|? or ?|
? or ?
qazaq?a or qazaq tili
|Native to||Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan|
|13.2 million (2009)|
|Kazakh alphabets (Latin script, Cyrillic script, Arabic script, Kazakh Braille)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||Kazakh language agency|
The Kazakh-speaking world:
regions where Kazakh is the language of the majority
regions where Kazakh is the language of a significant minority
Kazakh, or Kazak (Latin: qazaq?a 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, Turkey.
In October 2017, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that the writing system would change from using Cyrillic to Latin script by 2025. The proposed Latin alphabet has been revised several times, and as of January 2021 is close to the inventory of the Turkish alphabet, though lacking the letters C and Ç and having four additional letters: Ä, ?, Q and ? (though other letters such as Y have different values in the two languages). It is scheduled to be phased in from 2023 to 2031.
Speakers of Kazakh (mainly Kazakhs) are 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 on population and proportion of Kazakh speakers).
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. 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.
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. 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. 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." 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. 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".
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. 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.
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, a decision taken to emphasise Kazakh culture after the era of Soviet rule and to facilitate the use of digital devices. However, the initial decision to use a novel orthography employing apostrophes, which make the use of many popular tools for searching and writing text difficult, generated controversy.
Therefore, on 19 February 2018, the Presidential Decree 637 was issued in which the use of apostrophes was discontinued and replaced with the use of diacritics and digraphs. However, many citizens state that the officially introduced alphabet needs further 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.
In 2020, the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for another revision of the Latin alphabet with a focus on preserving the original sounds and pronunciation of the Kazakh language. This revision, presented to the public in November 2019 by academics from the Baitursynov Institute of Linguistics, and specialists belonging to the official working group on script transition, uses umlauts, breves and cedillas instead of digraphs and acute accents, and introduces spelling changes in order to reflect more accurately the phonology of Kazakh. This revision is a slightly modified version of the Turkish alphabet, dropping the letter C and having four additional letters that do not exist in Turkish: Ä, Q, ? and W.
|Comparison using article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights|
|Cyrillic||Arabic||2021 Latin||English translation|
|? ? ? -? ? .||? ? ? -? ? . -||Barlyq adamdar tumysynan azat jäne qad?r-qasiet? men q?qyqtary te? bolyp düniege keled?.||All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.|
|?-?, - ,||? - ?||Adamdar?a aqyl-parasat, ar-ojdan ber?lgen,||They are endowed with reason and conscience|
|? -? ?, -? ?.||? ?-? -? .||sondyqtan olar b?r-b?r?men tuystyq, bauyrmaldyq qarym-qatynas jasaulary ti?s.||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; 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/ and /t/ 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.
|Nasal||m ⟨?/m⟩||n ⟨?/n⟩||? ⟨?/?⟩|
|Stop||p ⟨?/p⟩||b ⟨?/b⟩||t ⟨?/t⟩||d ⟨?/d⟩||t? ⟨?/ç⟩||k ⟨?/k⟩||? ⟨?/g⟩||q ⟨?/q⟩|
|Fricative||f ⟨?/f⟩||v ⟨?/v⟩||s ⟨?/s⟩||z ⟨?/z⟩||? ⟨?/?⟩||? ⟨?/j⟩||? ⟨?/h⟩||? ⟨?/?⟩|
|Approximant||l ⟨?/l⟩||j ⟨?/i⟩||w ⟨?/u⟩|
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. 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.
(Advanced tongue root)
(Relaxed tongue root)
(Retracted tongue root)
|Close||? ⟨?/?⟩||? ⟨?/ü⟩||? ⟨?/?⟩|
|Diphthong||j? ⟨?/e⟩||?j ⟨?/i⟩||?w ⟨?/u⟩|
|Mid||e ⟨?/e⟩||? ⟨?/y⟩||o ⟨?/o⟩|
|Open||æ ⟨?/ä⟩||oe ⟨?/ö⟩||? ⟨?/a⟩|
|Close||? ⟨?/i⟩||? ⟨?/ü⟩||? ⟨?/y⟩||? ⟨?/?⟩|
|Open||e ⟨?/e⟩ / æ ⟨?/ä⟩||oe? ⟨?/ö⟩||? ⟨?/a⟩||o? ⟨?/o⟩|
Kazakh is generally verb-final, though various permutations on SOV (subject-object-verb) word order can be used, for example, due to topicalization.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.
