Language and identification in contemporary Kazakhstan
Munday, Emma Rachel
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In the years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union Central Asia has experienced wide-reaching and ongoing social change. The structures and values of all social strata have been questioned and re-evaluated in a continuing exploration of what it means to be part of the post-Soviet space. Within this space, identity formation and reformation has been a pre-eminent process for individuals, for groups of all kinds and for the newly emerging states and their leaders. Through the analysis of individual interviews and selected newspaper extracts and government policy documents this study explores the ways in which ethnic and state identities are being negotiated in Kazakhstan. Using the social identity theory framework it investigates the value and content of these identities by examining the state ideologies of language and the policies which are their expression as well as the discourses of language and identity engaged in by individuals and in the media. There is an exploration of common and conflicting themes referred to as aspects of these identities, of outgroups deemed relevant for comparison and of the roles of Kazakh and Russian in particular, alongside other languages, in relation to these identities. The study focuses on the availability to an individual of multiple possible identities of differing levels of inclusiveness. The saliency of a particular identity is demonstrated to vary according both to context and to the beliefs and goals of the individual concerned. The importance of discourse to processes of identity formation and maintenance is also described and the interaction between discourse and social context is highlighted. The ongoing construction of a Kazakhstani identity is described and the importance of group norms of hospitality, inclusiveness and interethnic accord observed. The sense of learning from other cultures and of mutual enrichment is also demonstrated. However, these themes exist in tension with those of Kazakhstan as belonging primarily to Kazakhs and of cultural oppression and loss. The multi-dimensional nature of ethnic identity is highlighted as is the difficulty, experienced by some, in maintaining a positive sense of ethnic group identity. Perceptions of the importance of language in the construction of ethnic and state identity are explored as are the tensions created by the ideological and instrumental values adhering to different languages in use in Kazakhstan.