Kazakh language

Қазақ тілі, qazaq tili, قازاق تىلى
Pronunciation [qɑˈzɑq tɘˈlɘ]
Native to Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Kyrgyzstan
Region Turkestan, Dzungaria, Anatolia, Khorasan, Fergana Valley
Native speakers
11 million (2007)[1]
Kazakh alphabets (Cyrillic, Latin, Perso-Arabic, Kazakh Braille)
Official status
Official language in



Regulated by Kazakh language agency
Language codes
ISO 639-1 kk
ISO 639-2 kaz
ISO 639-3 kaz
Glottolog kaza1248[3]
Linguasphere 44-AAB-cc

The Kazakh-speaking world:
  regions where Kazakh is the language of the majority
  regions where Kazakh is the language of a significant minority

Kazakh (natively Қазақ тілі, Қазақша, Qazaq tili, Qazaqşa, قازاق ٴتىلى, قازاقشا; pronounced [qɑˈzɑq tɘˈlɘ]) is a Turkic language belonging to the Kipchak (or Northwestern Turkic) branch, closely related to Nogai, Kyrgyz, and especially Karakalpak. Kazakh is the official language of the Republic of Kazakhstan and a significant minority language in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Prefecture of the People's Republic of China and in the Bayan-Ölgii Province of Mongolia. Kazakh is also spoken by many ethnic Kazakhs through the former Soviet Union (approximately 500,000 in the Russian Federation according to the 2002 Russian Census), Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and Germany.

Like other Turkic languages, Kazakh is an agglutinative language, and it employs vowel harmony.

Geographic distribution

The Kazakh language has its speakers (mainly Kazakhs) spread over a vast territory from the Tian Shan mountains to the western shore of Caspian Sea. Kazakh is the official state language of Kazakhstan, in which nearly 10 million speakers are reported to live (based on the CIA World Factbook's estimates for population and percentage of Kazakh speakers). In the People's Republic of China, more than one million ethnic Kazakhs and Kazakh speakers reside in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture within the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Writing system

Main article: Kazakh alphabets
Kazakh Arabic and Latin script in 1924

Today, Kazakh is written in Cyrillic in Kazakhstan and Mongolia, while more than one million Kazakh-speakers in China use an Arabic-derived alphabet similar to the one that is used to write Uyghur.

The oldest known written records of languages closely related to Kazakh were written in the Orkhon script. However, it is not believed that any of these varieties were direct predecessors of Kazakh. Modern Kazakh has historically been written using versions of the Latin, Cyrillic and Arabic scripts.

In October 2006, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, brought up the topic of using the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script for Kazakh in Kazakhstan.[4][5] A Kazakh government study released in September 2007 said that Kazakhstan could feasibly switch to a Latin script over a 10- to 12-year period, for a cost of $300 million.[6] The transition was halted temporarily on December 13, 2007, with President Nazarbayev declaring: “For 70 years the Kazakhstanis read and wrote in Cyrillic. More than 100 nationalities live in our state. Thus we need stability and peace. We should be in no hurry in the issue of alphabet transformation”.[7] However, on January 30, 2015, the Minister of Culture and Sports Arystanbek Mukhamediuly announced that a transition plan was underway, with specialists working on the orthography in order to accommodate the phonological aspects of the language.[8]

Cyrillic Script Arabic Script Latin Script English translation
Барлық адамдар тумасынан азат және қадір-қасиеті мен құқықтары тең болып дүниеге келеді. Адамдарға ақыл-парасат, ар-ождан берілген, сондықтан олар бір-бірімен туыстық, бауырмалдық қарым-қатынас жасаулары тиіс.بارلىق ادامدار تۋمىسىنان ازات جانە قادىر-قاسيەتى مەن كۇقىقتارى تەڭ بولىپ دۇنيەگە كەلەدى. ادامدارعا اقىل-پاراسات، ار-وجدان بەرىلگەن، سوندىقتان ولار ٴبىر-بىرىمەن تۋىستىق، باۋىرمالدىق قارىم-قاتىناس جاساۋلارى ٴتيىس.Barlıq adamdar twmasınan azat jäne qadir-qasïeti men quqıqtarı teñ bolıp dünïege keledi. Adamdarğa aqıl-parasat, ar-ojdan berilgen, sondıqtan olar bir-birimen twıstıq, bawırmaldıq qarım-qatınas jasawları tïis.All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Kazakh exhibits tongue-root vowel harmony, with some words of recent foreign origin (usually of Russian or Arabic origin) as exceptions. There is also a system of rounding harmony which resembles that of Kyrgyz, but which does not apply as strongly and is not reflected in the orthography.


