Thursday, January 1, 2015

Window on Eurasia: Chuvash Gaining on Russian in New Year’s Celebrations in Cheboksary, Catalonian Linguist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, January 1 – Hector Alos i Font, a Catalonian linguist who has been working in Chuvashia, says that the Chuvash language has improved its position relative to Russian as measured by signs put out for the New Year’s holiday but that the language of the titular nationality has a long way to go before achieving real equality as required by law.


            On his Vkontake page, Alos i Font says that he is seeing “a striving toward parity” in the use of the two languages but that Russian is still predominant despite the campaign this year to boost the use of Chuvash in business and other public spaces in the Middle Volga republic (


            He gives as an example of improvement the fact that a Chuvash language greeting hangs over the backdrop of the city’s New Year’s display but notes that “under the tree,” all the signs are “only in Russian,” a situation that is true of “other elements” of the republic capital’s celebration as well.


            On a few streets, such as Yefremov Boulevard, the only banners up are in Chuvash, but elsewhere “as a rule,” they are “only in Russian.”  Chuvash State University, which had been a center of the campaign for Chuvash over the last year, put up its sign for the current holiday “only in Russian.”


            Given that 63 percent of the residents of Cheboksary are Chuvash, the Catalonian scholar says, it is strange that so few of the businesses are putting up signs in the national language. “It is difficult to imagine that anywhere else in the world, enterprises would not put up holiday greetings in the national language,” he says.


            And it is even more difficult to imagine that anywhere else would officials at all levels use not their own national language but another one in their greetings to the population, but that is exactly what is happening in Chuvashia now. Clearly, this is a situation which neither many Chuvash nor the Catalonian scholar working there find acceptable.


            But what is most important about his comments is that residents of non-Russian republics inside the Russian Federation are keeping track of what may seem to outsiders to be minor matters, an indication of the importance of their identities to members of these nationalities and of the way in which they watch even the slightest changes positive or negative about them.



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