Kazakh Adoptive Families

Kazakh is the official language and principle native language of the Republic of Kazakhstan. It is also spoken in southern Siberia, northwestern China (Sinkiang-Uighur) and northwestern Mongolia. It is one of the most widely spoken Turkic languages in central Asia. An estimated 8 million people speak Kazakh: 6.5 million in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh is a member of the Central Turkic group of languages, which is a sub-group of Common Turkic. Kazakh and the other Turkic languages are closely related to one another. Kazakh as it exists today began to take shape in the seventeenth century during the Modern Turkic Period.

Kazakh possesses a rich and ancient tradition of oral poetry, but did not exist in any standard written form until the middle of the nineteenth century. Kazakh was written with the Arabic script until 1929; with the Roman alphabet from 1929 to 1940; and with the Cyrillic alphabet following Soviet occupation in 1940. This alphabet was modified slightly in 1954 and the Cyrillic now used employs the thirty three letters of standard Russian, plus several additional symbols for sounds specific to Kazakh. Kazakh has eight vowels, and twenty-five to twenty-six consonants. Words are usually stressed on the final syllable.

Most students in the primary and secondary education are still taught in Russian, although 33 percent do learn in the Kazakh language (Europa Publications 1993) and there are attempts to extend Kazakh language education. More Kazakh language schools are being established, and ethnic Kazakhs are sending their children to these schools in increasing numbers. Higher education is dominated by Kazakh (54 percent in 1984/85) since ethnic Russians choose to study outside the Republic. Traditional Kazakh poetry singing contests are held more frequently, and Russian street signs and place names are being replaced by Kazakh equivalents. It should be noted that the number of ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Russians within the country are about equal (7 and 6 million, respectively), and the existing language situation, while peaceful, is not without some tension. In 1989, there were 160 officially registered Kazakh language newspaper titles and thirty-one periodicals. Other languages represented in the media are Russian, Uyghur, German, and Korean.

The above information is taken from UCLA Language Material Project Language Profiles [external link] and is reprinted according to their guidelines.

In Kazakhstan, business is usually conducted in Russian. Street signs, at least in Almaty, are in Russian and Kazakh. Learn the Cyrillic alphabet so that you can read them and find your way around. Also learn a few basic phrases, such as please and thank you, in Russian; learning them in Kazakh would be a nice bonus. It goes a long way if you make just a little effort. Buy a simple Russian/English phrase book.

Before you make the effort to learn either Kazakh or Russian, do some research. I believe that more schools in Kazakhstan are starting to teach in Kazakh, so if you are adopting a school-age child, be sure to ask your agency what language the child speaks. In some orphanages, Russian is used for the Russian children, and Kazakh is used for the Kazakh children.

Books, Language Courses, Other Kazakh Language Sources.

Kazakh Words and Phrases useful for adoptive parents. These come mostly from adoptive parents.

Kazakh List 1 [PDF link] is a 17 page PDF of English, Kazakh, and Russian words and phrases. You are welcome to download this for your own personal use, but please don't forward or publish this without permission. If you ever find this on another website, or handed out by an adoption agency, please let me know [e-mail link].

Kazakh List 2 [PDF link] is a 9 page PDF of English, Kazakh, and Russian words and phrases. You are welcome to download this for your own personal use, but please don't forward or publish this without permission. If you ever find this on another website, or handed out by an adoption agency, please let me know [e-mail link].

New link:

Names: resources for names and meanings; list of names, most with meanings.

Russian: how to Cyrillicize your computer, learning Russian online, books, adoptive parent resources.

English: resources and hints for teaching your child, or anyone, English.

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Page last updated on 19 December 2009.

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