Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Karelian Not Just the Language of Villagers, Petrozavodsk Backer of Karelian ‘VKontakte’ Interface Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 25 – Karelian is the only titular language of a non-Russian republic that is not the official language of its republic. Instead, Russian is the republic’s state language, Karelian is defined only as an “official” minority language there, and UNESCO classifies it as a tongue on the brink of disappearance.

            Petrozavodsk resident Natalya Vorobey and a team of volunteers have been working for five years to change this by ensuring that Karelian will have a place on the Internet and won’t be a language anyone can dismiss as something spoken only by rural residents (7x7-journal.ru/articles/2021/04/26/eto-ne-tolko-yazyk-na-kotorom-govoryat-v-derevne-zachem-zhitelnica-petrozavodska-perevodit-interfejs-vkontakte-na-karelskij-yazyk).

            Now, they have made a breakthrough. Vkontakte has put up a beta version of a Karelian interface, something that will allow those who go on line regularly to use that language rather than be forced to shift to Russian or something else. Vorobey hopes that this will help slow the decline of the language. At present fewer than half of the 60,000 Karels speak Karelian.

            The activist says that this possibility will show that “Karelian is a language in which it is possible to discuss all issues. It is not just a language spoken int eh countryside … it is one on which one can speak about high technology issues as well.” And this is critical for a nation as small as the Karels.

            Because they are so few and because they live in such a dispersed way, there is little chance, Vorobey says, to organize them in a critical mass except on the Internet. Most of those who use the interface are either young people or those of middle age, people who are perhaps most at risk of losing Karelian because they do not speak it all the time unlike older ones.

            That gives some hope that this interface despite being produced by volunteers operating on a shoestring budget may reverse the trajectory Karelian has been on for almost a century and allow it not only to begin to come back but to attract the notice of officials who may feel compelled to make it and not Russian the language of Karelia. 

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