Tag Archives: Cyrillic alphabet

Linguistic Crisis in Kazakhstan


If you recall the “Borat” movie (and who can forget it?), you will remember that Borat came to the United States from Kazakhstan, his native country. Kazakhstan was formerly under Soviet rule and used the Cyrillic alphabet because the Kazakh language has never had an alphabet of its own and has sounds that would be difficult to transpose into either Cyrillic or Latin aphabets.

Alert: CRISIS IN KAZAKHSTAN! The president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has declared that beginning in 2025 the Latin alphabet will be the official way to write the Kazakh language.

But wait!

About half the Russian population has left the country, so there is no great uproar about the change from Cyrillic to Latin orthography among the populace. What is riling Kazakhs is that Mr. Nazarbayev has decreed that instead of using diacritical marks such as umlauts and other phonetic markers to aid in pronunciation, apostrophes will be used to change the sounds of certain letters. Many, many apostrophes. So many apostrophes that Kazakhs are complaining that their eyes will bleed trying to read the Latin script sprinkled with endless apostrophes. “The Republic of Kazakhstan” will now be written “Qazaqstan Respy’bli’kasy.” Got that?

President Nazarbayev has never been a man to be questioned. However, the uproar against his proposed abundance of apostrophes has been loud and aggressive, and the head of the senate of Kazakhstan has recently said that “a final decision has not been made.” (Note the passive voice.) Nazarbayev is described as a man who wants to be remembered as inventing his own alphabet. There is a good chance he will be. Stay tuned. I wonder where Borat comes down on this issue.



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Learning a New Language

Hello again. Dobre utro. I have just returned from a wonderful two weeks in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Russia is a fascinating country, and I had not nearly enough time to see all I wanted in just those two cities.

As a lover of language, I was both fascinated and frustrated by trying to read Russian signs, which are written in the Cyrillic alphabet. My frustration made me appreciate all the more how difficult it must be for learners of English whose native language is written either in characters, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, or in a completely different script, such as Armenian and Arabic.

The Cyrillic alphabet contains 33 letters. Some correspond to English letters: M, A, O, T and K are the same. Other letters look nothing like our Latin ones: ж = “zh” as in “measure, Д = “d” as in “door,” and З (yes, that’s a letter) = “z” as in “zebra.” Look at this word: MAKДOHAЛД’C. Can you figure out what it is?  It’s a PECTOPAH (restaurant), and the biggest one in the world is in Moscow. Yep, it’s MacDonald’s.

Right now I’m trying to adjust to the 11-hour time zone difference and getting my eyes to focus on English words, with renewed admiration for those people for whom English originally looked the way Cyrillic looks to me.

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