Ethnic-linguistic identification of repatriates in modern Kazakhstan
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010
Author: Bokayev Baurzhan, Eurasian National University in honor of L. Gumilyov, Kazakhstan
While studying issues of ethnic-linguistic identification of a
personality we will make an attempt to trace the origin and development of the
concept of identification, to draw a demarcation line between the concepts
‘identity’ and ‘identification’, to define factors which influence the
ethnic-linguistic identification of repatriates, to define the role of the
language and linguistic processes in ethnic identity.
Identity is a broad concept which includes all properties of
combinations of personalities and which is conditioned by a great number of biological,
psychological, social and cultural factors. According to the data provided by
an identity researcher G.I. Marcia there have been conducted more than 300
scientific studies in the field of psychological science in the past 25 years.
There has also been formed a scientific direction or school called psychology
of identity (7, 1). In the second half of XX century this term entered the
scientific circulation and became an object of inter-disciplinary research.
There are lots of works dedicated to identity by psychologists, philosophers,
sociologists, historians, political scientists and specialists of many other
In the present work we have made a strong accent on the concept of
identity and in its basis there are two things: language and ethnos.
Now let us trace the formation of the concept of identity in the
light of fundamental works in the field of psychology, philosophy and sociology
dedicated to this subject matter.
It is common knowledge that the scientist, who introduced the
concept of identity to the world, is E. Erickson. In his work “Identity:
Adolescence and Crisis” which is devoted to the problems of pre-adult age
related to the social development of a personality, the author tracks down
individual life cycles, the succession of generations and structure of the
society. The fundamental notion elaborated by Erickson is the notion of
identity. It means a firmly mastered and personally adopted image of oneself in
all possible relationships of a personality with the surrounding world. Identity
is above all an indicator of a mature (adult) personality whose background is
concealed at the previous stages of ontogenesis. It is such a figuration which
integrates constitutional predisposition, peculiarities of libido, preferable potentials,
active protective mechanisms, successful sublimations and roles being realized.
According to Erickson’s theory, a person through his life
experiences a number of psychosocial crises. The scientist singles out eight
stages of development of identity, and at each stage a person chooses between
two alternative phases of decisions and solutions in age-related and
situational challenges of his own development. The pattern of choice has an impact
of his whole further life in terms of its successfulness and unsuccessfulness.
At the first stage an infant has to decide a fundamental, first
important issue of his whole further life – if he trusts the world around him
or he doesn’t. The progressing autonomy of an infant (and first of all the
ability to make progress by creeping, later by walking; development of speech,
etc.) enables him to move onto the decision and solution of the second important
life task – achievement of independence (alternative / negative variant – uncertainty
in himself or lack of self-confidence).
At the third stage (at the age from 4 to 6) there is a choice to be
made between initiative and feeling of guilt. In this age range the space of
life activity becomes wider and a child starts setting his own goals, finds
activities, and demonstrates his ingenuity and resourcefulness in speech and
The forth stage (at the age from 6 to 11) is associated with
proficiency in various skills (including efficiency of reading) as well as with
the system of cultural symbols. Here he forms a feeling of competence and a
negative process results in the inferiority feeling. While mastering rudiments
of knowledge children start identifying themselves with representatives of
specific professions. A very important thing for them now is public approval of
what they are doing and their activity in general.
The fifth stage (at the age from 11 to 20) is a key stage for
obtaining a feeling of identity. At this period of time a teenager hesitates
between the positive side of identification (“I”) and the negative side of confusion
of roles. A teenager faces a new challenge to combine everything he/she knows
of himself/herself in the capacity of a son or a daughter, a schoolchild, a
sportsman, a friend, etc. He/she has to combine all this into a single entity,
to understand it, to connect it with the past and project it for the future. If
the crisis of juvenile age is running successfully, a feeling of identity is
formed with a young man or a young woman. But if this process is not favorable
they obtain a mixed or confused identity coupled with tormenting doubts
concerning oneself, one’s place in a group or team, in society and uncertainty
of life prospects. Here Erickson introduces or coins quite an original term –
“psychological moratorium”, which means a crisis period between adolescence and
adulthood. During this moratorium there are multidimensional complicated
processes of adult identity and a new attitude towards the world. This crisis
gives rise to the state “diffusion of identity” which forms the basis of
specific pathology of adolescence or juvenile age.
