Politics of language revival: National identity and state building in Kazakhstan

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


John Nagle


Ethnicity, language revival, Kazakhstan, political science, language

Subject Categories

Other Political Science


This dissertation is study of the politics of language revival, identity reconfigurations and state-building processes in the post-Soviet phase, focusing on the case of Kazakhstan. Since its independence in 1991, the leadership of Kazakhstan has launched an intensive Kazakh language revival program, declaring Kazakh to be the sole state language, and denying a similar status to Russian--the widespread lingua franca. In the long term, this goal is challenged due to the fact that over 40 percent of the Kazakhs, which include the most qualified stratum, use Russian in intraethnic communication and half of the country's population is of Slavic origins with little proficiency in Kazakh.

The findings of this study, derived from extensive fieldwork and ethnographic research, question the common wisdom in the literature on Soviet nationalities that the vast cultural and religious gulf between the Turkic and Slavic groups has hindered an integration of the Central Asians into the Russian-speaking culture. This study highlights the mix of coercion and incentives employed by the Soviet socialist state in shaping national identities, and in institutionalizing an ethnicity-centered discourse of indigenous politics in its constituent republics. A widespread use of Russian and a "loss" of native language among the urban Kazakhs was a complex outcome of demographic factors, a dislocation of nomadic culture and the promise of mobility by learning Russian. In the current context of language revival, native language is not just a crucial identity marker, but also a cultural and economic resource. Despite the state's efforts to replace Russian with Kazakh, there is no simple switch toward Kazakh, but a move toward more balanced bilingualism with a quest to learn a global language.


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