The latinisation of the Kazakh alphabet is again stalled because of the lack of a satisfactory conversion schema. According to Caspian News:

“Yerbol Tleshov, who heads the country’s Coordination and Methodological Center for the Development of Languages, said Monday that eight versions of the script are currently reviewed by the center’s specialists as the basis for the new alphabet.

According to Tleshov, the center has received at least 20 draft versions of the new Latin-based script from across the country following President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s statement that there was a need to modify the version previously approved by the country’s former leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev. “

Leaving aside the desirability of the transition – as a Slavicist and believer in orthographical diversity, I am always sad to see moves away from Cyrillic – changing which rewrite principles are prioritised might produce a more satisfactory overall result.

Alternative Conversion Principles

Specifically, it is interesting to look at the result of prioritising the following rewrite rules:

  1. Phonemic orthography. Preservation of the highly phonetic nature of the current Kazakh Cyrillic alphabet.
  2. Full convertibility. None of the 42 Kazakh Cyrillic alphabet characters are left out. Even if ‹ ъ › is almost never needed in Kazakh, there are contexts, where “almost never” is not good enough, such as with usernames.
  3. One-to-one correspondence. Each grapheme in the Cyrillic alphabet should be represented by one Latin grapheme, and vice-versa.
  4. Fully unambiguous convertibility. No combination of letters when converted back from Latin to Cyrillic should be ambiguous. Imagine a security code ’56KH4848′. Does this represent ’56КҺ4848’ or ’56Х4848′ in the original Cyrillic. How to tell?
  5. No diacritics. Let’s face it, diacritics are a pain! What if the Kazakh alphabet could be represented with only the 26 standard ASCII Latin characters, with no need for any keyboard conversion.
  6. No apostrophes.
  7. Single-letter equivalents for the six most commonly-occurring Kazakh Cyrillic vowel graphemes.

The only way to achieve conversion within these parameters satisfactorily is to split the 26 Latin characters into focus letters, and modifying letters.

In the schema below, the pre-modifiers used are ‹ j › (six occurrences) and ‹ w › (one occurrence), while the post-modifier used is ‹ h › (twelve occurrences). There was an option to render the vocalic ‹ ө › as ‹ w › as in Welsh, but while neater, this might diminish readability.

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Example Texts

How would this look with some real Kazakh text? Where better to start than with the national anthem.

Altyn kuhn aspany,

Altyn dahn dalasy,

Erliktijn dastany –

Elime qarashy!

Ezhelden er degen,

Dajnqymyz shyqty rhoyh,

Namysyn bermegen,

Qazarhym myqty rhoyh!

Menijn elim, menijn elim,

Guhlijn bolyp egilemin,

Zhyryjn bolyp twogilemin, elim!

Turhan zherim menijn — Qazaqstanym!

Ohrpaqqa zhol ashqan,

Kejn bayhtaq zherim bar.

Birligi zharasqan,

Tahuelsiz elim bar.

Qarsy alrhan uaqytty,

Mahjngilik dosyndayh.

Bizdijn el baqytty,

Bizdijn el osyndayh!

Here is a longer text, an excerpt from a biography of Ilyas Zhansugurov, without any destandardisation to reflect conventional spellings (e.g. Ilihjas -> Ilyas):

Ilihjas Zhansuhgirov – aqyn, dramashy, prozashy, onyjn poehzihjasy ohlttyq ahdebihettijn klassihkalyq bayhlyrhynyjn qataryna zhatady. Aqynnyjn terejn ihdejaly, kworkem muhsindi, ehpihkalyq kejn tynysty shyrharmalarynyjn tanymdyq, tahrbihelik mahni zor. Olar qalyjn oqyrmannyjn oyhyna oyh, sezimine sezim qosady, qihjalyna qanat bitiredi, ehstetihkalyq lahzzat berip, gumanihstik adamgershilik ihdejalardy tolrhayhdy.

Ilihjas Zhansuhgirov 1894 zhyly bohrynrhy Qapal uezi, Aqsu bolysynda ( qazirgi Tadyqorgan oblysy, Aqsu audany) turhan.Eskishe khat tanihtyn, sharhatayh tilderindegi kitaptardy zhihnayhtyn, ajnyz-ertegilerdi, batyrlyq zhyrlardy, tarihkhih oqihrhalardy, ahjngime-shezhirelerdi zhaqsy biletin, kwokeregi ojau, kwozi qaraqty, ahr tuhrli wonerdi ohstarhan ahjngimeshi, dombyrashy, ohsta, kwosheli Zhansuhgir anasynan erte qalrhan Ilihjasty zhetimsiretpeyh, erkeletip, zhaqsy uhlgi kworsetip, tahrbihelep wosiredi.

