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Kazakhstan Is Changing Its Alphabet From Cyrillic To Latin-Based Style Favored By the West ( 288

An anonymous reader quotes a report from the BBC: The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic script to the Latin-based style favored by the West. The change, announced on a blustery Tuesday morning in mid-February, was small but significant -- and it elicited a big response. The government signed off on a new alphabet, based on a Latin script instead of Kazakhstan's current use of Cyrillic, in October. But it has faced vocal criticism from the population -- a rare occurrence in this nominally democratic country ruled by Nazarbayev's iron fist for almost three decades. In this first version of the new alphabet, apostrophes were used to depict sounds specific to the Kazakh tongue, prompting critics to call it "ugly." The second variation, which Kaipiyev liked better, makes use of acute accents above the extra letters. So, for example, the Republic of Kazakhstan, which would in the first version have been Qazaqstan Respy'bli'kasy, is now Qazaqstan Respyblikasy, removing the apostrophes. The BBC article goes on to explain the economics of such a change, citing a restuarant owner that marketed his business using the first version of the alphabet. "All his marketing materials, the labelling on napkin holders and menus, and even the massive sign outside the building will have to be replaced," reports the BBC. "In his attempt to get ahead by launching in the new alphabet, [the owner] had not predicted that the government would revise it. He thinks it will cost about $3,000 to change the spelling of the name on everything to the new version, Sabiz." The full transition to the Latin-based script is expected to be completed by 2025, impacting this owner and many other small business owners.
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Kazakhstan Is Changing Its Alphabet From Cyrillic To Latin-Based Style Favored By the West

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  • WOW (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Archfeld ( 6757 ) <> on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @11:41PM (#56504365) Journal

    This sounds like a huge undertaking, and seems to be a smart move but it is daunting to think of the effort involved in changing a national alphabet. I am not sure I've ever heard of such an effort before, anyone else ??

    • Re:WOW (Score:5, Informative)

      by ladislavb ( 551945 ) on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @11:47PM (#56504373) Homepage
      Yes, Azerbaijan switched from Cyrillic to Latin alphabet in 2001.
      • Re:WOW (Score:5, Informative)

        by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @01:43AM (#56504719)
        A number of former Soviet and East European countries have changed from Cyrillic to Latin. I would expect all of the -stans to follow suit with either Latin or Persian script, as their languages are related to either Turkish or Persian (depending on the country), and have nothing linguistically in common with Russian, the only reason they are using Cyrillic is their Soviet colonial past. Even some countries with Slavic languages, which are related to Russian have switched from Cyrillic to Latin as they've grown politically further from Russia and closer to Western Europe.
        • by qaz123 ( 2841887 )
          Those who used Cyrillic in the Eastern Europe continue to use Cyrillic. Some former soviet union countries in Cental Asia switched to Latin
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by cbraescu1 ( 180267 )

            Those who used Cyrillic in the Eastern Europe continue to use Cyrillic. Some former soviet union countries in Cental Asia switched to Latin

            Moldova switched in 1989 from Cyrillic to Latin.


        • by Malc ( 1751 )

          Cyrillic comes from Bulgaria though! You give too much credit to the Russians :)

    • Re:WOW (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dayze!Confused ( 717774 ) <> on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @11:48PM (#56504377) Homepage Journal

      China's effort to switch to Simplified. Vietnam's conversion from some form of Chinese to Latin.

      • Almost forgot about the latter.
        It's interesting how the people in Vietnam, Korea, Japan and a few others "imported" Chinese characters and then all chose different paths of modifying/extending/replacing it to suit their own cultural needs.

        • Re:WOW (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <> on Thursday April 26, 2018 @01:02AM (#56504599) Homepage

          In VietNam's case, they had some prompting from the French.

          • Portuguese missionaries devised the quoc ngu.

            The main reason it took over was not french influence so much as the fact that most people were illiterate so it would be their first written language, and the fact that it was simple much more suited to their language than the chu nom.

