Kazakh language

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қазақша or қазақ тілі
قازاقشا or قازاق ٴتىلى
qazaqşa or qazaq tılı
Pronunciation [qɑzɑqˈɕɑ]
[qɑˈzɑq tɪˈlɪ]
Native toKazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan
RegionCentral Asia
Ethnicity Kazakhs
Native speakers
13.2 million (2009) [1]
Kazakh alphabets (Latin script, Cyrillic script, Arabic script, Kazakh Braille)
Official status
Official language in


Regulated by Ministry of Culture and Sports
Language codes
ISO 639-1 kk
ISO 639-2 kaz
ISO 639-3 kaz
Glottolog kaza1248
Linguasphere 44-AAB-cc
Idioma kazajo.png
The Kazakh-speaking world:
  regions where Kazakh is the language of the majority
  regions where Kazakh is the language of a significant minority
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.
A Kazakh speaker, recorded in Taiwan
A Kazakh speaker, recorded in Kazakhstan

Kazakh or Qazaq (Latin: qazaqşa or qazaq tılı, Cyrillic: қазақша or қазақ тілі, Arabic: قازاقشا or قازاق ٴتىلى, pronounced  [qɑzɑqˈɕɑ] , [qɑˈzɑq tɪˈlɪ] ), is a Turkic language of the Kipchak branch spoken in Central Asia. It is closely related to Nogai, Kyrgyz and Karakalpak. Kazakh is the official language of Kazakhstan and a significant minority language in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, China and in the Bayan-Ölgii Province of Mongolia. Kazakh is also spoken by many ethnic Kazakhs throughout the former Soviet Union (some 472,000 in Russia according to the 2010 Russian Census), Germany, and Turkey.


Like other Turkic languages, Kazakh is an agglutinative language and employs vowel harmony.

In October 2017, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that the writing system would change from using Cyrillic to Latin script by 2025. The proposed Latin alphabet has been revised several times and as of January 2021 is close to the inventory of the Turkish alphabet, though lacking the letters C and Ç and having four additional letters: Ä, Ñ, Q and Ū (though other letters such as Y have different values in the two languages). It is scheduled to be phased in from 2023 to 2031.

Geographic distribution

Speakers of Kazakh (mainly Kazakhs) are spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan to the western shore of the Caspian Sea. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, with nearly 10 million speakers (based on information from the CIA World Factbook [3] on population and proportion of Kazakh speakers). [4]

In China, nearly two million ethnic Kazakhs and Kazakh speakers reside in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang. [5]

Writing system

Kazakh Arabic and Latin script in 1924 Kazakh latin alphabet (1924).JPG
Kazakh Arabic and Latin script in 1924

The oldest known written records of languages closely related to Kazakh were written in the Old Turkic alphabet, though it is not believed that any of these varieties were direct predecessors of Kazakh. [6] Modern Kazakh, going back approximately one thousand years, was written in the Arabic script until 1929, when Soviet authorities introduced a Latin-based alphabet, and then a Cyrillic alphabet in 1940. [7]

Nazarbayev first brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan in October 2006. [8] [9] A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that a switch to a Latin script over a 10- to 12-year period was feasible, at a cost of $300 million. [10] The transition was halted temporarily on 13 December 2007, with President Nazarbayev declaring: "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." [11] However, on 30 January 2015, the Minister of Culture and Sports Arystanbek Muhamediuly announced that a transition plan was underway, with specialists working on the orthography to accommodate the phonological aspects of the language. [12] In presenting this strategic plan in April 2017, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev described the twentieth century as a period in which the "Kazakh language and culture have been devastated". [7]

Nazarbayev ordered Kazakh authorities to create a Latin Kazakh alphabet by the end of 2017, so written Kazakh could return to a Latin script starting in 2018. [13] [14] As of 2018, Kazakh is written in Cyrillic in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, Kazakh is written in Latin in Kazakhstan, while more than one million Kazakh speakers in China use an Arabic-derived alphabet similar to the one that is used to write Uyghur. [6]