The following chart depicts the consonant inventory of standard Kazakh;[9] many of the sounds, however, are allophones of other sounds or appear only in recent loan-words. The 18 consonant phonemes listed by Vajda are in bold—since these are phonemes, their listed place and manner of articulation are very general, and will vary from what is shown. The borrowed phonemes /f/, /v/, /ɕ/, /t͡ɕ/ and /x/, only occur in recent mostly Russian borrowings, and are shown in parentheses [ ] in the table below.

In the table, the elements left of a divide are voiceless, while those to the right are voiced.

Kazakh consonant phonemes
Labials Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m м n н ŋ ң
Plosive p п b б t т d д k к ɡ г q қ
Affricate (t͡ɕ) ч
Fricative [f] ф [v] в s с z з ʃ ш ʒ ж (ɕ) щ [x] х ʁ ғ h һ
Approximant l л j й w у
Trill r р


Kazakh has a system of nine phonemic vowels, three of which are diphthongs. The rounding contrast and /æ/ generally only occur as phonemes in the first syllable of a word, but do occur later allophonically; see the section on harmony below for more information.

According to Vajda, the front/back quality of vowels is actually one of neutral versus retracted tongue root.

Per convention, rounded vowels are presented to the right of their unrounded counterparts. Phonetic values are paired with the corresponding character in Kazakh's Cyrillic alphabet.

Kazakh vowel phonemes
Diphthongised /i̯ɘ/, е /œ~ø/, ө /u̯ʊ/, о
Close /ɘ~ɪ/, i /ʉ/, ү /ə/, ы /ʊ/, ұ
Open /æ/, ә /ɑ/, а

Morphology and Syntax

Kazakh is generally verb-final, though various permutations on SOV (subject–object–verb) word order can be used.[10] Inflectional and derivational morphology, both verbal and nominal, in Kazakh, exists almost exclusively in the form of agglutinative suffixes. Kazakh is a nominative-accusative, head-final, left-branching, dependent-marking language.

Declension of nouns
Case Morpheme Possible forms кеме "ship"ауа "air"шелек "bucket"сәбіз "carrot"бас "head"тұз "salt"
Nom кемеауашелексәбізбастұз
Acc -NI-ні, -ны, -ді, -ды, -ті, -ты, -нкеменіауанышелектісәбіздібастытұзды
Gen -NIŋ-нің, -ның, -дің, -дың, -тің, -тыңкеменіңауаныңшелектіңсәбіздіңбастыңтұздың
Dat -GA-ге, -ға, -ке, -қа, -не, -накемегеауағашелеккесәбізгебасқатұзға
Loc -DA-де, -да, -те, -такемедеауадашелектесәбіздебастатұзда
Abl -DAn-ден, -дан, -тен, -тан, -нен, -нанкемеденауаданшелектенсәбізденбастантұздан
Inst -Men-мен(ен) -бен(ен) -пен(ен)кемеменауаменшелекпенсәбізбенбаспентұзбен


Kazakh has eight personal pronouns:

Personal pronouns
Singular Plural
Kazakh (transliteration)EnglishKazakh (transliteration)English
Мен (Men)IБіз (Biz)We
Сен (Sen)You (singular informal)Сендер (Sender)You (plural informal)
Сіз (Siz)You (singular formal)Сіздер (Sizder)You (plural formal)
Ол (Ol)He/She/ItОлар (Olar)They

The declension of the pronouns is outlined in the following chart. Singular pronouns (with the exception of сіз, which used to be plural) exhibit irregularities, while plural pronouns don't. Irregular forms are highlighted in bold.

