Friday, August 30, 2013

Kazakh Constitution Day: The Languages Of Kazakhstan

Today marks Kazakh Constitution Day, just as yesterday marked the Slovak National Uprising. In honour of this Kazakh national holiday, we'll be honouring the country with a look at the languages spoken there. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan isn't a massively well-known country in the West and the majority of westerners' knowledge is made up from fallacies portrayed in Sacha Baron Cohen's film Borat.

Though we can still enjoy the film knowing that the country was purposely picked because many viewers had never heard of the place, today we'd prefer to at least dispel some of the myths garnered from the film that was better at exposing American ignorance than insulting Kazakhs.

The Parliament of Kazakhstan in Astana, the capital.
The country of Kazakhstan is the world's ninth largest country and the largest landlocked country, meaning it has no coastline, in the world. While this may be disappointing for you beach dwellers, it should be noted that the country is subject to an interesting linguistic landscape.

The country's two official languages are Kazakh and Russian. The principal official language, Kazakh, is spoken by around 11 million people worldwide. Though the majority of its speakers reside in Kazakhstan, it is also spoken in China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Iran.

Of the 11 million speakers of Kazakh, 10 million of them live in Kazakhstan, making this Turkic language principally found in today's country of interest. In Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the language is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, though in China it is written using an abjad derived from Arabic.

From roughly 1813 to 1907, Kazakhstan was under the rule of the Russian Empire. It was during this time that the Russian language was introduced into Kazakhstan in an official capacity, particularly in schools, where it was somewhat resented. That said, the Russian language still holds official capacity in Kazakhstan and though it isn't the language of the state, it is still expected to be used in official documents and other important-sounding stuff.

A large number of Russian immigrants began arriving in the late 19th century leaving Kazakhstan with a large Russian-speaking population. Following the rule of the Russian Empire, it only took until 1920 before Kazakhstan was then under rule by the Soviet Union, albeit as an autonomous republic, which left the country with Russian influences.

On December 16, 1991, Kazakhstan was the last nation to become independent from the Soviet Union and though the nation is just over 3 months from celebrating its independence, we much preferred the idea of celebrating August 30, 1995, when Kazakhstan approved its constitution, outlining "freedom, quality and concord."