Thursday, December 17, 2020

Share of World’s People who Speak Russia, Already Declining for a Century, Projected to Fall 50 Percent More by 2050

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Vladimir Putin has made the Russian language the defining feature of his Russian world, but the share of the world’s population speaking that language has been in sharp decline, especially since 1991, and is projected to fall another 50 percent more before 2050, Igor Yakovenko says.

            In 1914, the Moscow Center for Social Predictions says, 7.9 percent of the world’s people spoke Russian. That figure had fallen to 5.9 percent by 1990, largely because of the growth of other language communities; but has fallen to roughly three percent now and is projected to decline to 1.4 percent by 2050 (

            Much of the decline since 1991 has been driven by changes in the countries that emerged out of the USSR, with people in them preferring to speak the languages of their titular nationality and often viewing Russia because of Moscow’s aggressive policies toward them as the language of the enemy, the Moscow commentator continues.

            At the same time, Yakovenko says, Russian has ceased to be attractive to others. It can’t compete with English or Chinese as a language in which scholarly work and the Internet are conducted – more than 80 percent of Internet sites are in English – and thus knowledge of Russian doesn’t provide the social lift that knowledge of these other two can.

            Putin and many around him are inclined to blame this on a conspiracy of other countries and say that they can counter it by creating Russian-language portals and publications. But unless there is a demand for these, people are unlikely to be attracted to Russian; and the share speaking it will continue to fall.

            “Today,” the commentator says, “people speak Russian first of all because it is their native language and secondly because it is the state language in their countries. There are now no other causes for the preservation of Russian beyond the borders of it ‘mother’ country, and there are none in prospect.”

            But Yakovenko concludes, “Russia is an unpredictable country. And therefore, one can’t entirely exclude that on the debris of the Russian Empire will arise something capable of making Russian fashionable. But one can hardly see that possibility emerging from present day Russia.”


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