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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Russian, the Language of Slavery

Radio Free Europe reports that, free not to learn Russian, most members of the old USSR choose not to:

Experts say in many former Soviet republics, where Russian used to be widespread, the language is starting to fall out of use.

Leonid Krysin is the deputy director of the Russian Language Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences and he warned use of Russian language is waning in former Soviet republics. "Firstly, the number of people who know the Russian language is definitely falling. Secondly, the younger population doesn't know the language as well as the older one, who learned it under the Soviet rule. And thirdly, of course, the number of schools [teaching Russian] has been dramatically reduced," Krysin said. He also claimed that "in the sphere of education, schools which taught Russian during the Soviet period have lost their status."

Only five former Soviet republics now have Russian as an official language alongside their own: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. But even in these countries, the issue of language remains contentious. In Belarus, the political opposition accuses the government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka of "Russifying" the country and have called for a return to Belarusian as the sole official language. In Turkmenistan, the Russian language is actively discouraged. In some regions Russian schools have been closed, and the department of Russian philology at Turkmen State University was shut down in 2002. All teaching now takes place in Turkmen, which means Russian-speakers often lose out on getting a full education.

Even within Russia's borders, the issue of language remains divisive. Writing in "Prague Watchdog," an online service dedicated to the conflict in Chechnya, journalist Ruslan Isayev remembers his schoolmistress in Grozny smacking him with a ruler for speaking Chechen, which she called a "dog's language." Today, he writes, the Chechen language is reappearing, but most Chechens still speak Russian or a complicated fusion of Russian and Chechen. But according to Leonid Krysin of the Russian Academy of Sciences, there are objective reasons why former Soviet republics shouldn't turn their backs on the Russian language. "In the sphere of education and the sciences, there is a whole vocabulary that simply doesn't exist in those [native] languages, " Krysin said. He added, "Either it is international vocabulary, with its roots in Latin or Greek, or it is of Russian origin -- for example, financial vocabulary or computer terminology."

Ans Andrei Busygin said, "we have ties that go back many centuries. There is no point in destroying them." Busygin pointed out "geographically, these countries are close to Russia. And many people understand that if their country has a border with Russia, or if it is close to it, economic ties [between their countries] are unavoidable."

In some respects, the economic opportunities mean Russian is still spoken. Millions of people from countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States work in Russia -- some temporarily, others permanently -- and the vast majority use Russian on a daily basis. Still, Krysin said that is not often the case. "I've heard about the situation in, let's say, Uzbekistan, where knowledge of the Russian language has sharply declined – as has the need to use it," Krysin said. He predicted that "It's very possible that in a few decades, Russian will no longer be spoken there. Or, at least, it will exist, but only as a foreign language that is taught in schools like any other." Krysin said in former republics like Uzbekistan it is possible that within a generation, the Russian language could be just a memory.


karLcx said...

... economic ties [between their countries] are unavoidable.

this seems rather defeatist :)

we've all seen the medium and long term positive effects russian trade boycotts have had on economies like estonia and georgia -- it forces producers to find new (richer) markets, to diversify partnerships, to value-add and concentrate on quality.

i see no bad news in this story.

La Russophobe said...

No bad news for whom? I guess if you consider the disappearance of the Russian language to be good news then there's nothing bad, but Russians probably don't see it that way (yet they don't blame Putin, although it's his fault).

karLcx said...

no bad news for the countries/peoples in question (i.e. former slave states). they are now free to promote their own languages and cultures, and intermingle with whomever they wish internationally. russian has become less important thanks to isolationism, lacklustre business links etc. no one really minds, except maybe russians.

Anonymous said...

The troubling part is most of these people had two languages. I understand they want to drop Russian. But if their own language is a little used language outside their area then it is hard to use internationally. For example most Norwegian know English and internationally will use English for travel and such. If they drop Russian, they need an other second language or they hurt themselves in trade and travel.