Officials in Kazakhstan are developing a grand plan to get virtually everyone in the Central Asian country speaking Kazakh by 2020. Data from a recent survey, however, suggests that Astana’s goal may be overly ambitious.
A census taken in 2009, the results of which were published November 12, shows that only two-thirds of Kazakhstan’s 16 million inhabitants have a decent command of Kazakh, which is the state language. Kazakhs comprise about 63 percent of the population. Russians form the biggest minority group, and the Russian language is a lingua franca officially used alongside Kazakh in state bodies.
The draft State Program for the Functioning and Development of Languages for 2011-2020 aims to get 95 percent of citizens speaking Kazakh, while preserving knowledge of Russian at the level of 90 percent. The government says much has already been done to promote Kazakh, including the expansion schools providing Kazakh-language education, along with support for Kazakh-language media. But there is a long way to go.
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer specializing in Central Asia.