Friday, September 27, 2019

Buryat Intellectuals Warn Against Weakening Literary Language by Boosting Dialects

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 24 – A group of senior Buryat scholars has issued a public appeal to the powers that be not to promote dialects within the Buryat language in ways that will weaken the integrity and importance of the Buryat literary language. The authorities must be “extremely careful” regarding any moves about the language, they say.

            The appeal, reported by the AsiaRussia portal ( follows a decision by Moscow and Ulan-Ude to play up Buryat’s four regional dialects, a move many see as an effort to weaken the common Buryat literary language and thus block the intensification of Buryat national identity (

            “Instead of the consolidation of the Buryat nation,” the scholars say, “what is taking place is itssplitting apart and the reduction of the Buryats to the level of ethnic tribalism” and leading to the exacerbation of conflicts within the nation.”  In short, this step marks a reversal of more than 80 years to create a common Buryat language.

            Over those decades, the authors of the appeal says, “there have been published an enormous number of books, journals and newspapers” in which there has been worked out a common Buryat literary language. “This is already a historically established fact.” It must not be challenged.

            Consequently, with great surprise and concern, we observe attempts by the state newspaper to publish in the informal dialects of local idioms. Everyone knows that these do not have written norms: they lack the rules of orthography and grammar;” and doing this introduces confusion and division.  It will soon become “impossible to publish something.”   

The republic newspaper Buyaad Unen “must be published only in the literary language in correspondence with the language legislation of the Republic of Buryatia and of the Russian Federation.” Officials must recognize that “a literary language cannot be the object for the realization of the caprices of any public organization or individual citizens.”

The Russian Orthodox Church has a good track record of keeping out of language disputes of this kind, and the Buddhist leaders in Buryatia must do the same.  All this is critical, the authors say, because “even without this, the weak positions of the Buryat language can be destroyed, and the Buryats will lose their language as the basis for the existence of the nation.”

“If our voice seems insufficient,” they write, “we are ready to increase its volume. The powers must be extremely careful and responsible in dealing with language policy and develop a careful strategy of developing the Buryat language and not playing with forces which are dividing the Buryat nation.”

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