In a speech to staff and students of Kazakhstan’s State University in Almaty, President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced that the government is considering switching the official script from Cyrillic to Latin. Without indicating a time frame, Nazarbaev linked the intended change to his program of computerization and introduction of English as a mandatory language throughout the education system, which he hopes to achieve by the year 2000. The president announced that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have earmarked credits to support the program. (Russian agencies, January 6)
In a partially related development, a demographic study just published in Almaty found that population dynamics presage a continuing increase of the ethnic Kazakh population and decrease of the Russian population of Kazakhstan in both absolute and relative terms. Having emerged from Soviet rule as a minority in their own country, ethnic Kazakhs amounted to 46 percent of the population in 1995, but the study showed Kazakhs outnumbering Russians by 7.6 million to 5.8 million. For the year 2015 the study projected a ratio of 10 million Kazakhs to 3.6 million Russians. (Ekologichesky vestnik (Almaty) cited by Xinhua, January 7)
Proposals to switch the official script to the Latin from the Cyrillic have unsettled parts of the Russian diaspora in several former Soviet countries. Kazakhstani authorities have from time to time spoken about such a change, but have treaded cautiously. They seek to avert the twin risks of ethnic tensions and of an exodus of Russian technical specialists. Some Russian groups in the country object to the current legal status of the Kazakh language as state language and advocate legalization of the Soviet-bequeathed "bilingualism." The latter is widespread in practice as Kazakh-Russian bilingualism, but not the other way around. Nazarbaev has attempted to elevate the debate by proposing to move toward "trilingualism" through general mandatory teaching of the English language in the schools. (See Monitor, December 19) Moreover, English should receive a massive boost from the multi-billion dollar investment projects about to be launched by Western corporations in Kazakhstan. The country’s language problem is one of interethnic relations and one of modernization at the same time. Kazakh and English should win out so long as demographic and economic dynamics take their natural course.
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