Evgeny Kuzmin What can we do to hinder the process of language marginalization, and to enhance the fitness of endangered languages Who can do it, and whose duty is it Let us examine the case of Russia, one of the most multiethnic, multilingual and multi-religious countries of the world ; how it tackles these issues, and to what an extent it solves them.
RUSSIA’S LINGUISTIC LANDSCAPE As of 2009, the Russian Federation is home to 141.9 million inhabitants. Ethnic Russians account for close to 80 % (114 million), while the remaining 20 % speak 180 languages, over a hundred of which belong to indigenous ethnic entities historically formed within the present-day Russian borders or living there for centuries. However, more than million people regard the official language of the country – Russian – as their native language. Many representatives of indigenous peoples know Russian better than their mother tongue ; some use it more fluently than many ethnic Russians.
The most widely used minority languages include Tatar (5.35 million speakers), Bashkir (1.38 million speakers), Chechen and Chuvash (1.million speakers each). A further nine languages have between four hundred thousand and a million speakers 2. A further fifteen are spoken by between fifty thousand to four hundred thousand people.
All languages except Russian are thus minority languages, and all are marginalized to varying extents. More than a third are endangered or extinguishing, with a full 39 of them less than fifty thousand speakers strong, mainly those of the indigenous populations of the Far North, Siberia and the Far East. Despite official efforts at every level of Russian bureaucracy to nurture these languages and their corresponding cultures, the risk of extinction remains high.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation declares all languages of Russia to be common cultural assets. Almost all languages use graphic systems, even if some have acquired them somewhat recently.
2 Avar, Kabardian-Circassian, Dargin, Osset, Udmurt, Kumyk, Yakut, Mari and Ingush.
Evgeny Kuzmin Unlike many other major multilingual countries, Russia offers primary education, television and radio broadcasting, internet resources (many of them catalogued), books and newspapers in nearly all of its languages.
Russia is unique in another respect as well : close to forty of its indigenous languages enjoy official status. All languages can find support at federal, regional and municipal levels.
The Russian Federation possesses a sophisticated administrative-territorial structure that includes 83 constituent entities : fifty regions, eight territories, twenty republics, four autonomous areas and one autonomous region.
A region, or oblast, is an administrative territorial entity highly dominated by ethnic Russians, where other ethnic entities account for less than 1 % of the population.
A territory, or krai, is a major administrative territorial entity that includes autonomous areas with dense ethnic minority populations.
Republics are constituent entities populated by numerically comparable communities of Russians and representatives of another ethnic group.
Republics take the names of these ethnies. They have their own constitutions and enjoy greater autonomy from the federal centre than territories, regions and autonomous areas. Both Russian and the language of the titular ethnic group are recognised as the state languages, even if the non-Russian ethnic group is a minority within its republic. In certain republics, more than two languages enjoy official status. In this sense, considerable attention is paid to the equal rights of the languages, by way of their constitutional protection, special laws, and other modes of federal intervention.
Republics have the right to establish their own official languages, to publish federal and republican laws in those languages, and to place them on equal standing with Russian during elections, referendums, and industrial, official and judicial activities.
Establishing some languages as official does not obviate the protection of others. The republic of Tatarstan, for example, is undertaking efforts to preserve the culture and language of its local Bashkirs, Udmurts, Chuvashes ; the republic of Chuvashia – of the Tatar and Bashkir living there, etc.
Evgeny Kuzmin These protections are not the products of Russia’s government policy towards languages, but its very foundation. They are explicated and promulgated in the Law on the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation (rsfsr), which was ratified in the Soviet era but retains its legal force, the Law on the State Language of the Russian Federation along with a number of other laws protecting culture and education. This whole body of legislation stipulates state-sponsored protection, promotion, and development of all minority ethnic languages, as well as bilingualism and multilingualism. Russian citizens without a working command of Russian are thus given the tools to participate in meetings and conferences at government agencies, offices, industrial companies, and the court of law in the language they speak fluently, and an interpreter is provided when necessary.
The Law on the Languages of the Peoples of the Russian Federation envisages opportunities to organise teaching in a speaker’s native language, irrespective of that language’s numerical strength and in conformity with its demands.
The Federal Law on Education stipulates that the state vouches assistance in training experts for teaching in the languages of the people of Russia who have no statehood in the form of a republic or autonomous area within the Russian Federation.
Russian regional authorities are the biggest contributors to official ethnolinguistic policy formation and implementation, as they are the ones most directly encountering the issues of preserving multilingualism on a daily basis.
As an example, let us more closely examine the case of language policy and status in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), specifically as it pertains to the Yakut language.
Evgeny Kuzmin LINGUISTIC STATUS, ETHNO-CULTURAL AND LANGUAGE POLICY IN THE REPUBLIC OF SAKHA (YAKUTIA) Ethnic makeup and expression The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) 3, with an area of 3,103,200 km2, is Russia’s largest constituent entity. As home to a population of slightly over one million, 450,000 of whom speak Yakut, it is also one of the most striking examples of Russian multiethnic areas.
Yakut is the eponymous language of its corresponding ethnie (historically “Sakha”) that gave name to its home republic. Though the Yakut are genetically related to Mongolians, their language belongs to the Turkic group.
In terms of local population, the Yakut rank first at 45.6 %, ethnic Russians compose an additional 41.1 %, and the other 126 ethnic groups represent a combined 13.3 %. This 13.3 % consist of aboriginal Northern minorities – the Evenki, Even, Yukagir and Chukchi, who densely populate settlements, mostly in the Far North – and 238 registered nomadic clans.
