, Cyrillic script, Arabic script, Kazakh Braille)
Official status
Official language in


Regulated byKazakh language agency
Language codes
Idioma kazajo.png
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. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Kazakh or Kazak (Latin: qazaqsha or qazaq tili, Cyrillic: ? or ?, Arabic: ?‎ or ?‎, pronounced [q?z?q'], [q?'z?q t?'l?]), is a Turkic language of the Kipchak branch spoken in Central Asia. It is closely related to Nogai, Kyrgyz and Karakalpak. Kazakh is the official language of Kazakhstan and a significant minority language in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, China and in the Bayan-Ölgii Province of Mongolia. Kazakh is also spoken by many ethnic Kazakhs through the former Soviet Union (some 472,000 in Russia according to the 2010 Russian Census), Germany, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan.

Like other Turkic languages, Kazakh is an agglutinative language and it employs vowel harmony.

In October 2017, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that the government would transition from using Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025.[4] President Nazarbayev signed on 19 February 2018 an amendment to the decree of 26 October 2017 No. 569 "On translating the Kazakh alphabet from Cyrillic alphabet to the Latin script."[5] The amended alphabet uses ⟨sh⟩ and ⟨ch⟩ for the Kazakh sounds /?/ and /t?/, respectively and eliminates the use of apostrophes.[6]

Geographic distribution

The Kazakstani language (often called Qazaqsha) has its speakers (mainly Kazakhs) spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan to the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, with nearly 10 million speakers (based on information from the CIA World Factbook[7] on population and proportion of Kazakh speakers).[8]

In China, nearly two million ethnic Kazakhs and Kazakh speakers reside in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang.[9]

Writing system

Kazakh Arabic and Latin script in 1924

The oldest known written records of languages closely related to Kazakh were written in the Old Turkic alphabet, though it is not believed that any of these varieties were direct predecessors of Kazakh.[10] Modern Kazakh, going back approximately one thousand years, was written in the Arabic script until 1929, when Soviet authorities introduced a Latin-based alphabet, and then a Cyrillic alphabet in 1940.[11]

Nazarbayev first brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan in October 2006.[12][13] A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that a switch to a Latin script over a 10- to 12-year period was feasible, at a cost of $300 million.[14] The transition was halted temporarily on 13 December 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."[15] However, on 30 January 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.[16] In presenting this strategic plan in April 2017, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev described the twentieth century as a period in which the "Kazakh language and culture have been devastated".[11]

Nazarbayev ordered Kazakh authorities to create a Latin Kazakh alphabet by the end of 2017, so written Kazakh could return to a Latin script starting in 2018.[17][18] As of 2018, Kazakh is written in Cyrillic in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, Kazakh is written in Latin in Kazakhstan, while more than one million Kazakh speakers in China use an Arabic-derived alphabet similar to the one that is used to write Uyghur.[10]

2018 Latin alphabet for the Kazakh language, adopted by Presidential Decree 569 (26 October 2017); Amended by Decree 637 (19 February 2018)[19]

On 26 October 2017, Nazarbayev issued Presidential Decree 569 for the change to a finalized Latin variant of the Kazakh alphabet and ordered that the government's transition to this alphabet be completed by 2025,[19][20] a decision taken to emphasise Kazakh culture after the era of Soviet rule[21] and to facilitate the use of digital devices.[22] But the initial decision to use a novel orthography employing apostrophes, which make the use of many popular tools for searching and writing text difficult, has generated controversy.[23]

The alphabet was revised the following year by Presidential Decree 637 of 19 February 2018 and the use of apostrophes was discontinued and replaced with the use of diacritics and digraphs.[24][6] However, many citizens state that the officially introduced alphabet needs much improvements. Moreover, Kazakh became the second Turkic language to use the "ch" and "sh" digraphs after the Uzbek government adapted them in their version of the Latin alphabet.

2019 version of the Kazakh Latin alphabet
The new version of the Kazakh Latin alphabet proposed in 2019.

