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Kazakhstan is changing its alphabet from Cyrillic to Latin-based (bbc.com)
365 points by happy-go-lucky on Apr 25, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 406 comments



I'm ethnical Russian living in Kazakhstan and I think that it's not a very wise decision. As correctly written in the article, overwhelming majority of Kazakhstani citizens speak and write Russian well. I just don't see any point with this change, but costs are tremendous, you have to rewrite every single book including learning books, you have to replace every street plate. When overwhelming majority of people speak Russian and Russia is the most important trade partner, I think that it's only logical to have Russian as one of the official languages in the country (with Kazakh language, of course). Instead Russian language has strange status as a "language of international communication" and basically they are trying to suppress its usage, many plates are not include Russian translations, etc. For example in Canada only 38% of population speak French, nevertheless French is an official language.


The difference is that there is little political/military threat from France towards Canada.

I'm Polish, and thanks to the latin alphabet we're using, the country has it much easier to be close to the west. People have easier time learning English, and it eases the communication a lot. If we were using cyrylic, the country would be naturally leaning more towards Russia - which, considering the history, wouldn't be good.

I don't know too much about Kazakhstan, but perhaps it's the same thing? The country trying to build moats between them and Russia?

If we were in a similar situation (that is - using cyrylic instead of latin), I be pro-change. A few billion in costs of such changes, even for a poor country, will produce a good ROI, considering greater independence and better international trade.


> People have easier time learning English, and it eases the communication a lot

Is this really so? Are you sure having a different alphabet would make it harder for people to learn a western language? I am Russian, and I can safely say that pretty much every literate adult in Russia who has at least a basic school education can read Latin letters just fine, because there is no way around it; the alphabet is taught at school.

If an argument is to be made at all, it's probably that it may be harder for the foreigners, never trained in reading Cyrillic, to start reading it, but I am not sure it's of particular concern. I wouldn't expect significant numbers of people flock to learn Russian (or Kazakh) as a foreign language anyway, because why should they?


That's also true in Greece. Almost everyone can read the Latin alphabet fine, in addition to the Greek alphabet. The exceptions are mainly older people. It's only 26 letters and it's absolutely everywhere nowadays, in addition to being taught formally in schools, so it's not really a big problem to pick it up. Learning the actual languages to a good level is another story of course, but the alphabet itself isn't the difficult part.


The Cyrillic alphabet is a major barrier to learning Russian for Americans. I can only imagine it makes Kazakh even more daunting. I don't think Cyrillic letters pervade American culture in quite the same way that Latin letters pervade Russian culture, so it's not quite the same.


> The Cyrillic alphabet is a major barrier to learning Russian for Americans.

It may be a barrier, sure, but it is a microscopic barrier (33 letters, mostly Greek-based, many in common with the Latin alphabet) compared to the complexity of a language (any language) itself. Would you say that Americans would more readily pick up Danish? Or Finnish? Or Latvian? Or Polish?

Just as a side note: I once had to take a course in classical Greek. It took us one lesson (or maybe two) to learn the Greek alphabet. Compared to the rest of the course it was... I am finding it hard even to say 'peanuts', for it would be an offense to peanuts.

(I am more inclined to think that it's up to us to standardize on an international language — and I would much rather it were English — than for different nations to learn each other's languages. But that's, of course, just my opinion.)


> Would you say that Americans would more readily pick up Danish? Or Finnish? Or Latvian? Or Polish?

I would say that Americans (and people in general) are more likely to attempt taking up those languages, if given a fairly equal choice between them and others that also require learning a new alphabet. For the same reason (although on a lesser scale) that they might shy away from Chinese or Japanese.

It's one more hurdle.


In terms of hurdles, of those four I think Danish is a clear winner there. Finnish is "ah, hell no" as far I know. :) In terms of usefulness, I'm not sure - maybe Polish. (That seems quite complicated grammatically, like other Slavic languages.)

Chinese, if you don't care about writing it, is simple grammatically (though a few concepts are hard to wrap your head around).


Danish is "ah, hell no" if you want to try speaking it out loud...


Are you saying that "people in general" == "people whose native alphabet is Latin-based"?


Eh, sort of. I kind of got mixed up between the point of saying "I think people in general are more likely to attempt a language with less obvious initial hurdles given a relatively equal set of benefits from learning them (to their understanding)" and a statement about those languages in particular that follows along those lines.

So, for your proposed equivalence, I think my original statement is true, and I also think the more general statement above is likely true in a wider sense.


Apart from relative usefulness of different languages (Latin script based Kazakh would probably be considered less generally useful than Chinese, say).

Initial attempt maybe. But I think very soon most people will find out that if you are coming from an Indo-European background, Kazakh or Finnish, regardless of script used, is far more foreign than Russian or German.


Sure, but the catch-22 is that most people won't have a good idea how to assess the difficulty of learning a language until they've tried, and it seems different people have different difficulties with the process. From the outside at the beginning, the different alphabet seems like quite a big deal.

Thats how it feels to me at least when I think about learning another language. It's a data point of one, but I don't think I'm that unique in this.


I'm not sure if most people start learning languages just because they seem "easy" either. There has to be some reason.

And once you do start, something like differences between analytic and synthetic languages probably would be more of a tripping point.


I think the Cyrillic alphabet has enough overlapping letters with the Latin alphabet, that it's relatively easy to learn the other. Possibly the Greek alphabet even overlaps better with Cyrillic than Latin?

Try Arabic, though. I took a relatively intensive four-week Arabic class one summer, and we spent the first week or two on the alphabet.

Anecdote: when I was little (in the USA), our family had a big dictionary, and in the back was, among others, the Cyrillic alphabet along with how to pronounce the letters. I would write out English words in Cyrillic letters, thinking that I was writing Russian words. :)


This is an issue that people who aren't learning a language seem to miss. The alphabet or pronunciation is generally the first thing you learn, and unless it's an incredibly different one like the Arabic, Tibetan or Devanagari scripts (or doesn't use an alphabet at all like the Chinese languages) then I suspect after a few days you mostly nailed it to the point that you can entire sentences out loud at reasonable pace even if you can't understand them. I learned the Cyrillic alphabet well enough to slowly sound out any words within a half a day, and the same deal with Korean.

If you're driven enough to even think about learning Kazakh then I imagine that a slightly different alphabet is not going to stop you. If my adventures with the Czech language are at all indicative then learning the rules around grammatical cases and being able to listen and parse the words in speech at "normal" speed are the real hurdles you'll need to overcome.


It’s more likely the problem of these people or the American education system because learning a new alphabet as close as the cyrillic is only a matter of days for a motivated person. It’s even the closest to the Latin one (with Greek), not something like the Davanagari with complex ligature rules or that looks totally foreign like thai or that have multiples letter forms like arabic.


It also depends on your learning style when it comes to languages. For someone like me, who learns languages more aurally (listening and speaking) than visually (reading and writing), writing systems aren’t that hard to learn but they’re hard to master in terms of reading at normal speed.

With any text in a Latin alphabet, in any language, show me the phonology of the language and I can read it aloud at normal speed with decent pronunciation within a few hours. If it’s in a different writing system, it’s going to take me days or longer to get up to even a moderate reading speed—and a lot of that would be cheating by just memorising the text and using the writing as a cue.


I noticed that it's very hard for people to "remap" the sound of the letter to match phonology rules of a target language. I.e. the familiarity of the alphabet while helping a bit it also works against "listening" and "getting" the actual sounds.

I remember an Irish guy who was speaking pretty fluent Italian mispronouncing the word "firma" making it sound like English "firm" instead of "feerma", and I'm pretty sure that wouldn't happen if he had to learn a new alphabet. As part of learning the new alphabet he would match that gliphy with the "ee" sound with less chances of associating it with the English sounds just because of similar spelling.


Yeah, that is a common trap. When I was taking language classes in college, I noticed that some people were definitely reading text as though it were just “funny English”. However, the problem still happened (albeit less often) with different writing systems, including Russian, so I think the root of the problem was that they hadn’t practiced the skill of listening to sounds and reproducing them—instead, they made the mistake of mapping them onto the closest sound in their native language.

Fortunately that was a minority—maybe 5–10% of students had that difficulty and couldn’t grow out of it. Part of the issue is also that people seem to hold back and don’t try to really imitate the accent of a language, which they may not get is really an essential part of the pronunciation. You’ve got to put on your best “French accent” if you want to properly speak French!

Speaking of “closest sound in your native language”, my Polish coworkers and I a couple of jobs ago had a lot of fun one day when I transcribed their English speech using Polish spelling—lo and behold, it gave quite an accurate representation of their accents. (E.g., “It would be funny” = “it łód bi fany”.)


I see your point but it's not that clear cut in my experience because even if two languages share the same alphabet the way it maps to pronunciation can vary wildly. If you take random made up words like "tothon", "ylho", "sturcti" or "boqurkït" and ask English, German, French and Portuguese people to pronounce them as words in their native language you'll get wildly different results. So in a way you have to learn to override your native language and re-learn to read when you're switching to a foreign tongue, even if it uses the same alphabet.

Latin alphabet might give you the illusion that you can read a text aloud but it's really just that, an illusion. Ask a French speaker with no knowledge of English to read this comment aloud "phonetically" and see if you can even recognize the words.

It's even conceivable that using a different alphabet actually helps you getting the pronunciation right since you might be less tempted to read it in English.


> Ask a French speaker with no knowledge of English to read this comment aloud "phonetically" and see if you can even recognize the words.

As a practical joke, I once asked a French speaker (who spoke English well) to read this aloud:

    Un petit d'un petit
    S'étonne aux Halles
    Un petit d'un petit
    Ah! degrés te fallent
    Indolent qui ne sort cesse
    Indolent qui ne se mène
    Qu'importe un petit
    Tout gai de Reguennes.
He was the only person in the room who didn't understand what he was saying.


That's pretty great. I don't get the "indolent" part though, what is is supposed to be? Please answer quickly as my coworkers are starting to look at me weirdly as I repeat "indolent qui ne sort cesse" aloud again and again.


    Indolent qui ne sort cesse
indolent = and all 'e

qui ne s- = king's

-ort cesse = 'orses


Just to provide a reference:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mots_d'Heures


I tried once to learn just the alphabet (when I was planing a trip to Crimea > 10 years ago) because we have a lot of words similar to Polish ones so I thought how hard can it be. But I failed, maybe it was my to Cyrillic that was always considered an alphabet of the invaders.

In comparison I was able to learn Korean alphabet quite easily.


Do you have some data to back that up or are you guessing? I studied Russian for about a year and frankly the alphabet was a very tiny hurdle. Sure, it's a little more work than learning a language using the Latin alphabet but you can teach yourself the Cyrillic alphabet from scratch in a few hours (longer if you add the rather terrible Cyrillic cursive, but it's not as important nowadays in my experience).

IMO it's really insignificant compared to the barrier of learning all the vocabulary (it's not like romance languages where every other word is a cognate, plus the stress patterns in Russian are harder to predict), the vastly different grammar (case system, perfective/imperfective etc...) and the cultural barriers.

My Russian is abysmal and I haven't practiced in years but I just went to lenta.ru and was able to read just fine. I don't understand 99% of it of course but I can read the letters reasonably quickly.


I learned to read basic cyrillic out of boredom while travelling through Bulgaria, from road signs. They have bi-alphabet road signs, just like Greece). So I guess the alphabet is not such a major barrier.

Anyway, from what I heard Kazakh is a Turkic language and most of them are written using the Latin alphabet.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Turkic_Alphabet


It might be a mental barrier to even trying, but Cyrillic is pretty easy to learn and then retain the knowledge. Pronunciation of it is straightforward. Personally, I find it much harder to decipher Polish pronunciation in realtime in my head because it uses latin letters that I already associate with certain sounds. (e.g. swapped w and v)


Polish is a Slavic language and Latin letters are not suitable for it. I'm Russian who speaks English and a bit French and I can understand some Polish words (common roots etc.) like dobrze, dzień dobry, wiedzieć, znać, but I have no idea how to write them (looked up this words in Google Translate).