Declension of pronouns
Nom менсенсізолбізсендерсіздеролар
Acc менісенісіздіоныбіздісендердісіздердіоларды
Gen меніңсеніңсіздіңоныңбіздіңсендердіңсіздердіңолардың
Dat мағансағансізгеоғанбізгесендергесіздергеоларға
Loc мендесендесіздеондабіздесендердесіздердеоларда
Abl мененсененсізденонанбізденсендерденсіздерденолардан
Inst меніменсеніменсізбеноныменбізбенсендерменсіздерменолармен

In addition to the pronouns, there are several more sets of morphemes dealing with person.

Morphemes indicating person
pronounscopulaspossessive endingspast/conditional
1st sg мен-MIn-(I)m-(I)m
2nd sg сен-sIŋ-(I)ŋ-(I)ŋ
2nd formal sg сіз-sIz-(I)ŋIz-(I)ŋIz
3rd sg ол-(s)I(n)
1st pl біз-MIz-(I)mIz-(I)K
2nd pl сендер-sIŋdAr-(I)ŋ-(I)ŋ
2nd formal pl сіздер-sIzdAr-(I)ŋIz-(I)nIz
3rd pl олар-(s)I(n)

Tense, aspect and mood

Kazakh may express different combinations of tense, aspect and mood through the use of various verbal morphology or through a system of auxiliary verbs, many of which might better be considered light verbs. The present tense is a prime example of this; progressive tense in Kazakh is formed with one of four possible auxiliaries. These auxiliaries "отыр" (sit), "тұр" (stand), "жүр" (go) and "жат" (lie), encode various shades of meaning of how the action is carried out and also interact with the lexical semantics of the root verb: telic and non-telic actions, semelfactives, durative and non-durative, punctual, etc. There are selectional restrictions on auxiliaries: motion verbs, such as бару (go) and келу (come) may not combine with "отыр". Any verb, however, can combine with "жат" (lie) to get a progressive tense meaning.

Progressive Aspect in the Kazakh Present Tense
KazakhAspectEnglish translation
Жеймінnon-progressive"I eat."
Жеп жатырмынprogressive"I am eating [right now]."
Жеп отырмынprogressive/durative"I am [sitting and] eating." / "I have been eating."
Жеп тұрмынprogressive/punctual"I am [in the middle of] eating [this very minute]."
Жеп жүрмінhabitual"I eat [lunch, everyday]"

While it is possible to think that different categories of aspect govern the choice of auxiliary, it is not so straightforward in Kazakh. Auxiliaries are internally sensitive to the lexical semantics of predicates, for example, verbs describing motion:

Selectional Restrictions on Kazakh Auxiliaries

Kazakh Gloss Auxiliary Used English translation
Суда балық жүзеді

Suw-da balyq žüz-e-di

water-LOC fish swim-PRES-3 Ø

(present/future tense used)

"Fish swim in water"

(general statement)

Суда балық жүзіп жатыр

suw-da balyq žüz-ip žatyr

water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 жат- to lie, general marker for

progressive aspect.

"The/A fish is swimming in the water"
Суда балық жүзіп жүр

suw-da balyq žüz-ip žür

water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 жүр – "go", dynamic/habitual/iterative "The fish is swimming [as it always does] in the water"
Суда балық жүзіп тұр

suw-da balyq žüz-ip tur

water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 тұр – "stand", progressive marker to show

the swimming is punctual

"The fish is swimming in the water"
* Суда балық жүзіп отыр water-LOC fish swim-CNVB AUX.3 отыр – "sit", ungrammatical in

this sentence, отыр can only be used

for verbs that are stative in nature

*The fish has been swimming

Not a possible sentence of Kazakh

In addition to the complexities of the progressive tense, there are many auxiliary-converb pairs that encode a range of aspectual, modal, volitional, evidential and action- modificational meanings. For example, the pattern -ып көру, with the auxiliary verb көру (see), indicates that the subject of the verb attempted or tried to do something (compare the Japanese てみる temiru construction).

