Thursday, October 24, 2019

Interest in Russian Regional Dialects Not Only Growing but Getting Media Support

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 21 – The Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences estimates that there are approximately 150 dialects in the Russian Federation, many of which are spoken by ethnic Russians in that far flung country, despite efforts by schools and media to promote a single Moscow standard Russian (

            In Soviet times, the regime and its scholars routinely focused on dialects in non-Russian nations when Moscow judged it was useful to divide and weaken them, sometimes in notoriously cynical ways. The most blatant were the divisions imposed on Turkic, Finno-Ugric and especially the Circassians as part of Moscow’s divide and rule strategy, (On this strategy, see

            But perhaps the most cynical – and the same time clear evidence of the failure of this policy occurred in Belarus in the late 1980s when Moscow promoted four regional dialects through the establishment of regional literary journals so that the Belarusian nation could not consolidate as effectively against Russia.

Until recently, however, Moscow has cracked down hard on any promotion of different dialects in Russian lest they come to support regional movements that could challenge central control. (For examples of this, see,, and

In the last few weeks, either as a result of a decision that regional dialects of Russian are no threat or alternatively of neglect of this issue or even as a result of a cold-blooded calculation that promoting divisions within the ethnic Russian nation may be useful for the Kremlin, something appears to have changed.

There have been two developments in particular: First, in Voronezh, a local scholar, Elvra Parhots, has presented materials about the dialect of Russian spoken in that oblast as part of the third season of a program entitled “We are Voronezhtes!” (

Not only does such promotion fly in the face of past official practice, but it clearly has touched many people. In the first three days after her talk, it was covered and in a very positive way by almost a dozen outlets not only in Voronezh where one might except local loyalties to win out but in other Russian regions that may have similar interests.

And second, Russian artist Mikhail Shemyakin has succeeded in attracting the interest of Russian television in promoting words from various Russian dialects, an interest that has the support of the ministry of culture and two linguistic institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (

If his project takes off, it will legitimate dialects within the Russian language in the minds of many and thus both increase interest in them in Russia’s far-flung regions and make it more likely that those who want to take other actions to ensure the survival or promote the development of regional dialects will not face the official opposition they have in the past. 

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