In October 2019, President Tokayev expressed his concerns about all three versions of Latin alphabet and asked linguists to propose a more thoughtful version without haste.[25][26] A new version of the alphabet, elaborated by the Baitursynov Institute of Linguistics and specialists from the official working group on script transition, was proposed in November 2019, using breves, umlauts and cedillas instead of accents and digraphs and introducing spelling changes to stick more accurately to Kazakh phonology.[27]

Comparison using article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Cyrillic script Arabic script "Resm? nusqa 3,0" Latin script Kazinform and Kazakh Wikipedia Latin script Kazak Grammar Latin script English translation
? ? ? -? ? . ? ? ? -? ? . - Barlyq adamdar týmysynan azat jáne qadir-qas?eti men quqyqtary te? bolyp dún?ege keledi. Barl?q adamdar twm?s?nan azat jäne qadir-qasïyeti men quq?qtar? teñ bol?p dünïyege keledi. Barl?k adamdar tuwm?s?nan azat jäne kadir-kasiyeti men kuk?ktar? te? bol?p düniyege keledi. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
?-?, - , ? - ? Adamdar?a aqyl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, Adamdar?a aq?l-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, Adamdarga ak?l-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, They are endowed with reason and conscience
? -? ?, -? ?. ? ?-? -? . sondyqtan olar bir-birimen týystyq, baýyrmaldyq qarym-qatynas jasaýlary t?is. sond?qtan olar bir-birimen tw?st?q, baw?rmald?q qar?m-qat?nas jasawlar? tïis. sond?ktan olar bir-birimen tuw?st?k, baw?rmald?k kar?m-kat?nas jasawlar? tiyis. and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Kazakh 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;[28] 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 without parentheses--since these are phonemes, their listed place and manner of articulation are very general, and will vary from what is shown. The phonemes /f/, /v/, /t/ and /x/ only occur in recent borrowings, mostly from Russian.

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

Kazakh consonant phonemes[29]
Labials Alveolar (Alveolo-)
Velar Uvular
Nasal m ⟨?/m⟩ n ⟨?/n⟩ ? ⟨?/?⟩
Stop p ⟨?/p⟩ b ⟨?/b⟩ t ⟨?/t⟩ d ⟨?/d⟩ t? ⟨?/ch⟩ k ⟨?/k⟩ ? ⟨?/g⟩ q ⟨?/q⟩
Fricative f ⟨?/f⟩ v ⟨?/v⟩ s ⟨?/s⟩ z ⟨?/z⟩ ? ⟨?/sh⟩ ? ⟨?/j⟩ ? ⟨?/h⟩ ? ⟨?/?⟩
Approximant l ⟨?/l⟩ j ⟨?/?⟩ w ⟨?/ý⟩
Rhotic ? ⟨?/r⟩


Kazakh has a system of 12 phonemic vowels, 3 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. Moreover, the /æ/ sound has been included artificially due to the influence of Arabic, Persian and, later, Tatar languages during the Islamic period.[30] The letter "e" is often palatalised due to Russian influence.

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

Phonetic values are paired with the corresponding character in Kazakh's Cyrillic and current Latin alphabets.

Kazakh vowel phonemes
(Advanced tongue root)
(Relaxed tongue root)
(Retracted tongue root)
Close ? ⟨?/i⟩ ? ⟨?/ú⟩ ? ⟨?/u⟩
Diphthong j? ⟨?/e⟩ ?j ⟨?/?⟩ ?w ⟨?/ý⟩
Mid e ⟨?/e⟩ ? ⟨?/y⟩ o ⟨?/o⟩
Open æ ⟨?/á⟩ oe ⟨?/ó⟩ ? ⟨?/a⟩
Kazakh vowels by their pronunciation
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close ? ⟨?/i⟩ ? ⟨?/ú⟩ ? ⟨?/y⟩ ? ⟨?/u⟩
Open e ⟨?/e⟩ / æ ⟨?/á⟩ oe? ⟨?/ó⟩ ? ⟨?/a⟩ o? ⟨?/o⟩

