Russian Vs. 'languages of Small-Numbered Peoples': New Developments, Old Approaches?

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Evgeny GOLOVKO, European University at St. Petersburg, Russia
In the early 1990s, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, in the newly-established Russian state a number of ‘language laws’ were adopted. For a multi-ethnic country like Russia, hosting up to 200 languages, those locally initiated laws were symbolic acts of identity which were intended to fix the official status of ethnic groups in question. Those laws were also a reaction to the previously conducted Soviet language planning and policy when Russian was, on the one hand, considered an officially recognized neutral language, but, in reality, dominated in every significant social segment. Despite the fact that ‘languages of small-numbered peoples’ (an official denomination), in Soviet times, enjoyed certain privileges as regards publishing policy and school education, the adoption of language laws was a distinct marker of dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs.

The adopted laws played their purely symbolic role, and, since the time of their adoption, there have been hardly any activities detected on the part of governmental organizations. The situation with  ‘languages of small-numbered peoples’ has even changed for the worse - the centralized policy of limited support was replaced by a complete indifference and lack of funding. At the same time, the last decade saw an unprecedented flow of official acts in support of the Russian language as a marker of Russian national identity.

One of the first public meetings held by the newly-established Governmental Agency for Nationalities Affairs in 2015 was devoted to language planning and policy, with a special emphasis on ‘small’ languages. The proposed presentation looks into the reasons and hypothesizes about the consequences of new initiatives in official language policy and into new developments and attitudes among national elites.