Several Questions of Kazakh Terminology

In 1991, due to Kazakhstan’s acquisition of independence, national terminology began rapidly to develop. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is still lagging in this matter behind other former republics of the Soviet Union. In recent years, however, the situation has been changing fairly rapidly.

The Kazakhstan linguistic development model

In an interview, Minister of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed once noted: “In 1948, after India acquired independence, a special commission on language issues concluded that the use of English divides people into two nations: the few who rule, and the many who are ruled, who cannot speak the foreign language; and that these two nations do not understand each other. This has become a reality. However, the children of the Indian elite, after studying in the best universities of England and America and returning to their homeland, were obliged to study their own native language” (Egemen Qazaqstan newspaper, 2003). History has known many such instances. In tsarist Russia it was the fashion for the nobility to converse in French. French was the language of the aristocrats, while Russian was considered an inferior, peasant language. The parallels with the situation today in Kazakhstan are obvious. For a long time, to the detriment of the Kazakh language, a command of Russian was considered the key to success, career advancement, etc. The time has come, however, to change the situation in accordance with the new priorities and conditions of the country’s development.

In his day, Peter I ascribed considerable importance to acquiring Kazakhstan, saying that it was “the key and the gate... to all Asian countries and lands; and for this cause this same horde must needs be under Russia’s protection.”

The 20th century for Kazakhs was extremely difficult and complicated: the tsarist resettlement policy, the nationalist uprising of 1916, the establishment of Soviet power, the famine of 1921 and 1932–1933, the Great Patriotic War, the settling of the frontier, the December events of 1986, etc.

In 1916 Kazakhs were second only to the Turks in number among the Turkic peoples. Whereas Kazakhs in the Russian Empire numbered 5 million 650 thousand, by 1945 their numbers had dropped to only 3 million 150 thousand. In other words, in 29 years we lost 45% of the Kazakh population. Taking into account the drops in natural increase, we lost 65% of our nation. As a result, Kazakhs founded themselves in the minority in their historical homeland.

The outcome of all this was that from 1950–1980 in Kazakhstan 600 Kazakh schools were closed, and many Kazakh-language university departments ceased to exist. The result was Kazakhs who did not know their native language.

In 1991 Kazakhstan became an independent state, and Kazakh became the official state language. Around 800 Kazakh schools were opened, and in many institutions of secondary and post-secondary education Kazakh groups and departments began to function.

The inhabitants of Estonia number only a few million, and of these around 65% of the Estonian population consists of native inhabitants. In other words, the percentage ratio is the same as our own, but knowledge of Estonian among Estonians themselves, as well as among Russian speakers, is high compared to Kazakhstan. We must follow their example. That is to say, in our country also the time has come to shift from quantity to quality. After many long years Kazakhs have become the majority in their historical homeland (according to the 2009 census, Kazakhs in Kazakhstan number 11 million). It should be remembered that in Kazakhstan there are around 1 million Turkic-language people (Uzbeks, Uighurs, Tatars, Azerbaijanians, Turks, etc.). Taking into account that the overall majority of these have a good command of their native language, it may be concluded that the number of Kazakh-speakers is increasing (for instance, over 80% of Kazakhstan’s Uighurs speak Kazakh). Unfortunately, however, the majority of our Russian brethren in Kazakhstan know only one language. In the early 20th century, in his instructional sayings, Abai Kunanbaev said: “By studying the language and culture of other nations a man becomes their equal, and does not abase himself by pointless requests.” Knowing only one language today is a sign of inability to compete. For example, Kazakhs in Germany speak three languages (Kazakh, Turkish, and German). In the middle ages a certain traveler described an interesting situation: “Any Turkish boy knows five languages: with his father he speaks Turkish, and with his Mother – Slavic; he knows Farsi because it is the language of poetry, and Arabian, the language of religion, as well as Armenian, the language of trade.”

The only acceptable model for our country’s linguistic development is multilingualism on the foundation of the state language.

The Kazakhstan linguistic development model

This same circumstance – national multilingualism – cannot be ignored in the context of terminology development.

