Kazakh language

Kazakh or Kazak (Latin: qazaqsha or qazaq tili, Cyrillic: қазақша or қазақ тілі, Arabic: قازاقشا or قازاق تىلى, pronounced [qɑzɑqˈɕɑ], [qɑˈzɑq tɪˈlɪ]), 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 (approximately 472,000 in Russia according to the 2010 Russian Census), Germany, Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan.

қазақша or қазақ тілі
قازاقشا or قازاق تىلى
qazaqsha or qazaq tili
[qɑˈzɑq tɪˈlɪ]
Native toKazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
RegionCentral Asia
Native speakers
21 million[1] (2019)
Kazakh alphabets (Latin, Cyrillic script, Arabic script, Kazakh Braille)
Official status
Official language in


Regulated byKazakh language agency
Language codes
ISO 639-1kk
ISO 639-2kaz
ISO 639-3kaz
The Kazakh-speaking world:
  regions where Kazakh is the language of the majority
  regions where Kazakh is the language of a significant minority

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 February 19, 2018 an amendment to the decree of October 26, 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 /ɕ/ and /tɕ/, 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

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 in 1940.[11] In presenting a 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.[12][13] 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]

On October 26, 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,[14][15] a decision taken to emphasise Kazakh culture after the era of Soviet rule[16] and to facilitate the use of digital devices.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19][6]

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.[20][21] 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.[22] The transition was halted temporarily on December 13, 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."[23] However, on January 30, 2015, the Minister of Culture and Sports Arystanbek Mukhamediuly announced that a transition plan was underway, with specialists working on the orthography in order to accommodate the phonological aspects of the language.[24]

However, many citizens state that the officially introduced alphabet needs lots of improvements and changes. Moreover, Kazakh becomes the only Turkic language which will be using Sh, Ch, after the intentions of the Uzbek government to abandon the Sh, Ch digraphs due to its impracticality.

Cyrillic script Arabic script "Resmı nusqa 3,0" Latin script Kazinform and Kazakh Wikipedia Latin script Kazak Grammar Latin script English translation
Барлық адамдар тумысынан азат және қадір-қасиеті мен құқықтары тең болып дүниеге келеді. Адамдарға ақыл-парасат, ар-ождан берілген, сондықтан олар бір-бірімен туыстық, бауырмалдық қарым-қатынас жасаулары тиіс. بارلىق ادامدار تۋمىسىنان ازات جانە قادىر-قاسيەتى مەن كۇقىقتارى تەڭ بولىپ دۇنيەگە كەلەدى. ادامدارعا اقىل-پاراسات، ار-وجدان بەرىلگەن، سوندىقتان ولار ٴبىر-بىرىمەن تۋىستىق، باۋىرمالدىق قارىم-قاتىناس جاساۋلارى ٴتيىس. Barlyq adamdar týmysynan azat jáne qadir-qasıeti men quqyqtary teń bolyp dúnıege keledi. Adamdarǵa aqyl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, sondyqtan olar bir-birimen týystyq, baýyrmaldyq qarym-qatynas jasaýlary tıis. Barlıq adamdar twmısınan azat jäne qadir-qasïyeti men quqıqtarı teñ bolıp dünïyege keledi. Adamdarğa aqıl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, sondıqtan olar bir-birimen twıstıq, bawırmaldıq qarım-qatınas jasawları tïis. Barlık adamdar tuwmısınan azat jäne kadir-kasiyeti men kukıktarı teń bolıp düniyege keledi. Adamdarga akıl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, sondıktan olar bir-birimen tuwıstık, bawırmaldık karım-katınas jasawları tiyis. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience 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;[25] 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/, /t͡ɕ/ 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[26]
Labials Alveolar (Alveolo-)
Velar Uvular
Nasal m м/m n н/n ŋ ң/ń
Stop p п/p b б/b t т/t d д/d ч/ch k к/k ɡ г/g q қ/q
Fricative f ф/f v в/v s с/s z з/z ɕ ш/sh ʑ җ/j χ х/h ʁ ғ/ǵ
Approximant l л/l j й/ı w у/ý
Rhotic ɾ р/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.[27] 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
Close ɪ і/i ʉ ү/ú ʊ ұ/u
Diphthong е/e əj и/ı ʊw у/ý
Mid e э/e ə ы/y o о/o
Open æ ә/á œ ө/ó ɑ а/a
Kazakh vowels by their pronunciation
Front Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded
Close ɪ і/i ʉ ү/ú ə ы/y ʊ ұ/u
Open e э/e / æ ә/á œ̝ ө/ó ɑ а/a о/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.[28] 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 kemeaýasheleksábizbastuz
Acc -ny-ni, -ny, -di, -dy, -ti, -ty, -nkemeniaýanyshelektisábizdibastytuzdy
Gen -nyń-niń, -nýn, -diń, -dyń, -tiń, -tyńkemenińaýanyńshelektińsábizdińbastyńtuzdyń
Dat -ga-ge, -ǵa, -ke, -qa, -ne, -nakemegeaýaǵashelekkesábizgebasqatuzǵa
Loc -da-de, -da, -te, -takemedeaýadashelektesábizdebastatuzda
Abl -dan-den, -dan, -ten, -tan, -nen, -nankemedenaýadanshelektensábizdenbastantuzdan
Inst -men-men(en), -ben(en), -pen(en)kememenaýamenshelekpensábizbenbaspentuzben