The sixth stage (at the age from 21 to 25) is signified by Erickson
as a transition to facing quite adult challenges which have been formed by
psychosocial identity. Young people enter into friendly relationships, or enter
into a marriage and have children. They solve a global issue of a very
fundamental character when they choose between establishing these friendly or
family relationships with a view to bringing up a new generation – and isolationism
which is typical of people with a confused identity and other even earlier
mistakes which may happen in the course of their development.
The seventh stage (in the age range between 25 and 50/60) which
takes up the lion’s share of human life is concerned with contradiction between
the ability of a man to be developing which he acquires during previous stages
and personal stagnation which is a slow regress of a personality in the process
of everyday life. The reward for obtaining an ability to self-develop is the
formation of human individuality and uniqueness.
The eighth stage (after the age of 60) terminates life course and
here reaping the fruits of his spent life a person either finds peace and
balance which is the result of integrity of his personality or finds himself
doomed to hopeless and irreparable despair as the result of confused life.
So in the course of adolescence every person in one way or another experiences
a crisis concerned with the necessity of self-determination in the form of a
whole range of social and personal choices and identifications. If a young man
cannot solve these issues in time then there is an inadequate identity formed
within him. Diffusion or vague identity is a state when an individual has not
yet made a responsible choice, for example, in his job or world outlook which
makes his “I” image quite blurred, indistinct and uncertain. An unsettled or
unpaid identity is a state when a young man has adopted some specific identity
having escaped from complicated and tormenting process of self-analysis. He is
already included in the system of adult relationships but this choice is made
not consciously but under an influence or according to already existing
As Erickson says it was W. James who laid the foundations in
understanding identity. Although he has not yet used this term and called it a
character or a manner, but this rather subjective, inspirited writhing
sensation of identical equation and integrity is experiencing of identity
rather than a character or manner in the common meaning of this word. W. James
wrote: “The character of a person is seen in his mental and moral state when he
is experiencing a deep and intensive feeling of his own activity, energy and
vital force. In such moments his inner voice tells him the following: “This is
my real self!” Such experience always presupposes “an element of active
tension, some steadfastness and belief in the fact that external circumstances
will help him but without being fully confident about that. In case he is fully
confident this state changes into something inert, sluggish and blunt. Take
away my confidence and I will experience (provided I am in this energetic
state) some rapturous enthusiastic bliss, bitter resolution to do everything I
need and to overcome it… and even though it is just a mood or emotion which
couldn’t be expressed in words or speech, it is the deepest foundation for my
practical and theoretical aspirations (1, 26).
There are also other definitions of identity found in works of Z.
Freud. It is true to say that this scientist in his various works gave a varied
understanding of this notion. First of all in his “Interpretation of Dreams” he
uses the term ‘identity’ for the first time in the following context: “A patient
has a heightened sensation level; as a result of an early experience and on the
basis of his subconscious expectations he from the outset pays a special
attention to everything that favors reiteration and creates perceptive
identity”. In the second case Freud in his later works uses the notion of
identity in some ethnic meaning. “Conscience of inner identity” according to
what Freud is saying includes a feeling of bitter pride which is preserved by
persecuted, dissipated, absent-minded and often hated people. And the third
understanding of identity by Freud can be found in his “Project of Scientific
Psychology” which was published posthumously in 1950. “Thus the purpose and
completion of all mental processes is an achievement of the state of identity”.
“Let us suppose that an object in our perception reminds of a subject – we mean
a person. If it is so, the theoretical interest [it attracts or provokes] can
also be explained by the fact that an object like this was at the same time the
first satisfying object [for the subject] and further his first hostile object
as well as his only source of help and assistance. Therefore a person gets to
know first of all namely human fellowman. In this case perceptive complexes
which originate from this human fellowman will be partially new and unmatched,
for example, his features in visual sphere; but the subject’s other visual
perceptions, for example, movement of hands, will coincide with recollections
of a quite similar visual impressions related to himself and his own body
[recollections], which is associated with recollections of movement he had been
doing himself. Other moments of the object’s perception (for example, a shriek
or a shrill) will arouse his recollections of his own suffering from pain (1,
Among well-known and outstanding philosophers, culture experts and sociologists
paid tribute to the same scientific problem the following people should be
mentioned: K. Popper, J. Habermas, V. Hesley, A. Giddens, M.Serto.