        • From what I recall in language classes, while Korea and Japan imported the Chinese characters and used them as-is while simply grafting their own pronunciations to the characters (and eventually developing their phonetic-only alphabets to augment), Vietnam took a different route and rearranged the characters to fit their spoken language better while retaining meaning. The end result was something highly confusing and difficult to learn (for the time period). When the Portuguese showed up preaching Christia

          • Of course we have to oversimplify things here to keep the topic from detailing, but ,,,

            You're right on the Japanese and Vietnamese, though the Koreans chose a different route, replacing it with familiar looking characters of their own, that are also syllable-based, but where each character represents a structured combination of the letters/sounds. Basically, if you know the "letters" and the pattern in which to read Korean characters you can already read the words out loud, even without any understanding of

      • Simplified Chinese was a major OFFICIAL change, but at approximately half of the changes just changed the appearance of printed characters to match the way people had been writing them for YEARS using ballpoint pens and pencils.

    • Re:WOW (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <> on Wednesday April 25, 2018 @11:59PM (#56504415) Homepage

      Only thing I can think of that comes close is simplification of written Chinese under Mao, but even that wasn't as radical as this. (During the Cultural Revolution, the leftists wanted to switch to a Latin alphabet, but even Mao couldn't make that happen.)

      • by AC-x ( 735297 )

        > During the Cultural Revolution, the leftists wanted to switch to a Latin alphabet, but even Mao couldn't make that happen.

        The Latin alphabet is the official way to write Chinese phonetically... []

        • That's for dictionaries and teaching.

          • by AC-x ( 735297 )

            It's also the main system for typing, so much so that some are forgetting how to write the characters by hand [].

        • Re:WOW (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2018 @04:49AM (#56505155)

          Thought I'd drop by and clarify on this point, as someone who speaks Chinese (simplified Mandarin / mainland Chinese). Sadly Slashdot doesn't support UTF-8 so I can't demonstrate the details reliably. I will try to use some, but I dunno how they'll turn out. I'll try to stick to ASCII + descriptions + links.

          True pinyin cannot use the Latin character set (ex. ISO-8859-1) because it lacks several glyphs that contain necessary diacritic marks for its vowels. Written pinyin requires several different diacritics to be accurately represented, always written above vowels (a, e, i, o, u, and French u (u with two dots above it)):

          * A straight line (crummy ASCII example: hyphen: -) indicating 1st tone
          * A rising line (crummy ASCII example: forward slash: /) indicating 2nd tone
          * A rising-falling line (crummy ASCII example: letter v: v) indicating 3rd tone
          * A falling line (crummy ASCII example: backslash: \) indicating 4th tone
          * No diacritic means no tone (which some call "5th tone")

          Here's a reference [] for pinyin tonal depiction on Wikipedia.

          There are several variances of romanized Chinese created over the years -- Yale, Wade-Giles, Sin Wenz, and several couple others that slip my mind. For example, I can't read most of them, but can (grudgingly) read Wade-Giles when forced to (some 1960s educational books were written in this format); I was taught pinyin in (American) school. I do not believe Chinese today are taught any of these variances; they are, however, taught pinyin as children. Whether or not they remember it is an entirely separate matter. :-)

          Here is a better Wikipedia article [] on actual Chinese romanization methods. The variances if compared side-by-side look innocent/minor but are actually quite annoying if encountered in bulk.

          Anyway, to combat the limitation/annoyance of diacritic marks, many people online use a bastardised combination of pinyin and Wade-Giles, allowing for romanized Chinese using pure ASCII. You may see this version occasionally. Again, lack of UTF-8 on Slashdot makes this hard, but the sentence "tonight I went to the Beijing language institute" would, in this format, be written as jin1tian1 wan3shang4 wo3 qu4 le bei3jing1 yu3yan2 xue2yuan4. No number means a word without tone (ex. particles).

          There's also what's called bopomofo [] which is the system Taiwanese use. Please note the tonal marks section. Cantonese (Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, etc.) use the Jyutping [] system.

