Tom at digenis.org has an entry quoting the cover story, “The Soul of Kazakhstan,” from the May/June 2003 issue (not yet online) of Saudi Aramco World. The article is apparently excerpted from a picture book of the same name, with essays by Alma Kunanbay and photos by Wayne Eastep (a selection of the latter can be seen at the book’s website); it includes many facets of Kazakh life, but what interests us here is the material on the Kazakh “art of the word.” To quote Tom:
Kunanbay also mentions the Kazakh belief that words can hold a special, magical power. In the Kazakh language and culture there is a concept called ‘art of the word’ which refers to ‘clever, flowery speech loaded with metaphors, proverbs, and allegory.’
The zenith of this belief is the aytis, a musical-poetic duel between two epic singers (called akin) before a large, knowledgeable audience. Kunanbay says:
The language forms in an aytis are so complex, and the nuances and associations so arcane, that a meaningful translation to another language is virtually impossible. There is a tremendous variety of aytis within Kazakh poetic culture: qiz ben zhigit aytisi, for example, is a verbal duel between a girl and a boy; din aytisi is a verbal duel about religion; zhumbaq aytisi, a verbal duel with riddles; aqindar aytisi, a verbal duel between bards; and so on.
Sounds like it would fit right into the Rothenbergs’ Symposium of the Whole, and I’d like to know more about it. [Mistaken hypothesis deleted thanks to a comment by Dctr.]
Outside of poetic duels, it appears Kazakh, like the other Central Asian languages, is not faring well in the media; see this article by Aleksandr Khamagayev (pdf; HTML cache here); the issue of Media Insight Central Asia to which the article is an introduction can be accessed via the Cimera publications site—just click on Media Insight Central Asia under Publications at the left, then Archive MICA 2002 (English version), then MICA Nr. 27 / August 2002. If there’s a more direct way, avoiding the damn frames, I don’t know it.