If Abai Kunanbaev laid the foundation for modern Kazakh literary language, Akhmet Baitursynuly may be considered the father of Kazakh terminology. He became one of the first Kazakh intellectuals to create new terms which we use to this day. In the early 20th century all the Kazakh elite were occupied with developing new terms in their fields, since it was necessary to compete with other languages. The creation and development of Kazakh terms really began in the 1920s, however, with the creation of the Kyrgyz/Kazakh Republic. M. Dulatov, M. Zhumabaev, S. Aspendiyarov, K. Kemengeruly, A. Margulan, M. Auezov, G. Musrepov – all contributed their two mites to the development of Kazakh terminology.

In 1924 in Orenburg (the then-capital of Kazakhstan; in 1925 the Orenburg Government was transferred to the RSFSR) commenced the I Conference of Cultural Workers and Scientists, at which the questions of Kazakh-language terminology were examined for the first time. In 1934 in Kazakhstan a Terminology Commission was established, chaired by Kh. K. Zhubanov.

Kh. K. Zhubanov played a most important part in the development of industrial terms. In his works On Terminological Word Specifications, On the Terminology of Kazakh Literary Language Accepted by the State Terminological Commission, Towards a Revision of Kazakh Orthography, and Termin Säzderdiń Specifikasy, he published the principles of constructing orthography, alphabet, and terminology.

After the formation of the Soviet Union in the 20s and 30s of last century, the “localization” reform was conducted in Kazakhstan. Record keeping was transferred to the Kazakh language. This does not mean, however, that records were not previously kept in Kazakh, just as in any other Turkic language. Many Turkic Muslim peoples used the universal written language Chagatai, or Turki. Record keeping in Kazakh was difficult at first, however, due to a lack of specialists. Mir-Yakub Dulatov writes about the considerable difficulty of keeping records in Kazakh – how difficult records become to understand when subjected to colorless translation, and how clerical Kazakh loses its meaning in poor-quality translations from Russian. A striking example of the work of misguided translators, though unrelated to clerical language, is the translation into Kazakh of the first and last name of Leo Tolstoy as Zhuan Arystan, meaning literally “fat lion”.

In the post-war era Kazakh terms developed, but many were left untranslated. If we take the clerical Kazakh language used in the Cabinet of Ministers or the Supreme Soviet, we see that 20-25% of the words used in the Kazakh are Russian, rendering the meaning incomprehensible.

Nonetheless, many terms appeared at the time that immediately took root. For example, balmūzdaq – icecream; ajaldama – bus (subway, tramway) stop; tońazytqyš – refridgerator; mūzdatkyš – freezer; šańsorğyš – vacuum cleaner; etc.

Despite certain terms’ long history of usage in Kazakh, it is becoming necessary to relegate these to archaic status. For example, in 2000 Professor Baiynkol Kaliuly, in Terminologijalyq habaršy (The Terminological Herald) magazine, proposed replacing the word qūqyq (law) with the word haq, since the former word is difficult to pronounce and hard on the ear, while the word haq has long been used in colloquial speech and literary language.

For a long time after new terms were published, these same terms would be used concurrently in the media and in academic literature, leading to confusion.

For example, the word mikroraion (neighborhood) was translated as šağyn audan, mikroaudan, yqšam audan, and mältek audan. Sometimes, however, the concurrent use of several equivalents for a single term eventually leads sooner or later to a single remaining term. For instance, for a long time the word “family” in Kazakh was translated as otbasy and žanūja. Later, however, otbasy was confirmed by the State Terminology Commission.

Some translated terms didn’t take root in the language. For example, the words princip (principle) and procent (percent) were translated as qağidat and paiyz. Today, however, the words princip and procent are again being used.

Some say that Kazakh has no economic terms. Such people are very much mistaken, however, forgetting that many economic and customs terms are used to this day in Russian; i.e., that these terms are of Turkic origin. For instance, the words altyn (three kopecks), artel (artel), tovar (merchandise), kazna (treasury), magazin (shop), bazar (market), tamozhnya (customs), yarlyk (label), dengi (money), pai (shares), yasak (yasak), etc.