|Case||Morpheme||Possible forms||keme "ship"||aua "air"||?elek "bucket"||säb?z "carrot"||bas "head"||t?z "salt"|
|Acc||-ny||-n?, -ny, -d?, -dy, -t?, -ty||kemen?||auany||?elekt?||säb?zd?||basty||t?zdy|
|Gen||-ny?||-n, -ny?, -d, -dy?, -t, -ty?||kemen||auany?||?elekt||säb?zd||basty?||t?zdy?|
|Dat||-ga||-ge, -?a, -ke, -qa, -ne, -na||kemege||aua?a||?elekke||säb?zge||basqa||t?z?a|
|Loc||-da||-de, -da, -te, -ta||kemede||auada||?elekte||säb?zde||basta||t?zda|
|Abl||-dan||-den, -dan, -ten, -tan, -nen, -nan||kemeden||auadan||?elekten||säb?zden||bastan||t?zdan|
|Inst||-men||-men(en), -ben(en), -pen(en)||kememen||auamen||?elekpen||säb?zben||baspen||t?zben|
There are eight personal pronouns in Kazakh:
|Kazakh (transliteration)||English||Kazakh (transliteration)||English|
|Sen||You (singular informal)||Sender||You (plural informal)|
|S?z||You (singular formal)||S?zder||You (plural formal)|
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.
In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.
|2nd sng formal & pl||s?z||-siz||-(i)?iz||-(i)?iz/-(y)?yz|
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), "t?r" (stand), "jür" (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.
|Men jeim?n||non-progressive||"I (will) eat [every day]."|
|Men jeudem?n||progressive||"I am eating [right now]."|
|Men jep otyrmyn||progressive/durative||"I am [sitting and] eating." / "I have been eating."|
|Men jep t?rmyn||progressive/punctual||"I am [in the middle of] eating [this very minute]."|
|Men jep jürm?n||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:
|Kazakh||Gloss||Auxiliary Used||English translation|
|Suda balyq jüzed?||water-LOC fish swim-PRES-3||?
(present/future tense used)
|"Fish swim in water"
|Suda balyq jüz?p jatyr||water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3||jat- to lie, general marker for
|"The/A fish is swimming in the water"|
|Suda balyq jüz?p jür||water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3||jür - "go", dynamic/habitual/iterative||"The fish is swimming [as it always does] in the water"|
|Suda balyq jüz?p t?r||water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3||t?r - "stand", progressive marker to show
the swimming is punctual
|"The fish is swimming in the water"|
|* Suda balyq jüz?p 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 köru, with the auxiliary verb köru (see), indicates that the subject of the verb attempted or tried to do something (compare the Japanese temiru construction).
From the first stanza of "Men Qazaqstanym" ("My Kazakhstan"), the national anthem of Kazakhstan:
|Men- Qazaqstan-ym||My Kazakhstan|
|Altyn kün aspan-y||The golden sun in the sky|
|[?lt?n k?n ?sp?'n?]||gold sun sky-3.POSS|
|Altyn dän dala-sy||The golden corn of the steppe|
|[alt?n dæn d?l?'s?]||gold corn steppe-3.POSS|
|?||Erl?k-t dastan-y||The legend of courage|
|[erl?k't d?st?'n?]||courage legend-GEN epic-3.POSS-NOM|
|!||El-?m-e qara-?y||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 ?yq-ty ?oi||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 ?oi||Mighty are my Kazakh people!|
|[q?z?'m m?q't? ?oj]||Kazakh-1SG.POSS strong EMPH|
|?, ?||Men- el-?m, men el-?m||My country, my country|
|[m'n ?'l?m, m'n ?'l?m]||1SG.GEN my country (2x)-1SG.NOM|
|,||Gül- bol-yp, eg-?l-e-m?n||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, tög-?l-e-m?n, el-?m||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|
|-||Tu-?an jer-?m men - 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|
Kazakh and Kyrgyz may be better seen as mutually intelligible dialects or varieties of a single tongue which are regarded as separate languages for sociopolitical reasons. They differ mainly phonetically while the lexicon and grammar are much the same, although both have standardized written forms that may differ in some ways. Until the 20th century, both languages used a common written form of Chaghatai Turki.