Monday, September 14, 2015

Could Linguistic Triage Save Daghestan from Russification?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 14 – The enormous linguistic diversity of Daghestan means that young people increasingly are using Russian rather than their native languages, thus threatening the population with Russianization and Russification, trends that some experts believe could be slowed or stopped if Makhachkala were to promote the survival of only three local languages.

             An increasing number of Daghestanis are calling for “the unification of dozens of mountain languages into a single or two or three languages, as has happened with other peoples of the world,” Rizvan Radzhabov says.  “Otherwise the languages of Daghestan will not survive” (

            That process won’t be easy even if there is agreement, the journalist says, but unless it is begun, the fate of many of the existing languages is not going to be a happy one – and the problems of that North Caucasus republic are likely to increase rather than decrease in the coming decades.

            Radzhabov points out that “the coming of Soviet power to the Caucasus” had a negative impact on the national languages of the region: “forced Latinization and the succeeding transition to Cyrillic script led to the erosion of the position of mountaineer languages and the loss of specific cultural and social characteristics.”

            The loss of the Arab script which had been used for 1500 years undermined not only the languages but the cultures of the peoples. Now, the mass culture of today is having an analogous effect and leading to “the loss of former social norms of behavior” and a lack of “spirituality” among the Daghestanis.

            That makes the native languages of the peoples critically important, Radzhabov says, but they will not be saved in competition with Russian if Makhachkala simply calls for their preservation and does not provide real reasons for maintaining them.

            Consequently, some Daghestani experts are suggesting that the best way forward is to unify the 50 indigenous languages into several large groups and try to save those.  Among those is Alina Manafova who has called for making Avar the single language of the republic (

            She argues that Daghestan’s enormous linguistic diversity has prevented it from becoming “a single people speaking a single language.” Had there been just one language there, Daghestan in her view might have been able to “establish one of the most powerful states in the region,” possibly with an influence greater than Armenia or Georgia.

            Manafova concedes that today, were a single language to be adopted, that would lead to the more rapid disappearance of the languages spoken by relatively few people and could even lead to the more radical Russianization and Russification of the republic’s population. Consequently, any change would be controversial.

            At the same time, she says that in contrast to Chechnya where the single national language is modernizing and dominating ever more spheres of life, many of the languages of Daghestan are degrading and losing much of the lexical fund they need to express ideas about modern technology.

            Other Daghestani writers have called for making Kumyk or Avar the dominant language and still a third group is pushing for the idea of creating a new mountaineer language by combining elements of some of the languages spoken by smaller groups in the republic’s population.

            Radzhabov quotes Daghestani writer Ziyatuudin Aydamirov to the effect that making these choices is not about which language is good or bad but rather about “the life or death of our people. We will be able to survive only with our native languages” and our “national self-consciousness” (

                Given that it is impossible to make all 50 indigenous languages state languages, Aydamirov continues, it would be good to have just one, “an official all-mountaineer language.”  And to get there, he argues, scholars should unite all the mountaineer languages into two groups of related tongues, the South Daghestani language and the Middle Daghestani language.

            The first would unite Lezgin, Tabasaran, Agul, Tutul and Tsakhur; the second would unite Dargin, Lak, Avar and the Ando-Tses languages. Kumyk, Aydamirov suggests, could serve as the third.

No comments:

Post a Comment