P.S. And I like to play Witcher III with Polish voices and Russian subtitles.


Most Slavic languages use Latin as primary script. Polish took a few questionable decisions compared to other western/southern Slavic languages (not switching from sz/cz to s^/c^ for example), but it's almost fully phonetic and pretty consistent. I'd argue Polish pronunciation is easier to learn than Russian, because we have no movable stress (we always stress the penultimate syllable - easy).


> The Cyrillic alphabet is a major barrier to learning Russian for Americans.

Is this based on your imagination or do you have some source?

I have seen several complete idiots try (and completely fail) to learn Russian, but they all got the alphabet down perfectly in a few days.

It’s almost completely impossible for me to imagine you thinking this if you have made any serious effort to learn Russian.


Really..? People do say that? That's a gross oversimplification of the problem of learning a language.

Learning Cyrillic is nothing compared to learning pronouncing, listening, grammar and vocabulary.

There are hundreds of words and grammar and conjugation rules to learn but 33 (or less, due to sharing) letters (and similar style ones, not Arabic ones or Chinese characters or Hangul ones) are a major obstacle?

Differences and amount of letters between Cyrillic and Latin is also nothing compared to how out there Chinese, Arabic, Thai, etc. systems are. It's so simple and similar and there's so little of it that it's as much of not an obstacle as it can be without being the same script.

Learning a language is always hard and learning most languages you'd have to learn a new sound for every Latin letter (and for many of its di and trigraphs used in the new language) as well anyway because it might be pronounced differently and you'd better not "cheat" by going letter -> English sound -> new language sound in your head because that's an obstacle and artificially slowing yourself down or possibly making a mistake.

Even though a lot of vocabulary, grammar and the script are shared between English, French, Dutch, Spanish, etc. it's not such a foregone conclusion that people can just do it effortlessly (with less effort than Chinese but it's still quite an effort).

Similarly I read accounts of Westerners taking Japanese Language Proficiency Test and mentioning a lot of Koreans and Chinese being there due to probably having less obstacles with Japanese (Korean supposedly has similar grammar and Chinese of course has similar writing system) but of course CJK languages are not mutually intelligible and a Korean, Japanese or Chinese person can't just up and go pass a language test in one of the other two easily.

Polish uses Latin and some diacritics but it's not any easier for it (it might actually be harder due to the language itself).

Ashens (a YouTuber who eats weird stuff) once pronounced wafelek jagodowy as it were English and it was so butchered he might as well have recited a Cthulu summoning instead (you can compare the two on Google Translate). I'm not jabbing at people who don't know Polish but I'm trying to illustrate that it just doesn't work that way - a Polish j or w is not an English j or w.

Cyrillic also doesn't pervade Poland at all and I don't know Russian but I had it at school so I know Cyrillic and having native Polish I can sort of get some Russian but an American who knew just Cyrillic would just get nothing. I also get nothing out of Kazakh in either script, Turkish, etc. but looking at any Slavic language or French I can get a lot of words due to similarities to what I do know.

On the way to fluency (whatever definition of it you might consider) you'll run into sounding natural in both sound and vocabulary way more often than anything else. E.g. former ambassador to Poland was considered by everyone to have great Polish (for an American that is..) and often spoke Polish when invited on TV and such and understood spoken and written Polish seemingly perfectly but you could tell as soon as he opened his mouth he's absolutely not a native speaker due to his pronunciation (and it's not just an accent, people from Podlasie have an accent when they come to Pomorze and vice versa, with him you could just tell he has an un-Polish vocal system producing Polish sounds) and he received ambassador language training USA does and has been living in Poland for years.

And I'm saying all that as someone with some interest in linguistic, writing systems, etc. for a while now and knowing 3-to-5-ish writing systems (Polish/English/Latin, Russian/Cyrillic, Japanese katakana and hiragana and few dozen kanji I can write and few hundred I can read - it's technically one "writing" system but it's more like a 3-in-1 because they represent same sounds but in different contexts and with different meaning or lack of it - it's a complex deal) and 2 languages really well (English, Polish) and 2 other badly (failed Russian, absolute beginner Japanese). I know this doesn't make me an expert but at least I've been around the languages a bit more than an average person.

I actually wish my biggest obstacle with Japanese was just learning all of katakana and hiragana (which there are almost 50 of each, plus diacritics and digraphs with them, and they are much different from Cyrillic and Latin) because I've done that long ago with very little overall effort using just Memrise and Obenkyo on my phone whenever I could spare a moment over a few weeks.


The Cyrillic alphabet has been the easiest part of earning Russian (for me, having English as my native language and coming to Russian relatively late in life).


eh, i took russian in high school eons ago, and picked up cyrillic in a couple of weeks, even could write in cyrillic cursive by the end of the course. it's not that big of a deal (the hardest part was the variations of the "zsh" and "sh" letters).


The alphabet is easy; the grammar is another story.


> I wouldn't expect significant numbers of people flock to learn Russian (or Kazakh) as a foreign language anyway, because why should they?

It makes it much easier for tourists when country uses the same alphabet.


Agree with you. I hardly think having a different native alphabet makes it harder for people to learn a western language. All the south Asian countries have a different alphabet which is far different from latin one, but English is widely used/spoken in those countries as one of the official language.


Using a Latin alphabet might help Kazakhstan interface with the West. However, I think the more direct reason is that a Latin alphabet would facilitate links with Turkey and other Turkish speakers who use Latin alphabets.

Either way the move away from Cyrillic may loosen ties to Russia, but the fact that Turkey uses a Latin alphabet is a stronger motivation than any hopes of building bridges with the West. The latter, if it happens, would just be a bonus.


> I think the more direct reason is that a Latin alphabet would facilitate links with Turkey and other Turkish speakers who use Latin alphabets.

Perhaps, but Kazakhstan intentionally decided not to make its new Latin alphabet mirror the Turkish alphabet. In the 1920s several Turkic nations took Turkey’s alphabet as a model, but then were condemned by the Stalinist regime for being too pan-Turkic, with tragic consequences. Kazakhstan is therefore trying to walk an independent course here.


True. At least the latest update removes the weird apostrophes.


I think this is the most appropriate reason. They could've promoted the use of English if getting closer to the West is the aim.


You are getting a lot of disagreeing comments, but I do believe you're right. No, it isn't that big a deal to pick up a new alphabet, especially not a closely related one like anything in the Latin/Greek/Cyrillic family. But yes, it does make a difference in the absorbtion of a new language whether you are somehow submerged in it, and can run the osmosis routine on it.

Having had peek access to all Western European languages since the day I learned to read has clearly helped me gain early access to the style and idiosyncracy of each. Not that I can read them as such, but I can with some confidence pick out basic meaning from simple text in more or less all Indo-European languages written in some kind of Latin letters. For very basic meaning, this includes languages like Polish and Czech. It does not include Russian, unless I make some extra effort.

I actually know more Russian than Polish, but would no doubt have an easier time learning the latter. It does tend to matter what you had chiselled on your brain at age three or four.


I'm Polish, I can understand 80% when Ukrainians speak without ever learning it (and about 50% of Russian).

But only few years ago I've learnt cyrylic script (by accident, when I was in L'viv for a week ;) ). It's not hard, but it takes time, and I still have to say each letter in my mind when I read cyrylic, it's awkward and takes a long time compared to Latin-based foreign languages.


Chinese alphabet is much more complex than cyrillic and they don't have any problems with international trade. This is mostly a political gesture.


> A few billion in costs of such changes, even for a poor country, will produce a good ROI

Strictly from this perspective alone this change is a no brainer investment.


I don't know how that helps. If the idea was getting closer to the West, then they could've promoted the use of English(as we have done in India).


Look at the map. There’s no way for them to “build a moat” or otherwise remove themselves from Russia’s sphere of interest and geopolitical influence. This switch will be undone by the very next Kazakh dictator once the current one (in office since 1990!) kicks the bucket.


Absolutely agree! Im Kazakh.


I was in Moldova a few years back and the friends I was visiting only spoke Romanian. Almost all native Moldovans speak Russian and Romanian (and can read/write both alphabets). Some people would only talk to my friends in Russian though, even when they kept saying they only knew Romanian.

One of my friends said this was a political thing, with some people using the choice of their default language being who they support (Russia vs EU). Moldova is constantly caught in trying to get support/benefits from one or the other; drastically changing their policy to fit one only to be blocked in inclusions (Moldovans make the type of wines that people in the EU like instead of the Russian varieties, but then France and Italy start over producing those same variants to block them out of the market .. or countries in the EU offering to lend their government money, but only if they reject x offer from Russian.)

Do you see the same thing in Kazakhstan? Do some people chose to use one language more often than the other due to political beliefs or affiliations?


I might imagine that someone would refuse to speak Russian to underline his anti-Russian position, but I never met such a person.


An anecdote from the other side: I have personally met several such people in former Soviet republics, such as Latvia, and believe that it is not at all uncommon.


Plenty of personal observations of this cultural friction in Latvia indeed.

I'll share an anecdote from a different place though, something that gave me an epiphany on how to judge this kind of situation. Years ago, I was on a train near the language border area within Belgium: French to the south, Dutch to the north. I had a conversation with a mentally disabled person sitting next to me. In both French and Dutch. He was switching between them fluently.


I wonder if Belgium in recent history had censorship of either language or if students were made to wear shame plates "today I spoke French/Dutch"...

If you want to imply that even mentally ill people can switch languages, but ex-USSR people can't... Plenty of them could. Many of them do that with English. Or is refusing to speak certain language in certain cases worse than mental illness?


> I wonder if Belgium in recent history had censorship of either language or if students were made to wear shame plates "today I spoke French/Dutch"...

Depends on how you define recent history. Discrimination of the Dutch speaking population was very outspoken until the 1920's (canon fodder in WW I...), common until the 1930's (difficult to get secondary education in Dutch, ...), and in some areas quite a bit longer.

> If you want to imply that even mentally ill people can switch languages, but ex-USSR people can't... Plenty of them could. Many of them do that with English. Or is refusing to speak certain language in certain cases worse than mental illness?

All people have the intellectual ability to learn a language. Obviously this includes former USSR people.

You won't see me make a statement about "everyone should have to ..." or "the rules should be...". I believe general rules are very blunt instruments when the heart of the issue is mutual courtesy and respect on an invididual level. Willingness to communicate in a specific language is often a very good proxy for that.

Every time something is threatening the local oligarchs' interests, the entire identity/language thing conveniently gets played. On either side of the cultural divide. When push comes to shove, the emperor of Ventspils and the king of Riga seem to find each other all too easily. It's the people in Latvia that pay the price.

Some totally useless random personal anecdotes. Seems like I have plenty of time to spare today:

* One of my first days in Latvia, quite a few years ago. I visit the occupation museum. Our guide is a student from a US Latvian emigre family volunteering for a month. He says something like "Really, the nazis were better for Latvia than the Soviets." Conveniently forgetting the problem for the Jewish Latvians and quite a few more things...

* I'm sitting in front of a lady in the tram in Riga. I've learned to speak Latvian rather well. I explain to her that I'm a foreigner who learned Latvian and ask her what stop I need for $well_known_shop. She completely ignores me, with an angry look. When I get off the tram, a venomous shout from her, in Latvian with a thick Russian accent: "If you know Latvian, you know Russian too!". Angry, extremely rude old lady. Don't want to get close to her.

* I'm on the ferry from Germany to the Latvian coast. My cabin mate Aleksandrs, a Russian culture Latvian, is doing his very best to speak Latvian to me, so we have at least one way to communicate. I speak it better than him, as he's away from Latvia most of the year in Western Europe, and his friends are mostly from Russian speaking circles. Bizarre, but friendly conversation. A Latvian traveller comes over and starts pestering Aleksandrs very agressively for more than half an hour with platitudes about how "none of you Russians never speak Latvian". Oh irony, we were speaking Latvian. Aleksandrs gets tired of this all, shakes his head and just gets back to our cabin.