There are eight personal pronouns in Kazakh:

Personal pronouns[10]
Singular Plural
Kazakh (transliteration)EnglishKazakh (transliteration)English
SenYou (singular informal)SizYou (singular formal)
SenderYou (plural informal)SizderYou (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.[10]

Nominative mensensizolbizsendersizderolar
Genitive menińsenińsizdińonyńbizdińsenderdińsizderdińolardyń
Dative maǵansaǵansizgeoǵanbizgesendergesizdergeolarǵa
Accusative menisenisizdionybizdisenderdisizderdiolardy
Locative mendesendesizdeondabizdesenderdesizderdeolarda
Ablative menensenensizdenodanbizdensenderdensizderdenolardan
Instrumental menimensenimensizbenonymenbizbensendermensizdermenolarmen

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

Morphemes indicating person[10]
pronounscopulaspossessive endingspast/conditional
1st sg men-mın-(ı)m-(ı)m
2nd sg sen-sıń-(ı)ń-(ı)ń
3rd sg ol-dır
1st pl biz-mız-(ı)mız-(ı)k
2nd sng formal & pl siz-sız-(ı)ńız-(ı)nız
3rd pl olar-dır

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 бару (go) and келу (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]
KazakhAspectEnglish translation
Men jeyminnon-progressive"I (will) eat [every day]."
Men jeudeminprogressive"I am eating [right now]."
Men jep otyrmynprogressive/durative"I am [sitting and] eating." / "I have been eating."
Men jep turmynprogressive/punctual"I am [in the middle of] eating [this very minute]."
Men jep júrminhabitual"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 júzýde 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 てみる temiru construction).[10]

Annotated text with gloss

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

Менің Қазақстаным Men-iń Qazaqstan-ym My Kazakhstan
Алтын күн аспаны Altyn kún aspan-y The golden sun in the sky
[ɑltən kʉn ɑspɑˈnə] gold sun sky-3.POSS
Алтын дән даласы Altyn dán dala-sy The golden corn of the steppe
[altən dæn dɑlɑˈsə] gold corn steppe-3.POSS
Ерліктің дастаны Erlik-tiń dastan-y The legend of courage
[erlɘkˈtɘŋ dɑstɑˈnə] courage legend-GEN epic-3.POSS-NOM
Еліме қарашы! El-im-e qara-shy Just look at my country!
[ɘlɘˈmʲe qɑrɑˈʃə] country-1SG.ACC look-IMP
Ежелден ер деген Ejel-den er de-gen Called heroes since time immemorial
[ɘʑʲɘlˈdʲen ɘr dʲɪˈɡʲen] antiquity-ABL hero say-PTCP.PST
Даңқымыз шықты ғой Dańq-ymyz shyq-ty ǵoı Our glory, emerged!
[dɑɴqəˈməz ʃəqˈtə ʁoj] glory-1PL.POSS.NOM emerge-PST.3 EMPH
Намысын бермеген Namys-yn ber-me-gen Without losing their honor
[nɑməˈsən bʲermʲeˈɡʲen] honor-3.POSS-ACC give-NEG-PTCP.PST
Қазағым мықты ғой Qazaǵ-ym myqty ǵoı Mighty are my Kazakh people!
[qɑzɑˈʁəm məqˈtə ʁoj] Kazakh-1SG.POSS strong EMPH
Менің елім, менің елім Men-iń el-im, meniń el-im My country, my country
[mʲɘˈnɘŋ ɘˈlɪm, mʲɘˈnɘŋ ɘˈlɪm] 1SG.GEN my country (2x)-1SG.NOM
Гүлің болып, егілемін Gúl-iń bol-yp, eg-il-e-min As your flower, I am rooted in you
[ɡʉˈlɘŋ boˈləp, ɘɡɘlʲɘˈmɪn] flower-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, root-PASS-PRES-1SG
Жырың болып төгілемін, елім Jyr-yń bol-yp, tóg-il-e-min, el-im As your song, I will be sung abound
[ʒəˈrəŋ boˈləp tœɡɪlˈʲɘmɪn, ɘˈlɪm] song-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, sing-PASS-PRES-1SG, country-1SG.POSS.NOM
Туған жерім менің – Қазақстаным Tý-ǵan jer-im meniń – Qazaqstan-ym My native land – My Kazakhstan
[tuwˈʁan ʒeˈrɪm mʲɘnɘŋ qɑzɑqˈstɑnəm] birth-PTCP-PST place-1SG.POSS.NOM 1SG.GEN – Kazakhstan-1SG.POSS.NOM

