Language Identity in Kazkhstan

Eleonora Suleimenova and Dana Akanova, al Farabi Kazakh State National University

In many post-Soviet countries, language became the single most important instrument in defining the new independent states. Fundamentally, the problem over language policies in the Central Asian countries is not just about languages, it is an ethnic and social conflict in which the languages have become implicated in many ways. First of all, languages have become highly politicized since they were involved in defining the new states. Secondly, nationalism requires action to ensure new national languages their symbolic role in defining the new ethnic and national identities and rights. Thirdly,all of the above mentioned changes in the state and language policyare especially sensitive because they require reconsideration of Soviet and Russian identities (Laitin 1998). At the same time there is a growing pursuit for native/minority language rights and identities.

The paper presents the data and results of an extensive (>1000 respondents) survey on the language identity in Kazakhstan. The interplay between the belief in fixed ethnic categorization and the reality of identity in constant transformation – depending on the different social situations – can be measured, among other things, through language behavior patterns and attitudes (Ager 2001, Cooper 1989). The project explicitly investigates ethnic and national identifications through language behavioral intentions, actual language use, and language attitudes. The survey is a systematic and comparative study of individual and social circumstances and attitudes which affect the language identity change (or absence of such a change) at ethnic, national and individual levels among titular, Russian and other ethnic groups in Kazakhstan. The study seeks to describe perceptions of, attitudes to, and experience with the growing nationalization by measuring language use and attitudes towards languages and language policies among different ethnic groups.

Another goal of the study is the evaluation of the level of ethnic language distinctiveness of minority groups. The following will be discussed: (1) attitudes pertaining to "nationalization" (i.e., processes that place more prominence to the ethnic interests of the so-called "titular" ethnic groups) and to cultural diversity; (2) perception of and attitudes towards the changing ethnic composition of the new nations; (3) language choice behavior and attitudes towards ethnic in- and out- ethnic group identity and towards interethnic contacts; (4) self-assessed proficiency in state and native/minority languages, and social prestige and perceived returns from mastering national/state languages and other international languages (Russian, English).


Ager, D. (2001). Motivation in language planning and language policy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Cooper, R. (1989). Language planning and social change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laitin D. (1998). Identity in formation, the Russian-speaking populations in the near abroad. Ithaca: Cornel University Press.