Khalqymyzdyjn qoht-bereke daryrhan, ezhelden aqyndyq, batyrlyq, danalyq mekeni Zhetisu wolkesinijn perzenti Ilihjas kwokiregine zhas kuhninen bastap ahn men zhyrdyjn, wolejn men kuhyhdijn nebir asyl nohsqalary ohjalarhan.

Woz uhyhinde, ahkesinen khat tanyrhan, odan sojn molda aldyn kworgen Ilihjas biraz uaqyt Kararhash degen zherdegi tatar uhlgisindegi mektepten oqyp, ahr tuhrli pahnderden sabaq alady. Bohdan keyhin tohrmys zharhdayhy bihlep sharua kuhyhttep, tirshilik qarbalasyna aralasyp katedi.

Zhastyq qihjal, arman tolqulary, auyl kworinisteri, tabihrhat suretteri onyjn zhuhregin qozrhap, tiline ohyhqasty swozder oralyp, wolejn shyrhara bastayhdy.

1920 zh. Ilihjas Almatyrha kelip, uhsh ayhlyq mohrhalimder kursyn bitiredi. Artynan Tashkenttegi Qazaq arhartu ihnstihtutynyjn zhanyndarhy qysqa merzimdi kurste bes-alty ayh oqyrhannajn keyhin, densaulyrhynyjn nasharlauyna bayhlanysty aulyna qayhtady.

Dauyldy zhyldardyjn tartysty tirshiligi zhas mohrhalimdi woz tolqynyna tartady. Qazaq arhartu ihnstihtutynda, Zhetisu oblysynyjn Qosshy komihtetinde gubernihjalyq oqu bwoliminde, «Tilshi»gazeti redakcihjasynda qyzmet isteu, ehkspedihcihjarha shyrhyp foljhklor uhgilerin zhihnau keshegi auyl zhigitin shihratyp shyjndayhdy. Zhas azamattyjn kyzmetten wozge uakyty tuhgeldeyh kitap, gazet-zhurnal oqurha, woz kwokiregindegi syrlardy qarhazrha tuhsiruge zhohmsalady. Alrhashqy wolejnderi «Tilshi», «Kedeyh erki», «Lenihnshil zhas» gazetterinde, «Zhajna mektep», «Ahyhel tejndigi» zhurnaldarynda zharihjalanady. 1927 zhyly «Betashar» atty uhgit wolejni, 1928 zhyly «Sarhanak» degen tohjnrhysh kitaby shyrhady.

1927-1937 zhyldar arasynda poehzihja, proza, dramaturgihja, syn, audarma salalarynda zhihyrmadan astam kitap shyrharyp, artyna asa bayh ahdebih muhra qaldyrdy. Onyjn lihrihkalyq shyrharmalary, «Dala», «Kuhyh», «Kuhyhshi», «Qohlager» poehmalary, «Zholdastar» romany, «Kek», «Turksihb», «Ihsatayh-Makhambet» pjhesalary qazaq ahdebihetinijn altyn qoryna qosylrhan wolmes tuyndylar. On zhyldyjn ishinde osynsha shyrharma bergen qalam qayhraty, talant tabandylyrhy rhazhap.

1928 zhyly zhurnalihstihka ihnstihtutyn bitirip, elge oralrhan Ilihjas Zhansuhgirov «Ejnbekshi qazaq» gazeti redakcihjasynda qyzmet istep, qazaq baspasswozinijn qalyptasuyna kwop uhles qosty. Arshyndy qalamger, uhlken mahdenihet qayhratqeri Ilihjas Zhansuhgirov 1934-1935 zhyldarda Qazaqstan kworkem ahdebihet baspasynda poehzihja bwolimin basqarady, SSRO Zhazushylarynyjn I sjyezinde swoz swoyhledi, respublihkanyjn ahleumettik womirine belsene aralasady. Zhazashynyjn M.Gorjhkihyhmen shyrharmashylyq bayhlanysy, Sahken Seyhfullihn, Mohkhtar Ahuezovpen dostyrhy onyjn qalamgerlik zholynda terejn iz qaldyrrhan.

