Tuesday, November 8, 2016

‘Do You Speak Urals?’ – and Other Signs of the Rise of Multiple Russian Languages

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 8 – Vladimir Putin has made the Russian language the unifying center of his vision of the Russian nation and the Russian world, but the appearance of multiple Russian languages or dialects is very much a fact of life, something “one can love or hate but cannot possibly be indifferent to,” according to one linguist

            A web portal in the Urals says that the Urals dialect of Russia is sufficiently distinct that those who do not know it may have difficulty making purchases in stores there, arranging to meet with others, or even carrying on conversations about nominally every day matters and has offered its visitors a test to determine how well they “speak” Urals (ural.ulmart.ru/).

            More significantly and intriguingly, linguistics expert Maksim Krongauz argues that the emergence of such regional variations is an example of glocalization, the process by which globalization as produced by the Internet is generating localism in response. It is a process he welcomes but many may not (snob.ru/selected/entry/116140).

            Indeed, he says, “the more Russian languages there are, the better it will be for the Russian language,” a view that Putin and his ministers of culture and education among others almost certainly would dissent from especially if such “Russian languages” increasingly lead their speakers to distance themselves from Moscow.

            Russians like everyone else now find themselves in “completely new circumstances” thanks to the Internet which is having an unprecedented impact on language. “Many languages are changing” and in a similar direction: there is an ever smaller gap between written and oral speech. That has the effect of increasing diversity and reducing uniformity.

            In his 2007 book, “The Russian Language on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown,” Kongrauz argued that this should not disturb anyone because “rumors about the rapid death of Russian are strongly exaggerated.” But what is emerging is something new with both pleasing and displeasing aspects.

            He says that as a linguist, he is pleased to have all this new material to study but that as a speaker of Russian, he is sometimes horrified by the kind of language that is emerging out of slang or vulgar expressions – and by the speed with which the Internet promotes the acceptance of these as almost standard speech.

            Within a single generation, he continues, there can now be quite significant distancing of one group of speakers of a language from another, a pace never before encountered in human history.  But that is a good thing, if one accepts it in a critical way. “The Russian language now is at a stage of unusual flourishing,” Krongauz says.

            That it is reflects the appearance “of new variants of the Russian language.”  As a result, everyone should recognize and welcome the fact that “the greater number of variants there are, the more Russian languages there appear, the better the Russian language will feel” and the longer it will survive.

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