Across the Globe

The State of Language in Kazakhstan

August 11, 2015
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A lecture with Dr. Eleonora Suleimenova, Russian linguist

"Knowing another language helps you understand the heart and soul of people," Dr. Suleimenova said to the crowd. "Language is the medium of mutual understanding and a source of unity."

Dr. Eleonora Suleimenova, an internationally renowned linguistics scholar, held a lecture at American Councils on the current state of language in Kazakhstan. Fellow linguists and the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States, Mr. Kairat Umarov, came to hear Dr. Suleimenova speak about her expert knowledge of language policy in Kazakhstan.

Multiple Languages in Kazakhstan
With over 130 nationalities and 117 spoken languages in Kazakhstan, the country is truly multilingual. Kazakhstan has a strong tradition of respecting the languages spoken among different ethnic groups and nationalities in the country.

However, language loss is a real issue in Kazakhstan. In 1999, the number of languages spoken was recorded at 126, a net loss of nine languages from today's figure of 117. Often, ethnic minorities that are unable to sustain their language shift towards one of the country's official languages Kazakh or Russian a trend that will inevitably continue.

Kazakh vs. Russian Language in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is made up of 66 percent ethnic Kazakhs and 21 percent ethnic Russians but over 93 percent of ethnic Kazakhs are highly competent in Russian and are either dominant speakers of Russian, bilingual speakers of Russian, or use Russian peripherally as needed.

Among the entire population of Kazakhstan, 97 percent are fluent in Russian.

The Russian language has become a reliable political communication partner in the integration process of Kazakh society; the Russian language is not only supported constitutionally but in all spheres and industries.

The Kazakhstan government and schools across the country are now striving to develop a population trilingual in Kazakh, Russian, and English to ensure a country ready for all forms of future global engagement.

About Dr. Eleonora Suleimenova
Dr. Suleimenova is an internationally distinguished scholar of Russian and a long-standing friend of American Councils. Dr. Suleimenova played a crucial role in developing the Russian Overseas Flagship Program in Almaty, Kazakhstan in the fall of 2014. Despite her many other professional duties, Dr. Suleimenova continues to closely monitor the progress of our students in Russian-language acquisition. We are so proud and grateful to have the opportunity to work with this great professional and legend in the linguistics field.

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