* I'm in the center of Riga (Maxima Barona iela, near Bērnu pasaule) and I need something from a particular shop. It's so long ago I'm not even sure what it was I needed. I ask a few Russian language local teenagers hanging around the entrance of a local shop where it is. They more or less understand me after explaining them in English and Latvian. They have difficulties even with terms for left and right (!), but they courteously guide me in the right direction by pictionary, broken English and very very broken Latvian. An interesting case really of people lacking even basic awareness of what respect means in a language context. It just didn't register in their minds it seems. They're not exactly advancing their future as job seekers either...

* A friend's father was born in Siberian, to Latvian exile parents who were deported there (together with 57575 other people btw, or ~3% of the Latvian population at the time). He speaks Russian rather well and even reads Pushkin, but will reply in Latvian to questions asked in Russian. Except to some friends.

* The countless times I've had to hear "Wow! Where did you say you are from? And you don't even live here? You speak Latvian better than so many people who have been living here for ages!"

* My Latvian significant other's former boss used to be a Russian background Latvian. S.o. only learned about this after several months on the job.


> Depends on how you define recent history. Discrimination of the Dutch speaking population was very outspoken until the 1920's (canon fodder in WW I...), common until the 1930's (difficult to get secondary education in Dutch, ...), and in some areas quite a bit longer.

Got any recommended articles on that? Maybe once things settle down for several decades, Russian language will be more acceptable in Russia's neighbours too. And local Russians will accept they're no longer living in Russia/SU.

Few more personal anecdotes for your collection:

* I was walking random streets in Riga. I'm Lithuanian and I understand both Latvian and Russian about the same. Random older lady comes up to me and asks something in Russian. I answer in Russian that I don't understand Russian. She starts shouting along the lines of latviešu fashisty :/

* A friend of mine was managing a Lithuanian company's branch in Latvia. They had to keep at least 2 salesperson on the floor all the time. One ethnic Latvian and one ethnic Russian. Otherwise either client could get pissed off by the accent.

* Tallinn townhall square on a warm summer day. Everybody minding their own business and beer. A bunch of chavs/maroz/etc comes with Russian flags, shouting "slava Rosija" and do a couple circles around the square. Nobody gives a damn.

* There's a kebab joint in Vilnius run by Turkish (?) dude. He knows some Russian, but refuses to speak it with non-tourists and answers them in Lithuanian on principle. "If I learned it in few years, why can't they learn it in few decades?"


Come to Baltic states. Some people went as far as refusing to speak Russian during Soviet times. Now many young people don't speak Russian and don't even try to because of anti-Russian position.

Personally I don't respond in Russian if I'm sure the person was born or lived here for decades. If they look like tourists, I try to help with few Russian words I know or ask if they speak English... Old good pointing at the map goes a long way too.


Funny, I know at least one Mantas in Vilnius.

While I prefer speaking English when I am there (which happens pretty regularly), it seems that people are actually more willing to speak Russian. Probably because they are trying to sell you something...


You not living here for decades and refusing the local language on principle makes a huge difference.

People you’re dealing with age makes a big difference too. 35+ will speak good Russian and probably have a hard time with English. Younger are very likely to be the other way around.

P.S. Mantas was super popular name in late 80s thanks to a movie Herkus Mantas.


Well, that's true. But then I tried to learn at least "please" and "thank you" even when I was visiting in the 80's.

It does actually seem that it's the same people who would've refused to speak Russian before who are perfectly happy to do it now. Not that I would blame them at all, just find it amusing really.

Mantas I know is ~40+ years old, so probably not because of a movie.


> But then I tried to learn at least "please" and "thank you" even when I was visiting in the 80's.

Which already puts you way above local Russian-speaking population. We appreciate that. A lot.

> It does actually seem that it's the same people who would've refused to speak Russian before who are perfectly happy to do it now. Not that I would blame them at all, just find it amusing really.

It's kinda natural. People who saw obscenities in 1940s are dying out. The vocal pro-USSR/Russia people are diminishing too (although Latvia and Estonia may have different experience). Tension of the change of 1990s is gone. Those who weren't happy about the situation left for Russia or WE.

I'm pretty sure if Ukraine (as well as overall policies that caused it) hadn't happened, we'd have rather decent relations.


Thanks. Really, I can't understand how wouldn't you learn at least conversational language if you live in a country where it is spoken all the time...

I have a feeling that if not Ukraine, then something else would have happened anyway.


Me neither. I don't understand why Russian settlers after WW2 didn't feel a need to learn local languages. It looks like at least some of them feel culturally superior and try to stay away from "peasants" language.

As for the locals, when you're being forced at gunpoint to learn another language, resentment is natural. When the push is gone, it's kinda natural to exercise your newfound freedom too.

Of course, Ukraine was a symptom, not the cause. But if the cause for Ukraine was not there, it'd be damn nice. Now it will take at least another generation change for people to drop subconscious hate/fear of Russia. The clock is set back by 30 years if not more :(


Really. A lot of them don't even try to learn English in the US either.Even though unlike Lithuania you cam't really expect that random people on the street would be even a little bit familiar with it.

If the cause for Ukraine weren't there... I m afraid it would have been possible only if Russia weren't Russia.


Congrats, you are part of the problem.

-Fellow soon-to-be Ex-Lithuanian.


Which problem? That I consider myself part of the West and couldn't care less about Russia and their sphere of influence?

I bet you're not moving to Russia either...


> but I never met such a person.

Probably 30-70% of every FSU republic except Belarus.


You should visit Ukraine. Ha


Visited Ukraine (Kyiv) last summer. I spoke a little Russian with them; nobody seemed to mind.


Honest question from a less than A1 level Russian student... Is there really a significant difference between the two? I have no doubt that there is different vocabulary etc. and of course that there are political reasons to count them as different languages but are they effectively mutually intelligible?


Russians often claim that Ukrainian is totally mutually intelligible, but it is easy to find counterexamples. There are Taras Shevchenko poems, for example, that if you present them to the average Russian speaker, that Russian speaker would have to guess at the meaning of a large number of words (and would guess wrong). All of the Slavic languages have retained common features and two speakers of different Slavic languages can often drop to a sort of basic shared level to communicate, but the innovations in each language – especially with the rise of complex standard languages – should not be underestimated.

Even within Ukraine, Ukrainians from Kyiv can face some difficulties understanding the Ukrainian spoken in the Carpathians (which is either transitional to Rusyn or is actually straight-up Rusyn), or the rural dialect of Trans-Carpathia that can include a great deal of Hungarian words.


I have an anecdote. I speak Russian proficiently (I can speak it since I've been 6, even though my native language is Romanian), and I always found understanding Ukrainian hard (not to say speaking it). I can infer a lot of words and expressions, but I would say they're fairly different.


You can try it out for yourself -- listen to some Okean Elzy on your favorite streaming service and see if you can understand him. (For all other non-Russian, non-Ukrainian speakers, the music is pretty good either way :))


I'm a Russian speaker who listens to Okean Elzy and I heartily give this suggestion a thumbs up.


I was surprised when a normally-Russian-speaking Ukrainian colleague of mine mixed up months when trying to communicate in Ukrainian with another normally-Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainian - talking about something occurring in October but using "Listopad" (which I figured from Czech was actually November). I'd guess that there's enough similarities that you could have a reasonable conversation with someone when you know Russian and the other speaks Ukrainian ... but occasionally you'll encounter words which are just completely unintelligible and not even close.


Listopad is a Ukrainian word for October


I just double checked and it seems everywhere I look lists Listopad as meaning November, with October apparently being “Жовтень”. However there are a bunch of other Slavic languages which DO have October as something like Listopad (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_calendar) so perhaps I shouldn’t be so sure of myself in future :-)


A friend of mine from Lviv tells me that Ukrainian language is closer in structure and vocabulary to Polish than to Russian. I can't really assess this information, as I speak only Polish, from these three.


I always heard the same, but I'm no linguist and know nothing of Polish or Ukrainian so it would be good to have native speakers to confirm.


That's right, but only few people speak pure Ukranian language (and they do it mainly for political reasons). It is incovinient as it lacks some modern words and concepts. One can discuss prices on the market or neighbor girl, but when topic is switched to scientific or ingeneering matter - Russian is language of choise. Same with Kazakh language - the language of nomads.


Confirm: Ukrainian is perceived by russians as "peasant's" language. As for scientific and engineering matter - I observe more use of words borrowed from English.


I have met many such people (with Russian as their mother-tongue), who flat-out refuse to speak Russian.


Instead Russian language has strange status as a "language of international communication" and basically they are trying to suppress its usage.

Well, that's kind of the whole point behind the move (or at least a big part of it), actually.


This also supresses the amount of propaganda coming from Russian media. If you have not seen it, you would not believe how bad it is.


Did Russia send Kazakh people to gulags for speaking/teaching own language like it did in Poland, Ukraine and many other places? Might have something to do with resentment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russification


I don't think that anyone was prosecuted strictly because of speaking/teaching language. But there were Kazakh intelligence (who probably promoted language among other national agendas) prosecuted for opposing soviet regime. Again, I don't think that language itself has anything with it. That said, yes, USSR forced other nations to adapt Russian language and it's understandable that those nations didn't like it. But it was almost a century ago, we are living in current conditions, so it's wiser to remember the past, but plan the future according to current realities, not some 100-year old dreams.


Ask the Ukrainians about "current realities".


> But it was almost a century ago

The USSR colapsed less than 30 years ago.


I think their point is that the repression that you're discussing is largely pre-Krushchev; that's not quite a century ago, but it's a world away from what life in the USSR was like by the 1980s.


Krushchev successor, Brezhnev send tanks to Czechoslovakia in 1968.


And the US successfully overthrew inconvenient governments in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Congo in 1960, the Dominican Republic in 1961, Chile and South Vietnam in 1963, and Brazil in 1964, but you wouldn't call that evidence for the US being a repressive government, would you?


The US is a powerful nation that imposes its will by force on other nations and is indifferent to the interests of those it subjects to its will.

This has been true for a long time and remains true now much like Russias nature.


Or with wanting to _decrease_ the % of the economy that depends on Russia.


During Stalin, it was the general policy to suppress national languages.

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=ru&tl=en&js=y&prev...


That article doesn't really say that.


It focuses on Kazakh. For general topic, see:

https://www.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/540/handouts/ussr/soviet...


It doesn't say that either.


Read #6 there if you missed it. It's not very detailed, but it references the topic. If you want detailed examples of national languages suppression, search for articles about Yevsektsiya.


I've read it. What you said is this "During Stalin, it was the general policy to suppress national languages.". This just isn't the case, especially given the duration and the complexity (and contradictions) of policies in use during his tenure. There was certainly Russification. It's hard to point at any period where there was a straightforward "general policy to suppress national languages".


> "During Stalin, it was the general policy to suppress national languages."

It existed in general, but it was especially intense from 1930s until early 1950s. So during Stalin in particular a lot of damage was caused. It's not hard to point out at all.

See some references here: https://sh.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1164774/FULLTEXT0...

(from page 107).


Even that reference does not say anything close to "During Stalin, it was the general policy to suppress national languages." There was no such general policy, the thing you link talks about the tension between the desire for centralized (typically Russian) control and the Marxist ideological demands of 'internationalism'.


There was no "tension". Formal internationalism was quite effectively replaced with persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, including suppression of languages and education. Internationalists were some groups like Makhno's anarchists. Stalin was the complete opposite.

But I think I'm wasting my time here. If you want to deny historic facts, do it elsewhere.


We're looking at the sources you came up with.


