Sunday, March 25, 2018

Moscow, Urbanization, and the Internet Killing Off Minority Languages in Russia, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 24 – Moscow’s Russianization of education, especially over the last two decades, rapid urbanization which is destroying the rural redoubts which had kept minority languages alive, and the Internet which is penetrating even those places are combining to destroy languages spoken by relatively small numbers of people, according to community experts.

            In a report on a March 20 meeting in Makhachkala devoted to the current state of the Lezgin language, Leyla Aliyeva  points out that “the number of threats to the national languages of the people of the Caucasus have grown by an unbelievable amount in recent years” (

            Participants at the session pointed to three in particular.  First, Moscow has drastically cut the amount of school instruction in minority languages in recent years, in many cases to as few as two hours a week; and in response, parents have begun to speak Russian at home so that their children will not have problems in school.

            As a result, the languages are not being saved by being spoken at home, as many Russian commentators have suggested, but are being undermined there as well, an indication of the spillover effect from Russian policies in the educational system. If nothing is done to reverse the language patterns in the school, the smaller languages will be at increasing risk.

            Second, in almost all cases, the numerically smaller peoples have been subject to rapid urbanization. That is destroying the places of compact rural settlement long viewed as the last redoubts of their national languages. And when people move into the cities, they shift to Russian because they are in a multi-national milieu and must use that language as a lingua franca.

            And third, even in the remaining rural areas where one might expect the minority languages to flourish, they are under attack by the electronic media, television which in almost all cases is in Russian but even more by the Internet which because it is interactive has an even more Russifying and Russianizing set of consequences.

            Given poverty and the lack of alternative sources of entertainment, many young people in these communities who might have spoken to one another in their native languages in the past are now using Russian with each other because that is the language they must use when they go online.

            This triple whammy is rapidly delivering a knockout blow to languages spoken even by groups as large as the Lezgins, who number nearly a million.  And the Makhachkala meeting adopted a resolution calling for a series of defensive measures to be taken before it is too late to save these tongues.

            Among the most important of its demands are the following:

·         Using native languages in government offices in places where the non-Russians form at least 50 percent of the population.

·         Using the native language for toponomy, street signs and village names where they form a majority.

·         Organize distant learning instruction in these languages at the Daghestan State Pedagogical University to overcome the severe shortage of teachers in these languages.

·         Enshrine these and other provisions in a republic law “On the languages of the Republic of Daghestan.”

·         Declare March 20 to be the Day of the Lezgin Language, to attract attention to its problems.        

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