K. Popper while studying identity (selfness) says that “selfness has
a biological sense. It serves the purpose of adaptation: in overcoming
difficulties, finding adequate decisions, in choosing irregular ways of
actions, in realizing control over the system of actions. A person doesn’t come
to this world with selfness; he acquires selfness while developing an inborn
disposition to language acquisition. Only language enables a person to see
himself in his imaginations as an object, evaluate himself and react to
reflexes. Both in phylogenesis and in ontogenesis selfness develops in parallel
with language acquisition and an ability to operate with ideal objects…” (8,
According to the theory of the German philosopher J. Habermas a
determinative technique in establishing a balance between social identity and
personal identity is language (4, 32).
V. Hesley calls the determinative component in identity the
preservation of an object in time (5, 114). This opinion is shared by E.
Husserl. “Observations over ‘one’s own I’ cannot be included in observations
over other subjects. We cannot say that mental condition is positioned in
space. Time is a substantial characteristic. Temporal and non-spatial nature of
conscience breeds specific principles. While real identity of a physical object
presupposes a continuous existence of his inner structure, identity of a mental
act is based on other conditions… A mental act doesn’t take place in space, it
can extend its existence only in another mental act” (3, 18).
Problems of ethnicity as a whole and of ethnic identity have been
studied by a great number of researchers. At the same time it should be
mentioned that all these works are characterized by a variety of theoretical
concepts, methodological approaches and logical schemes.
In social and philosophic sciences there are three fundamental
theoretical approaches to studying ethnicity and ethnic identity:
primordialism, constructivism and instrumentalism.
Representatives of primordialism examine and scrutinize ethnicity as
an objective fact, in some way an initial (primordial) characteristics of
mankind (for example, P. van de Berge, K. Girts, E. Shills, A. Smith, and
others). The essence of the theory is in the fact that ‘ethnicity’ is a
fundamental category of a person as of a social and even biological creature.
From the point of view of primordialism ethnicity is first of all a cultural
community shared by its members and having objective characteristic features:
territory, language, economy, race type, religion, worldview and even mental
An instrumental school appeared in the 70s of the last century. Its
fundamental thesis is the determining role of social interests in the formation
of ethnicity (D. Khorovits, A. Koan, R. Brubaker and others). Instrumentalists
were above all looking for reasons which give rise to ethnicity and make it an
important social factor. From their point of view ethnicity is a new social
construction and doesn’t have any cultural roots. Those cultural features which
it uses as ethnic symbols don’t have any organic origins, they are somehow
snatched out or withdrawn from culture and are nothing more than just signs of
During the same years one more school was being formed –
constructivism. The basic distinctive features of this approach – ethnos and
other substances associated with them – are regarded as ideal models, constructions
which are created by political elite in order to achieve some purposes (F. Bart,
E. Gellner, B. Anderson, A. Hobsbaum and others).
In this work we define language as a fundamental component of ethnic
As scientists assert, in the process of identification of
ethnic-cultural norms the greatest importance is given to language which being
one of the factors of general ethnic identity is reflected in it as cultural
ideas of an ethnic language (2, 300).
Sharing the opinion of the Finn scientist S. Iskanius we understand
linguistic identity as a process of comparing a mother language with a language
of an ethnic majority and with speakers of a native nationality (6, 32).
Making use of a rather rich theoretical basis of the research we are
trying to analyze the process of the formation of ethnic-linguistic identity of
repatriates that live or belong to Kazakhstan.
It is common knowledge that since 1993 the Republic of Kazakhstan has been taking great pains and doing a lot of work in order to return ethnic
Kazakhs to their historical motherland. As of today the number of repatriates
makes up around a million of people and is an essential “influential force” in
a multinational country with sixteen million people. That is why we think that
there is a long-felt need to hold research into the ethnic-linguistic
identification of repatriates of Kazakhstan. Here we have a purpose – to reveal
problems, propositions and recommendations for eliminating drawbacks or
introducing changes into the policy of the state.
We have conducted a social-linguistic experiment among oralmans
which was made up of the following phases:
1. Holding or conducting a social-linguistic survey (questionnaire
2. Writing “ethnic autobiographies” by repatriates devoted to the
theme “Who am I?”
The age of repatriates was from 17 to 25 (According to E. Erickson’s
theory, these are fifth and sixth stages of development – “identity crisis” and
“a formed psychic-social identity”). Level of education is secondary. Place of
birth of repatriates in shown in Diagram 1.
In accordance with Diagram 1 the greatest part of repatriates
returned to their motherland Kazakhstan from China (48%), Mongolia (22%), Uzbekistan (19%), Tajikistan (8%).
