Meeting of UNGEGN Working Group on Romanization Systems
Tallinn, 9–10 October, 2006

Kazakh Roman alphabet perspectives

The information below is based on an article „Казахский алфавит“ in the Russian edition of Wikipedia ( (for a link you could see and follow the Russian-language link in the left lower corner).

For the Kazakh language the following writing systems are used:
1) Cyrillic – in Kazakhstan and the Bayan-Ölgiy Aymag of Mongolia, also in other countries of the former Soviet Union;
2) Perso-Arabic – in Xinjiang Autonomous Area of China, also by the Kazakh diaspora in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan;
3) Roman – a) based on the Turkish alphabet by the Kazakh diaspora in Turkey; b) other surrogate alphabets by the diaspora in Germany, United States and elsewhere.

The Kazakh Cyrillic alphabet was compiled by S. Amanzholov in 1940 and includes 42 characters: 33 characters of the Russian alphabet and 9 characters for specific Kazakh sounds: ә, ғ, қ, ң, ө, ұ, ү, һ, і. Until 1957 ў was used instead of ұ.

The following characters are not used in genuine Kazakh words: в, ё (since 1957), ф, х, һ, ц, ч, щ, ъ, ь, э. The characters ё, ц, ч, щ, ъ, ь, э are used only in Russian or Russian-mediated words that are spelled exactly as in Russian. The character х is colloquially pronounced as қ. The character һ is used only in Perso-Arabic loanwords and is often pronounced as х. The character е in the absolute beginning of a word is pronounced as diphthongoid [ie], э is always pronounced [e]. The character о in the absolute beginning of a word might be pronounced [wo]. The characters і and ы denote reduced sounds (like Old Slavonic ь and ъ), и denotes pseudodiphthongoids ый, ій [ɨj, ij]. The character у in Kazakh denotes a glide [w] like the Byelorussian ў, and pseudodiphthongs ұу, үу, ыу, іу [uw, yw, ɨw, iw].

The following characters denote pairs of front (also called soft, or narrow) and back (hard, wide) vowels: е – а, ө – о, ү – ұ, і – ы. In Perso-Arabic words there is also an opposition ә – а.

The stress lies always on the last syllable.

Alphabet reform discussions

In the 1990’s there were repeated suggestions to improve the existing spelling, and these could be summarized into the following alternatives.

  1. Exclusion of characters that denote sounds that are not used in Kazakh (ё, һ, ц, ч, щ, ъ, ь, э), abolition of the principle of using Russian spelling for Russian loanwords, and a transition to a systematic morpho-phonematic principle of spelling (using ў for the [w] sound and spelling the diphthongs үў, ұў, ыў, іў instead of using only у; also ій, ый instead of just и)
  2. Transition to Roman script, using the phonematic principle described above. The alternatives for Roman alphabet included the original alphabet of the 1930’s, a modified one (along the line of Tatar), or a Turkish-based alphabet.
  3. Restoration of the Perso-Arabic-based alphabet by Baytursynov.
  4. Resurrection of an ancient Orkhon-Yenisey script.

The two main alternatives that remained were either the reformed Cyrillic spelling, or a Roman Turkish-based alphabet in the version of A. Khaydari. The discussions did not end even after President Nazarbayev had spoken in favour of the Roman alphabet. There were influential intellectuals who opposed the transition (according to the Wikipedia article “those that in case of re-publishing the works in Roman alphabet would fear being forgotten”).

Comparison of different alphabets

Cyrillic Missionary Cyrillic (end of 19th c.) Yañalif (1929-1940) Pinyin (in China, 1970’s) IPA value
Аa Аa Aa Аa /a/
Әә Аa Əə Əə /æ/
Бб Бб Bb /b/
Вв Уу Vv Vv /v/
Гг Гг Gg Gg /ɡ/
Ғғ Гг Ƣƣ Ƣƣ /ɣ/
Дд Дд Dd Dd /d/
Ее Ее Ее Êê /e/, /je/
Ёё Йо йо     /jo/, /jø/
Жж Жж Çç Jj /ʒ/
Зз Зз Zz Zz /z/
Ии Ии   Yy /ɯj/, /ɪj/
Йй Йй Jj Yy /j/
Кк Кк Kk Kk /k/
Ққ Кк Qq Ⱪⱪ /q/
Лл Лл Ll /l/
Мм Мм Mm Mm /m/
Нн Нн Nn Nn /n/
Ңң Ҥҥ Ŋŋ Ng ng /ŋ/
Оо Оо Оо Oo /o/, /wo/
Өө Ӧӧ Ɵɵ Ɵɵ /ø/
Пп Пп Pp Pp /p/
Рр Рр Rr Rr /r/
Сс Сс Ss Ss /s/
Тт Тт Тт Tt /t/
Уу Уу Vv Ww /w/, /ɤw/, /yw/, /ɯw/, /ɪw/
Ұұ Уу Uu Uu /ɤ/
Үү Ӱӱ Yy Üü /y/
Фф   Ff Ff /f/
Хх Хх Hh Hh /x/
Һһ Хх   Ⱨⱨ /h/
Цц Тс тс     /ts/
Чч Тш тш   Qq /tʃ/
Шш Шш Cc Xx /ʃ/
Щщ Шш шш     /ʃʃ/
Ыы Ыы Ƅƅ Ee /ɯ/
Іі Ии Ii Ii /ɪ/
Ээ Ее     /e/
Юю Йу йу     /jɤ/, /jy/
Яя Йа йа     /ja/, /jæ/

