Staunton, August 26 – If Kazakhs demand that their national language takes precedence over all others in all situations in that Central Asian country, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned in a television interview this week, they risk seeing their country suffer as Ukraine now is.
If Kazakhstan were to “ban all languages except Kazakh,” he said, “what would await us then? The fate of Ukraine.” And that in turn, the Kazakhstan leader continued, could cost the country “bloodshed” or even its independence. What is needed instead, he continued, is “patience.”
“The number of Kazakhs is growing and so too is the influence of our language,” Nazarbayev said. “No one is blocking this.” Moreover, “there are many representatives of other ethnoses” in Kazakhstan “who speak Kazakh,” and “we must ourselves value our language.”
One way not to do that, he continued, is to “sow panic” about the supposed inability of the Kazakh language to make progress. “If you consider yourself unhappy, you will be,” and if people “constantly affirm that they do not have [a language], then they won’t have one.” But that is not the case in Kazakhstan.
Every year, Nazarbayev said, 100,000 children finish school, of which 80,000 study in Kazakh.” More than that, “in every school, Russian or otherwise, the study of the Kazakh language is obligatory. Any student of the sixth or seventh class, for example, now speaks Kazakh, Russian and even English.”
Kazakhs concerned about their language, he continued, ignore this; and because they think they must “move away from Russian,” they are taking words “from Turkish, Arabic or Persian” while the words they had been using are entirely adequate. “We must enrich our language with international terms. There is nothing bad about that.”
According to Nazarbayev, the Kazakh language today is not threatened by “any danger.” Instead, it is “growing and becoming richer and a great future awaits it.” That is especially obvious if one considers ten percent of the 6,000 languages in the world are dying each year.
Seventy percent of the world’s population now uses English, he continued, “because this is the language of science, education, medicine, culture and the media. Of course, one can live without aтн knowledge of English,” but you won’t live as well. If Kazakhs are to develop, the younger generation must learn English as well as Kazakh and Russian.
Nazarbayev added that he “considers trilingualism the correct choice,” noting that Kazakh is “competitive” with the other two. “If we will know these three languages, then we will gain greater opportunities. This is something we must understand.”
The Kazakhstan president’s remarks are noteworthy for three reasons. First, they highlight the ways in which Russian actions in Ukraine are having an impact on the other countries in the post-Soviet space, simultaneously leading to fears that Moscow will intervene and intensifying nationalism among the titular groups.
Second, they point to the reason why Nazarbayev is confident that Kazakh is gaining and will continue to gain in his country, a trend that whether he acknowledges it or not almost certainly will trigger more concerns in Moscow about its ability to hold that country in what Putin calls the orbit of “the Russian world.”
And third, Nazarbayev’s remarks underscore the growing importance of English in these countries, yet another indication of the ways in which they are moving away from the bilingual world of Soviet times to a trilingual one, a development that makes perfect sense given the international environment but also one that will disturb Russian nationalists in Moscow.