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How's your Kyrgyz?
September 9, 2011 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Want to run for president in Kyrgyzstan? Better bone up on your Kyrgyz language skills. The 83 declared candidates are being tested, on live television on how well they can use the country's official language. Five grammar mistakes, and you're out. (Clearly, the election commissioners are prescriptivists.) The intent, it appears, is to weed out politicians with Russian educations.
posted by beagle (30 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Damn!
posted by jimmythefish at 3:40 PM on September 9, 2011


Sporcle made me an absolute champ at spelling Kyrgyzstan. Maybe I could be president...
posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:41 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sporcle made me an absolute champ at spelling Kyrgyzstan.

Yep, I've got Kyrgyzstan down pat. I still can't spell the real names of Coach K or Yaz though, probably because most quizzes accept the nicknames.
posted by kmz at 3:43 PM on September 9, 2011


Haven't they done this in France for centuries?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:45 PM on September 9, 2011


(Clearly, the election commissioners are prescriptivists.)

Or else have just read Benedict Anderson as a playbook for national identity-building...
posted by cosmologinaut at 3:46 PM on September 9, 2011


"In fact, no two people have been so ill-equipped to approach a holy Center since the days of Tchitcherine and Dzaqyp Qulan, hauling ass over the steppe [...] to find their Kirghiz Light. "

--Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
posted by chavenet at 3:52 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whereas in the US we select presidents by how much they speak like a cretin... I noticed in Obama's speech last night that he is acquiring a sort of southern accent.

(not that all Southerners are cretins...)
posted by ennui.bz at 3:54 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wish we had this in 1999-2000...
posted by Renoroc at 4:09 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just an aside, but Kyrgyz traditional music is amazing. There's a young woman I know here in Tokyo who plays some Kyrgyz traditional instruments (most notably a stringed instrument called the komuz). It's really great stuff. Maybe a Kyrgyz music FPP is in the works...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:12 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


NPR had an article not too long ago about growing relations between Kyrgyzstan and China, and there is this article from today. It's not much.

I am curious though, to see how Kyrgyz nationalism, resentment of Russian influence, and Chinese global aspirations might be at play here. Throw in a largely Islamic population with a Russian Orthodox minority, just for fun.
posted by Xoebe at 4:22 PM on September 9, 2011


Haven't they done this in France for centuries?

No, very few of the French speak even passable Kyrgyz.
posted by cortex at 4:26 PM on September 9, 2011 [36 favorites]


ennui.bz: I noticed in Obama's speech last night that he is acquiring a sort of southern accent.

More like he's code switching to effectively emulate a way of speaking which can be profiled as being Republican. I've often noticed that he modifies -ing words to end with -in' when he wants to get folksy. Nasal = liberal? Maybe. I don't know.
posted by hanoixan at 4:32 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish we had this in 1999-2000...

Moderator: Mr. Bush, cиз Кыргызсча суйлой аласызбы?
George Bush: What
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:38 PM on September 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


There was more success for one of the leading candidates in the race, Adakhan Madumarov, the leader of the Butun Kyrgyzstan party and a former top official. But then he is a former television presenter and presumably felt at home in front of the rolling cameras.

Presumably.

Doesn't every democracy perform this test according to its own rules? Would Barack Obama be President if he spoke like Fred G. Sanford? A grammar test is kinda actually cool.
posted by three blind mice at 4:43 PM on September 9, 2011


So they are requiring their head of state to be fluent in the state language (which is distinct from the official language, Russian) and this is odd? A grammar test is a nice way to just do it overtly instead of subtly at the polls.
posted by jeather at 4:53 PM on September 9, 2011


I hereby withdraw my candidacy for President of Kyrgyzstan.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:01 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Translate to Kyrgyzstan!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:06 PM on September 9, 2011


I started reading this thread and then instead I spent an hour on Sporcle. How did that happen?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:17 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I strongly doubt this contest is as simple as it first seems.

On one hand, there are sizable Russian minorities in every former Soviet republic. The Russian minority is shrinking in the former republics that have since pursued aggressive nationalist policies (e.g., Estonia), but Russians still make up at least 10% of the population pretty much everywhere. The percentage is much higher in the historically Slavic areas (Ukraine, Belorussia), where the Russian minority is much more settled.

Furthermore, Russian is still a prestige language in many places, although increasingly a contentious one. Until quite recently, Russian was the language of public discourse, civic life, and education — everywhere. Russians make up a disproportionate fraction of the professional class. (Many Russian families originally traveled to the far-flung Soviet republics for the professional opportunities offered there.)

Finally, there are many more speakers of Russian then there are self-identified ethnic Russians. Russian proficiency was highly advantageous in the USSR. Most city dwellers over a certain age almost certainly speak Russian well. The idea of a younger generation whose members overwhelmingly only speak the national language, or speak Russian haltingly, is an innovation that would've been difficult to imagine just 20 years ago.

