Saturday, January 14, 2017

Can Stickers Save an Endangered Language? Chuvash Seek to Find Out

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 14 – For the last two years, Chuvash activists have been putting up stickers of two kinds: small ones that provide the Chuvash equivalent for Russia words like “entrance” and “exit” and larger ones declaring “Кунта чăвашла та калаçатпăр” (“we speak Chuvash here”) for merchants to put in their windows.

            The signs are intended to popularize the use of Chuvash by calling the attention of residents of that Middle Volga republic to the fact that the Chuvash are the titular nationality there and that signs and other forms of public life should take place in the national language rather than in Russian (

            Most specialists on language believe that there is “a direct connection between the level of the mastery of a language, attitudes toward it (the image of a language), and frequency of use,” Dmitry Stepanov writes on the After Empire portal. Consequently, supporters of a language are convinced that if they can improve the numbers for one, the other two will improve as well.

            The Chuvash picked up the idea from Tatarstan whose officials, intellectuals and activists have so often served as the inspiration for others.  And they have posted the signs on their own and also offered to give the “we speak Chuvash” signs to local businesses and social groups in the hopes of helping the language survive.

            Residents of Chuvashia are divided in their reaction to the stickers. Some object seeing these messages as an effort to drive out the Russian speakers, “but on the whole, the reaction has been more positive or neutral than negative.” The activists say that “they do not divide people by nationality but would like that residents of Chuvashia understand Chuvash.”

            One interesting phenomenon has emerged as the sticker campaign has continued, Stepanov says. Some store owners are asking for these signs even though they do not know Chuvash and then make an effort to at least learn the politenesses so that they can keep their customer base.

            “One of the main goals of this project,” the commentator says, “is to make Chuvash a standard ‘city’ language” by overcoming the views of those who see it as “’antique’” or “’a village tongue.’” Again, the activists have had some success but they have also generated opposition among those for whom Russian is their day-to-day language.

            According to Stepanov, “all this means that Chuvash, despite its official state status still hasn’t yet become the everyday means of communication for Chuvashia.” But there is another way to look at this: the situation of Chuvash today might be even worse if it weren’t for the sticker campaign.

            But if Chuvash has not achieved the status among the Chuvash that the activists want, it has gained two enthusiastic adherents from other nations: Hector Alos Font, a linguist from Catalonia who lives together with his family in the republic is one (

            And Ruslan Sayfutdinov, an ethnic Ingush who has completed a partial translation of the Koran into Chuvash and is now working to do a complete one, is the other ( In this way, the Chuvash language is becoming better known, and together with the sticker campaign, this can only help this Turkic language to survive.

No comments:

Post a Comment