Friday, August 3, 2018

Russian Officials Open Another Front against Non-Russian Languages with Call for ‘Unified’ Alphabet

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 3 – Officials in Murmansk are calling on Moscow to impose a single “unified” alphabet for non-Russian peoples, a step they present as necessary to ensure the timely production of school textbooks in these languages but one that in fact represents another attack on the vitality and even survival of non-Russian languages.

            Andrey Sakharov, the Murmansk oblast minister for domestic affairs and mass communications, says such a step is especially critical in the case of the Saami people who currently use “alphabets with different writing of the letters,” a reference to the fact that many of Saami use the alphabets of their co-ethnics abroad.

            He said that the oblast itself is not legally entitled to make such a change and consequently has appealed to Moscow officials to do so ( and

            In the first instance, Sakharov’s proposal is about isolating the Saami of Russia from their co-ethnics abroad. But if as seems likely in the current environment, Moscow makes this into a more general law, then it could have far more serious consequences, ones that would prove disastrous for many non-Russian peoples within the Russian Federation.

            While all indigenous non-Russian nations are already required to have alphabets based on the Russian Cyrillic one, a Putin measure adopted to prevent the Tatars and other Turkic peoples from going over to the Latin script, there is significant diversity among the Cyrillic-based alphabets of non-Russian nations. Any move to “unify” them would have serious consequences.

            The Soviets used alphabet reforms in Central Asia and the Russian North to divide the peoples there not only from their pasts but from each other.  Now, the Putin regime appears set to use another wave of alphabet reform to further weaken the non-Russian languages and prompt ever more of their speakers to go over to Russian.

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