So, let's think of this Kyrgyz proficiency test in this context. Russians are a firmly established element of the professional elite in many places, but extreme nationalist sentiment has become widespread here and there. I guess a language contest is superior than an outright ban on candidates who aren't Kyrgyz ethnically, but its underlying purpose — a Kyrgyz president for the Kyrgyz people — is the same. On one hand it represents an attempt to sweep away the old power structures; on the other hand, it is a transparent attempt to marginalize the sizable ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan. Let's not forget the very recent history of ethnically motivated violence in this country. And let's also not underestimate the ability of strongman despots to seek legitimacy by aligning themselves with ethnic identities. People are often more tolerant of their leader's excesses when the leader is "one of them" and the excesses of power are exercised against those who are not.

Finally, there is dialectal variation in Kyrgyz. It's not all the same throughout the entire country. I have no idea to what extent language standards have been developed by any kind of central Kyrgyz authority. And if they have been developed, they still might not be widely accepted or known. Kyrgyz is a Turkic language. It shades into its neighboring Turkic languages along the nation's borders. Like most Turkic languages, it has a vowel harmony system, but that harmony works slightly differently in different places. Are the judges accommodating for that? What is "unaccented" or "correct" Kyrgyz, really? I feel that not only does this language test represent a tool of legitimization, but it is likeliest to serve the purposes of a particular local community.

In the end, this method is arbitrary, prone to abuse, and represents a mockery of democratic institutions.
posted by Nomyte at 5:45 PM on September 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


More like he's code switching to effectively emulate a way of speaking which can be profiled as being Republican. I've often noticed that he modifies -ing words to end with -in' when he wants to get folksy. Nasal = liberal? Maybe. I don't know.
Obama has always had what he calls a "Kansas" accent. It's just subtly different from a Midwest/west coast accent.
posted by delmoi at 5:45 PM on September 9, 2011


How to spell Kyrgyzstan, a simple mnemonic:

KY Orgy, without the O, a quick Z, then on to the Stan.
Kyrgyzstan.
posted by zamboni at 6:32 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


At first (after USSR breakup) there were no language exams, and Kyrgyzstan was the most democratic and politically advanced in the region. Now back in 199x the former president Askar Akaev didn't want to loose elections to his opponent Feliks Kulov. Being a very smart guy, and soon Election office "decided" that all candidates must pass written Kyrgyz language test. Consider that Kyrgyz is not very well established language (a lot of little dialiects) and almost nobody in the country can speak it grammatically perfectly\properly, also during soviet times many children (especially from capital and norther part of country) were not taught kyrgyz in schools.
So, at north people usually use russian or mix of kyrgyz\russian in everyday life. I'm a native speaker, and even I have no idea how to translate things like internet\HDD\remote controller\url into kyrgyz. This things just simply didn't exist before, so we either use russian\english words or someone have to invent new words describing them. Now, we've got a commission of philologists and academics who decide how this or that (new) word should be used and what is the proper grammar usage for that etc.
Basically, almost everyone failed on that exam and Akaev easily won elections. Thats what I remember.
posted by usertm at 6:56 PM on September 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


If the last 11 years have proved anything, it's that there are shitty heads of state with poor language skills, and also shitty heads of state with good language skills.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:13 PM on September 9, 2011


Metafilter: Arbitrary, prone to abuse, and represents a mockery of democratic institutions.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:07 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whenever I see a post or article about Kyrgyzstan I instantly replace the country in my head with Kalmykia for some reason which ends up making me think about the Oirats which in and of itself makes me sad about their eventual plight throughout history and THEN I end up getting pissed off about Chess City and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and how he has singularly destroyed the FIDE.

And then I think about how I screwed the whole thing up and should instead be thinking about how the poor people of Kazakhstan got screwed after Borat.

But in this case I was able to add yet another oddity in my head to the K-WTF-istans and now will forever get them all confused even more.
posted by Johnny Hazard at 10:19 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is the Krygyz word for "Why?"

I got a solid strategy in mind.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:23 AM on September 10, 2011


Obama's accent is actually somewhat hard to pin down, even for an expert. Not that surprising for someone with such diverse background and experiences.
posted by dhartung at 12:03 PM on September 10, 2011


chavenet: "Kirghiz Light"

Oh hell... it's been fifteen years since I read that book and I still can't work out wtf is up with that Kirghiz Light. Is it just a random mysterious Deus ex machina? Please explain it! Or I might die.
posted by vanar sena at 3:36 PM on September 10, 2011


This is the case in most of Central Asia.
But 2nding everything Nomyte said.
posted by k8t at 4:02 PM on September 10, 2011


Simon Reeve did a series for CBC Correspondent called "Meet the Stans" in which he visits Kyrgyzstan for an episode. It was a pretty interesting look at this country I previously knew nothing about.
posted by nTeleKy at 9:33 AM on September 12, 2011


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