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Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia: Linguistic aspects of the current regional war and implications for translators


Despite independent Kazakhstan’s close ties to Russia based on geographic proximity, economic interdependence, formal treaties of mutual cooperation, and a shared linguistic and historic heritage, the viability of these ties is being tested by events of the past year and in particular, by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Due to the widespread proficiency in the Russian language in all three countries, through internet access and social media, the people of Kazakhstan are able to access not only the Russian perspective of the war, but also that of the Ukrainian people. Internationally, Kazakhstan’s leaders are attempting to maintain a delicate balance vis-à-vis Russia, ensuring on the one hand that their alliance based on mutual interests and a common history is not endangered, yet needing on the other hand to appear credible and responsible in the eyes of European and Western powers in view of their long-term strategic plans for Kazakhstan’s development as a major player in Eurasian affairs. The analysis by Maerz (2019) posits that autocratic regimes such as those in Russia and Central Asia tend to use democratic terms in a way which only simulates pluralism by camouflaging their actual intent. All parties to international negotiations, including interpreters, need to be aware of these linguistic practices to properly understand and convey the actual message. The delicacy of this balancing act highlights the need for translators and interpreters employed at international negotiations and encounters to be aware of the historical precedents as well as the current ideologies and contemporary status of relations between the parties involved. Translations cannot be rendered solely according to linguistic equivalents, as identical terms can transmit divergent meanings when seen through the lens of a different heritage or ideology. The stakes at such international encounters are extraordinarily high: nothing less than stability, prosperity, and world peace. This argues for the importance of offering professional development opportunities for translators and interpreters to maintain their awareness of the nuanced issues in play. There is a need to acknowledge the crucial role and need of these professional communicators to constantly maintain their knowledge of the social and political context.


Kazakh language, language policy, Russian language in Kazakhstan, authoritarian system language, interpreter roles, impact of Russia-Ukraine war on language practices in Kazakhstan



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