Many terms have become so deeply rooted that it seems they have existed in Kazakh for a long time. Some examples are ūšaq (airplane), äuežai (airport), saparžai (bus station), žarğy (corporate charter), resímdeu (formatting), tíkūšaq (helicopter), and bağdarlama (program).

Certain terms were simply reestablished. These were those that had originally been used in Kazakh, such as klass-synyp.

In translating from Russian to Kazakh it is hard to find equivalents for certain terms, such as the words “part” – bälím, “department” – bälím, and “division” – bälím; or “department” – bälímše and “subdivision” – bälímše; or “rule” – ereže and “regulation” – ereže, “settlement” – bekítu and “confirmation” – bekítu, and “agreement” – šart and “condition” – šart. Given this, how is one to translate the expression “contract condition” into Kazakh? Or translate “to confirm a settlement” from Russian?

In 1991, due to Kazakhstan’s acquisition of independence, national terminology began rapidly to develop. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is still lagging in this matter behind other former republics of the Soviet Union. For example, in the Baltic States around 200,000 words are officially confirmed.

In Kazakhstan, however, according to data from Erlan Kuzekbai from the Language Committee of the Republic Ministry of Culture and Information, since 1992 2,500 terms have been confirmed, and in 2000–2008 8,751 hard-to-translate terms were confirmed. In all, from 1992–2008 around 189,000 words and word combinations were confirmed, including 155,000 industrial terms, and a 31-volume Kazakh-Russian/Russian-Kazakh dictionary was published.

The Terminology Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan Government, which meets on a quarterly basis, has bolstered its efforts. Magazines and newspapers are published on state language issues, including questions of terminology (the Ana tílí paper and the magazines Terminologijalyq habaršy, Tíl žäne qoğam, Tíl, etc.). A state language web portal is in operation A member of the State Terminology Commission, Candidate of Philological Arts T. Tuyakbai, has made a proposal that terms confirmed by the State Terminology Commission be confirmed by law, and that the authority of the State Terminology Commission be increased.

In his interview with the Egemen Qazaqstan newspaper, Repbublic of Kazakhstan Minister of Culture and Information Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed expressed his views on the issues of Kazakh terminology: “Firstly, I think it would be expedient to leave words of Latin and Greek origin and terms widely used in European languages in their current form, unaltered. This should not be perceived as blind imitation of the west, or subjection to the influence of the “great Russian language,” but rather as a measure dictated by a desire to preserve the original meaning and historical nature of these terms. Other words that have long existed in our language will stay right where they are: they will remain in the language’s reserve, even if we do not use them to create new terms. Secondly, it may be readily agreed that Kazakh counterparts may certainly be found for words of purely Russian or Slavic origin. Thirdly, in confirming any term it would be preferable to take its equivalents from the Russian, Turkic, and European languages and subject them to comparative analysis, and accept only such terms as fully correspond to the linguistic standards of the Kazakh language. Fourthly, in the event of difficulties with term formation in Kazakh, related languages may be resorted to, such as Turkish. Fifthly, not to limit ourselves to the first definition that comes along for a given term, but to encompass the full range of words with an analogous meaning.”

Author: Amandyk Amirkhamzin

About Author: E.A. Buketov Karaganda State University (1995) occupation: historian and professor of sociopolitical disciplines. 2003–2004 - head specialist of the Department of Human Resources and State Language Implementation of the Ministry of Environment;

at various times – professor of philosophy, sociology, and history. Ethnologist.

List of references:

  1. Ahmet Baitūrsynov, Aq žol, Almaty, 1991
  2. Memlekíttík tíl: terminologija, ís qağazdary men būqaralyq aqparat kūraldarynyń tílí.
  3. Memlekíttík tíl: bügíní men bolašağy. Žinaq, Astana, 1998
  4. Terminologija: teorija žäne täžíribe. Žinaq, Astana, 2001
  5. Terminologijalyk habaršy, No. 2, Astana, 2002
  6. Terminologijalyk habaršy, No. 3 (5), Astana, 2003
  7. “Tíl žäne qoğam” žurnaly, No. 1, Astana, 2004
  8. “Tíl žäne qoğam” žurnaly, No. 3, Astana, 2005
  9. Qazaq, Almaty, “Bílím”, 1994

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