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About Kazakh Language

Kazakh (also Qazaq and variants, natively Qazaq tili, Қазақ тілі, قازاق ٴتىلى‎; pronounced [qɑzɑq tˈlə]) is a Turkic language closely related to Kyrgyz and Karakalpak.

Kazakh is an agglutinative language, and it employs vowel harmony.

Geographic distribution

The Kazakh language has its speakers (mainly Kazakhs) spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan mountains to the Ural mountains. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, in which nearly 10 million speakers are reported to live (based on the CIA World Factbook's estimates for population and percentage of Kazakh speakers). More than a million speakers reside in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The 2002 Russian Census reported 560,000 Kazakh speakers in Russia. Other sizable populations of Kazakh speakers live in Mongolia (fewer than 200,000). Large numbers exist elsewhere in Central Asia (mostly in Uzbekistan) and the former Soviet Union, and in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and other countries. There are also some Kazakh speakers in Germany who immigrated from Turkey in the 1970s.

Writing system

Today, Kazakh is written in the Cyrillic alphabet in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, while the more than one million Kazakh-speakers in China use an Arabic-derived script similar to that used to write Uyghur.

The oldest known written records of languages closely related to Kazakh were written in the Orkhon script. However, it is not believed that any of these varieties were direct predecessors of Kazakh. Modern Kazakh has historically been written using versions of the Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic scripts.

In October 2006, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan. A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that Kazakhstan could feasibly switch to a Latin script over a 10 to 12 year period, for a cost of $300 million. On December 13, 2007, however, President Nazarbayev announced a decision not to advance the transformation to a Latin alphabet: “For 70 years the Kazakhstanis read and wrote in Cyrillic. More than 100 nationalities live in our state. Thus we need stability and peace. We should be in no hurry in the issue of alphabet transformation”.

Phonology

Kazakh exhibits tongue-root vowel harmony, with some words of recent foreign origin (usually of Russian or Arabic origin) as exceptions. There is also a system of rounding harmony which resembles that of Kyrgyz, but which does not apply as strongly and is not reflected in the orthography.

Consonants

The following chart depicts the consonant inventory of standard Kazakh; many of the sounds, however, are allophones of other sounds or appear only in recent loan-words. The 18 consonant phonemes listed by Vajda are in bold—since these are phonemes, their listed place and manner of articulation are very general, and will vary from what is shown. The borrowed phonemes /f/, /v/, /ɕ/, /tɕ/ and /x/, only occur in recent mostly Russian borrowings,

Vowels

Kazakh has a system of nine phonemic vowels, three of which diphthongs. The rounding contrast and /æ/ generally only occur as phonemes in the first syllable of a word, but do occur later allophonically; see the section on harmony below for more information.

According to Vajda, the front/back quality of vowels is actually one of neutral versus retracted tongue root.

Morphology and syntax

Kazakh has 7 cases. Case endings are applied only to the last element of a noun phrase—e.g., a noun, an adject, or a nominalised verb phrase. The endings outlined in the chart below are applied to a word ending in a front vowel, a word ending in a back vowel, a word ending in each of those with a voiced consonant, and a word ending with each of this and an unvoiced consonant. Note that the suffixes for the instrumental case do not follow vowel harmony—the vowel is a front vowel regardless of the other vowels in the word.

 

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