On 26 October 2017, Nazarbayev issued Presidential Decree 569 for the change to a finalized Latin variant of the Kazakh alphabet and ordered that the government's transition to this alphabet be completed by 2025, [15] [16] a decision taken to emphasise Kazakh culture after the era of Soviet rule [17] and to facilitate the use of digital devices. [18] However, the initial decision to use a novel orthography employing apostrophes, which make the use of many popular tools for searching and writing text difficult, generated controversy. [19]

Therefore, on 19 February 2018, the Presidential Decree 637 was issued in which the use of apostrophes was discontinued and replaced with the use of diacritics and digraphs. [20] [21] However, many citizens state that the officially introduced alphabet needs further improvements. Moreover, Kazakh became the second Turkic language to use the "ch" and "sh" digraphs after the Uzbek government adapted them in their version of the Latin alphabet.

In 2020, the President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called for another revision of the Latin alphabet with a focus on preserving the original sounds and pronunciation of the Kazakh language. [22] [23] This revision, presented to the public in November 2019 by academics from the Baitursynov Institute of Linguistics, and specialists belonging to the official working group on script transition, uses umlauts, breves and cedillas instead of digraphs and acute accents, and introduces spelling changes in order to reflect more accurately the phonology of Kazakh. [24] This revision is a slightly modified version of the Turkish alphabet, dropping the letters C Ç and having four additional letters that do not exist in Turkish: Ä, Q, Ñ and Ū.

Comparison using article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
CyrillicArabic2021 LatinEnglish translation
Барлық адамдар тумысынан азат және қадір-қасиеті мен құқықтары тең болып дүниеге келеді.بارلىق ادامدار تۋمىسىنان ازات جانە قادىر-قاسيەتى مەن قۇقىقتارى تەڭ بولىپ دۇنيەگە كەلەدى. -Barlyq adamdar tumysynan azat jäne qadır-qasietı men qūqyqtary teñ bolyp düniege keledı.All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Адамдарға ақыл-парасат, ар-ождан берілген,ادامدارعا اقىل پاراسات، ار-ۇجدان بەرىلگەن ،Adamdarğa aqyl-parasat, ar-ojdan berılgen,They are endowed with reason and conscience
сондықтан олар бір-бірімен туыстық, бауырмалдық қарым-қатынас жасаулары тиіс.سوندىقتان ولار ٴبىر-بىرىمەن تۋىستىق، باۋىرمالدىق قارىم-قاتىناس جاساۋلارى ٴتيىس .sondyqtan olar bır-bırımen tuystyq, bauyrmaldyq qarym-qatynas jasaulary tiıs.and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


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. This system only applies to the open vowels /e/, /ɪ/, /ʏ/ and not /ɑ/, and happens in the next syllables. [25] Thus, (in Latin script) jūldyz ‘star’, bügın ‘today’, and ülken ‘big’ are actually pronounced as jūldūz, bügün, ülkön.


The following chart depicts the consonant inventory of standard Kazakh; [26] 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 without parentheses—since these are phonemes, their listed place and manner of articulation are very general, and will vary from what is shown. The phonemes /f, v, x, t͡ɕ, t͡s/ only occur in recent borrowings, mostly from Russian (/t͡s/ rarely appears in normal speech). Kazakh has 17 native consonant phonemes; these are the stops /p, b, t, d, k, g/, fricatives /s, z, ɕ, ʑ/, nasals /m, n, ŋ/, liquids /r, l/, and two glides /w, j/. [27]

In the table, the elements top of a divide are voiceless, while those to the bottom are voiced.

Kazakh consonant phonemes [28]
Labials Alveolar (Alveolo-)
Velar Uvular
Nasal m м/m n н/n ŋ ң/ñ
voiceless p п/p t т/t t͡ɕ ч/ç k к/k q қ/q
voiced b б/b d д/d ɡ г/g
Fricative voiceless f ф/f s с/s ɕ ш/ş χ х/h
voiced v в/v z з/z ʑ ж/j ʁ ғ/ğ
Approximant l л/l j й/i w у/u
Rhotic ɾ р/r

The following can be argued not to be distinct phonemes, due to their distribution in front versus back vowel contexts (however, [q] and [ʁ] are used to be phonemic in its orthography as ⟨қ⟩ and ⟨ғ⟩): [29]


