Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Four Languages in North Caucasus on Brink of Extinction, Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 2 – Moscow officials continue to deny that any languages are at risk of dying out anytime soon (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/02/dying-out-of-languages-in-russia-myth.html), but a linguistics expert in the Karachay-Cherkess Republic says that four languages there – Karachay, Circassian, Abaza, and Nogay -- are on the brink of extinction.

            Fatima Mamayeva, who oversees preparation of teachers and textbooks for non-Russian languages in that republic, says their situation is dire because of both global trends and specific policies and budgetary considerations in Moscow and in the republic capital of Cherkessk (kuban.aif.ru/society/details/fatima_mamaeva_v_cherkesske_dolzhny_izuchatsya_4_rodnyh_yazyka_uchebnikov_net and nazaccent.ru/content/21463-ekspert-nacionalnye-yazyki-kchr-okazalis-na.html).

            At present, she says, there are enough teachers for these four languages, but because of government policy, there are too few hours for their instruction and too few textbooks for those. Moreover, the unwillingness of the republic and Moscow to pay for these textbooks and the difficulties both put in place to get them approve make prospects for the future bleak.

            “The main problem” now is that all such textbooks must be approved at the federal level, and the process of securing such approval is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive, costing on average 250,000 rubles (4,000 US dollars) for each. “Why do we need federal registration if all these formalities could be decided at the regional level?” Mamayeva asks in frustration.

            But there are problems in the republic too: all typographies in Karachayevo-Cherkessia are now privately owned, and the government is not willing to spend the money to get the needed textbooks published. It now says it will print up only one per year, but that means that three of the four languages are not getting the new textbooks they need.

            Mamayeva says that some activists including herself invest their own money in this process, but even that has not reduced the backlog.  And she worries that soon fewer and fewer pupils will study these languages and fewer and fewer teachers will be prepared in them and that as a result, the four will die out.

            Indeed, she says, that horrific outcome is already on the horizon: the regional educational authorities have now established “quotas by region” for how many pupils will be taught in this or that native language.  That represents a clear retreat from the past and is the product of both budgetary considerations and government policy.

            There is already a spread of people who are classified as being members of a particular nationality but who do not speak its language. Six years ago, there was a court case about the requirement that members of a given nationality have the opportunity to study its language. At the republic level, the courts said no; but finally, in Moscow, they said that they must.

            However, that decision has not been implemented fully with officials using other means including budgetary arguments and registration requirements to cut back the amount of non-Russian language instruction in her republic, Mamayeva says.  The result is something people in Moscow deny is happening: the death of languages and thus of the peoples who speak them.

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