          By the way: Korean Hangul has the same problem -- several romanization variances [] with no widespread standard. Someone will probably chastise me for this, so I'd better correct myself (kind of): the Korean government deployed a standard called RR or MoC2000 for street signs, and wants it adopted in all other mediums (textbooks, etc.). But adoption has been extremely slow outside of road signs, and it's a fairly new/recent method (though to their credit: RR doesn't use diacritics). I learned Korean only a few years after the introduction of RR, so I got a strange intermixed combination of Yale and RR. But not even South Koreans seem to get it right: take this street sign [] for example, which reads "Dohwa Jct" and "Dowon Stn"... except the "do" is the same character in Hangul; someone added the "h" by mistake (because habits). Easier to just use actual Hangul, especially because it's super easy to learn; King Sejong was remarkably intelligent, focused on making something even "country bumpkins" could remember.

          Asian linguistics lesson over.

    • Korea (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Korea invented a whole new writing system in the 1600s. In more recent times, China formalized a "simplified" version of their script in the 1950s and 1960s and quickly switched over to using it. It wasn't a sudden, imposed change, but over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, Vietnamese has transitioned from being written in modified Chinese characters to being written in heavily accented Latin character. In a less extreme example, Japan imposed a standardized set of logographic characters after Worl

      • by Strider- ( 39683 )

        One of the most modern writing systems is likely to be the "Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics" system. It was developed around 1840, and is used to write multiple First Nations languages (Cree and Ojibwe) as well as Inuktitut (The language of the Inuit people). If you haven't seen it before, it looks a lot like runes with extra triangles, but it's a fully fleshed writing system, with full Unicode support.

    • In 1928, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk moved Turkey to a Latin based alphabet, replacing the Ottoman Turkish alphabet.
    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      Turkey went from the Arab letters to Latin letters in the 1920ies (and at the same time replaced Osman Turkish with Modern Turkish). Many minority languages in Southeast Europe and Central Asia have several attempts at getting an alphabet for them, like the Udi language [] in the Northern Caucasus, which has had the Caucasian Albanian alphabet [] in the Middle Ages, a Latin based alphabet at the end of the 19th century until the 1970ies and uses now an Cyrillic Alphabet. Interestingly though, Udi is beside Georgi
      • Re:WOW (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sique ( 173459 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @03:27AM (#56504939) Homepage
        And even Germany changed at least the diverse cursive scripts in use in 1915 to Suetterlin script [], which in 1941 was forbidden during the Nazi regime and replaced with a new antiqua based cursive similar to the english one. (Albeit the modern German cursive does not "cross the t", but uses the t-cross as connection to the next letter. Any attempt to graphologically interpret the way the ts are crossed thus runs into some problems with German cursive.)

        Thus, most Germans can't read the handwritten letters of their grand-parents anymore, because the script is unknown to them.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Some information here is incomplete.

          There is no single one official cursive script in Germany. There were attempts to do this, but since every state had their own ideas on how to improve things and make writing curse more fluent different scripts were introduced over the time. This can lead to a lot of confusion between generations and people from different states because all scripts are valid. Working as an assistant to a professor at a German university I get to correct exams from time to time. And sin
    • Re:WOW (Score:5, Interesting)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @03:37AM (#56504957)

      King Sejong is a celebrated Korean ruler who can literally say he invented [] the alphabet. He was also one of two rulers in the country's history awarded the titles "the Great." Sejong the Great was the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, and ruled from 1418 – 1450.

      He created 28 letters for a Korean alphabet. As time went on, revisions were made. Currently, 24 characters are used and are still under ongoing studies.

      Government officials and aristocrats opposed the spread of "Hunminjeongeum," but they were outnumbered. The publication was completed in 1443 and approved in 1446. It spread among lower-class citizens, who were finally able to read and write.

      After the publication of "Hunminjeongeum," longer documents followed. The next volume was called "Hunminjeongeum Haerye."

