Friday, November 6, 2020

Even Ryazan Russians, Near Moscow, have a Distinctive Dialect

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 4 – No one has been surprised by the fact that large regional groups far from Moscow, such as the Siberians, or proto-ethnic ones like the Cossacks have been seeking to promote their own distinctive dialects to provide support for their movements (, and

            And equally, no one has been surprised that Moscow has sought to promote a single standard Russian language to prevent such linguistic diversification from leading to greater political diversification as well (

            But the center’s efforts in this regard have been far from completely successful and, in at least some cases, they have generated a countervailing response often in the most unexpected places with regional activists seeing language as a key resource in promoting regional identities (

            The latest and one of the most intriguing developments in this regard comes from Ryazan, an oblast center less than 200 kilometers from Moscow, where activists are promoting the revival of their own regional “Ryazan language” by gathering information about how people there actually speak and promoting these distinctions via a website,

            Yaroslav Zolotaryev, a regionalist writer who is a linguist by training, calls attention to this development in a new article entitled “Foundations of Ryazan Sovereignty” for the Tallinn-based regionalist portal, Region.Expert (

            He acknowledges that the people of Ryazan face an uphill fight in this regard because the center has with enormous success imposed Muscovite linguistic standards on Russian as used in schools and the media. But Ryazan residents nonetheless now look back to the 400 years when they were independent and when they spoke a distinctive language.

            “By contemporary standards, Ryazan was illegally annexed [by Muscovy] in 1521,” Zolotaryev says. And he adds that both its distinctive South Russian language and its equally distinctive local culture was largely destroyed in the ensuing centuries even though at the time it was as separate from Russian as Belarusian is today.

            The linguist lists six main ways in which that language differed from Moscow Russia, and he points out that in a 1914 study, it was treated as a completely self-standing dialect rather than as merely a slight regional variation. The new portal picks up on this and is promoting the idea that the people of Ryazan should speak the language of their ancestors.

            Intriguingly, those behind the site see their task not only to revive the language of their region but also distinctive local songs, dances and folkloric activities, a combination they view as essential to “the full revitalization” of the population there. In this, they are inspired by the Catalonians and Walloons in Western Europe.

            How much success the Ryazan language enthusiasts will have remains to be seen, Zolotaryev admits; but he argues that “any federation is stable only when its regions are culturally and even linguistically distinguished one from another and as a result of this are interesting to one another.” That is true in many places, including Germany.

            Efforts to promote the complete unification of the populace, he says, leads perhaps first to the appearance of unity but then to splits because people become unhappy and angry when their distinctiveness is reduced and marginalized rather than expanded and made of interest to all others.


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