Morphology and syntax

Kazakh is generally verb-final, though various permutations on SOV (subject-object-verb) word order can be used, for example, due to topicalization.[31]Inflectional and derivational morphology, both verbal and nominal, in Kazakh, exists almost exclusively in the form of agglutinative suffixes. Kazakh is a nominative-accusative, head-final, left-branching, dependent-marking language.[10]

Declension of nouns[10]
Case Morpheme Possible forms keme "ship" aýa "air" shelek "bucket" sábiz "carrot" bas "head" tuz "salt"
Nom -- -- keme aýa shelek sábiz bas tuz
Acc -ny -ni, -ny, -di, -dy, -ti, -ty kemeni aýany shelekti sábizdi basty tuzdy
Gen -ny? -ni?, -ny?, -di?, -dy?, -ti?, -ty? kemeni? aýany? shelekti? sábizdi? basty? tuzdy?
Dat -ga -ge, -?a, -ke, -qa, -ne, -na kemege aýa?a shelekke sábizge basqa tuz?a
Loc -da -de, -da, -te, -ta kemede aýada shelekte sábizde basta tuzda
Abl -dan -den, -dan, -ten, -tan, -nen, -nan kemeden aýadan shelekten sábizden bastan tuzdan
Inst -men -men(en), -ben(en), -pen(en) kememen aýamen shelekpen sábizben baspen tuzben


There are eight personal pronouns in Kazakh:

Personal pronouns[10]
Singular Plural
Kazakh (transliteration) English Kazakh (transliteration) English
Men I Biz We
Sen You (singular informal) Sender You (plural informal)
Siz You (singular formal) Sizder You (plural formal)
Ol He/She/It Olar They

The declension of the pronouns is outlined in the following chart. Singular pronouns exhibit irregularities, while plural pronouns don't. Irregular forms are highlighted in bold.[10]

Number Singular Plural
Personne 1st 2nd 3rd 1st 2nd 3rd
Familiar Polite Familiar Polite
Nominative men sen siz ol biz sender sizder olar
Genitive meni? seni? sizdi? ony? bizdi? senderdi? sizderdi? olardy?
Dative ma?an sa?an sizge o?an bizge senderge sizderge olar?a
Accusative meni seni sizdi ony bizdi senderdi sizderdi olardy
Locative mende sende sizde onda bizde senderde sizderde olarda
Ablative menen senen sizden odan bizden senderden sizderden olardan
Instrumental menimen senimen sizben onymen bizben sendermen sizdermen olarmen

In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.[10]

Morphemes indicating person[10]
pronouns copulas possessive endings past/conditional
1st sg men -m?n -(?)m -(?)m
2nd sg sen -s -(?)? -(?)?
3rd sg ol -/-d?r - --
1st pl biz -b?z -(?)m?z -(?)k/-(y)q
2nd sng formal & pl siz -s?z -(?)z -(?)z/-(y)?yz
3rd pl olar -/-d?r -- --

Tense, aspect and mood

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. The present tense is a prime example of this; progressive tense in Kazakh is formed with one of four possible auxiliaries. These auxiliaries "otyr" (sit), "tur" (stand), "júr" (go) and "jat" (lie), encode various shades of meaning of how the action is carried out and also interact with the lexical semantics of the root verb: telic and non-telic actions, semelfactives, durative and non-durative, punctual, etc. There are selectional restrictions on auxiliaries: motion verbs, such as ? (go) and ? (come) may not combine with "otyr". Any verb, however, can combine with "jat" (lie) to get a progressive tense meaning.[10]

Progressive aspect in the present tense[10]
Kazakh Aspect English translation
Men je?min non-progressive "I (will) eat [every day]."
Men jeýdemin progressive "I am eating [right now]."
Men jep otyrmyn progressive/durative "I am [sitting and] eating." / "I have been eating."
Men jep turmyn progressive/punctual "I am [in the middle of] eating [this very minute]."
Men jep júrmin habitual "I eat [lunch, everyday]"

While it is possible to think that different categories of aspect govern the choice of auxiliary, it is not so straightforward in Kazakh. Auxiliaries are internally sensitive to the lexical semantics of predicates, for example, verbs describing motion:[10]

Selectional restrictions on Kazakh auxiliaries[10]
Kazakh Gloss Auxiliary Used English translation
Sýda balyq júzedi water-LOC fish swim-PRES-3 ?

