Thursday, March 4, 2021

Moscow Appears Likely to Provide More Support for Russian and Smallest Languages but Not for Those in Between

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – The deliberations of an Academy of Sciences involved in drafting for Vladimir Putin regarding language policy suggest that Moscow may decide to put more money into promoting the dominant Russian language and saving the numerically smallest languages but provide little if any more for the languages of the non-Russian republics.

            That would extend the Kremlin’s current approach in ways that would allow Moscow to claim that it is promoting linguistic diversity, in trying to save languages spoken by very few people, while continuing to undermine the languages of the autonomous republics, which are spoken by millions or at least hundreds of thousands of people.

            In a commentary for the Rex news agency, Regnum journalist Elena Kovachich says that the academicians have been tasked by Putin to come up with the basis for the elaboration of a new language policy strategy and that the Kremlin leader is currently waiting for their recommendations (

            “Of the 150 languages in the Russian Federation,” she reports the academicians as saying, “many are on the brink of disappearing …15 having disappeared during the last decades of the past century.” The scholars say globalization and republic languages are to blame. Not surprisingly, they don’t say Putin’s pro-Russian language policies have anything to do with this.

            Andrey Kibrik of the Academy’c Institute of Linguistics says that languages with help can be brought back from the brink, pointing to the experience of the Saami in Finland, who almost died out as a linguistic community when their number was reduced to one. Now, as a result of the work of activists, the language is thriving.

            In other comments, he says that it is important to preserve linguistic diversity by saving languages that might disappear and adds that ensuring the survival of such languages is the basis for stability in a multi-national country like Russia. But neither he nor any of the other experts, at least in Kovachich’s telling, mentioned saving the titular languages of the republics.

            Given Putin’s moves against republic languages, including in particular his elimination of the requirement that all children in the republics study the language of the titular nation, it is unlikely that the academics will recommend or Putin will promulgate a strategy that will help the vast majority of non-Russian language speakers, even if it saves some of the smallest languages.

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