08 July 2011

Language Policy

There have been a few news stories recently about language in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (there are always here, but I'm highlighting a few today).  Roza Otunbaeva was reported to have said that she supports more Kyrgyz language instruction in schools in Kyrgyzstan with more subjects being taught in Kyrgyz instead of Russian.  Another article was about Uzbeks in the south who support Kyrgyz being taught in schools instead of Uzbek.  A third article was from Kazakhstan where two schools in one city were changing their language of instruction from Russian to Kazakh in the fall.  Apparently hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.

I've written on this topic often.  In some ways I am uncomfortable with Russian being the most common language of instruction in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; it's almost universal in the universities, although not completely.  Russian is the native language of less than half the people in Kyrgyzstan (although it's not only the native language of Russians; there are many Central Asians who speak Russian more comfortably than Kyrgyz, for example).  Russian is also best described as a colonial language in Central Asia.  It also has great potential to replace Kazakh and Kyrgyz as spoken languages, although that isn't likely to happen any more, at least in all parts of each country.  It also carries Soviet baggage with it.  Some of that baggage is positive, but not all of it.

But there are some excellent reasons why Russian should be used.  There are far more books published in Russian than either Kazakh or Kyrgyz, and students who are confident in Russian have much greater access to world literature.  And even though Russian has its problems and isn't a neutral language here, it's probably more neutral than any other potential common language. 

And there is a need for a common language.  Kyrgyz (in KG, obviously) is in many ways a logical choice.  The majority of the people in Kyrgyzstan are Kyrgyz, and a significant minority speak closely-related Turkic languages.  But Russians and Dungans and Koreans especially don't speak Kyrgyz or anything like it and many would probably prefer using Russian rather than Kyrgyz as their common language.

I don't really think there are good answers to any of these questions.  I wish it were easier to educate people effectively in Russian, Kyrgyz, and whatever the student's native language is (Uzbek, Dungan, etc) if it isn't Russian.  That would be ideal, but it's not really possible.  Compromises have to be made somewhere.


  1. I really enjoy your Blog and have for some time. I appreciate the care & concern you show for teachers & parents. I am very impressed with your understanding of the importance of teaching tools and how you share them on your Blog. My partners & I have developed a fun, simple, & effective way to teach kids their Multiplication table. It is called Multi-Facts, and it is derived from the popular Sudoku puzzles. We have recently launched an iPad & iPhone app to compliment our website & of course our very popular Multi-Facts book. Multi-Facts was created by an award winning math teacher in California. Multi-Facts puzzles stimulate both sides of the brain by challenging each student to think vertically & horizontally. We understand that knowing your multiplication factors is the foundation of every math concentration from fractions to Calculus and that is why people are so excited about Multi-Facts. We feel that teachers & parents who follow your blog would benefit from hearing about Multi-Facts and we hope that you choose to blog about it.

  2. Amira, I appreciate your blog too...and the care and concern that you show for teachers and parents, blah, blah, blah.... ;) Seriously, thank you for blogging. I really dislike flying and your blog is probably the closest I will ever come to experiencing Central Asia.

  3. Thanks SPP. I was going to delete that first comment, but yours makes it worth leaving. :)

    And you're right, if you hate flying, you'll probably never get to Central Asia.

    Thanks for reading.