(present/future tense used)

"Fish swim in water"

(general statement)

Sýda balyq júzip jatyr water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 jat- to lie, general marker for

progressive aspect.

"The/A fish is swimming in the water"
Sýda balyq júzip júr water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 júr - "go", dynamic/habitual/iterative "The fish is swimming [as it always does] in the water"
Sýda balyq júzip tur water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 tur - "stand", progressive marker to show

the swimming is punctual

"The fish is swimming in the water"
* Sýda balyq júzip otyr water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 otyr - "sit", ungrammatical in

this sentence, otyr can only be used

for verbs that are stative in nature

*The fish has been swimming

Not a possible sentence of Kazakh

In addition to the complexities of the progressive tense, there are many auxiliary-converb pairs that encode a range of aspectual, modal, volitional, evidential and action- modificational meanings. For example, the pattern -yp kórý, with the auxiliary verb kórý (see), indicates that the subject of the verb attempted or tried to do something (compare the Japanese temiru construction).[10]

Annotated text with gloss

From the first stanza of "Meni? Qazaqstanym" ("My Kazakhstan"), the national anthem of Kazakhstan:

Men-i? Qazaqstan-ym My Kazakhstan
Altyn kún aspan-y The golden sun in the sky
[?lt?n k?n ?sp?'n?] gold sun sky-3.POSS
Altyn dán dala-sy The golden corn of the steppe
[alt?n dæn d?l?'s?] gold corn steppe-3.POSS
? Erlik-ti? dastan-y The legend of courage
[erl?k't d?st?'n?] courage legend-GEN epic-3.POSS-NOM
! El-im-e qara-shy Just look at my country!
[?l?'m?e q?r?'] country-1SG.ACC look-IMP
? Ejel-den er de-gen Called heroes since time immemorial
[?l'd?en ?r d'en] antiquity-ABL hero say-PTCP.PST
Da?q-ymyz shyq-ty ?o? Our glory, emerged!
[dq?'m?z q't? ?oj] glory-1PL.POSS.NOM emerge-PST.3 EMPH
? Namys-yn ber-me-gen Without losing their honor
[n?m?'s?n b?erm?e'en] honor-3.POSS-ACC give-NEG-PTCP.PST
? Qaza?-ym myqty ?o? Mighty are my Kazakh people!
[q?z?'m m?q't? ?oj] Kazakh-1SG.POSS strong EMPH
?, ? Men-i? el-im, meni? el-im My country, my country
[m'n ?'l?m, m'n ?'l?m] 1SG.GEN my country (2x)-1SG.NOM
, Gúl-i? bol-yp, eg-il-e-min As your flower, I am rooted in you
['l bo'l?p, l'm?n] flower-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, root-PASS-PRES-1SG
, ? Jyr-y? bol-yp, tóg-il-e-min, el-im As your song, I will be sung abound
['r bo'l?p toel'm?n, ?'l?m] song-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, sing-PASS-PRES-1SG, country-1SG.POSS.NOM
- Tý-?an jer-im meni? - Qazaqstan-ym My native land - My Kazakhstan
[tuw'?an ?e'r?m mn q?z?q'st?n?m] birth-PTCP-PST place-1SG.POSS.NOM 1SG.GEN - Kazakhstan-1SG.POSS.NOM

