Sunday, April 18, 2021

Guide to Russian as Spoken in Vladikavkaz Becomes a Best Seller

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – In any country as large and diverse as the Russian Federation, the national language, in this case Russian, will vary enormously from one region to another however much the Kremlin seeks to impose a Moscow standard on it and use that language as the basis of national identity.

            In some places, local Russians speak a language which features words and turns of phrase that Russians from elsewhere often have no idea what the locals are talking about. One such place is Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, and to help them, a local sociologist has published a 20-page guide to North Ossetian Russian.

            Mikhail Aboyev, a sociologist of education, has published his Vladikavkaz Phrasebook and been pleased that its first edition has sold out in only a few weeks, an indication that there is a real need for such publications not only there but elsewhere in the Russian Federation as well (

            The sociologist says he came up with the idea when a visitor from Moscow noted that he couldn’t understand much of what Russians were saying in Vladikavkaz. Aboyev gives many examples but in many cases, they reflect either local understandings or the reversal of meanings such as “bad” for “good” that are found in other cultures.

            Similar guidebooks to local Russian languages have appeared elsewhere, particularly east of the Urals. But this is the first one for Russian in the North Caucasus. And it has proved remarkably popular, prompting Aboyev and his associates to plan a second edition that will be larger and include not 20 terms but perhaps as many as 200.

            Not everyone has been pleased by this publication, the sociologist says; but he thinks most of those who object have not read it and are simply upset by any suggestion that Russian varies as widely as it does. Moreover, they fail to understand that the booklet “is not a dissertation but an amusement” for its authors and readers.

            But if such publications are for some a figure of fun, they are for others something vastly more important, a reminder that however much a government tries to control the development of language, it will develop in its own ways and become more diverse rather than less, something that both reflects and helps produce political changes down the line. 


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