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Publication: Language and Sovereignty: A Comparative Analysis of Language Policy in Tatarstan and Kazakhstan, 1991-2010

Kyle L. Marquardt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

UCLA Program on Central Asia Working Paper No. 4


Previously presented at the conference, “Language and Identity in Central Asia,” hosted by the UCLA Program on Central Asia, May 4-5, 2012.


A comparative analysis of the policies pursued by the post-Soviet governments of Kazakhstan and Tatarstan provides vital insight into the role of language in state-building. In the period following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the governments of these two territories enjoyed a great deal of sovereignty: Kazakhstan as a newly independent state, Tatarstan as a powerful autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. However, both governments faced linguistically-divided populations: non-titular populations in both Kazakhstan and Tatarstan generally preferred Russian to Kazakh or Tatar as a lingua franca, and politically-important segments of even the titular populations were largely Russophone. As a result, both territories pursued remarkably similar policies during the 1990s, focusing on symbolic measures and incrementally increasing titular language usage among targeted groups. Over the first decade of the new millennium, differences in sovereignty caused Kazakhstani and Tatarstani language policies to diverge: whereas a recentralizing Russian state was able to curtail important aspects of Tatarstani policy, Kazakhstan’s long-term strategy began coming to fruition. These different trajectories provide evidence for both the virtues and failings inherent in pursuing incremental language policies as an element of state-building: while the governments of both Kazakhstan and Tatarstan generally avoided ethnic conflict as a result of their policies, implementation has been a long-term process, subject to potential reversal at different stages.

Download file:Marquardt_PoCA_4-fj-lrh.pdf