Are there many recent examples of France asserting that since a region has a fairly decent density of French speaking people and people of French descent it's totally ok to annex the territory or in a milder case move in troops and create a self proclaimed "independent" state.


No, but the local languages where repressed and even forbidden for a long time by the republic ("It’s forbidden to spit and spoke X language" policy at schools) in ordrer to increase or create the national unity.

I’m very sad that from the two languages known by my grand parents generation (alsatian and a dialect of dutch) I only know a few words because these languages were destroyed by the state.


No doubt all empires deploy similar tactics, but in respect to the topic at hand I doubt Canada believes there is a credible threat of France using french as an excuse to annex parts of Canada. While Kazakhstan have seen Russia execute this strategy multiple times in very recent years.


They don't fear annexation but they fear independance.


From a purely linguistic standpoint, I think Kazakh is a better fit for Cyrillic than the Latin alphabet. Look at all the diacritics they have to use to make this work. But we both know the real motivations here probably do not include cleaning up the orthography.


This standpoint is not linguistic at all. Cyrillic too had to be changed, in fact, to become suitable for Kazakh.


Yes, but that already happened.


So? Latin-based alphabet was in use for Kazakh for about eleven years before Moscow decided to impose Cyrillic on all peoples of Soviet empire (for purely political reasons).


Then why are they recreating the work rather than reverting to that version alphabet?


Debugging.

How, btw, did this question follow from your point in the starting commentary?


Lots of latin-alphabet languages have letters that don’t exist in English. Czech, for example, has 42 letters[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czech_orthography


Well, the measuring stick is not English.

Is it Latin? Which version? See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet

Or is it all modern non-Cyrillic letters used in Europe that don't have diacritics?

In any case, diacritics are a positive. They're used to make a language as phonetic as possible, which is a net positive. As anyone can attest, learning to pronounce English words (or French, for that matter) is a lot of people wasting a lot of effort, which would be better spent elsewhere!


We are in complete agreement, sorry for making my argument a bit on the terse side.


Learing to pronounce French words is rather easy. English is a huge mess.


Easy? Fine. But it's still a huge waste of time on a global scale compared to phonetic languages, when you consider how many people have to learn French, English, etc.


It’s relatively easy for an English speaker to learn because we have a lot of French vocabulary, but the correspondence between pronunciation and spelling isn’t simple[1]—although granted it is somewhat simpler than English[2].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_orthography#Sound_to_sp...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_orthography#Spelling_p...


I don't think it's obvious that 3 of 7 letters in "mangent" are silent (as in "ils mangent").


Yes it is obvious once you learn French.

It’s usually (not always) clear how a word is pronounced in French if you know its spelling.


What isn't clear is how you spell the word after hearing it.


Really?

French (there are quite a few of them - think CA for example) has just as many idiosyncrasies as English when you really get in to it.


This is categorically wrong. French spelling has absolutely nowhere near as many idiosyncrasies as English spelling.

It is totally impossible to predict how an unfamiliar written word is pronounced in English, but quite easy in French (barring some ambiguous situations like if a noun ends in “s”.)

By the way, I don’t know what CA means. If you’re referring to the French word “ça”, its pronunciation is completely regular and predictable given the spelling.


Well, it's possible, but only if you know where did the word come from.


I don't think the Latin alphabet is particularly well-suited to English either. We pay for C, but it never does anything K or S don't already do. Yet, we cannot be bothered to buy letters for 'sh' and 'th', digraphs which cover two sounds apiece and are extremely common.


DISCLAIMER - rant below.

The problem isn't Latin, the problem is how you use it. Nobody forced you to sometimes use C when you mean K. There are many languages where these letters don't overlap.

Nobody forced you to use both PH and F for the same sound. Why even use PH? It's not like anybody cares if that particular word was stolen from Greek or not. And if some people do - they can check it on wikipedia. Make it all use f and be done with it.

The whole too/two/to situation is ridiculous. Ridiculous spelling is also ridiculous. Why put "o" before only one of these "u"? Either put it before both or none... Also - beautiful. Really? Eau?

And why sometimes there's one "l" and sometimes there are two? Full, but plentiful. WTF?

If you bothered to refactor the language every century - English would be perfectly reasonable now. Instead the whole world is stuck with learning centuries of design debt to communicate.


It strikes me that Windows is full of idiosyncrasies and historical artifacts (largely to keep it compatible with existing applications), yet is very successful and widely used - like English!

I guess keeping compatibility over long periods of time can have a lot of value, for OSes and languages alike...



By that logic German uses a thirty letter alphabet, but no one says so.


Does too. Finnish, for example, has a 29-letter alphabet, because diacritics count separately: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnish_orthography

That said, letter with diacritic vs separate letter is a surprisingly fraught topic, the same character can be considered a letter in one language and not a letter in another. Look up collation rules in European languages for a real nightmare...


Are you really telling us Slavs that we are wrong in what we (and our governments, educational systems and language authorities) consider a letter in our native languages and should stop saying our alphabets have however many letters we say they do for decades now because Germans happen to use different logic when counting their letters..?

I mean.. really?

I'm so astonished by that logic I don't even know what to tell you. Different languages can have different rules you know.

Edit: thanks for the downvote. How dare I tell a person who just claimed half of Europe is composing their alphabets wrong because Germans do it differently that they are short sighted.


> Are you really telling us Slavs[...]

Absolutely not. My argument was that Kazakh is far from unique in having ”extra letters”, which my native language’s alphabet also has.

On a personal level I far prefer latin-alphabet Slavic languages since it makes it easier to approximate an understandable pronunciation.


Is that a feature of the orthography or does that simply tell us something about your personal background?


That was a reply to the person who has said that it's wrong to say Czech has 42 letters because Germans count their letters differently, not to you.

I of course agree with there not being a problem with extra letters because Polish does it without any significant problems as well.


> Are you really

No.


It's really not that bad.

They've added 9 of their own to 33 of Russian Cyrillic for a total of 42 when using it for Kazakh. Now they're gonna add 6 diacritics and two digraphs, that's much less already.

Compare this to even Polish that has:

1. 9 additional letters: ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż.

2. Technically no x, v nor q, but everyone knows their sound so casually or artistically you can use them, just not in 100% orthographically correct Polish.

3. 7 digraphs: ch, cz, dz, dź, dż, rz, sz.

And it's not really a problem in any way and the words are distinct enough that if you skip all the Polish specific stuff it's still 100% readable, people texting or writing online or Polish comments in code (in an ASCII file) often do that.

I've seen many systems (CJK, Arabic, Hebrew, various European ones) and have somewhat an interest in this stuff and I don't think it's a big deal at all.

I also think (as a layman) that it's really not about the system anymore but about fitting it to your language (within reason, e.g. don't try to write Polish with Chinese characters), someone could say Polish butchered Latin or gave it 16 warts but it works and I'd say the phonology is way saner than English (okay, that's not an achievement but still, no one tells English off for it's use of Latin despite it's crazy pronunciations).

I also wondered about an experiment of using both Cyrillic and Latin together at once in a language that already uses one of them to denote foreign words (e.g. Polish with foreign words in Cyrillic or Russian with foreign words in Latin), just like katakana in Japanese does (among other uses). I wonder if Kazakh writing (casual or maybe even official) with loanwords from Russian (if they exist, I don't know Kazakh, maybe they have none) might do that just for Russian foreign words, to avoid transcribing them into the Latin alphabet (which would be more awkward than just using them directly as they could in their Cyrillic which was a superset of Russian Cyrillic and would either ignore their own Latin phonology and diacritics or require a new transcription style that is unlike the other ones, thus adding to confusion).

Using Cyrillic and/or Latin of course has implications about politics, history and religion, with Cyrillic being associated with Russia, Soviet Bloc, Orthodox Christianity, etc.


The source of the diacritical mess in Polish is that it is a Slavic language rendered in a Latin orthography. Cyrillic is a good start for Slavic languages. Latin is a good start for Romance languages. Arabic is a good start for Semitic languages. When you start from an orthographic base of a related language, you don't need as much of these shenanigans. Persian, by the way, is in the same boat as Polish: a language with a large consonant inventory rendered in an orthography that is relatively consonant-poor.

However, the Turkic languages don't have a good start in any of these three, yet they're all written in one of them with a large number of diacritics.

From the linguistic point of view I posit, your primary concern in designing an orthography is: does this line up nicely with the phonology? If it does, congrats, your literacy rate just went up. Every digraph you add is another exception you have to explain, every sound with two letters is another exception you have to learn. My son is in kindergarten. He wrote "KUMIN" on a piece of paper and hung it on the door the other day. I asked him what it said, he told me "It says 'come in'". Was that obvious to you? It wasn't obvious to me.

So, in the grand scheme of things, I know a new Turkic orthography is probably a long shot. But wait, there is already a Turkic language with similar phonology: Turkish. Did they take the Turkish orthography and modify that? Not really. They had to come up with yet another g diacritic.

I hope they do normalize the spelling and make it phonetic. Then at least, they may improve literacy, assuming it wasn't as phonetic as it could be under the old alphabet. Because otherwise, what are they getting for what they're spending this huge amount of money replacing books, retraining teachers, fixing software, etc.?


> Every digraph you add is another exception you have to explain

In phonetic languages with digraphs there are rules to the exceptions. For example "sz" is related to "s" same way "cz" is related to "c". "I" makes the previous letter softer.

And there are Slavic languages with Latin script and almost no digraphs. Polish is kinda old school in that regard as it preserved sz and cz (funny thing - English name for Czech Republic uses Polish/Old Czech spelling).

English is one of the worst examples of using Latin script there is, and it could be drastically improved if it used regular digraphs instead of ad-hoc spelling. For comparison German from the same language family is much more regular and easier to pronounce.


Absolutely not. Czech orthography is beautiful. Latin letters, clear featural marking of palatal consonants (č, š, ž, ď, ť) and simple marking of vowel length (á). The spelling is even morphophonemic!


As an outsider with casual knowledge of Czech, I totally agree that the Czech orthography is logical and consistent (which is beautiful :). It makes it so much easier to learn to pronounce words, because the spelling tells you how - like it should. There are (almost) no surprises like in English, where the language is a hybrid of rules/exceptions depending on the etymology of each word. The reason for orthographic consistency in Czech could be that they were able to standardize it more recently? I also find Czech typography wonderful.


It's not really a mess for us Poles and that's my point, someone who hasn't used a language that butchers an alphabet extensively themselves shouldn't judge some other language's writing system just because they added a diacritic or few because if done well it's a non problem.

The writing split in Slavic languages also follows closely some West/East (historical and contemporary) and Catholic/Orthodox (it depends, Czechs turned largely atheist by now from Catholicism but Poles, Russians, etc. mostly remain in their religions) splits more than anything, e.g. West Slavs have Latin and prevalence of Catholicism, East Slavs have Cyrillic and prevalence of Orthodoxy, South Slavs are a mix of the two and it shows, e.g. Croatia is more Catholic and more Western and it has the Latin alphabet, Serbia has Orthodoxy and both writings, Bulgaria has Orthodoxy and Cyrillic, etc.

Technically even Cyrillic which should fit Russian perfectly has things like И and Й which are two related sounds, because it really makes sense that a related sound has a similar letter with just a diacritic mark.

Even the Japanese hiragana and katakana have diacritics and digraphs, even though it's a fully bespoke (yes, based on Chinese characters and some Indian Buddhist scripts but they were modified and adapted very extensively and barely look like the originals from which they were evolved from and it was over a thousand years ago) system that evolved in Japan (an island nation), got a few official revisions to clear it up and is specific to only the Japanese language (and Okinawan and Ainu, but that's secondary and due to Japanese presence and didn't affect its design).

It's similar with Polish, for example ź is like z but with sort of wheezing the air under your tongue and through lower teeth instead of on top of it (sorry for the bad explanation, you can compare Polish letters and their bases on Google Translate or something and you'll hear the similarity of the sound).