In Yakutia, 93.3 % of the population has a fluent command of Russian ;
on the other hand, 87.4 % of the Yakut, 37.7 % of the Chukchi, 20.7 % of the Even, 19.5 % of the Yukagir and 6.5 % of the Evenki regard their native language as their mother tongue. While Yakut is a minority language in terms of Russia as a whole, in Yakutia it is the majority language.
The Yakutian constitution grants official language status not only to Yakut and Russian, but also to Even, Evenki, Yukagir, Dolgan and Chukchi, guaranteeing all of them unlimited development and protection. The republic’s Presidential Council on Language Policy plays an extensive role, through which the government launches multifarious targeted language development programmes. Cultural events are held to promote intercultural dialogue ; public holidays are dedicated to the republic’s assortment of languages.
3 Hitherto referred to as Yakutia.
Evgeny Kuzmin Of the 1,059 books published there in 2009 4, 318 were written in Yakut, two in Even, three in Evenki and five in Yukagir. There are 30 Yakutlanguage newspapers (13 republican and 17 district) and 12 magazines.
Tatkachiruk is published in Evenki ; Ilken in Russian, Yakut and minority languages. There is also the multi-language almanac Khalarkhat. As for republic-wide TV broadcasting, Russian language accounts for 62 %, Yakut 38 %, and Northern minority languages 1 %. Increasingly, however, broadcasts about Yakutian cultures and history come out in Russian.
Mechanisms of preservation As stated above, no language can survive, let alone develop, outside the confines of its ethnic culture. Language preservation necessitates above all the preservation of ethnic identity : culture, customs, traditions, folklore, ethnic sports, cuisine, economic know-how and environment. Let us now turn to what is being done to preserve and develop the authentic Yakut culture and language while actively supporting culture and arts in general.
The republic has 528 libraries, 79 museums, 12 theatres, 565 cultural centres and 90 children’s art schools where music, painting, dancing and other arts, including ethnic arts and crafts, are taught. Yakutia holds ethnographic festivals and organizes travelling art exhibitions and tours of the republic’s leading performers at home, across Russia, and abroad.
Its capital of Yakutsk, with a population of 240,000, is home to the National Drama Theatre, which stages classic Russian, foreign, and contemporary locally written plays all in the Yakut language. Among the city’s other cultural institutions are also the Russian Drama Theatre, the Puppet Theatre and the Youth Theatre ; the National Opera, where operas and ballets by Yakut composers are staged alongside world classics ; the Yakutia Symphony Orchestra alongside the Virtuosi of Yakutia Violin Ensemble ;
the National Museum, which exhibits historical artifacts of all the republic’s peoples alongside contemporary paintings and sculptures ; the openair Ethnography Museum, the Mammoth Museum ; the National Library of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) 5 – the largest depository of books 4 120,000 book titles were published in Russia in 2009 alone.
5 Available online http://nlib.sakha.ru Evgeny Kuzmin and other printed matter in Yakut and indigenous northern languages and 18 public libraries ; the National Academy of Music with a boarding school, where the most gifted children spend twelve years studying all instruments of the symphony orchestra plus ethnic instruments ; five art schools ; four cinema theatres ; and two exhibition halls and art galleries.
As of 2009, the republic possessed 654 educational institutions, 415 (67 %) of them with Yakut-language teaching of all disciplines in primary school.
The languages indigenous to the North are taught as special disciplines in 38 schools (some of them nomadic) 7.
Northern languages are also studied at the Institute of Humanitarian Studies and Problems of Northern Ethnic Minorities, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Research Institute of Ethnic Schools.
In the republic’s 6 higher educational establishments as well, minority languages are given attention. Northeastern Federal University offers higher education in history and philology taught in Yakut (all the other disciplines are taught in Russian only). In 2008 and 2011 the Russian Committee of the Unesco Information for All Programme and the Interregional Library Cooperation Centre together with the University and the Government of Yakutia held two international conferences “Linguistic and Cultural Diversity in Cyberspace”. In 2010, following the 1st Conference’s recommendations, the Centre for the Promotion of Multilingualism in Cyberspace was inaugurated under the Northeastern Federal University.
Memory of Yakutia, a programme launched in 2000, is tasked with creating a database for the Memory of Yakutia website 8, which aims to make available to the public rare books in Yakut, archival documents pertaining to crucial elements of Yakut history and culture, and rare culturally and historically germane audio recordings of Yakut performers.
When Unesco entered the Yakut heroic epic Olonkho on its list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005, it impelled the Yakutian government to launch a state targeted programme 6 To visit the online website of the Library of Northern Ethnic Minorities.
8 See http://www.sakhamemory.ru Evgeny Kuzmin from 2007 through 2015 to preserve, develop and circulate the epic. The programme’s aims include searching and collecting epics, promoting folk narrators, including Olonkho in curricula, and establishing a pedagogy of folk recitation. The Northeastern Federal University is the base for the preservation, study and popularisation of Yakut folk heritage via research and education, and the Olonkho online portal 9 provides access to local folklore and epic texts in many languages.
Non-textual internet services are also developing. Sound dictionaries of the Yakut language are being made. Educational establishments organise regular online Yakut language and literature conferences. Relevant internet content and resources are multiplying, and the Yakut-language Wikipedia 10 is frequently replenished.
But in the face of all these measures, recent studies indicate a surprising trend : a steady decrease in Yakut as a first language among ethnic Yakut speakers, while Yakut proficiency is conversely growing among ethnic Russians.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PROMOTION OF MULTILINGUALISM As we analyse the experience of the Russian Federation and one of its entities, the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), we can attempt to draw out some more general conjectures regarding the question of how to guarantee the continued functioning of minority languages in the shadow of a dominant language in a national context.
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