Saturday, July 13, 2019

Most of Daghestan’s 31 Languages on Brink of Disappearing, Makhachkala Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 13 – Most of Daghestan’s 31 indigenous languages are on the brink of disappearing, the result of a combination of Moscow’s promotion of Russian, the multiplicity of languages and the need for some common one, urbanization and migration, and a lack of interest among parents in saving their native tongues, according to scholars in the republic.

            Most non-Russian republics have to try to maintain one non-Russian language, a difficult enough challenge. Bela Boyarova of Paragraphs say. But Daghestan has 31, 13 of which are literary languages and taught in schools alongside Russian. Unfortunately, the journalist says, “the republic has already surrendered without giving battle” (

            “The language of inter-ethnic communication, documentation, instruction in schools and higher educational institutions is here one – Russian,” she continues. “Daghestanis forced to find a common language have become hostages not only of the dominant position of Russian but of their own ethnic multiplicity.” 

            Magomed Magomedov, a senior philologist at the Makhachkala Institute of Language, Literature and Art, says that “in such conditions, the threat of the loss of Daghestani languages is completely real.” The spread of Russian as a result of urbanization and the decline of mono-ethnic villages has significantly reduces usage of the indigenous languages.

            According to the scholar, “today not only officials but even ordinary Daghestanis are not up to the preservation of languages. Psychologically and economically, they have been put in such conditions that the priority for linguistic issues is not high. Instead, they are focusing on the struggle for their own survival.”

“Daghestanis have no desire to study native languages,” Magomedov says. They know that a knowledge of Russian is necessary and that “the mastering or non-mastering of their native language won’t make any difference. They do not feel discomfort when they do not know their language.  

Even the few parents who do care have no resources: now many schools don’t offer courses in their native language; and those that do offer only one or two hours a week, not enough to make a difference but enough to take time away from other subjects. As a result, the number who want to study these languages constantly declines.

Moscow’s new language law which makes the study of languages of the republics completely voluntary has only accelerated this trend, the scholar says.  Unless something radical happens, many of the smaller languages will become extinct, and even the major ones have no more than 50 years before they will “pass into the ranks of the dead.”

Little can be done if the mono-ethnic villages continue to disappear with urbanization. “The city is already the cemetery for native languages,” Magomedov says.  According to a study he made, in Makhachkala, “92 percent of pupils of all nationalities do not master their native literary language.”

Magomedrasud Magomedrasudov, director of the Avar-language theater in the Daghestani capital, is equally pessimistic or even more so.  He is convinced, Boyarova says, that “the time when it was necessary to raise the alarm is already long past.” Now, there is little or nothing that can be done as the process of the death of these languages has become irreversible.

Moscow isn’t willing to do anything to help, and local people feel they have no possibility of doing anything on their own. Even where these indigenous languages continue to be spoken, they are degraded to the point that they can no longer be considered “pure literary” tongues.

Magomedrasudov is especially angry at the pseudo-activists who position themselves as defenders of languages in order to attract attention and get grant money but in fact do little or nothing to help. He sees most of the indigenous languages disappearing from the public space “in the next 15 to 20 years.”

According to the theater direction, “a war for the destruction of national languages and national culture is going on. If the residents of the republic sit and do nothing, the languages will disappear. And the rare Daghestanis who will still take pride in knowing their native language will be like veterans of the war.”

Salim Abdulkadyrov, the director of a Makhachkala school in which five languages in addition to Russian are offered, gives this perspective: “The number of hours with us unfortunately is declining. Now this is two hours a week. It used to be three. Simply many children want more hours for the study of other subjects.”

“In our school, there are also those who at the insistence of their parents are not studying native languages. Most of them are from ethnically mixed families. In the eighth and ninth classes,” the director says, “we even have three groups in which Daghestani children are studying Russian as a native language,” approximately five to seven percent of all of them.

“This is the desire of their parents. We do not have the right to refuse them.”

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