There were attempts to Cyrillize Polish[0] and Latinize Belarusian[1] but they were shoddy at best and done by an occupants so that didn't go well.

The only funky thing in Polish that is better done in Cyrillic is digraphs (but then Russian has ть and we have a single letter ć, which is visible in base form of many verbs, like in Russian делать and Polish robić). Polish has cz and sz while Cyrillic actually has real letters for those sounds: Ч and Ш (Cyrillic also has Щ that sounds like sz and cz chained together like in szczęście but we don't consider that combination to be one letter or a quadgraph or anything like that). The digraphs also aren't a problem because they (IIRC, maybe there's some words and I can't think of it because I'm native) never appear like that naturally, if you get s before a z, it's a sz sound. Because of this it's not really an exception but a rule, if you gave a Pole a paper with just SZ or CZ or RZ on they'd do that one sound, not try to pronounce two letters.

Digraphs (in addition to j, w and y, leading to wafelek jagodowy by Ashens) might be one of the hardest things for learners actually because people try to hack they way through Polish using their language and they go with trying to slur the digraphs together while they are a different sound altogether from the two letters (it depends, like rz is ż, but sz or cz is like a soft or swishing s or c, but nothing of a z, sz and cz actually do sound like sh as in shoot and ch as in chain from English and they also have nothing to do with that h, then again h is sometimes silent like in honor and sometimes voiced like in holy..) that make it up so it sounds very off. They are also not that easy to pronounce, one Polish tongue twister is "w Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie" and I once heard an African immigrant to Poland say how when he first came to Poland he felt like everyone is rustling and swishing all the time at him (which is actually accurate with regards to some diacritics), then again, his Polish was really good (he could pass for a native if he wanted IMO) so it's possible.

If not for digraphs then you could probably get away with learning pronunciation of each letter and then gluing/slurring those sounds together into a word. It's much easier than English where spelling is often only tangentially related to pronunciation and adding or taking away a letter somewhere else in the word can change pronunciation of other letters. There may be words that have something weird going on but I can't think of any right now (it might be my native bias though so be careful when hacking Polish that way).

Lots of people say that a spelling contest wouldn't work in their language and except for ó vs u, rz vs ż, ch vs h and some cases where it's hard to say if you heard ę or en, ą or om/on, c or dz at the end of a word (and maybe something else I'm now forgetting) etc. that's true in Polish too. If you say something in Polish a Pole can usually write it down on first try without even thinking about it. E.g. there is a few niche jokes about two fake useless devices called bulbulator and przyczłapnik, these two words are never used except for that joke but their spelling makes 100% sense and if someone heard the joke for the first time they could write it down too, no problem.

[0] - https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrylica#Cyrylica_polska

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belarusian_Latin_alphabet


They have 6 diacritics, that's similar if not less than french (which has 12 if I'm not mistaken), or my native polish (ąćęóńłśćżź).


This is called "whataboutism." Other people made similar mistakes, so it justifies this mistake because it's smaller by comparison.


In Crimea and Georgia, Russia used the argument of defending Russian speaking populations to justify military intervention.

Perhaps, they see the Russian language as a threat to their independence?


I think it's hard to understand how people view their ethincity as different from their citizenship for people from countries with a colonial heritage. People who are of Russian ethnicity but live in another country like the Ukraine, or Latvia, or Lithuania, or Estonia, or any number of other former Soviet or Russian Empire states often consider themselves as Russian, they also often feel like they're marginalised in their homes and face racism so I could see the Russian ethnic regions of the Ukraine wanting to annex themselves to Russia. On the other hand these people have also been in these countries for generations, and in a lot of cases the borders that they have now are only a new construct from the last thirty years.


I can add about the "marginalisation" — if you live in the country for decades and still refuse to learn/speak the local language—you have marginalised yourself. Alas, the examples are plenty. These cases are an example of chauvinism ("велик и могуч русский яазык“, others are subpar) not racism.


Well, the example that I know best are the Baltic countries and most of the Russian minority in those countries do speak Estonian or Latvian or Lithuanian fluently.

It's not a case of people in the Crimea speaking Ukrainian but whether they have the freedom for their own culture. We're not talking people who have lived in a country merely for decades either, we're often talking people that have lived in a country for generations, certainly back in the tsarists period of the Russian Empire.


Lolwhat?!! Are you even aware about state of Russians in Ukraine before invasion and especially in Crimea? They were aggressively removing teaching Ukrainian language in Crimea for the last decades (same in Donbass) to the point of nonexistence. Whole Ukraine was predominantly Russian speaking and maybe still is.

And as for "racism" - after invading 4th independent country in last 30 years and occupying its territories Russians have somewhat "bad" reputation and justifiably so.


No doubt, all I was saying is I can understand why the Russian speaking population would want to leave. Multiple wrongs don't make a right.


>Perhaps, they see the Russian language as a threat to their independence?

Maybe, but changin the alphabet for your own language won't change the fact that many people are still speaking russian and many people are actually russian nationals.


I don't think Canada is a great example, since the vast majority of native French speakers are located in only one region. There is a stronger case for English Spanish bilingualism in the US than French English in Canada.

With Kazakhstan, I can totally see the case for equal status of Russian.


I wouldn't say located in one region I mean sure Quebec has a lot of French speakers now but so do other regions in Canada. Look at Ontario, NB (majority there too?), even NS and PEI, plus don't forget Metis in the prairies.

Hell a story on D'Arcy McGee a few days ago mentioned the majority of the population of Montreal was Irish in the late 1800s.

Maybe more accurate is the majority of French speakers are concentrated in southern Quebec?


Eastern Canada, Ontario to the east coast, has alot more french speakers in that region, compared to the rest of Canada.

Even in Ontario, there are people who will only converse in French.

Western Canada, I have never had to use french ever outside of highschool which I dropped French class after the required years.

Alot of us resented being forced to learn French in BC cause practically never used.

You don't need to know any french on the west coast, but it's a requirement in alot of places in eastern canada.


Also it’s a constitutional issue in Canada. The foundation of Canada was by mainly two groups: the English settlers in the French settlers. The confederation of Canada therefore gave both languages equal status.


That's been the story since the 1960s at least; while the Constitution includes some guarantees for bilingualism this was much strengthened by the Official Languages Act as part of the federal response to the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.


As a Ukrainian, I am somewhat jelous to you. We already switch our street signs and the rest to be in Latin for reasons as simple as tourism, it's somewhat strange that a tourist isn't even able to search for the street's name (nor read it) without Latin.

After the aggression, Ukraine switched from Russia being the biggest trading partner to EU being one, it's not as hard as it seems comparing to the threats Russia is accountable for.

We have a small but steady project called "Latynka" for Latin-Ukrainian alphabet and I wish it success http://latynka.tak.today/


I've read one or two comments here about "we should conform to the standard". I'm a Brit, speak English and disagree.

It is handy to have a "Lingua Franca" (Frankish language or "French") and at the moment that is generally considered to be English (unless you happen to live in the rather large bits of the world where it isn't).

@vbezhenar is bloody close to fluent in my language. "I'm an ethnic Russian" is better than "I'm ethnical ..." and a few other minor points. Don't forget "the" and "a/an" - in English we don't have the definitive and indefinitive articles built in to our nouns.

I can be barely understood in a few other languages (DE, FR, ES, IT). I live in a small country where Scottish, Irish and Welsh are also considered native languages by some of the locals and with luck Cornish will soon join them.

I believe that if we all spoke the same language then that language would be very boring.

Viva la difference


> @vbezhenar is bloody close to fluent in my language. "I'm an ethnic Russian" is better than "I'm ethnical ..."

"I'm ethnical ..." is a perfectly acceptable construction in Russian :) They likely think in Russian. When I was first learning English I had problems with English sentences like "I want them to do it", "Taste of things to come", "They are to be ordained" etc Such constructions are very ungrammatical and illogical in Russian.


Vive la différence! (French)

¡Viva la diferencia! (Spanish)


It obviously is a purely political decision having little or nothing to do with plain linguistic or practical value. So the only way to judge it as wise or unwise is how it is going to affect the country economical, social and political development in the long term.


Any major change to a standard, now matter how urgent or necessary, comes with these problems. As I like to joke, the reason God was able to finish the earth in only six days is that He didn't have to worry about backward compatibility.


Well compared to how Russia treats its minorities, i.e. Tatars in Crimea, I think Kazakhstan does a better job.


And how do we treat them? Genuine interest here.

I spent 16 years in Chuvashia, accasionly visiting Tatarstan and I have to say that I've never seen any bad treatment over there. Chuvash and Tatar langauges were always mandatory in schools, all text in the streets in both languages, local holidays and so on. Chuvash products were and are always on the shelves in Moscow stores. Same for Tatarstan.

At the same time I remember quite well how russians were treated in Tudjikistan (I was born in Dushanbe) back in the late 80s before thje civil war. This is one of the reasons some of minorities originatin from our asian ex-republics and sometimes North Caucasus get different treatment (usually from older generations).


The leader, Akhtem Chiygoz, was found guilty of inciting mass riots protesting the Russian presence in Crimea.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41224383


I visited Tatarstan recently, and as a kazakh I find that they have same problem as we do here in Kazakhstan. Tatars who don't speak their own language or poorly(we call them shala).


Well, that's hardly has anything to do with Russia been bad guy, right? :)


Are you serious? Don't you ever heard about policies of Russification?


> When overwhelming majority of people speak Russian and Russia is the most important trade partner, I think that it's only logical to have Russian as one of the official languages in the country

It makes perfect sense if you want to move away from Russia to dramatically broaden your national potential over time. Russia has a very modest economy versus its population size. Canada and South Korea have overtaken it, and next up Spain, Australia, Mexico and Indonesia will do the same.

There's no hint Russia's economic backwardness is going to change soon. Putin has entirely failed to develop the nation's potential outside of energy. Their GDP per capita has fallen below much of Eastern Europe, including Croatia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia (as well as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). Russia is ranked around #60 in the world on GDP per capita.

It would be wise of Kazakhstan to limit their dependency on trade with Russia and look to far larger opportunities globally.

The only future Russia can offer Kazakhstan is one of weak dependency, a future in which Russia dreams perpetually of re-acquiring its former empire territories.


Those dreams of glorious pasts are usually very self-defeating (lots of costly police actions in former colonys) with no visibile reward - and thus not half as dangerous as internalized past injustices.

Nazi Germany, Japan, and alot of other countrys got drunk on the injustices of the past and used them to justify atrocities in neighbouring countrys. If it were not for the nukes, alot of those nationalist movements would turn into the same pyro-clastic streaming movements we saw in WW2 spilling over borders and running away with civilization.

I raise my glass to the post los alamos world order. To a lid on the kettle, forcing dictators to thread littly on there neigbhours and house in the dragons they unleash.


>Nazi Germany, Japan, and alot of other countrys got drunk

Isn't it the Godwin's Law in action? I seriously doubt that getting out of Russian influence means something apocalyptic. Estonia, for instance, does well, and I'm old enough to remember Russian newspapers predicting its collapse without Russian "big brother".


But whenever dreams of former glory set the agenda, they are promoted as an injustice of the past: "history cheated us out of an empire, let's take back what we are owed". ww2 Japan seems to be the rare exception (unless I am missing some former expansion phase and contraction cycle)


Did you mean "tread lightly"?


I don't know what that means

- Dr. Temperance Brennan


I downvoted you for simply quoting a fictional TV character as your reply.

That's more appropriate for other Internet forums, as HN seems to value substantive discussions rather than pop-culture references and one-liners.


Dr. Brennam, bonecall...something...about a bone?


> Russia is ranked around #60 in the world on GDP per capita.

Nonetheless, GPD rank is ~12

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nomi...

Per-capita rating of countries like India, China is lower (~100). But these are apparently strong economies.