In addition, /q/, /ɡ/, and /b/ are lenited intervocalically (between vowels) to [χ], [ɣ], and [β].[ citation needed ]


Kazakh has a system of 12 phonemic vowels, 3 of which are 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. Moreover, the /æ/ sound has been included artificially due to the influence of Arabic, Persian and, later, Tatar languages during the Islamic period. [30] The mid vowels "e, ө, о" are diphthongised with onsets [j͡ɪ, w͡ʉ, w͡ʊ]. [28]

According to Vajda, the front/back quality of vowels is actually one of neutral versus retracted tongue root. [28]

Phonetic values are paired with the corresponding character in Kazakh's Cyrillic and current Latin alphabets.

Kazakh vowel phonemes
(Advanced tongue root)
(Relaxed tongue root)
(Retracted tongue root)
Close ɪ̞ і/ı ʉ ү/ü ұ/ū
Diphthong je̘е/eəjи/iʊwу/u
Mid e э/e ə ы/yо/o
Open æ̝ ә/äɵө/ö ɑ̝ а/a
Kazakh vowels by their pronunciation
Front and central Back
unrounded rounded unroundedrounded
Close ɪ̞ і/i ʏ̞ ү/ü ə ы/y ʊ̞ ұ/ū
Open e э/e / æ ә/ä ɵ ө/ö ɑ̝ а/a о/o

Morphology and syntax

Kazakh is generally verb-final, though various permutations on SOV (subject–object–verb) word order can be used, for example, due to topicalization. [31] Inflectional and derivational morphology, both verbal and nominal, in Kazakh, exists almost exclusively in the form of agglutinative suffixes. Kazakh is a nominative-accusative, head-final, left-branching, dependent-marking language. [6]

Declension of nouns [6]
CaseMorphemePossible formskeme "ship"aua "air"şelek "bucket"säbız "carrot"bas "head"tūz "salt"
Acc-ny-nı, -ny, -dı, -dy, -tı, -tykemeauanyşeleksäbızbastytūzdy
Gen-nyñ-nıñ, -nyñ, -dıñ, -dyñ, -tıñ, -tyñkemenıñauanyñşelektıñsäbızdıñbastyñtūzdyñ
Dat-ga-ge, -ğa, -ke, -qa, -ne, -nakemegeauağaşelekkesäbızgebasqatūzğa
Loc-da-de, -da, -te, -takemedeauadaşelektesäbızdebastatūzda
Abl-dan-den, -dan, -ten, -tan, -nen, -nankemedenauadanşelektensäbızdenbastantūzdan
Inst-men-men(en), -ben(en), -pen(en)kememenauamenşelekpensäbızbenbaspentūzben


There are eight personal pronouns in Kazakh:

Personal pronouns [6]
1st personMenBız
2nd personinformalSenSender
3rd personOlOlar

The declension of the pronouns is outlined in the following chart. Singular pronouns exhibit irregularities, while plural pronouns don't. Irregular forms are highlighted in bold. [6]


In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person. [6]

Morphemes indicating person [6]
PronounsCopulasPossessive endingsPast/Conditional
1st sgmen-mın-(ı)m-(ı)m
2nd sgsen-sı-(ı)ñ-(ı)ñ
3rd sgol-/-dır-
1st plbız-bız-(ı)mız-(ı)k/-(y)q
2nd sng formal & plsız-sız-(ı)ıñız-(ı)ñız/-(y)ñyz
3rd plolar-/-dır

Tense, aspect and mood

Kazakh may express different combinations of tense, aspect and mood through the use of various verbal morphology or through a system of auxiliary verbs, many of which might better be considered light verbs. The present tense is a prime example of this; progressive tense in Kazakh is formed with one of four possible auxiliaries. These auxiliaries "otyr" (sit), "tūr" (stand), "jür" (go) and "jat" (lie), encode various shades of meaning of how the action is carried out and also interact with the lexical semantics of the root verb: telic and non-telic actions, semelfactives, durative and non-durative, punctual, etc. There are selectional restrictions on auxiliaries: motion verbs, such as бару (go) and келу (come) may not combine with "otyr". Any verb, however, can combine with "jat" (lie) to get a progressive tense meaning. [6]

