Staunton, February 6 – Russian commentators often insist that in contrast to worldwide trends that are wiping out small language and ethnic communities, none of them in Russia is really at risk. But yesterday, Igor Barinov, head of the Federal Agency for Nationality Affairs, acknowledged that “over the last 150 years in Russia, 14 rare languages have disappeared.”
Barinov’s words deserve comment for two reasons. On the one hand, his admission represents the latest effort to show Moscow is concerned about languages spoken by small groups to distract attention from its attacks on minority languages spoken by larger communities by eliminating the requirement that they be studied in the non-Russian republics.
And on the other, he has given a time frame so long that no one can say who is to blame: the tsars, the commissars, or Russians today. That is important because many Moscow scholars and propagandists like to insist that whatever was the case in the past, Russia today is highly solicitous as far as such languages are concerned. ().
On the occasion of the opening of the International Year of Languages of the Indigenous Peoples of Russia, Barinov said that there are now 151 languages extant in the Russian Federation. But counting dialects, their number is “somewhere around 300. Only 27 are languages of instruction in schools and only 72 more are studied as separate subjects.
These last figures suggest that the number of languages spoken by relatively small groups now at risk of disappearing in Russia is far higher than in the past and that Barinov’s implicit claim to the contrary is false.