A Turkic tongue, Kyrgyz is the official language. Until 1926, the Kyrgyz and Kazakh languages were not officially recognized as two distinct languages. Kyrgyz orthography was formally organized in 1923 and was modeled after the northern dialects using Arabic script. Afterwards, Roman letters were used until 1940, when the Cyrillic alphabet was mandated by the Soviet government, with three special additional characters. Since independence, there has been discussion about switching back to the Roman alphabet.
Although the Kyrgyz language is the traditional language, most of Kyrgyzstan's population also speaks Russian, the language of business and commerce. In March 1996, the Kyrgyzstani legislature amended the constitution to make Russian an official language, along with Kyrgyz, in territories and work places where Russian-speaking citizens predominate.