Right but India and China have solid gdp growth for decades, and have been educating hundreds of millions and pulling them out of poverty while Russia: https://tradingeconomics.com/russia/gdp-growth

Three decades ago Russia had a literacy rate of like 99%++, while China was at like 60-70%. There was a lot of "free" growth to be had in China (obviously not free) by lifting the population. China's still got room to grow there.

Like a lot of things in economics, trajectory is important (maybe too important, idk).


> Their GDP per capita has fallen below much of Eastern Europe

I think that was the product of the 90s and you can see it still in full swing in Ukraine (African level of GDP). Since those crazy times of societal collapse their GDP PPP per capita actually rose up to the level of Turkey IIRC; without sanctions they would probably be even a bit higher and become even more threatening, which might not be in US+EU's best interests.


Before all the international sanctions Russia was briefly considered a high income country from 2012-2014. They were doing well, and wages in the European part in particular were quite respectable by Eastern European standards, they've gone backwards a lot recently.


You can move away from Russia as a person. You can't move away from Russia as a country. Those countries are just next to one other, their border probably longer than Europe's perimeter. You have to think for hundreds of years when you're talking about breaking relationships between nations. Putin will die in max 30 years, probably earlier. He's extremely unlikely to be the next Russia's President. Russia might turn 180 degrees in 5 years. Many things might happen. That's even if yours words are true, which I don't fully support.


Many countries did - see Estonia, or Poland.

My parents' generation in Poland used to speak and read Russian, have Russian friends and so on. The majority of "trade" was also with Russia.

Nowadays, everyone learns English, the new generation doesn't read cyrylic. The trade between us and Russia is a weak shadow of it used to be.

Feels kind of like breaking up with an abusive partner, who kept you under lock for many years, telling you they are the best that can ever happen to you, and that you'll never be happy with anyone else ;)

Changing the alphabet is one of the steps towards building trade and relationships with English-speaking world. Good for them.


> You can't move away from Russia as a country.

Russia pretty much caused Georgia and Ukraine to do it, thanks to the absurd aggression of the Russian mafia government. So surely you can, if there is enough will for it. First major step should be reducing economic dependency.


"...Russia pretty much caused Georgia and Ukraine thanks to the absurd aggression of the Russian mafia government..."

whatever you say western troll

https://consortiumnews.com/2016/09/12/pushing-nato-to-russia...


Please don't attack others or use HN for political battle, no matter how wrong another comment is, and regardless of which side you favor. All that is what we're trying to avoid here, so we'd appreciate it if you'd read the site rules and follow them when posting to HN:

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Exactly, though best thing they can do - better relationship with China.


I find your post very rude. Russia essentially destroyed Kazakh identity and you have guts to say, "well since we already did it let's keep it that way". Really Russian influence is like a cancer. I feel happy for Kazakh for trying to cut it off.


No way every book, websites, etc. gets rewritten, so between everyone knowing Cyrillic, lots of people knowing Russian and how easy Cyrillic is (I know it and I learned it very quickly) it'll end in a de facto digraphia.


To add to your position on the subject, when I was on holiday in Kazakhstan, I'd say 90% of the young ethnic Kazakh I met in Almaty didn't speak more than very basic Kazakh, and 100% spoke Russian (at least better than me, I'm A2 at best).

I guess the number would be lower for rural areas, but even in Kegen (don't ask) I found my way speaking Russian without issue.

The only place in CA where I found people with whom I couldn't communicate in Russian at all was in Tajikistan, including Dushanbe(!).


Isn't this about bringing Kazakh closer to say, Turkish too? I wondered if part of the motivation wasn't to align themselves more with the Turks - both languages having a common language family/ancestor.


I think it is much better for Kazakh people in the long run. You would be surprised how fast young generation adapts. Initial pains you describe is not that trenendous. I applaud Kazakh peopke for their decision.


It might be a way to shed the yoke around their neck of Russian Imperialism. After all Putin did threaten them in a round about manner only a couple of years ago. I would like to see Ukraine also adopt this strategy. It is an effective method to distance oneself from Russia.


Well this is exactly why they are doing it: they want to separate themselves from the evils of Communism, to teach themselves not to be Commies/Russians as much as possible, by moving away from Commie-dominated sources of information. Wise decision.

If you feel yourself and pose yourself as Russian, you are immediately at odds with all the civilized world, associations are clear: Stalin, evil Commies, Putin, occupation of Ukraine, etc. If you are a Kazakhstani of Slavic origin, that's fine, who bothers? You are perceived neutrally. So this is good for you.


(Disclaimer: I'm kazakh and passively pro-switch)

I'm gonna ignore political aspects of the switch and focus on pseudo-scientific side. (my personal views and thinking)

Except for words and phrases adopted from arabic or sort of persian (also arabic, but 'persianised'), our language is agglutinative and mostly follows vowel harmony. (that might not tell you much, but basically means we don't need any special letters or stacks of letters to hint the spelling - we have kind of built-in elements of style when it comes to phonetics)

After a long period of using arabic alphabet and brief period of latin-based alphabet (yes, we had that until Stalin decided to change horses midstream - for everyone in ussr), we changed our alphabet to cyrillic. (and when I say 'we', I usually mean soviets did that for us)

While doing so, we just took all of 33 letters from russian alphabet and added our own 'custom' letters. This lead to drastic repercussions, because instead of conforming new words and terms to proper lexical and phonetical rules, we adopted everything literally unchanged from or through russian. (no need to remind you that there were no independent science, culture, or literature)

Fast-forward to our days. We have long and clumsy alphabet. We write and spell letters we don't need, sometimes basically speaking two languages at once (it feels like spanglish or franglais, except we don't always have an alternative - it either sounds awkward, doesn't exist, or is so archaic no one knows or cares for it).

My take is giving up and saying well we sucked dick for 100 years so might as well keep doing it is not the answer.

I personally have no idea if there's a way to pay off the technical debt and fix the upstream. Cyrillic is subjectively harder to read or spell because of all the crufty legacy, and the way I see it we don't have a linguistic institution making decisions and defending the language for the sake of the language and its beauty. (god I envy frenchmen and their zealous protection of la Langue).


I know Mongolian, and I can read and write Mongolian ancient script, Монгол Босоо Бичиг, and it uses a very similar vowel harmony structure. Mongolian has been seriously bungled by Cyrillic, reducing a natural set of vowels to something impossible to represent in Cyrillic.

I think the ancient Mongolian script possibly worked well because you could write something in a standard way, and the same script worked for any dialect that would read it.

Perhaps modeling your alphabet after the mechanics of a "vowel harmony structure" with a modern facade like Latin characters might work, dunno, I don't know Казак.


Out of curiosity, were there attempts/proposals for adopting the Orkhon script (or variant)? Wouldn't it be more natural/easier to use for a turkic language? Link to Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Turkic_alphabet

Edit: spelling


I don't think there were any attempts to adopt runic scripts, but proposals are plenty. Some people say gokturk would be most natural to use. (albeit, unlikely to happen - why would you switch to brainfuck when everyone uses javascript?)

In fact, it wouldn't be just adopting, but actually getting back to roots. It's lost history I doubt we'll ever get back. I have no clue what's written on the stele in that wiki article, but I remember seeing someone's 'transliteration' of the text and it's shockingly comprehensible.


Hearts and minds. The immense monetary cost and hassle of doing so is weighed up against developing a closer connection to Turkey and Azerbaijan, ostensibly [1]; but the cultural subtext of easing consumption and learning of other latin-script media and art from the wider world.

There's an element of sticking it to the Russians, an element of exploiting a generational divide unlike other leaders who stuck with their aging power base, and an element of a leader wanting to make a permanent mark on the state, but they mismash into an ambitious scheme that continues Kazakhstan's to be a relevant actor and independent participant in the world stage.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14124215#14124449


> The cultural subtext of easing consumption and learning of other latin-script media and art from the wider world.

That’s not really the motivation here. English learning has boomed in Kazakhstan for many years now even without a script reform, the younger generations have no problem with the Latin alphabet. Kazakh-language texts on social media are often liberally sprinkled with English phrases in the Latin alphabet regardless of Kazakh itself still being written in Cyrillic.


It is not convenient to switch between Cyrillic and Latin alphabets while typing.

Using the same alphabet for both languages adds extra convenience and ease to text communication.


The costs are not purely economic -- you will have people struggle to read in the new script and make old texts inaccessible to young people. Additionally, this isn't a case like Chinese where Romanization has the benefit of making it easier to acquire literacy. What is the benefit of this change? I find the claim in this article that using the same script to write their language is going to bring them closer to Western Europe and the US pretty implausible.


The benefit is to more easily draw international tourists and conduct business around the world. Most rich countries use the Latin alphabet, so it's a bid to move away from the Russosphere.


Does it really make a difference to you if all the (from your perspective, as a visitor) unintelligible gibberish is written in Latin script rather than some other script?


I speak English only. I find it much easier to translate either online or via English-to-X dictionary if the other language uses Latin script. Could it be done? I'm sure it is possible, but without previously interacting with them, not easily.

I'll say this, for work I travel to Montreal at moderately regular intervals. Because everything is in French, it makes it a bit harder, but I can either: a) infer based off similarities to English words b) look it up as it only has a few unique glyphs versus what I'm accustomed to.


Okay, how about this then:

If it is in Latin script, the tourists from countries with Latin-based languages can phonetically butcher whatever it is they're attempting to communicate with the other party.

If it is in Cyrillic script, the tourists from countries with Latin-based languages can just stare at a person blankly or point at words on paper/signage if the other party is close enough. Provided they traveled at all for fear of this scenario.

Honestly, I think it is reasonable to attempt to obtain at least a passing capability to communicate in a foreign area, but the question is why would someone used to a Latin language prefer a similarly derived language vs one with completely different glyphs.


Cyrillic is not hard to learn.


Neither is the basics of the Korean writing system (I memorized the writing and pronunciation system in about a day). However, if you want to look up what a word means, is it easier to type in the Latin alphabet or hunt and peck the Korean text? I expect that for most visitors to Korea, they are not going to spend the time to learn the Korean writing system, and rely on the faith that the basic English skills of the locals will get them through the trip.


I would argue that Cyrillic is still easier then Korean. Similar amount of characters, some have similar pronunciation. So you might recognize a word even if you don't know the whole alphabet. (CCCP is somewhat known as an example) Besides, if you know the Greek alphabet (I guess many people here do), Cyrillic is not that far away.


Technically Korean characters are composed of smaller elements that have pronunciations, so for learning purposes you can essentially act like it is an alphabet. The biggest challenge is distinguishing between consonants that sound the same to English-speaking ears... but the writing system can't help you with that.


> I expect that for most visitors to Korea, they are not going to spend the time to learn the Korean writing system, and rely on the faith that the basic English skills of the locals will get them through the trip.

Of course. But would converting Korean to a romanized system somehow change that?


Most people don't learn a new alphabet just to go on vacation though, so this change will remove a lot of friction.


You're just backing up the stereotype of an English speaker unfortunately.

Cyrilic is extremely easy to learn, you can do it in under an hour, and even in Russia most places that tourists interact will have latin and cyrilic versions of the same text (on the metro, etc).

Countries like China are tougher to travel in, but it's not exactly difficult.


> Countries like China are tougher, but it's not exactly difficult.

Uh, no, that's definitely wrong. Learning Chinese script is a very difficult and time-consuming task. Literacy in Japanese requires about 2,000 characters; literacy in Chinese requires about 5,000.


I mean difficuilt to get around as a tourist - of course I didn't mean learn the glyphs, I've backpacked across China and, yes, if you're looking for a particular street you have to compare it carefully, you're making out the shapes as a picture rather than reading it like a language, but it's not that hard.

I modified my comment to better reflect the intention.


I speak three languages. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


while I think it seems pretty reasonable to assume that their tourists are currently from countries with Cyrillic-based languages, they're making a concerted effort to draw more Western audiences. How that'll play out, not sure, but I don't think the premise is silly.