Annotated text with gloss

State Anthem of the Republic of Kazakhstan

Менің Қазақстаным Meniñ Qazaqstan-ım My Kazakhstan
Алтын күн аспаны altın kün aspan-ı The golden sun in the sky
[ɑltən kʉn ɑspɑˈnə] gold sun sky-3.POSS
Алтын дән даласы altın dän dala-sı The golden corn of the steppe
[altən dæn dɑlɑˈsə] gold corn steppe-3.POSS
Ерліктің дастаны erlik-tiñ dastan-ı The legend of courage
[jerlɘkˈtɘŋ dɑstɑˈnə] courage legend-GEN epic-3.POSS-NOM
Еліме қарашы! el-im-e qara-şı Just look at my country!
[jɘlɘˈmʲe qɑrɑˈʃə] country-1SG.ACC look-IMP
Ежелден ер деген ejel-den er de-gen Called heroes since time in memorium
[jɘʑʲɘlˈdʲen jɘr dʲɪˈɡʲen] antiquity-ABL hero say-PTCP.PST
Даңқымыз шықты ғой dañq-ımız şıq-tı ğoj Our glory, emerged!
[dɑɴqəˈməz ʃəqˈtə ʁoj] glory-1PL.POSS.NOM emerge-PST.3 EMPH
Намысын бермеген namys-ı-n ber-me-gen Without losing their honor
[nɑməˈsən bʲermʲeˈɡʲen] honor-3.POSS-ACC give-NEG-PTCP.PST
Қазағым мықты ғой Qazağ-ım mıqtı ğoj Mighty are my Kazakh people!
[qɑzɑˈʁəm məqˈtə ʁoj] Kazakh-1SG.POSS strong EMPH
Менің елім, менің елім meniñ el-im, meniñ el-im My country, my country
[mʲɘˈnɘŋ jɘˈlɪm, mʲɘˈnɘŋ jɘˈlɪm] 1SG.GEN my country (2x)-1SG.NOM
Гүлің болып, егілемін gül-iñ bol-ıp, e.g.-il-e-min As your flower, I am rooted in you
[ɡʉˈlɘŋ boˈləp, jɘɡɘlʲɘˈmɪn] flower-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, root-PASS-PRES-1SG
Жырың болып төгілемін, елім jır-ıñ bol-ıp, tög-il-e-min, el-im As your song, I will be sung abound
[ʒəˈrəŋ boˈləp tœɡɪlˈʲɘmɪn, jɘˈlɪm] song-2SG.NOM be-CNVB, sing-PASS-PRES-1SG, country-1SG.POSS.NOM
Туған жерім менің – Қазақстаным tuw-ğan jer-im meniñ – Qazaqstan-ım My native land – My Kazakhstan
[tuwˈʁan ʒeˈrɪm mʲɘnɘŋ qɑzɑqˈstɑnəm] birth-PTCP-PST place-1SG.POSS.NOM 1SG.GEN – Kazakhstan-1SG.POSS.NOM

See also


  1. Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. http://zakon.scli.ru/ru/legal_texts/legislation_RF/printable.php?do4=document&id4=d2599158-01ed-47a8-8227-3057d6dbed48
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kazakh". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Kazakhstan switching to Latin alphabet
  5. Kazakh President Revives Idea of Switching to Latin Script
  6. Kazakhstan: Moving Forward With Plan to Replace Cyrillic With Latin Alphabet
  7. Kazakhstan should be in no hurry in Kazakh alphabet transformation to Latin: Nazarbayev, Kazinform, December 13, 2007
  8. "Kazakh language to be converted to Latin alphabet – MCS RK". Kazinform. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  9. Some variations occur in the different regions where Kazakh is spoken, including outside Kazakhstan; e.g. ж / ج (where a Perso-Arabic script similar to the current Uyghur alphabet is used) is read [ʒ] in standard Kazakh, but [d͡ʒ] in some places.
  10. Beltranslations.com

Further reading

External links

Kazakh edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Kazakh.
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