Staunton, Jan. 13 – New research about dialects in a numerically small Uralo-Altaic nation is likely to have consequences not only for smaller peoples within the Russian Federation but also for Moscow’s approach to larger Slavic peoples living beyond its borders such as the Ukrainians and Belarusians.
Using new sources and computer processing, Idaliya Fedotova of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics concludes that the dialects within the 30,000-strong Khanty nation differ from one another more than do Slavic languages like Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian (naked-science.ru/article/column/dialekty-hantov-razlichayutsya and ural-altai.ru/userfiles/files/publications/Uralaltai-47-118-167.pdf).
That is, the Moscow researcher argues, those who speak one of the various dialects of Khanty are likely to face more difficulties in understanding one another than are those who speak Russian, Ukrainian or Belarusian are in understanding those who speak another of these Slavic languages.
Such a claim is certain to spark controversy. But it has two extremely important consequences even if other scholars reject it. On the one hand, it highlights the fact that there are still numerous possibilities for ethnic engineering by a Russian government that views language as the key element in defining what is a nation and what is not.
And on the other, it will reenforce the view of Putin and those who share his attitudes that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are in fact one people and even one nation, and not the separate nations that their speakers believe.