Attitudinal Factors Influencing Language Choice among Qazaqstani College Students

William Rivers, University of Maryland

The citizens of the Republic of Qazaqstan rightly regard themselves as among the first to assault the monolith of the Soviet Government: in December of 1986, the Želtoqsan uprisings over the sacking of the Qazaq chair of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Qazaq SSR, Dinmuqamed Qunaev, and his replacement by an ethnic Russian, Gennadij Kolbin, were the first violent crack in the edifice of Soviet power in the late 1980s. That the enactment of the language law of 1989 was among the first major undertakings of Nursultan Nazarbaev signaled both a further policy shift from monolithic russification, and a symbolic gesture measure of self-determination for the ethnic Qazaqs of the Qazaq SSR (Williams, 1997, makes a clear case for the linkage between nationalism, self-identification, and language policy). In 1995, Qazaq was declared the government language, and accorded the role of the language of national integration. Russian was declared the language of political integration, and given official status (see Kopylenko, 1999, for an attempt to delineate these functions). The current Qazaqstan 2030 plan calls for all citizens to be (at least) trilingual by 2030—in Qazaq, Russian, and one foreign language.

The proposed paper will examine attitudinal and socio-psychological factors affecting language use and language choice among Qazaqstani college students, based on biographical, demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral data collected from 857 Qazaqstani college students at seven institutions of higher learning in Qazaqstan. The fieldwork was conducted during the Spring Semester of 1999. Preliminary results indicate that family background, in particular, the lack of an interethnic marriage in the parents’ generation, and the use of Qazaq by grandparental caretakers, predict greater use of and proficiency in Qazaq among the respondents. Other factors predicting future shift to Qazaq, as measured by the hypothetical question, “In what language would you raise your children?,” include male gender, urban birthplace, and Qazaq as maternal language. The first two predictors—that men and urbanites are more likely to respond that their children would be raised in Qazaq, may indicate a nationalist/chauvinist response, given the expectation (Kopylenko, 1999; Dorian, 1986) that rural populations are more likely to retain a minority tongue.