Progressive aspect in the present tense [6]
KazakhAspectEnglish translation
Men jeimınnon-progressive"I (will) eat [every day]."
Men jeudemınprogressive"I am eating [right now]."
Men jep otyrmynprogressive/durative"I am [sitting and] eating." / "I have been eating."
Men jep tūrmynprogressive/punctual"I am [in the middle of] eating [this very minute]."
Men jep jürmınhabitual"I eat [lunch, everyday]"

While it is possible to think that different categories of aspect govern the choice of auxiliary, it is not so straightforward in Kazakh. Auxiliaries are internally sensitive to the lexical semantics of predicates, for example, verbs describing motion: [6]

Selectional restrictions on Kazakh auxiliaries [6]
SentanceAuxiliary Used







Suda balyq jüzedı

water-LOC fish swim-PRES-3

"Fish swim in water" (general statement)

∅ (present/future tense used)









Suda balyq jüzıp jatyr

water-LOC fish swim-CVB AUX.3

"The/A fish is swimming in the water"

jat- to lie, general marker for progressive aspect.









Suda balyq jüzıp jür

water-LOC fish swim-CVB AUX.3

"The fish is swimming [as it always does] in the water"

jür – "go", dynamic/habitual/iterative









Suda balyq jüzıp tūr

water-LOC fish swim-CVB AUX.3

"The fish is swimming in the water"

tūr – "stand", progressive marker to show the swimming is punctual











* Suda balyq jüzıp otyr

{} water-LOC fish swim-CVB AUX.3

*The fish has been swimming

Not a possible sentence of Kazakh

otyr – "sit", ungrammatical in this sentence, otyr can only be used for verbs that are stative in nature

In addition to the complexities of the progressive tense, there are many auxiliary-converb pairs that encode a range of aspectual, modal, volitional, evidential and action- modificational meanings. For example, the pattern -yp köru, with the auxiliary verb köru (see), indicates that the subject of the verb attempted or tried to do something (compare the Japanese てみる temiru construction). [6]

Annotated text with gloss

From the first stanza of "Menıñ Qazaqstanym" ("My Kazakhstan"), the national anthem of Kazakhstan:

