Sunday, October 16, 2016

Kalmyks Using Their Language Less but Not Losing Their National Identity or Pride

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 16 – Ever more Kalmyks are using Russian rather than Kalmyk both in public and at home, but they retain their national identity and many of them expect their language to come back as part of the process of national rebirth, according to a Kavkazskaya politika portal journalist.

            Nikolay Protsenko spoke with Tamara Esenova, a Kalmyk who heads the Russian language department of Kalmyk State University, about the state of the Kalmyk language and of Kalmyk national identity at the present time and about the prospects of both (

            The Kavkazskaya politika journalist said that “the first thing that hits one in the face in Kalmykia compared to other national republics [in the region] is the predominance of Russian in everyday life.”  Esenova responded that that has been the increasingly the case over the last 100 years, the result of Soviet policy, deportation, and the multi-national nature of the republic.

            When the Kalmyks returned from their deportation, she said, “there were not a sufficient number of teachers with a knowledge of Kalmyk.” Schools in that language began to close, and “by the 1990s, a system of teaching all subjects in Russian was in place.” Kalmyk is not taught only in classes about the Kalmyk language and Kalmyk literature.

            But despite this and despite the contraction of places where Kalmyk is used, Esenova continued, “a Kalmyk who speaks Russian continues to remain a profoundly national personality as long as he has national character and national behavior.” Their survival can be seen in many places, including in journalism. 

            Kalmyk journalists, being Buddhists, for example, are less inclined to sensationalism than are their Russian counterparts even when they are writing in Russian.  And she added that “language is like riding a bike – once you learn to do it, you will quickly recall it when you need or want to.”


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