The Kazakh Language
The Kazakh language (also known as казақ тілі, قازاق ٴتىل, or Qazaq tili) belongs to the Kipchak-Nogai branch of the Turkic language family. Kazakh is spoken by approximately 28 million people in much of Central Asia such as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also spoken in some European countries such as Russia and Germany. Kazakh is a language spoken significantly in other places such as the provinces of Kayseri and Manisa in Turkey, the Golestan province of Iran, and the Bayan-Ölgii and Hovd provinces of Mongolia. It is also a minority language in certain parts of China, such as the Gansu and Qinghai provinces, as well as the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the northernmost part of Xinjiang province.
Kazakh shares some distinctive features with languages such as Karakalpak, Kyrgyz, and Nogai.
The Kazakh language was originally called Kazakh-Kirghiz or Kirghis-Kaisak, whereas present-day Kirghiz was referred to as Kara-Kirghiz. This confusion was largely due to the fact that Kazakh and Kirghiz are very similar to each other (mutually intelligible). Speakers of Kazakh and Kirghiz can communicate easily with each other in their mother tongues.
Unlike other major Turkic languages, such as Turkish, Tatar and Uzbek, Kazakh was not a written language before the Soviet era. As the Kazakh economy was mainly based on cattle breeding in the vast steppes, nomadism or semi-nomadism was, to the Kazakhs, the most appropriate way of life. Therefore, Kazakh culture and social norms were preserved in oral form. Nonetheless, the Kazakhs also have written documents but they were written in Tatar, Chaghatay, or non-Turkic languages.
In around 1000s C.E., Kazakh was written in the Arabic script, which was used mainly for religious and pedagogical texts translated from oriental languages, and for Kazakh supplements in some local newspapers published during the last decades of the nineteenth century.
In 1929, under the influence of the Soviet administration and their Tatar allies, they introduced a Latin-based alphabet, and then in 1940, the Cyrillic alphabet to the Kazakh language. Half a century later, more than 95 percent of the Kazakhs living in the former Soviet Union stated Kazakh to be their first language. Since then, Kazakh became the official language of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Yet, Russian is still widely spoken in Kazakhstan due to Russia’s strong influence over the country during the Soviet period. While more than 95 percent of Kazakhs speak Russian, less than half the population of Kazakhstan today do not have sufficient command of their mother tongue.
On 26 October 2017, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev issued a Presidential Decree for a transition from using Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet by 2025. On 19 February 2018, President Nazarbayev signed an amendment to the decree eliminating the use of apostrophes and the inclusion of the alphabets for the Kazakh sounds "Ш" (Sh) and “Ч" (Ch).
Like other Turkic languages, Kazakh is an agglutinative language and it employs vowel harmony.
Kazakh Alphabet and Writing System
Kazakh has 12 phonemic vowels and 3 of them are diphthongs. The front and back vowel harmony affect consonants such as /k/, /g/ and /l/ to the effect that their articulation shifts between front and back positions. The rounding contrast and /æ/ generally only occur as phonemes in the first syllable of a word but do occur later allophonically.
The /æ/ sound has been included artificially due to the influence of Arabic, Persian and, later, Tatar languages during the Islamic period.
In Kazakh, the verb is generally placed at the back of a sentence as it follows the SOV (subject-object-verb) word order. Kazakh is a nominative-accusative, head-final, left-branching, dependent-marking, and an agglutinative language.
Kazakh is similar to other Kipchak languages in that, it derives nominal stems from other nominal stems. An example, when ‘-LIK’ is added to a nominal stem, it forms nouns and adjectives (“qalalïq baq” or “Қалаліқ бақ” - means “urban garden”, or “municipal park”).
Kazakh Crash Course
Language Apps for Learning Kazakh
Kazakh Songs by Dimash Kudaibergen
Dimash Kudaibergen (Дінмұхаммед Қанатұлы Құдайберген) is a Kazakh singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. He is university trained in classical as well as in contemporary music and is known for his wide vocal range of 6 octaves, from D2 to D8.
Here is some quality Kazakh music for you. Enjoy!