      "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days," the "Hunminjeongeum Haerye" says.

      And if this Korean historical drama [] is accurate (I personally have no idea if it is), I believe this is the same king who commissioned an architectural structure to serve as an almanac of the stars so that Korean farmers who couldn't read would know when to plant and harvest their crops.

    • by xlsior ( 524145 )
      I am not sure I've ever heard of such an effort before, anyone else ??

      Turkey switched from an Arabic script to a Latin-based one in 1928.
    • Romania switched from Cyrillic to Latin in 1862.

    • Germany stopped using its old-style letters in 1941. Though it already used both styles in parallel for 400 years.
    • Similar stuff is being done fairly often, changing currency, alphabet, state language, measurement system, what have you. "It's hard" is a stupid excuse, changing is no harder than using the suboptimal standard forever to come. A lot of difficulty now is always outweighed by little difficulty forever to come. If it's clear that new system is better way to do things, then you switch and that's all there is to it.
    • Re:WOW (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fgouget ( 925644 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @08:14AM (#56505785)

      This sounds like a huge undertaking, and seems to be a smart move but it is daunting to think of the effort involved in changing a national alphabet. I am not sure I've ever heard of such an effort before, anyone else ??

      Meh. Sounds much easier than switching the US to metric!

    • We can't even manage to switch to metric here in the US. When I was in elementary school, we were told not to bother with Imperial units as the metric conversion would surely happen soon. Well that didn't work out, we have to fiddle with 2 sets of tools, many times even to work on one assembly since the subcomponents are sourced from differently tooled shops.

      Much respect for any large group of people who can accomplish such a huge task!
    • Korea switched from Chinese character to their own writing system, Hangul, in early twentieth century. before 1920 I think but look that up for yourself before quoting it.
  • Wondering if we can expect a comment from Borat on this matter?
  • Loss Of Heratige (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Such a switch could result in a loss of various folklore in Kazakhstan centering on the shapes and percieved symbology of the Cryllic alphabet. Also such a change seems unecessisary and wasteful of resources, it's not like those books and letters will rewrite themselves.
    It seems like they plan on enforcing it on everyone somehow, as opposed to having it affect only the government or public signage (a la bilingual signs), otherwise why would that businessman bother with the change at all?

    • Re:Loss Of Heratige (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <> on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:32AM (#56504511) Homepage

      Kazakh was written in Arabic script for a thousand years prior to Soviet times. Try again.

    • Re:Loss Of Heratige (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Alypius ( 3606369 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:33AM (#56504513)
      When I was in grad school, there was a lot of ink spilled over why Eastern European countries abandoned anything that favored Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union while Central Asian countries more or less retained it all. Since I was taking economics classes, all the lit decided that it was because the Soviets uplifted them into the 20th century, which, as an argument, has some merit. Also, since I was taking economics classes, all the lit completely ignored any kind of cultural implications viz-a-viz Cyrillic symbology. Sigh.
    • otherwise why would that businessman bother with the change at all?

      Yes why would a business risk being progressive hip cool, why would they explore new things rather than sticking with something old? How many times has CocaCola changed their logo? Did Bush force them to do it last time?

    • by Teun ( 17872 )

      It seems like they plan on enforcing it on everyone somehow, as opposed to having it affect only the government or public signage (a la bilingual signs), otherwise why would that businessman bother with the change at all?

      Because most countries have language specified in their national laws.
      Or how would you conduct efficient business in a language different to the legal system you have to comply with?
      Remember Kazakh belongs to the Turkish languages and almost a century ago Turkish went from the Arab script to Latin
      Also, I'm really interested why someone found your remark Insightful.

  • Unicode (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zaelath ( 2588189 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @12:31AM (#56504507)

    Hilariously, a good example of why Unicode would be beneficial on Slashdot ("smart" quotes being a bad example) and no one has mentioned it:

    The example of the new way of writing Qazaqstan Respyblikasy in the summary is incorrect.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      No need to rush, I'll have this replacement for Unicode finished in a year or two and I'm sure the ISO will quickly adopt it. Maybe for Slashdot's 25th anniversary?