Place of birth plays an important role in the analysis of
ethnic-linguistic identity of repatriates at the initial stage. It is
significant from the point of view of linguistic policy of states towards
national minorities, the role of Kazakhstan in the development and support of
Kazakh diasporas and the state language outside the Republic.
Thus in Uzbekistan there are 522 schools where teaching is held in
the Kazakh language; 234 schools of them are Kazakh proper, the rest are mixed
or co-educational. It means that the Kazakh diaspora has all opportunities to
choose a language of education and teaching.
The greater part of the Kazakh diaspora of China speaks Kazakh in their everyday life and uses written language based on Arabic
graphics. The majority of Chinese Kazakh citizens know the basic dialect of the
Chinese language, and many village residents know Chinese as well. The major
part of Kazakhs of China profess Islam. The assimilation which is taking place
between Chinese people and khan people is accompanied by replacement of
religious beliefs for atheistic or Buddhist denominations. In all institutions
of higher education of China classes are given in Chinese, which is why a lot
of Chinese Kazakhs choose so that their children can get higher education from
institutions of higher education of Kazakhstan.
The government of China is trying to turn all national minorities
into «Zhunguo zhemin» and by this people are torn away from their mother
language and religion. The situation of the Kazakh diaspora is very complicated
and full of conflicts. In the Internet resources there are now addresses of
representatives of the young generation of Kazakh nationality who live in China to our President N. Nazarbayev. Young people write about the fact that the Kazakh
diaspora in China is the most educated compared with other national minorities.
It has also completely preserved its originality and uniqueness – the native
language, customs and traditions. But recently we have been witnessing a
reverse process – the language policy of China has its own course during which
the greater part of young people found themselves unemployed. We can see another
sorrowful fact that nowadays city Kazakhs one and all choose for their children
schools with Chinese language of teaching and thus next generations are deprived
of their roots. The case with country people is no better – these people can
see and understand that even with higher education their children won’t
probably get a regular job they simply stop educating their children after
secondary school and in this way they choose a living death for themselves. The
continuation of the things said above makes the future of Kazakhs in China vague and uncertain of whether there is a future at all.
In Mongolia there are Kazakh schools in a small number, the Kazakh
language in chiefly taught to children in their families and at home. In places
of disperse settlement of Kazakhs there is a partial mongolization observed.
Kazakhs of Mongolia generally profess Islam of sunit sense. However those
Kazakhs who have been assimilated with the native Mongolian population profess
Buddhism (as well as tuvints).
Experts also write about the fact that Kazakh intellectuals who live
and reside in Mongolia are trying to preserve customs and traditions of Mongolian
Kazakhs who have practically no spiritual connection with their motherland in
particular due to the lack of periodicals from Kazakhstan. There are problems
with Kazakh primary, secondary, infant and nursery schools.
Kazakhs in Tajikistan as well as Kazakhs who live and reside in
other adjacent state of the region start getting assimilated with the local
population and losing their roots and origins. In Tajikistan there is no
opportunity for Kazakhs to receive higher education in their own mother language.
In the past Kazakhs lived near to each other and they were more compact.
Nowadays they have changed it and now live by 5-15 families in various villages
of Tajikistan. Due to this reason there is now a chance to open a Kazakh
school. Kazakh children go to a Tajik, Russian or Uzbek school.
Starting from the next year teaching in secondary schools of Turkmenistan will be done only in the Turkmen language. The Government of Turkmenistan has
made a decision to put into effect practice of “bilingual” school starting from
the next year (for example, Russian-Turkmen, Turkmen-Uzbek, Turkmen-Kazakh).
These schools are very scare in their number – around only 20 round the whole
country. In “bilingual” schools the introduction of the state language was gradual
but not forceful. In institutions of higher education teaching is carried out
only in the Turkmen language where there are a lot of restrictions of
opportunities for students whose mother language is different from that of
local. In “bilingual” schools the number of hours of teaching national
languages has been steadily decreasing for a long period of time already. An
only exception is Turkish schools financed by the Government of Turkey where
the basic language of instruction is Turkish but there are also English and
Turkmen languages taught there. Representatives of the Kazakh diaspora state
that the situation has become even worse as now ethnic Kazakh schools are
deprived of the right to teach their children in their own mother language and
to preserve ethnic originality. Besides all schoolboys no matter what their
nationality or religion is have to attend school in a Turkmen national cap
(which is called “takhiya” in Turkmen language) and schoolgirls have to wear a
dress with national embroidery and study “Rukhnam” which is a manual of norms
of Turkmen people written by the President Saparmurat Niyazov.