See also


  1. ^ https://www.ethnologue.com/language/kaz
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kazakh". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ "Kazakhstan to change from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet | DW". Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com). 27 October 2017. Retrieved 2018.
  5. ^ "This Country Is Changing Its Stalin-imposed Alphabet After 80 Years". Newsweek.
  6. ^ a b Decree No. 637 of February 19, 2018
  7. ^ "Central Asia: Kazakhstan". The 2017 World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 26 October 2017. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  8. ^ Map showing the geographical diffusion of the Kazakh and other Turkish languages
  9. ^ Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2017). "Kazakh". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (20th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Mukhamedova, Raikhangul (2015). Kazakh: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. ISBN 9781317573081.
  11. ^ a b , (26 April 2017). : ? [Orientation for the future: spiritual revival]. Egemen Qazaqstan (in Kazakh). Archived from the original on 28 June 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  12. ^ "Kazakhstan switching to Latin alphabet". Interfax. 30 October 2006. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007.
  13. ^ "Kazakh President Revives Idea of Switching to Latin Script". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 24 October 2006. Archived from the original on 7 March 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  14. ^ Bartlett, Paul (3 September 2007). "Kazakhstan: Moving Forward With Plan to Replace Cyrillic With Latin Alphabet". EurasiaNet. Archived from the original on 12 May 2008. Retrieved 2017.
  15. ^ "Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev". Kazinform. 13 December 2007, cited in "Kazakhstan backtracks on move from Cyrillic to Roman alphabet?". Pinyin News. 14 December 2007. Archived from the original on 29 September 2014. Retrieved 2017.
  16. ^ "Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet - MCS RK". Kazinform. 30 January 2015. Archived from the original on 19 February 2017. Retrieved 2015.
  17. ^ "Kazakh President Orders Shift Away From Cyrillic Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 12 April 2017. Archived from the original on 6 July 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  18. ^ "From ? to R: How To Change A Country's Alphabet - And How Not To". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 16 May 2017. Archived from the original on 23 May 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  19. ^ a b ? ? ? ? [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. 26 October 2017. Archived from the original on 27 October 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  20. ^ Illmer, Andreas; Daniyarov, Elbek; Rakhimov, Azim (31 October 2017). "Kazakhstan to Qazaqstan: Why would a country switch its alphabet?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 31 October 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  21. ^ "Nazarbayev Signs Decree On Kazakh Language Switch To Latin-Based Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 27 October 2017. Archived from the original on 27 October 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  22. ^ "Alphabet soup as Kazakh leader orders switch from Cyrillic to Latin letters". The Guardian. 26 October 2017. Archived from the original on 28 October 2017. Retrieved 2017 – via Reuters.
  23. ^ Higgins, Andrew (2018). "Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018.
  24. ^ "Kazakhstan adopts new version of Latin-based Kazakh alphabet". The Astana Times. 26 February 2018.
  25. ^ "Tokayev called the approved Latin alphabet unsuccessful". The Sputnik. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 2020.
  26. ^ "Tokayev instructed to improve the Kazakh alphabet in Latin". The Sputnik. 21 October 2019. Retrieved 2020.
  27. ^ Yergaliyeva, Aidana (18 November 2019). "Fourth version of Kazakh Latin script will preserve language purity, linguists say". The Astana Times. Retrieved 2020.
  28. ^ Some variations occur in the different regions where Kazakh is spoken, including outside Kazakhstan; e.g. ? / ? (where a Perso-Arabic script similar to the current Uyghur alphabet is used) is read [?] in standard Kazakh, but [d] in some places.
  29. ^ Vajda, Edward (1994), "Kazakh phonology", in Kaplan, E.; Whisenhunt, D. (eds.), Essays presented in honor of Henry Schwarz, Washington: Western Washington, pp. 603-650
  30. ^ Wagner, John Doyle; Dotton, Zura. A Grammar of Kazakh (PDF).
  31. ^ Beltranslations.com

Further reading

  • Kara, Dávid Somfai (2002), Kazak, Lincom Europa, ISBN 9783895864704
  • Mark Kirchner: "Kazakh and Karakalpak". In: The Turkic languages. Ed. by Lars Johanson and É. Á. Csató. London [u.a.] : Routledge, 1998. (Routledge language family descriptions). S.318-332.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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