Various conversion systems for Kazakh

QazAqparat romanization

The Kazakh News Agency ( introduced in 2004 a system of romanization, to assist Kazakhs living abroad, to read the news. This system is based on the version of Roman (Turkish) alphabet proposed by A. Khaydari and it has become the de facto standard in Roman-script part of the Kazakh Internet, also being used in e-mails. The Institute of Linguistics of the Kazakh Academy of Sciences is of the opinion that this system has the best chances to become the standard Roman alphabet acceptable to all Kazakhs.

GOST transliteration

The currently valid inter-state standard GOST 7.79-2000 is the equivalent to ISO 9:1995 and has two sets of transliteration: A (diacritics) and B (letter combinations). There is a provision in the standard that for the adoption of the set B there has to be a separate national standard but this has not yet been adopted in Kazakhstan. There is also a simplified version of the set B which is not reversible.

Simplified pinyin

The Kazakhs in China use sometimes a simplified version of the old pinyin alphabet, especially on the Internet.


A system has been devised to denote specific Kazakh characters with the help of Russian character combinations. This system can be used when the Kazakh characters are not available.

Comparison of different conversion systems

Cyrillic Kaznovitsa Simplified pinyin GOST Roman (A) GOST Roman (B) GOST Roman (B simp.) QazAqparat Roman
Аa Аa Аa Аa Аa Аa Aa
Әә Аь аь А`a` A̋a̋ А`a` А`a` Ää
Бб Бб Bb Bb Bb Bb Bb
Вв Вв Vv Vv Vv Vv Vv
Гг Гг Gg Gg Gg Gg Gg
Ғғ Гъ гъ Qq Ġġ Gh gh Gh gh Ğğ
Дд Дд Dd Dd Dd Dd Dd
Ее Ее Ee Ee Ee Ee Ee
Ёё Ёё   Ë ë Yo yo Yo yo Yo yo
Жж Жж Jj Žž Zh zh Zh zh Jj
Зз Зз Zz Zz Zz Zz Zz
Ии Ии Yy Ii I` i` I` i` Ïï
Йй Йй Yy Jj Jj Jj Yy (Y`y`)
Кк Кк Kk Kk Kk Kk Kk
Ққ Къ къ K`k`, Kh kh Ķķ Qq Qq Qq
Лл Лл Ll Ll Ll Ll Ll
Мм Мм Mm Mm Mm Mm Mm
Нн Нн Nn Nn Nn Nn Nn
Ңң Нъ нъ Ng ng Ņņ Nh nh Ng ng Ññ
Оо Оо Oo Oo Oo Oo Oo
Өө Оь оь O`o` Ôô O`o` O`o` Öö
Пп Пп Pp Pp Pp Pp Pp
Рр Рр Rr Rr Rr Rr Rr
Сс Сс Ss Ss Ss Ss Ss
Тт Тт Tt Tt Tt Tt Tt
Уу Уу Ww Uu Ww Ww Ww
Ұұ Уъ уъ Uu U̇u̇ Uu Uu Uu
Үү Уь уь U`u` Ùù U`u` U`u` Üü
Фф Фф Ff Ff Ff Ff Ff
Хх Хх Hh Hh Xx Xx, Kh kh Xx
Һһ Xъ хъ H`h` Ḥḥ H`h` Hh Hh
Цц Цц   Cc Cz cz, Cc Cz cz, Cc Cc
Чч Чч   Čč Ch ch Ch ch Çç
Шш Шш Xx Šš Sh sh Sh sh Şş
Щщ Щщ   Ŝŝ Shh shh Shsh shsh Şş şş
Ъъ Ъъ   ʺ ``   (ʺ)
Ыы Ыы Ee Yy Y`y` Yy
Іi Ii Ii Ìì Ii Ii İi
Ьь Ьь   ʹ `   (ʹ)
Ээ Ээ   Èè E`e` Ee Ee (Éé)
Юю Юю   Ûû Yu yu Yu yu Yu yu
Яя Яя   Ââ Ya ya Ya ya Ya ya