See also


  1. "Results of the 2019 national population census of the Republic of Kazakhstan" (PDF). The agency on statistics of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Retrieved 1 November 2017..
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kazakh". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. "Kazakhstan to change from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet | DW". Deutsche Welle (www.dw.com). 2017-10-27. Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  4. "This Country Is Changing Its Stalin-imposed Alphabet After 80 Years". Newsweek.
  5. Decree No. 637 of February 19, 2018
  6. "Central Asia: Kazakhstan". The 2017 World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. October 26, 2017. Archived from the original on October 30, 2017. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
  7. Map showing the geographical diffusion of the Kazakh and other Turkish languages
  8. Simons, Gary F.; Fennig, Charles D., eds. (2017). "Kazakh". Ethnologue: Languages of the World (20th ed.). Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  9. Mukhamedova, Raikhangul (2015). Kazakh: A Comprehensive Grammar. Routledge. ISBN 9781317573081.
  10. Назарбаев, Нұрсұлтан (April 26, 2017). "Болашаққа бағдар: рухани жаңғыру" [Orientation for the future: spiritual revival]. Egemen Qazaqstan (in Kazakh). Archived from the original on June 28, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  11. "Kazakh President Orders Shift Away From Cyrillic Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. April 12, 2017. Archived from the original on July 6, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  12. "From Я to R: How To Change A Country's Alphabet -- And How Not To". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. May 16, 2017. Archived from the original on May 23, 2017. Retrieved May 18, 2017.
  13. "О переводе алфавита казахского языка с кириллицы на латинскую графику" [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. October 26, 2017. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  14. Illmer, Andreas; Daniyarov, Elbek; Rakhimov, Azim (October 31, 2017). "Kazakhstan to Qazaqstan: Why would a country switch its alphabet?". BBC News. Archived from the original on October 31, 2017. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
  15. "Nazarbayev Signs Decree On Kazakh Language Switch To Latin-Based Alphabet". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. October 27, 2017. Archived from the original on October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  16. "Alphabet soup as Kazakh leader orders switch from Cyrillic to Latin letters". The Guardian. 26 October 2017. Archived from the original on October 28, 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017 via Reuters.
  17. Higgins, Andrew (2018). "Kazakhstan Cheers New Alphabet, Except for All Those Apostrophes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  18. "Kazakhstan adopts new version of Latin-based Kazakh alphabet". The Astana Times. 26 February 2018.
  19. "Kazakhstan switching to Latin alphabet". Interfax. October 30, 2006. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007.
  20. "Kazakh President Revives Idea of Switching to Latin Script". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. October 24, 2006. Archived from the original on March 7, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  21.  Bartlett, Paul (September 3, 2007). "Kazakhstan: Moving Forward With Plan to Replace Cyrillic With Latin Alphabet". EurasiaNet. Archived from the original on May 12, 2008. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  22. "Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev". Kazinform. December 13, 2007, cited in "Kazakhstan backtracks on move from Cyrillic to Roman alphabet?". Pinyin News. December 14, 2007. Archived from the original on September 29, 2014. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  23. "Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet MCS RK". Kazinform. January 30, 2015. Archived from the original on February 19, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2015.
  24. Some variations occur in the different regions where Kazakh is spoken, including outside Kazakhstan; e.g. ж / ج (where a Perso-Arabic script similar to the current Uyghur alphabet is used) is read [ʑ] in standard Kazakh, but [d͡ʑ] in some places.
  25. Vajda, Edward (1994), "Kazakh phonology", in Kaplan, E.; Whisenhunt, D. (eds.), Essays presented in honor of Henry Schwarz, Washington: Western Washington, pp. 603–650
  26. Wagner, John Doyle; Dotton, Zura. A Grammar of Kazakh (PDF).
  27. 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.
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