I expect that this change will make almost no difference, if not no difference at all, in that respect, while imposing significant costs in other ways.


I can't recall a time I chose not to go to a country because their alphabet was different...


This benefit, again, seems small (you may just be completely impossible to understand), and ignores the fact that Kazakhstan probably has more visitors from Russian-speaking places.


"infer based off similarities to English words"

English and French are both originated from Latin languages so are similarities.

Try to read Turkish web site: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/default.tr.mfa , will its Latin alphabet help you?

The site has English version so you can compare.


I agree with your point, but strictly speaking English is a Germanic language, not a Romance language. However, Norman rule over England brought substantial French influence to English.


the quoted is one scenario if the similarity to words applies (this doesn't always apply in Spanish or French either).

But to your example, I'd feel more comfortable fumbling around looking in a English to Turkish book looking for D followed by i without dot (I'm sure it has a better name than that, but furthering the point where vaguely similar glyphs help), followed by s with a protruding curl at bottom (see previous parentheses), etc.

take "Лекарь (doctor), not Пекарь (baker)" from a comment lower in the page, I can't say for certain that I would have known the first two characters in each of the two words were different with maybe it being an analog to capitalization, cursive, italics or some other modification of an individual character.


The second letter in both those words is the same. The first character differs, the next does not.


I probably stated it wrong, but meant the first two characters between them, that was my mistake. As in first position of each. Kind of repeated it initially.


No, but a Latin alphabet would help a Turkish tourist in Kazakhstan.


Maybe not. The Latin alphabet that Kazakhstan is moving to, is deliberately far from the Turkish alphabet. A Turkish tourist would need to spend some time especially learning Kazakh’s new alphabet (plus, different sound values and loads of faux amis await him).


No. it is much easier to read latin Kazakh than cyrillic for a Turkish speaker.


Sure. But a Turk or Azeri now can read Kazakh and can learn it easier.


> I speak English only.

That's the problem right there. Speaking only one language is super limiting.


If you are going to pick just one, English is a pretty good choice, because there are few places you can go where absolutely nobody speaks it.


As an English speaker, one problem with learning another language is that there isn't an obvious choice of which other language to learn. Whereas, if you are from a non-English speaking background, then English seems the most obvious choice of language to learn in today's world.

I think that is worse here in Australia than in some other parts of the English-speaking world. I mean, in Canada, the obvious choice is French; in parts of the US it is probably Spanish. There is no obvious choice in Australia.


Chinese, Japanese, or Malay?


That's still three choices, how does one choose which one?

Back in the 1980s, Japan was having a major economic boom, and it was thought that everyone should learn Japanese. Since then, the Japanese economy has been rather sluggish, and now people don't think that so much any more. China is booming, so now people think they should learn Chinese instead. (Although, I think learning Japanese is easier for native English-speakers than learning Chinese–no tones to worry about.)


> there are few places you can go where absolutely nobody speaks it.

I can only assume you have never been to francophone or lusaphone Africa or many Latin American countries. Yes, if you search you might be able to find an intelligentsia that can manage some English, but the majority of people you meet will expect to communicate in French, Spanish or Portuguese.


I'm not talking about having a discussion on the finer points of Melville here. I personally have some familiarity with Spanish and French and anyway haven't ever traveled to Africa.


> I'm not talking about having a discussion on the finer points of Melville here.

No, seriously, the level of English in those countries is sometimes so low that you won’t even be able to obtain the most rudimentary things. In francophone Africa, even French is sometimes limited only to the upper classes. (In Madagascar, for instance, French disappears as soon as you leave the capital city and people generally speak solely Malagasy from then on.)

Only a person who hasn’t actually traveled on every continent will believe that English (or even other languages) is widely enough spoken now to always get by. There is a reason that that "point to the picture" phrase book is still published and loads of travelers swear by it.


Alright, man, you got me. I've never traveled around rural Madagascar. I think you can appreciate the point, though, which is that no other language has the same kind of reach English does. Even Africa, as a whole, has many fluent speakers of English (including many native ones).


Actually it's more common than you think. I've lived in Russia, Germany and France, each with varying levels of proficiency in English. Many people know basic English but not much more. If you're not a tourist then it's more likely than not that someone you meet has a low level of English.


I've never been to Europe but I have spent time in Asia. It is certainly true that not everyone speaks English and some people may speak English only at a rudimentary level -- but how many languages give you the ability to expect even that? I'd bet that English is also very near the top, if not at the top, of the list of languages used to conduct conversations where neither speaker is native.


You'd think that, but it's not true. Or, people learn it at school which is quite different from being able to convey even basic conversation in it.

With a language if you don't use it you forget it.


There is a good chance whoever you find will have halting, stilted, or limited English. But that's a little different than the situation you'd encounter if you tried, for instance, speaking Japanese outside of Japan.


Maybe in the cities, but it can still take time and you're often in the street trying to find someone to act as a translator, disrupting their day.

It's a completely different proposition if you're somewhere rural.


I mean, sure, that's true.


You typically do not get to pick the language of the place you are born in.


It is a figure of speech. Surely you did not think I was confused on this point.


GGGP wrote that they spoke only one language, that implies that this is their mother tongue.

So as soon as you 'pick one language' you are talking about two languages, your birth tongue and another one. This was not the case with the comment I replied to so either you are off-topic or you really are confused. So I guess you are off-topic then rather than confused?


The GGGGP (who you’re talking to) asked the GGGGGP if a country having a Latin based alphabet would really be easier for a non-speaker than another alphabet (in this case Cyrillic). I stated I only speak English for context (I can get by with Spanish and a middling amount of French, but neither at a level where I’d say proficient) as to why, yes, I would personally find a Latin based alphabet easier to search for words than one where the glyphs are very different as being able to locate said words helps with the stresses of traveling in a foreign area.

If anything, I’d say the initial statement of the limited nature of speaking a single language was off-topic. True, yes, on topic, not so sure.


In a hypothetical situation where you were given the choice of any language on Earth as your native language before being born, [insert the rest of my comment here]. I hope this helps.


There are several thousand different languages in the world. Until you speak them all I can find a situation where not knowing the right language will limit you. (you will not live long enough to learn them all). English is currently the most useful language to know if you travel the world, any language you learn after English might or might not be useful. Depending on where you travel some other language might be more useful, but they are all regional. (though sometimes the region is vast and has very few people who know English)


Not to mention the proven cognitive benefits and reduction in things like Alzheimers when you learn a second language.


English has a very large vocabulary either derived from French or having the same roots as French words, which I do not believe is the case with Kazakh.


Yes. When attempting to pattern match signs it's easier to match similar letters than symbols that appaear totally abstract. It probably has something to do with short term memory being able to hold 5-9 things. Also many languages use enough similar words (i.e. cognates) that you can use context to guess at the meaning.


https://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ng%C3%B4_%C4%90%C3%ACnh_Di%E1%...

Can you make out anything in this article other than personal names?


I think that for languages that didn't get adapted into english, the 'similar word' effect is essentially missing - it really only works for romance languages and maybe the odd germanic word. However, if I had a dictionary or something, that article would be much easier to translate than, say, Japanese (or Mandarin, or really any language where writing involves a large number of symbols).

I'm not sure that that applies very well to cyrillic vs latin though. IIRC cyrillic is still under ~50 unique characters, so a dictionary would essentially need an index to tell you what the alphabetic ordering is, and then I think you'd be set (as well as you can be with just a dictionary, at least).


I studied Russian enough to know that you are wrong.

Technical words, recent inventions, sports and brand names tend to be straightforward transliterations. Plus more are borrowed. Take Russian words like диносавр, Макдоналдс, киоск, and гамбургер. You probably have no idea what they mean, but the direct transliterations are dinosavr, Makdonalds, kiosk, and gamburger are a little easier to guess?

Not every word by any means. For example refrigerator is холодильник (roughly xolodinьik though the initial sound is not in English). Which literally translates as "cold making thing". But enough to be helpful more often than you'd guess.


I don't know the exact details for Russian, but it's not so easy in Korean, even though about a quarter of the words are of English origin. First the transliteration sounds could be quite off, as it could be based on the spelling rather than pronunciation (e.g. quinine is ki-ni-neh). Second, for short words you're not really sure whether it's native Korean words or not. Third, the meaning could be different than what you expect (e.g. cunning means cheating, like on an exam, and glamour means a voluptuous body).

From this experience I would be weary of any words that sound similar to English in a foreign language.


To a point of pedantry, it's диноЗавр.

Also, холодильник would be transliterated something like kholodeelnik.

But you always have to be aware of "false friends". Russian магазин (magazin) does not mean what one might think it does.


Knowing French, though, and thinking that "magazin" will probably sound more like "magasin" than "magasine", the meaning wasn't entirely unexpected.


Yes. Russian did borrow quite a few words from French.

Just goes to show that even between English and French, same alphabet or not, just because a word looks familiar it does not mean that one can guess the meaning correctly.


That's my point here -- Latin script doesn't offer that many benefits over Cyrillic script, which makes it pretty questionable, in my mind, whether the upheaval is worth it.


In my experience, when I was in Vietnam I was able to read and understand menus and road signs fairly easy, despite not speaking a word of Vietnamese. I don't think that would've been the same if they used a non-latin alphabet.


Yeah but there is a massive difference between Chinese characters and Cyrillic, Cyrillic can be learned in 1 or 2 hours maximum, it's not the same complexity at all.


I'm Slavic native speaker, was in L'viv for a week, learnt Cyrylic in that time. No way you can learn it in 2 hours.

And even if you do - you will be reading it letter by letter, while even foreign latin-based script you can read almost as fast as your own language.


I'm French and did managed to learn to read in 2 hours. I know a bit more of Russian now but 2 hours was enough to learn to read. Of course I was still reading very slowly syllable by syllable but it was enough to read. With Mandarin, 2 hours isn't enough just to list all the meta-categories of all the signs :p.

That's what I meant by the big difference between the two. Switching from Chinese characters like Vietnam did isn't the same effect as switching from a Cyrillic alphabet which is much simpler.


It makes it:

1. far easier to look up a word you don't know in a dictionary

2. you can make a stab at pronouncing the word

3. you can type it in on your western laptop/phone you brought with you


Cyrillic is also a phonetic alphabet and you can pretty easily add a Cyrillic keyboard to your phone or laptop. These arguments seem like they belong in a discussion of Chinese script or something similar.


a cyrillic keyboard to my laptop that I'd have to memorize what latin key it replaces.

My laptop flips to French fairly regularly (machine was created with an image containing French and English keyboards) and it is frustrating as it is only easier in the sense that it is poking around for the 1 key to find e with grave or the like vs playing with keystrokes until I land on alt+0232 on numpad.

Phones with touchscreen keyboards though, yeah, I could see that being reasonably okay.


I tried using my phone to type words into Google Translate while in Armenia.

Typing Armenian was a non-starter. I'm not dyslexic, but felt it when faced with words that looked like "արարողակարգը" (random copy-paste from Wikipedia[1]).

The second language was often Russian, and typing in Cyrillic was a little better, especially once I found the alphabet is derived from Greek rather than Latin -- so р is r, and н is e, and п is p. But it was still 10 times slower than typing rough Vietnamese into my phone.

But anyway, this is clearly a political change, so any reasoning in favour or opposition is irrelevant.

[1] https://hy.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D5%80%D5%A1%D5%B5%D5%A5%D6%80... (Armenian Alphabet in Armenian).


н is n.


Thanks, I'm thinking of и.

https://design.canonical.com/2011/08/alphabet-development/ has a small diagram including Greek, Cyrillic and Latin.


The key is the Russian - Phonetic keyboard. It isn't the keyboard layout that is used in Russian. It maps the Cyrillic letters instead to the equivalent letters in the latin alphabet on the regular QWERTY keyboard. This lets you type what you want in Cyrillic very quickly. You only need to memorize the locations of the extra letters with no latin equivalent. (e.g. c = ц, which is reasonable, but ` = щ because there was no where else to put it)


Learning to read/write Cyrillic is still a substantial, intimidating step. I felt a lot more comfortable in Turkey and Romania than in Bulgaria, just because the Latin alphabet meant I could at least read printed signs aloud and people could tell me what sign to look for.


