20 October 2005

Language Policy

As I hope you've noticed, Central Asia is a rather diverse place. As a result, language policy is rather interesting.

Russian was and remains the language educated Kyrgyz use. In fact, few Kyrgyz can speak educated Kyrgyz anymore- it has simply not been used in a long time. Many speak Kyrgyz at home but use Russian for business and education. In Bishkek, Russian is likely to be used at home too.

The president is supposed to be able to pass an examination in Kyrgyz which probably has something to do with Bakiev's ending up as president. Some of the other main contenders probably couldn't have passed a test in Kyrgyz.

This all came up today while my husband was attending a meeting at the law school here in Bishkek. The rector was discussing the need to use more Kyrgyz, but he was speaking in Russian. A woman from the US Embassy apologized for not being able to use educated Kyrgyz well enough to say what she wanted to say. In fact, the person there who could speak the best Kyrgyz was a man from Turkey who has lived here for 15 years and has obviously spent a lot of time reading and studying Kyrgyz literature. The reactions of the Kyrgyz there was interesting.

Uzbekistan is making a much bigger effort to move to Uzbek, and Kazakhstan seems to be rather unconcerned about the switch. Overall, I like policies that preserve languages or try to reverse trends towards imported languages. But sometimes they are too much. Uzbekistan really is far too diverse to switch to using exclusively Uzbek. For now, Russian is a handy lingua franca.


  1. Thor and I have noticed how basic "American" has changed from the "newscaster English". I understand this is totally different than a people losing what was there language, rather than just preferring local slang or dialect, but something inside of me says we are also heading that way.
    I wonder if some day soon there will be laws (regarding language and decorum)in this country that qualify individuals for office?

  2. In response to s'mee - I think it already is a percursor to being elected. People expect that a political leader to speak their language. A good example is the recent LA mayoral race. 70% of LA resident are hispanic. The guy who could speak their language, go their attention.

    However, I don't believe that the language skills will be given "rule" status.

    Amira, is the Kyrgyzbeing taught at elementary levels at all? Private schools?

  3. I think it is a precursor, but I hope it would never be codified. How sad.

    Schools outside of Bishkek teach in Kyrgyz, and they also teach Russian and English and also French at times. Most of the universities in Bishkek teach in Russian so the grade schools need to prepare their students for that.

    I'm not really aware of what goes on in private schools outside of the international ones. I don't know that there are many local private schools here anyway.