Friday, February 21, 2020

Russian Only Major Language Used in Many Countries That Isn’t Yet Pluralist and De-Ethnicized, Kamusella Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Most major languages used in many countries become pluricentric and thus de-ethnicized over time, with American English and Indian English for example developing increasingly separately from British English and having no ethnic meaning for those who use it, Polish linguist Tomasz Kamusella says.

            The St. Andrews University scholar notes that “Russian is the only ‘big’ language” that has not yet developed in that way but has retained an ethnic meaning because of Moscow’s insistence that language is the basis of identity for those who speak Russian (“Russian: A Monocentric or Pluricentric Language?” Colloquia Humanistica, 7 (2018): 154-196 at; now translated into Russian at

            Moscow’s position is unlikely to last, he suggests, because “countries where Russian is used for official purposes or where significant Russian-language communities live can unilaterally recognize the territorial and culturally distinctiveness of their corresponding regions” and even insist that others do.

            Thus, “at present, on computer menus, one can select a multitude of variants of English. The same is true of Arabic or German because all these languages are developing in divergent ways in the countries where they are spoken. Russian too is developing in different ways but Moscow does not want to acknowledge that.

            “London never requires from Delhi or Washington that in Indian English or American English they must use this or that ‘correct’ spelling of a word along the British model.” The British accept this pluralization of Englishes and the Indians and Americans insist upon it. To date, however, this process has not gone as far in countries where Russian is widely spoken.

            “Potentially,” Kamusella writes, “at a minimum 20 states could develop their own state forms of Russian (or Russian languages) for official, administrative, educational and computer use.” Over time, this would result in the rise of “a new category of post-Russian languages” on the model of other major linguistic groups.

             That is especially probable where the governments of such states confront a situation in which Moscow tries to keep them within some “’Russian word’” on the basis of language and where these governments want to ensure that all the citizens of their countries identify with them and not with a foreign state.

            “As there are many Russians in the world, so too there should be as many Russian worlds understood as the nationally specific Russian-language cultures,” the linguist says. And understood in this way, “Moscow will not be able to use the Russian-language population in neighboring countries to carry out territorial expansion.”

            Equally important, as this process develops, the governments of these countries will be able to view the Russian speakers among their citizens not as a potential fifth column that must be fought but simply as a linguistically distinct group of people who are just as loyal to the state in which they live as anyone else.

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