Mother tongue, mother's touch: Kazakhstan government and school construction of identity and language planning metaphors

R. Stuart DeLorme, University of Pennsylvania


To become an independent nation after the Soviet Union's collapse, the ruling Kazakh elite and Kazakh language medium school administrators struggle to restore ethnic nationality consciousness, consolidate the Kazakhs' political power at the government and school levels, and implement Kazakh as the official language, without antagonizing the large Russian minority and Russia itself and thus threatening civil and international peace. This ethnographic, language planning case study compares government documents and discourse data from a Kazakh-medium school which construct metaphors of language, state identity, and ethnic nationality identity. Findings at the macro level elucidate the micro level and vice versa. Findings include the salience of contradictory identity metaphors of the Kazakh ethnic nationality and the Kazakh-medium school as strong, kind mothers on the one hand, and as suffering step-children, mistreated respectively in their own homeland and local community on the other. Also prominent on both levels are orientations toward language as resource for instilling ethnic nationality consciousness and as right, often formulated in the sense of duty to protect the Kazakh mother tongue. State and school development of the “kind mother” metaphor, with its implications of cultural pluralism and political economic, and educational incorporation of Russians and other ethnic nationalities, holds promise for improving inter-ethnic nationality relations. Mutual acknowledgment by Kazakhs and Russians of an explicit resource language orientation which affirms each others' languages not only as resources for ethnic authentication but also for political consolidation and economic development would promote the officialization and nationalization of Kazakh for ethnic nationality cultural revival and the maintenance of Russian for operational efficiency of the State. Suggested language status planning efforts include differentiation between “symbolic” and “working” definitions of official language in reference to Kazakh and Russian and a strategy of transition from Russian to Kazakh as Kazakhstan's principal language of intranational communication while maintaining Russian for in-group, education/school, scientific literature, and work domains. Language acquisition planning can promote adminitstratively separate language medium schools which cooperate in teaching sciences and languages.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Linguistics|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

DeLorme, R. Stuart, "Mother tongue, mother's touch: Kazakhstan government and school construction of identity and language planning metaphors" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9926116.