What language do the Kazakhs speak at home?

Tlegen Kuandykov


The impact of the Soviet era on language dynamics in Kazakhstan was profound, establishing Russian as the dominant language and relegating Kazakh to a secondary position, which led to a decline in language fluency and usage. However, since gaining independence in 1991, there has been an increasing demand to revitalize and promote the use of the Kazakh language through numerous policies and initiatives, acknowledging its critical role in shaping national identity.  Yet, Kazakhstan, in it's multicultural reality, also demonstrates a commitment to preserving linguistic diversity through the coexistence of Kazakh and Russian languages and the promotion of trilingualism by integrating English language in various aspects of daily life, education, and professional spheres. 

Inaugurating our CAB Data Blog, this publication aims to provide valuable insights into the usage of Kazakh and Russian languages in Kazakhstani households. Drawing on data from Wave 12, conducted in the fall of 2022, as well as trend data based on past waves of the project, this publication contributes to a comprehensive understanding of language dynamics within the country and encourages researchers to dive more into the subject

Who, where, and how often speaks Kazakh?

To assess the primary language used for communication at home, we employ an open-ended question: "Which language do you predominantly speak at home?" The question was introduced in the first wave of the CAB Survey project and has remained unchanged over the past five years, enabling us to track trends consistently. 

In the first year of observation, 52% of respondents indicated Russian as their most frequently used language at home, compared to 44% who favored Kazakh. However, this distribution has undergone changes over the years, achieving equilibrium (48% for each language) in the fall of 2018 and sustaining a trend of an increasing proportion of respondents primarily using Kazakh. By the autumn of 2022, only 38% of respondents reported Russian as their most frequently used language at home.

In terms of various age brackets, just one-third of individuals under 30 predominantly speak Russian at home, while the majority of 66% express a preference for Kazakh. As the age of the respondent increases, there is a corresponding rise in the likelihood of preferring Russian as the primary language for home communication: 54% of 60+ Kazakhstanis speak it most often.

Men exhibit a slightly lower likelihood of using Russian at home compared to women, with a percentage of 36% versus 44%. In both gender groups, Kazakh is the preferred language, being used by 55–60% in each group.

In rural areas, a significant majority of respondents, specifically 7 out of 10, predominantly use the Kazakh language for communication. Conversely, in urban areas, there is a more balanced distribution: half of the urban residents use Kazakh, while the other half prefer Russian.

Upon closer examination of regional patterns, it becomes evident that residents in the western and southern regions of the country predominantly use the Kazakh language at home. Notably, the highest proportion of respondents favoring the Kazakh language is found in Mangystau (89%), the Turkistan region (78%), and Atyrau (77%). The preference for Kazakh is slightly lower in the East. In contrast, the north and center of Kazakhstan tend to prefer Russian for home communication. The preference for Kazakh language is notably lower in the Kostanay region (12%), followed by the North Kazakhstan region (26%), the East Kazakhstan region (28%), and the Karaganda region (37%).

In the capital city, Astana (now known as Nur-Sultan), 64% of respondents communicate most often in Kazakh at home, while in Almaty, this percentage is 41%.

  • Please note that the interactive map of the Datarapper service uses the old name of the capital, "Nur-Sultan." The current and actual name is Astana.
  • It's important to consider that the share of respondents in the Ulytau region may not accurately reflect the real picture due to the small sample size, leading to a high margin of error. Therefore, it may not be a robust basis for statistical conclusions.