Kwozi tirisinde qazaq poehzihjasynyjn woren zhuhyhrigi, aqyndyqtyjn Qohlageri atanrhan Ilihjas Zhansuhgirov kesepat-kesel repressihjarha ohshyrap, 1938 zhyly opat boldy.

Here is an article on the President’s meeting with the Minister of Finance, giving a good example of high-register technical Kazakh.

Memleket basshysy Qarzhy mihnihstri Erohlan Zhamaubaevty qabyldady

Erohlan Zhamaubaev Qasym-Zhomart Toqaevqa Qarzhy mihnihstrliginijn negizgi zhohmystary turaly esep berdi.

Atap ayhtqanda Qazaqstan Prezihdentine respublihkalyq bjudzhettijn oryndaluy men zhosparlanuy, memlekettik satyp alular men qazynashylyq qyzmet kworsetu isinijn zhuhzege asyryluy, memlekettik audiht zhuhrgizu, memlekettik aktihvterdi basqaru, salyq zhahne keden salalaryn ahkimshilendiru, sondayh-aq, qarzhylyq qohqyq bohzushylyqtardy anyqtau zhayhynda bajandaldy.

Memleket basshysy kwolejnkeli ehkonomihkarha qarsy kuhres, salyq kwolemin wosiru, bjudzhettik rahsimderdi ojntayhlandyru, kworsetiletin memlekettik qyzmet tuhrlerinijn sapasyn arttyru zhahne qaryzdyq shekteulerdi saqtau barhytynda zhuhyheli zhohmys zhuhrgizu qazhettigin ayhtty.

Kezdesu sojnynda Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev salyq zhahne keden salalaryn ahkimshilendiru, memlekettik satyp alu zhahne bjudzhet uhderisine qatysty zajnnamalardy zhetildiru mahseleleri boyhynsha birqatar naqty tapsyrma berdi.”

Source: http://www.akorda.kz/kz/events/akorda_news/meetings_and_receptions/memleket-basshysy-karzhy-ministri-erulan-zhamaubaevty-kabyldady

Alphabet Order

Should it be decided that the order of the Kazakh Latin alphabet be brought in line with that of other Latin alphabets, you might end up with a order which looks something like this:

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Possible Objections

Well, it might be objected that combinations such as ‹ jn › and ‹ xh › are not intuitive and perhaps even unprecedented. This goes for any language: no language’s spelling will be fully intuitive to the speakers of all other languages. As the proposed schema preserves the highly phonemic quality of current Kazakh Cyrillic orthography, its quirks can be learned quickly.

As a test, the different variants of the Latin alphabet currently being roadtested will, I presume, be being given to speakers of other languages to assess how intuitive they find them. I would imagine that the above schema would not perform badly, particularly as diacritics are not common to all languages that use the Latin alphabet.

The use of Latin ‹ x › for Cyrillic ‹ һ › is necessitated by the strict rule that Latin ‹ h › is preserved as a modifier. It should be bourne in mind that ‹ x › represents a wide range of phonemes in languages that use a latin alphabet.

The use of ‹ rh › instead of ‹ gh › for Cyrillic ‹ ғ › is a reflection of the fact that voiced uvular fricatives are more typically represented with forms of ‹ r › in Latin alphabets.

In time, the odd looking ‹ jy › and ‹ jh › could be dropped, but they can serve as a stopgap in the interim.

Given that Cyrillic ‹ і › is more common than Cyrillic ‹ и ›, Latin ‹ i › is assigned to the former, leaving Cyrillic ‹ и › with the admittedly awkward ‹ ih ›. This might the best that can be achieved under the above rewrite rules.

While the phonemic orthography has value, there is no need for this to be followed slavishly. It probably would be better to latinise the capital as Nur-Sultan than Nohr-Sohltan, a flexibility particularly permissible given the non-native roots of the city’s name. Kazakh nouns with existing latinisations in common usage may be best left as-is, e.g. Abai, Aidar, Aliya, Semey etc.

Any thoughts?

I would be curious to read comments from native Kazakh speakers on what principles they would prioritise, or what your thoughts are generally on latinisation.

No doubt the schema above could be improved upon, but I would suggest that the rewrite principles being proposed here have much to commend them.

Author: David McHutchon

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