Friday, November 8, 2019

‘Nationalization of Language is a Path to Destruction,’ Tatar Scholar Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – Because of the centrality of languages in national identity, many people believe that only those who are members of the community that speaks that language from birth fully understands them.  But “Tatar doesn’t belong to Tatars just as Russian doesn’t belong only to Russians,” Alfrid Bustanov says.

            To assert otherwise, to link language to the nation in that way, paradoxically is an argument for supporting the elimination of all languages except Russian in the Russian Federation lest language alone become the basis for more fundamental divisions and even “segregation,” the University of Amsterdam instructor says.

And put most bluntly, Bustanov says, “the nationalization of a language,” the promotion of the idea that it is uniquely linked to an ethnic community, “is a path to destruction” of both the language and the nation. Languages may support an ethnic identity, but they shouldn’t be limited to it (

At the end of the Russian imperial period, many Russian scholars learned and spoke Tatar extremely well; and at the same time, “many educated Muslims to the same degree knew Russian.”  What this says to people today is this, Bustanov insists: “Tatar is not the language of the Tatars but an instrument of communication among those who speak it,” including non-Tatars.

The same thing is true of any other language, including Russian, he argues; and “linguistic multiplicity is the historical norm in our country. I would like that this wealth remains with us in the future.” 

Bustanov is certain to be criticized by those who fear that viewing language and ethnic identity separately opens the way to the destruction of both; but his point is more fundamental: a language that is attractive because of the community which speaks it should welcome as many additional speakers as possible.

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