қазақ тілінде по-русски Musa for Kazakh
Муса әліпбиі қазақ тілі ушін

Kazakh is a Turkic language spoken in Central Asia by about 15 million people, mostly in Kazakhstan. It has the unfortunate distinction of having been written in three different alphabets in the last century, and the government of Kazakhstan has recently announced that they are converting to a fourth alphabet over the next few years, at a huge cost in both monetary terms and in disruption to daily life and to the continuity of culture and education.

Arabic Uniform Turkic (1930s) Cyrillic

All of these alphabets have been adaptations of alphabets designed for other languages: Arabic, Tatar, and Russian. The Tatar alphabet, called Yañalif (Jaꞑalif), was extended to form a Uniform Turkic Alphabet, which served Kazakh well for about a decade until Stalin imposed a Cyrillic alphabet. Now that the Central Asian republics are all independent, it makes sense for Kazakhstan to move from the Russian sphere to a more international one. But for some reason, they did not choose the Common Turkic Alphabet recognized by the Turkic Council (CCTS).

The proposed Latin-based alphabet (of 2017) uses apostrophes to create nine digraphs for sounds missing from the English alphabet. These apostrophes are ugly, and the use of digraphs is unfortunate when there are already well-established letters for these sounds (ä ç ğ ı ñ ö ş ü ž), and even well-established digraphs for them (ae ch gh y ng oe sh ue zh). The proposed uses of j q y will cause confusion, while c w x aren't used at all, although the sounds that the last two represent in IPA are present in Kazakh. The use of more-or-less standard readings would enable readers of other languages to read Kazakh; the failure to do so mocks the entire premise of adopting an existing alphabet, since the letters don't stand for the same sounds!

Proposed Common Turkic (2000s) Musa

Update (2018): The Kazakhs have changed their minds once again. Now, instead of writing the apostrophe after the letter (n'), they're going to write it above the letter, as a diacritic (ń) … but not in the two cases where similar letters are well-established: ś and ć (as in Polish). In those two cases, they're going to use digraphs sh and ch, even though the letter c is otherwise not used! They're also going to use the dotless ı from Turkish, which is fine … so why not just use the Common Turkic Alphabet?

If the Kazakhs want to be able to use cellphones with English keyboards, they are not going to find acute accents or the dotless ı. If they want to avoid "dots and squiggles", why use accents? And if they want to make it easier to interact with the West, why spell w as ý? It's hard to believe this is the best solution they could come up with.

Update (2019): The Kazakhs have changed their minds once again. This latest version has no digraphs and no acute accents, but it does use diacritics and new letters. The result resembles the Turkish alphabet, but not closely enough to be useful, or to be able to use Turkish keyboards. And apparently, they're still working on it.
Update (2021): The Kazakhs have changed their minds once again. This final version is shown below in green.

Of course the fundamental problem with all of these alphabets is that they don't have enough letters, or the right letters. Invented new letters don't appear on keyboards or in fonts, while digraphs can be ambiguous and violate the rule of "one sound, one letter". In contrast, the Musa alphabet has letters for all the sounds of Kazakh. It also has letters for the sounds from foreign languages - Russian, English, Arabic, Persian - that Kazakh now uses in borrowed words, like х ч щ from Russian.

Musa has several other advantages. It's featural, so that similar sounds have similar letters. That makes them easier to learn, and it's often possible to guess the sound of a foreign letter you don't recognize. Because each letter is composed from the same 16 basic shapes, the Musa keyboard is universal and small: only 20 keys. And yet the variety of word shapes that result makes it easy to recognize words while reading: each word looks like a specific key.

Here are the Musa letters for all the sounds of Kazakh:

Consonants Labial Coronal Dorsal Radical
Nasal м m н n ң ŋ
Voiced Plosive б b д d г g
Unvoiced Plosive п p т t к k қ q
Voiced Fricative в v з z ж j ғ ğ
Unvoiced Fricative ф f с s ш ş һ h
Approximant р r л l й i у u
Russian Sounds ц (c) ч (ç) щ (şç) х h

Vowels Front Back
Spread Round Spread Round
Close і ı ү ü ы y ұ ū
Mid е e ө ö о o
Open ә ä а a
Russian Sounds и i  у u  я ia  ю iu 


The transcriber is a tool for converting Kazakh from Cyrillic to Musa:

Kazakh Transcriber


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