No TRUE Kazakh wants to be a “Shala Kazakh”

I learned from Aigerim about the term of “Shala Kazakh” which is true of her husband’s family who are from the north of Kazakhstan Shala means that you are “poor in your own Kazakh culture” because you don’t know the language or many of the Kazakh traditions.

Aigerim’s parents, on the other hand, are from the rural areas of Kazakhstan and hung on to their Kazakh language.  However, during the Soviet past they met with problems in not knowing Russian.  Aigerim’s parents wanted to reverse that trend so they made sure their children did well in Russian but now they have become Shala Kazakh. Aigerim woefully admits to being a Shala Kazakh but she will make sure her son is not. Most Kazakhs now believe it is shameful not to know your own country’s language.  I was told that you will find better speakers of Kazakh among those people from the south of Kazakhstan like Taras, Kryzlorda and Shymkent and also to the east close to China

It seems that during the Soviet purges in the 1930s and 1940 there were those Kazakhs who fled to China. Now some of the children and grandchildren have returned to Kazakhstan to become citizens.  Their Kazakh language is very good but they have problems filling out forms at banks and other official documents which are still in Russian.  Not knowing the Russian language but only Kazakh (and Chinese), they are at a disadvantage.  Their documents and passports say they are Kazakh yet they need their children to help them translate from Russian to Kazakh. 

Of course now, the employers throughout Kazakhstan are trying to attract Kazakh speakers who know the Kazakh language (also Russian AND English).  Dilyara claimed she watched a movie of Americans who were speaking the Kazakh language fluently.  She said she would show it to me because  I’m convinced it is probably excellent dubbing of voices going on. I know that in China, Chinese dubbing voices are famous for speaking in Chinese to go along with the lip movements of the actors in American Hollywood films. 


For those Russians who remain living and working in Kazakhstan, they are supposedly shamed into learning Kazakh.  Especially true when those foreigners, such as Japanese or Americans come to Kazakhstan and learn Kazakh in a short time.  The question is asked: “What about the Russians who have always lived in Kazakhstan?”  They have a wide assortment of many Kazakhs to help them practice speaking Kazakh.  Aigerim pointed out that when she wants to practice her English, she has a difficult time finding a native speaker of English except when I’m available for her to talk to.  I’m hoping to get her connected with a researcher from Sweden so she can further practice her English speaking skills next fall when she arrives to Almaty.


Fun day learning more from Dilyara and Aigerim about their Kazakh culture while I’m supposedly helping them improve their English skills.



3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Chester said,

    No, not lip synching.

    And the interesting thing is that these people are talking about how detrimental shame is in encouraging someone to learn a language. How they are always encouraged for trying, but Kazakhs are shamed when they are learning.

  2. 2

    Kazakhnomad said,

    No, you are right, no lip synching on the two clips from YouTube!!! Thanks for the link to see that indeed the westerners (some I know and they are not all American as Dilyara claimed) are actually being interviewed in Kazakh and doing a very laudable job. I admire people who have a gift with learning languages. I’ve tried 8 different languages and am a master of none. Thankfully I can get by with my rudimentary Russian here. My husband studied Russian in Kansas in the middle of the Cold War so there was a high motivation to learn that language and it has driven his career ever since.

    So the only reason one would even desire to learn the Kazakh language is if you were to live here in Kazakhstan on a permanent basis and that would be the Kazakhs who want to preserve their culture and traditions. The question remains, do those of Russian ethnicity but born in Kazakhstan want to learn this language or not? Some of my better students and my best friends who are my teaching colleagues are Russian and not of Kazakh ethnicity. Others are “Shala Kazakhs” because of being under the former Soviet system. It gets complicated. But no different when I lived in Ukraine for 7-8 years, the language issue rages there as well but in that case it is more difficult to differentiate a Ukrainian from a Russian by just looking at them. BTW, I loved listening to the Ukrainian spoken language and I enjoy hearing more and more frequently the Kazakh language being spoken here in Kazakshtan.

    Yes, I understand that Kazakhstan is from a shame-based society of which we westerners know so little about. No different from China and Philippines where I lived, where shame is a driving force to motivate. I’m not sure what our equivalent is in our western countries to being a “shame-based” society, maybe one of competition?

    I’ll have to have my university students watch these two clips and tell me what the westerners are saying in their interviews. I could pick out words I knew in Russian. Thanks for the heads up on this, Dilyara will be surprised that I found the “movie” that she was no doubt referring to.

  3. 3

    Kazaktin Balasi said,

    Soviets had a policy of so-called “proletarian internationlaism” which was merely in practice a hypocritical kind of Russian chauvinism, where non-russian languages were condemned to fade during the process of establishing “principally new socio-cultural formation: soviet people”. Kazakhstan after genocide of 1930s when almost one third of total population was eliminated by starvation, 90% of national elite was shot down as “public enemies, nationalists and Japanese spies” suffered more than any other nation in USSR.

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