This short, but dense and well-informed historical overview begins with debates between Il’minskii, Altynsaryn and Valikhanov’s circle, from the 1860s onwards, on the choice of the Cyrillic or Latin alphabet in order to get rid, or not, of ‘Tatar’ influence in the Steppe territory of the Russian Empire. The paper continues with bilingual dictionaries of the early twentieth century, printed initially in order to get the Russian-speaking administration closer to autochthonous populations. The same logic prevailed in the early Soviet period, though the relative poverty of bilingual lexicography in the Kazakh SSR is explained by 1) the lack of practical means and literature for encouraging the teaching of Kazakh language; 2) the will of Kazakh Communists to strengthen the korenizatsiia of the state apparatus (viz. the gradual replacement of Russian-speaking leaders by Kazakh ones). The debates until 1929 between Baytursunov and Turaqulov on the adoption of the Latin alphabet instead of the reformed Arabic one are accuretaly retraced. The author also evokes the polemics of the 1920s on terminological questions—with official critics of the inclusion of rare, ancient or vernacular terms into the dictionary printed in 1926. Paragraphs are devoted to the choice of the dialect of the former oblast’ of Semipalatinsk, in the 1930s, as the fundament of literary Kazakh language, by reference to the origin of Abay Qunanbay, the founder of modern Kazakh literature. The climate of the late 1930s and the rapid transition to the Cyrillic alphabet are resituated in the context of the preparation of the war through the quick integratation of non-Russian speaking recruits into the Red Army. The quibbles of the 1950s onwards between Amanzholov and Sauranbaev on the dialectal heterogeneity of Kazakh language are scrutinised in connection with the role played by the Moscow school of Turkic studies in favour of the thesis of autonomous dialects. The last chapters are devoted to the fundamental change of the 1980s, when was observed a gradual, but radical inversion of the respective position of Kazakh and Russian languages, the former being promoted to the status of an idiom of communication between communities inside Kazakhstan. Far from limiting his purpose to an analysis of available lexigographic literature, the author has successfully tried to resituate it in the political debates of the time. So doing, he casts light on several key aspects of Kazakhstani academic life—see for instance the interesting explanation of the lack of a ‘great’ bilingual dictionary of Kazakh language until 2002 by the leading role played in this field by mutually opposed coteries of Kazakh linguists with distant and often poor relations with Moscow’s academic centres. As a result, the article shows an original and significant contribution to the history of human sciences, especially of Turkic studies (tiurkologiia), and of their political instrumentation in the Soviet domain.