If learning to write in a new script is a substantial and intimidating step, doesn't it make more sense to put it on visitors than on your entire citizenry?


I'm reminded of when Sweden shut the country down for a day to switch driving on the left side of the road to the right.


Transition costs are only paid once, and if everyone is learning together that's probably a lot less intimidating.


I guess all people who think that way should visit Hungary and try to read the signs there.


Someone who speaks a language written in a latin script can approximately pronounce Hungarian words by sight, even if they mispronounce digraphs and ignore diacritics. Familiarity with the script alone will aid one-way verbal communication between a tourist and a Hungarian-speaker. A tourist who can sound out "Keleti" or "Nyugati" (instead of the hypothetical cyrillic "Kэлэти" and "Нюгати") will be guided to the respective railway station, and even a relatively intimidating word like "Határátkelő", when mispronounced Ha-tar-at-ke-lo" will be understood as a border crossing. This is the same reason the Moscow Metro includes latin-transcribed station names on the official map [1].

Going the other direction, Hungarians can learn many European languages easier than Russian, because the script is the same, which makes orthography and pronunciation easier to reason about, and vocabulary easier to acquire.

[1] https://www.artlebedev.com/metro/map3/


When glyphs are recognizable, it is still better. If not for informational messages, at least names of the locations can be somewhat recalled. Let's say I drive and I need to go to Székesfehérvár. I have only a slightest idea how to pronounce it, but I will recognize it. Much harder to do if you need to drive to กรุงเทพมหานคร


Surely the government could easily print romanized place names in addition to Cyrillic ones, if this is the primary concern.


Hungarian (and Finnish) are unique cases; you haven’t identified a pattern, but the Uralic exceptions. It’s a language family only 25 million people on Earth speak, it is the proverbial exception proving the rule.


I've moved to Finland four months ago. There are not so many (indo)-european patterns you notice right there, although they exist. Some words are tricky like "appelsin" - "orange" or "matka" - in my mother tongue "mother" ("travel"). Needless to say,I would be much more lost if alphabet were not latin. Or if Finland were not officially bilingual, so most useful information is available also in germanic Swedish.


Appelsiini is from the German dialectal Apfelsine, so it actually is an Indo-European loan.


emodendroket - in the case of Quebec, they've moved heavily towards French only (currently, French predominantly). I have zero issue with this and it would beat everything looking like my emails from corporate where they're blocks of FR/EN/ES or EN/FR/ES translated scripts. Works fine in emails, not sure how I'd feel looking at things out and about having a ton of translations though.


If you go around Asia, many signs are presented in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English, and it works pretty well for them. I think Quebec's political situation is somewhat unique.


If you really want the signs to be intelligible to foreign visitors you can likely more easily do what many other countries do and provide signage in English. This seems like a weak rationale to change how the language is written.


I'm sure that there are many titles in English for international tourists. I can't tell for entire country, but in Astana (capital) almost every title contains English translation (or transliteration) and I think that it's better approach. May be English tourists who visited Kazakhstan will correct me.


I went to Chimkent/Shymkent and Almaty (the old capital - Astana is a new, planned city) as a tourist. I didn't see much in the Latin alphabet.


I would not be surprised if that were true.


I think the bigger benefit is that it will make English easier to learn by the local populace.


I really don't think changing the script while keeping the language is all that difficult. At least as long it has a somewhat similar glyph count. In my teens I learned about runes and was able to write my native language in runes within half an hour and fluently within 3, including reading of course. Also as a Computer Science major I have a somewhat okayish knowledge of the Greek letters and when visiting Greece I could with a bit of effort figure out the street signs without problem. Sure people will be less fluent in the one they don't use as often but I doubt it's a make hindrance


I've spent time learning multiple Asian languages. You can learn Korean script in a couple days. Anything more than halting sounding-out takes much longer. If you read frequently, you learn to recognize the shapes of words, rather than sounding them out. All that goes out the window with a new script.


> What is the benefit of this change?

Protecting themselves from Russian insurgency, among other reasons. Kazakhstan had protected themselves before, shutting down Russian-inspired "People Republic".


It seems mostly motivated by nationalism... As a practical matter I can't see this preventing Russian "insurgency," especially when almost everyone in the country speaks Russian and a quarter of them do not speak Kazakh.


How would this help with any kind of Russian insurgency, espionage, etc. at all?

According to the article there is 20% of ethnic Russians and more fluent Russian speakers (94%) than Kazakh speakers (74%).

Russian is also a co-official language in Kazkhstan and I can't find anything about getting rid of that.

Latin (and Cyrillic) alphabet is also no cipher.

It's easy to learn one when you know the other, the shapes are similar, some letters are shared (some with same, some with different sounds), etc. The difference could be even said to be cosmetic at best, unlike Korean, Chinese or Arabic scripts that are completely different shapes and styles and hand moves when writing and so on.

If you learn Russian in a Polish school as a second foreign language (second to German or English, as I did) it goes at a snail's pace of two or three lesson per week but Cyrillic is like a month or two of that at best.

Any Russian who knows at all any of the big western languages (Spanish, French, German, English) or one of the right Slavic ones (the ones not using only Cyrillic in their writing) also already knows the Latin script.

Moldova and Azerbaijan using Latin script didn't help with Transnistria and Artsakh at all.

Georgian script[0] is also nothing like Cyrillic or Latin (I know them both but at Georgian I can only stare blankly) but that hasn't helped with Abkhazia or South Ossetia.

If a Russian spy, insurgent or whatever wants to blend in, operate or whatever somewhere, he probably can do it easier in Kazakhstan than in those disputed regions.

If anything, sidelining Russian artificially because "Latin = West = good = we want" is only giving Russia a really good excuse of caring about ethnic Russians (not that they needed any big one like that for Crimea where Cyrillic and Russian weren't sidelined at all).

It's also bad from a practicality standpoint, forcing everyone to pick up Latin script suddenly (while before now the two main languages used the same one) and paying for replacing all the plaques and official books and documents and such. It won't help tourists either, if you don't know Kazakh then you just don't. I can read Cyrillic and can read some Russian very slowly by my crappy basic skills from school years and using Polish as a crutch but I can't read Kazakh at all.

You can clutch your way between very many European languages (and the Cyrillic/Latin split in the Slavic group is the only major roadblock in a single group to doing this that I know of, as in - the script is the big problem, not the language itself) but looking at Kazakh is as good as looking at Turkish or Vietnamese or Malay or transcribed Chinese. You get maybe an occasional global-y word like hamburger, pizza, republic or computer at best.

[0] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_scripts


> How would this help with any kind of Russian insurgency, espionage, etc. at all? According to the article there is 20% of ethnic Russians and more fluent Russian speakers (94%) than Kazakh speakers (74%).

Look at the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Russia was succeeded to instigate an insurgency there mostly because people there were heavily influenced by Russian propaganda.

And I assume after those events Kazakhstan had additional incentive to go further away from Russia.


Crimea happened, in large part because Ukraine was moving away from Russia.

This is playing with fire.


Crimea happened because Russia thought they can do anything and without repercussions.

There's no protections from that kind of behaviour.


ASCII with the English charset is easier than charset juggling and Unicode?

Less subconscious negative feeling from Latin-alphabet-users? It's a linguistic version of website moving to "flat" UI design.


ASCII with the English charset doesn't cover any Latin script based language I know of (granted, a limited set) other than English.

For example it doesn't cover Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Czech, Vietnamese, Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Irish, Occitan, Croatian, etc...


ASCII isn't really enough for (British) English. In handwritten English the following characters are very common: £ ‘ ’ “ ” · –/—. (You see that interpunct? That's the correct way to do a decimal point. Very common in handwriting; very rare in typing; often replaced with a full stop even in good typography.) Then there are some frequently used foreign words: façade, outré, Noël. I'll mention these, though they're rather old-fashioned and I would guess nearly everyone would use the ASCII equivalent even in handwriting: naïve, encyclopædia, œuvre. I could also mention the grave accent used in some poetry: learnèd.

Dutch, like English, is almost ASCII, though there are things like "één".


It also doesn't cover Polish.

It does cover Malay though: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malay_alphabet


It almost covers German except for ä, ö, ü and ß all of which have a very easy transliteration ae, oe, ue and ss. Similarly it almost covers Italian, French (accents can be dropped), Spanish and a couple more


That you can do transliterations doesn't make it a good idea.

> French (accents can be dropped)

What? No! See for example https://french.stackexchange.com/a/24410


Surely it is incorrect to drop them, but the result is still intelligible. Same for the "hacek" and accent (carka) in Czech for example.

In Italian, however, accents are only on the last letter of a word so they are usually replaced with apostrophes if your keyboard lacks them (in fact even on an Italian keyboard È is usually typed as E'; most word processors autocorrect it).


Yes, but it is equally true that it is intelligible if you only have letters in one case and no punctuation. Nevertheless, most of us would not consider this acceptable.


English has non-homophobic homonyms too. We just carry on regardless.


There's no real justification for "C," sinse every instanse of it kan be replased with S or K. Nevertheless, I don't think you would konsent to use a kharakter set that didn't inklude it.


I guess you meant homophonic.

Anyway, for example "a" and "à" are homophones. As are "la" and "là".

A nice one is "chasse"/"châsse". Both are pronounced \ʃas\ but the first one means "hunt", the latter one means "reliquary".


You missed on the change of using a: for ä


The new Kazakh alphabet is not subset of ASCII, so no benefit there. The "ugly" apostrophe version would have been though, but that got scrapped.


I mean, this is a solved problem


Turkic languages are split between Cyrillic, Latin, and Arabic-based scripts. Kazakhs in Turkey, for example, already write in Latin script.

Is there an issue with Turkish scholarship of history since Ataturk pushed Latin-based alphabet?


Literacy rate skyrocketed after switching to Latin from Ottoman Turkish alphabet


I don't think it's the same situation. Arabic alphabet is a particularly bad alphabet to write Turkic languages in (although it's ok, as wel all know since people used it for almost a millenia) but Cyrilic alphabet is already pretty close to Latin. Also, literacy in Turkey skyrocketed in 1930s not only because of alphabet change. It might have been a minor factor, but there were other factors and the government highly emphasized Western education, to the point it was totalitarian in most regions.


I've read comments here bemoaning that Turkish people can't read their grandparents' books. But for academic historians the bigger problem is whether the new constitution makes accurate history illegal.


According to the article, Turkish literacy was low at the time that change was enacted. Of course historians will cope but I'm talking about everyday people here.


Sure, but existing Latin scripts have their own equivalents; your everyday person probably could not read Fraktur, for example, and you'd be hard pressed to find a person who can read the original Beowulf: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c1/Be.... Even scripts that haven't changed all that much, like Classical Chinese, are hard to read for modern readers without training because it is so archaic, even for those who use Traditional.

But that's why we have printing presses that make translations into contemporary scripts and vernaculars.


There's a difference between being unable to read ancient texts and being unable to read anything published before 2018. Most materials will never get the lavish treatment given to universally-recognized classics like Beowulf and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.


All literature and formal documents were written in Classical Chinese until the May Fourth movement in 1919. All ROC documents were written in Classical Chinese until the '70s. Turkish went Latin in the '30s. Hanja has been effectively dead for only a few decades. That doesn't mean that any of those cultures lost context for the time periods before their switch to modern writing systems.

Before things were ancient, they were contemporary. Not teaching older scripts to everybody =/= no one knows older scripts.


In these examples the benefits to switching were much more obvious -- and the change I'm talking about did take place. Most Koreans, even with university-level educations, are simply unable to read texts making heavy use of hanja with no pronunciation guide.


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