Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Non-Russian Languages Declining Even More Rapidly than Census Reported, Kharitonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 13 – The 2021 Russian census showed that almost all the non-Russian languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation are losing speakers and that many of the smaller ones face extinction in the near future. But experts say that the actual situation may be even worse than the census shows.

            Vasily Kharitonov, founder of the Country of Languages portal (, says that since the census allowed people to declare the languages they know, many did so even though they don’t know more than a few words. Their declarations reflect interest rather than knowledge (

            He gives the following example: the census reported that there were nearly 1,000 speakers of Nanai under the age of 19; but he has worked in the region and says that he “hasn’t met a single person of that age who could be definitely labeled as a proficient speaker” of that dying tongue. Young people are interested in Nanai but don’t speak it.

            Dashin Amgalan, a Buryat instructor in his native republic, says that he has the same feeling. The 2021 census showed an increase in the number of Buryat speakers from 218,557 in 2010 to 306,857 in 2021. But his own observations suggest that there was actually a decline in the number of speakers over that period.

            The Buryat says he doesn’t trust the census figures because he knows how the questions about concerning language were asked. Rosstat had its survey people ask to identify up to three languages that they felt they spoke in addition to their native language. Some who know almost nothing except a few phrases may claim to know a language but that can’t be accepted as true.

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