Monday, March 23, 2020

Soviet-Imposed Language System Collapsing in Central Asia – and Maybe in Russia Too?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 19 – The Soviet-imposed language system in Central Asia is collapsing among the four Turkic peoples. They are no longer developing their national languages in ways intended to keep them separate and then using Russian as the language of inter-ethnic communication.

            Instead, according to a report on Yandex’s Central Asia page, members of each of the four Turkic peoples are ever more often using their own languages to speak with representatives of the others, a pattern that in most cases allows them to understand one another without difficulty because the languages are similar.

            Only when they can’t make themselves understood to members of the others or understand what the others are saying, something that is rarely the case, are they now inclined to turn to Russian, the page says (

            This new situation is easiest for Kazakhs and Kyrgyz whose languages are members of the same Turkic subgroup and quite close. It is more difficult for Uzbeks and Turkmens because their languages are more distantly related. But even they are increasingly relying on their common Turkic substrate to communicate rather than turning to Russian.

            The Tajiks, who speak a Persian language, are in a different position, and Tajiks from Tajikistan continue to use Russian when they are interacting with the other Central Asians, the page says. But many Tajiks live in Uzbekistan and are married to Uzbek. They know Uzbek and use it with the other Turkic peoples just as Uzbeks do.

            Meanwhile, infuriated by Vladimir Putin’s decision to include in the constitution a provision to specifies Russian is the language of the state-forming people of that country, Lyutsiya Karimova, a Tatar activist, has called for making the shared Turkic language of “all the Turks of the Volga, Siberia, the North Caucasus and Crimea” (

            She has posted a petition on the site that calls for having the Russian Federation shift from Russian to this common Turkic tongue as its state language over the next 20 years (президенту-рф-путину-в-в-в-государственную-думу-рф-сделать-татарский-язык-или-удмуртский-или-др-государственным-языком-рф-вместо-русского).

            As she points out, “if one speaks about the millennium-long continuity in Russian history, then the Russian Federation is the legal successor not only of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire but of the Golden Horde,” from which most of the Turkic peoples living within the current borders of the Russian Federation descend.

            Only 143 people have signed Karimova’s petition, and Moscow is not going to allow it to go anywhere. But what is important is her suggestion that the Turkic languages spoken by the various Turkic peoples of the Russian Federation are close enough to be the basis for a single common language.

            That is what the Soviets always feared and worked against, but it appears that that feature of their language system is dying as well, albeit 30 years after the USSR ceased to exist.

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