Менің ҚазақстанымMen-ıŋ Qazaqstan-ymMy Kazakhstan
Алтын күн аспаныAltyn kün aspan-yGolden sun of the sky
[ɑ̝ɫ̪ˈt̪ə̃ŋ‿kʰʏ̞̃n̪ ɑ̝s̪pɑ̝̃ˈn̪ə]gold sun sky-3.POSS
Алтын дән даласыAltyn dän dala-syGolden grain of the steppe
[ɑ̝ɫ̪ˈt̪ə̃n̪ d̪æ̝̃n̪ d̪ɑ̝ɫ̪ɑ̝ˈs̪ə]gold grain steppe-3.POSS
Ерліктің дастаныErlık-tıñ dastan-yThe legend of courage
[je̘r̪l̪ɪ̞k̚ˈt̪ɪ̞̃ŋ̟ d̪ɑ̝s̪t̪ɑ̝̃ˈn̪ə]courage legend-GEN epic-3.POSS-NOM
Еліме қарашы!El-ım-e qara-şyLook at my country!
[je̘l̪ɪ̞̃ˈmʲe̘ qʰɑ̝r̪ɑ̝ˈʃə]country-1SG.ACC look-IMP
Ежелден ер дегенEjel-den er de-genCalled heroes since ancient times
[je̘ʒʲe̘l̪ʲˈd̪ʲẽ̘n̪ je̘r̪ d̪ʲe̘ˈɡʲẽ̘n̪]antiquity-ABL hero say-PTCP.PST
Даңқымыз шықты ғойDaŋq-ymyz şyq-ty ğoiOur glory emerged!
[d̪ɑ̝̃ɴqə̃ˈməz̪ ʃəqˈt̪ə ʁo̞j]glory-1PL.POSS.NOM emerge-PST.3EMPH
Намысын бермегенNamys-yn ber-me-genThey did not give up their honor
[n̪ɑ̝̃məˈsə̃m bʲe̘r̪mʲe̘ˈɡʲẽ̘n̪]honor-3.POSS-ACC give-NEG-PTCP.PST
Қазағым мықты ғойQazağ-ym myqty ğoiMy Kazakhs are mighty!
[qʰɑ̝z̪ɑ̝ˈʁə̃m məqˈtə ʁo̞j]Kazakh-1SG.POSS strong EMPH
Менің елім, менің елімMen-ıñ el-ım, menıŋ el-ımMy country, my country
[mʲẽ̘ˈn̪ɪ̞̃ŋ̟ je̘ˈl̪ɪ̞̃m ǀ mʲẽ̘ˈn̪ɪ̞̃ŋ̟ je̘ˈl̪ɪ̞̃m]1SG.GEN country-1SG.NOM (x2)
Гүлің болып, егілемінGül-üñ bol-up, eg-ıl-e-mınAs your flower, I am rooted in you
[ɡʏ̞ˈl̪ʏ̞̃m bo̞ˈɫ̪ʊp ǀ je̘ɣɪ̞l̪ʲẽ̘ˈmɪ̞̃n̪]flower-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, root-PASS-PRES-1SG
Жырың болып төгілемін, елімJyr-yñ bol-up, tög-ül-e-mın, el-ımAs your song, I shall be sung abound
[ʒəˈr̪ə̃m bo̞ˈɫ̪ʊp̚ t̪ʰɵɣʏ̞ˈl̪ʲẽ̘ˈmɪ̞̃n̪ ǀ je̘ˈl̪ɪ̞̃m]song-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, sing-PASS-PRES-1SG, country-1SG.POSS.NOM
Туған жерім менің – ҚазақстанымTu-ğan jer-ım menıŋ – Qazaqstan-ymMy native land – My Kazakhstan
[t̪ʰuˈʁɑ̝̃n̪ dʒʲe̘ˈr̪ɪ̞̃m mʲẽ̘ˈn̪ɪ̞̃ŋ̟ ǀ qʰɑ̝z̪ɑ̝qs̪t̪ɑ̝̃ˈn̪ə̃m]birth-PTCP-PST place-1SG.POSS.NOM1SG.GEN – Kazakhstan-1SG.POSS.NOM

Comparison with Kyrgyz

Kazakh and Kyrgyz may be better seen as mutually intelligible dialects or varieties of a single tongue which are regarded as separate languages for sociopolitical reasons. They differ mainly phonetically while the lexicon and grammar are much the same, although both have standardized written forms that may differ in some ways. Until the 20th century, both languages used a common written form of Chaghatai Turkic. [32]

See also

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Latin script, also known as Roman script, is a set of graphic signs (script) based on the letters of the classical Latin alphabet. This is derived from a form of the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet used by the Etruscans. Several Latin-script alphabets exist, which differ in graphemes, collation and phonetic values from the classical Latin alphabet.

Cyrillic alphabets Related alphabets based on Cyrillic scripts

Numerous Cyrillic alphabets are based on the Cyrillic script. The early Cyrillic alphabet was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 9th century AD at the Preslav Literary School by Saint Clement of Ohrid and Saint Naum and replaced the earlier Glagolitic script developed by the Byzantine theologians Cyril and Methodius. It is the basis of alphabets used in various languages, past and present, in parts of Southeastern Europe and Northern Eurasia, especially those of Slavic origin, and non-Slavic languages influenced by Russian. As of 2011, around 252 million people in Eurasia use it as the official alphabet for their national languages. About half of them are in Russia. Cyrillic is one of the most-used writing systems in the world.

The Pashto alphabet is a version of Perso-Arabic script used to write down the Pashto language.


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  25. Произношение букв
  26. Some variations occur in the different regions where Kazakh is spoken, including outside Kazakhstan; e. g. ж / ج (where a Perso-Arabic script similar to the current Uyghur alphabet is used) is read [ʑ] in standard Kazakh, but [d͡ʑ] in some places.
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  29. The allophone [χ] tends to be used instead of [q], following the vowel /ɑ/ (e.g. жақсы jaqsy [ʑɑχsə] , ‘good’).
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  32. Robert Lindsay. "Mutual Intelligibility Among the Turkic Languages".Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further reading