  • Bolshevics, and their leader Vladimir Lenin, planed to switch to Latin alphabet for all languages of the Soviet Union: []

    Actually they did it for the Kazakh language in 20s, but finally it was returned back to Cyrillic.

    Both, Cyrillic and Latin alphabet originated from the Ancient Greek alphabet. Cyrillic though remained a bit closer to it.

    Nowadays a printer can print in any alphabet. So there will be no economy on typewriters as there could be in the early 20th centur
    • Cyrillic was invented for the South Slavic language family, and intended to be purely phonetic (as most if not all alphabets were at first), using characters from both Greek and Latin as well as a few I don't believe are found in either. As it spread north and eastward, it adapted to some degree to the different phonemes available in various (mostly) Slavic languages. The Cyrillic alphabets used for Macedonian, Bulgarian, Russian, and others are slightly different, just as are those of various Romance lan
  • by Maimun ( 631984 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @03:38AM (#56504959)
    Writing in Cyrillic alphabet is a PITA if you are using a computer and have to switch all the time between Cyrillic and Latin. Say, you write a LaTeX doc. The commands are in Latin and there is nothing you can do about it. The text is in Cyrillic. And you have to switch the keyboard layout all the time, assuming the text is Unicode-encoded, which of course it must be.
  • Turkish (Score:5, Interesting)

    by matushorvath ( 972424 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @03:45AM (#56504979)

    From the article it looks like they will be using the Turkish (i without a dot). Just goes to prove how much research went into the decision, since that is the one of the most problematic letter for computers to process correctly. It makes it impossible to determine the lower case of letter "I" without knowing the locale, and very easy to do it wrong when using the incorrect locale. And obviously the letter I/i is everywhere, including the text of programming languages and data interchange formats. You will get into hilarious situations like trying to lower case "RESPÝBLIKASY" and having to use a different locale for the tags and for the contents, or else you end up either with with the wrong I or the incorrect spelling of Respýblkasy with i.

    So, good luck with your change, you'll need it.

  • Quoting from the movie [] by Woody Allen:
    Esposito: From this day on, the official language of San Marcos will be Swedish.
  • by xlsior ( 524145 ) on Thursday April 26, 2018 @03:57AM (#56505013) Homepage
    I suspect that a major drive for dropping Cyrillic is to visually distance themselves from Russia, lest they too be 'liberated' and 'get to' rejoin the glorious motherland.

    They've seen up close what a shared ethnic and cultural heritage brought the Crimea region of Ukraine.
    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      Yeah I guess too; so how much in that decision is politics (distancing themselves from Russia) and how much is practical (latin being easier/faster to read/learn/type, etc...) ?
      • by xlsior ( 524145 )
        Yeah I guess too; so how much in that decision is politics (distancing themselves from Russia) and how much is practical (latin being easier/faster to read/learn/type, etc...) ?

        Cyrillic has a similar size alphabet to Latin, so I doubt there'd be any significant difference in how easy/hard it would be to learn, understand, or type in their native language. However, after the switch it could make it a little easier for Kazakhstan people to learn other languages based on Latin alphabets, since you can skip
  • Kazakhstan used its own variation of the Cyrillic alphabet, with ~6 extra letters compared to Russian. Finding fonts that support Kazakh was a pain in the ass because of this.

    The accents on capitals seen in the new alphabet are a lot more common, so will be easier to support.

  • I don't get it. Cyrillic is awkward to learn if you're used to Latin script. I did this the past two years when visiting Moscow. It was quite fun. Spelling through and finally recognising "Starbucks"written in Cyrillic is funny. And fun. Also getting around the metro without a dictionary. Fun, challenging and still easily done because you have to be a moron not to understand Moscows metro layout.

    But as for the script itself: it has different glyphs and some switched out meanings, but it's trivially easy to

  • ... it won't render properly on Slashdot.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel