Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Despite Challenges, Ingush Can Save Their Language from Extinction, Ethnographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 20 – UNESCO has identified Ingush as one of the languages at risk of extinction in the coming decades, and Russian policies and practices have attracted many of its speakers to shift away from Ingush already. But the Ingush themselves have a chance to save their language and thus their culture if they will seize it, Sultan Mereshkov says.

            The chief ethnographer of the Republic House of Popular Creativity argues the Ingush must stop thinking of themselves as the passive objects of state policy and popular culture and recognize that they can take action on their own and thus ensure the survival of their language (gazetaingush.ru/kultura/sultan-mereshkov-gibel-yazyka-eto-nevozvratimaya-poterya-chastichki-kulturnogo-naslediya).

            Some languages will disappear regardless of what their speakers do because they are too small to support a community of speakers, and others may disappear if they view multi-lingualism not as a valuable end in itself but as a halfway house to the disappearance of their own language, Mereshkov says.

            But others similarly situated may survive through their own efforts by promoting the use of their national language at home from the earliest years, encouraging the reading of classical texts in the language, and welcoming rather than opposing bi- or tri-lingualism, insisting that these things mean that their language must survive.

            When one state occupies another territory, “the conquerors first of all change the language. Having lost its language and its culture, the people automatically was condemned to degeneration as an ethnic unit.” But not all peoples who have been conquered have given in, and with time, their languages and not those of the conquerors have won out.

            That can be true of the Ingush as well, the ethnographer insists.

            In today’s world, languages spoken by larger groups have advantages; but research shows that people who speak more than one language have advantages over those who speak only one. They see the world in a more complex manner and thus are able to respond more adequately to its challenges, Mereshkov says.

            At the same time, even when officialdom tries to impose its language via the schools, nations whose languages are under threat can defend their cultures and their nations by promoting the use of their native tongues at home and in the community rather than simply giving up as some do.

            When Moscow ended the requirement that everyone in non-Russian republics study the language of the titular people, many in Ingushetia and elsewhere were concerned that the language would now disappear entirely. It has been restricted to be sure; but it has also prompted Ingush to work outside the schools to ensure it survives.

            Mereshkov’s view is obviously a defensive one, an effort to find something positive among the negative trends he and others see taking place among speakers of non-Russian languages. But it is important because it shows that at least some non-Russians are thinking about how they can counter what the Kremlin wants rather than simply surrendering.

            And the Ingush ethnographer says that in doing so, they have allies: UNESCO considers the survival of the languages of numerically small peoples so important that it has declared the decade beginning in 2022, the International Decade of the Languages of Indigenous Peoples.  Russia will be a participant in this, and the Ingush can and must take advantage of that.

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