There are around 30 thousand ethnic Kazakhs who live and reside in Turkmenistan. These Kazakhs as well as Turkmen people are Turkic Muslim – and in the past
nomad – people. They differ from Turkmen people in their language, history and
traditions. A few years ago the Kazakh diaspora in Turkmenistan numbered up to
90 thousand people.
Therefore the formation of Kazakh identity of linguistic as well as
ethnic repatriates occurs in different ways depending on their place of birth
and residence. It also depends on linguistic as well as extra-linguistic
factors. Linguistic and social-economic situation in states where the Kazakh
diaspora live and reside the work of state bodies of Kazakhstan concerning
ethnic Kazakhs in the near and far abroad – all these make up a number of
factors. We can refer to the use of writing based on Cyrillic alphabet, Roman
alphabet, Arabic graphics in one or another region as linguistic proper
One more important sign which in our view influences the
ethnic-linguistic identification of repatriates is proficiency in languages.
According to Diagram 2 oralmans speak Kazakh language (84 %), (84%), Chinese
language (71,3%), Russian language (24%), English language (14,7%), Mongolian
The analysis shows that the majority of ethnic Kazakhs to a
sufficient degree know the state language – Kazakh language, repatriates from China to a deficient degree know written standards of the Kazakh language based on Cyrillic alphabet
due to the use of Arabic graphics in China. This circumstance makes the process
of reading literature in Kazakh even more difficult and of course hampers any
successful adaptation of repatriates from China. As experts say “Kazakhs that
live and reside in China and Mongolia write using Arabic graphics. In Kazakhstan since 1928 Kazakhs have been using Cyrillic alphabet. As a result ethnic Kazakhs
do not know the writing in their mother language, they now have problems while
receiving their documents” (Makhmudova Sholpan, www.easttime.ru).
We find it interesting that many oralmans from Mongolia and China do not as well know either Mongolian or Chinese language. This can be explained
by the attempt of ethnic groups to preserve their own culture, language and
traditions abroad choosing Kazakh speaking schools for their children of there
are any and using their mother language in everyday life.
As we have already said before it is very difficult for ethnic
Kazakhs to preserve ethnic and linguistic identity which happens due to the
national policies of these countries. It is common knowledge that in a number
of states there is a chauvinist attitude of a certain layer of local population
to ethnic national minorities. As the survey has known many ethnic Kazakhs have
to face the problem when their rights and freedoms to choose language,
religion, etc. are restricted. In Diagram 3 we can see the fact that among
oralmans 46 % of respondents have witness and experiences cases of nationalism
in the countries where they had lived and resided before they became
repatriates. First of all it is related to the lack of conditions to get
education in the Kazakh language, great difficulties in obtaining information
from the Internet and mass media in their mother language.
Thus a respondent who has arrived from Turkmenistan says: “I have
had everything in Turkmenistan: a house, a decent piece of land of about half a
hectare, two camels, five cows, and I never counted my chickens and turkeys.
With local people who were just as simple as we were, we went on quite well. We
have never had any conflict situation in our everyday life. We enjoyed our life
as it was, we had bread, meat, milk, vegetables, melons and watermelons. I
would never have left this country but only for my children. There were no
prospects in Turkmenistan for them. All Kazakh-speaking schools had been closed
up including one in Yzmykshir. Kazakh, Uzbek and Russian children were forced
to study Rukhnam, to wear Turkmen national clothes, and those who were not
Turkmen in their nationality were being driven out of state bodies and law
The analysis of the situation shows that oralmans now have a greater
interest in preserving and developing traditions and cultures of the Kazakh
people; while speak they prefer to do it in their mother tongue – Kazakh. In
their “ethnic autobiographies repatriates write that “in their sole, body and
thought” they are Kazakhs.
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2. Ethnology and Ethnography. A Collection of
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4. Habermas U. Democracy. Reason. Moral. – Moscow, 1995.
5. Hesley V. Crisis of Individual and Collective
Identity. Issues of Philosophy, 1994. – № 10. – С. 112-123.
6. Iskanius, Sanna. Language and identity of
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7. Pavlova О.N. Identity: history of the formation
of opinions and its structural peculiarities // Moscow, 2001, 158.
8. Ulina N. S. The Philosophy of K. Popper’s world
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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №1 - 2010