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Language Policy in the Soviet Union

Language Policy in the Soviet Union. Chapter 1: Introduction. Former USSR 1917-1991. Deliberate use of language policy to further political goals Two contradictory trends: National languages were manipulated to create a sense of identity among individual groups of people

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Language Policy in the Soviet Union

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  1. Language Policy in the Soviet Union Chapter 1: Introduction

  2. Former USSR 1917-1991 • Deliberate use of language policy to further political goals • Two contradictory trends: • National languages were manipulated to create a sense of identity among individual groups of people • Strong promotion of Russian as single national language

  3. Dimensions of USSR • 8,649,490 square miles (1/6 of dry land on Earth) • 286,000,000 people in 1991 (over 50% Russian, 81% Russian speakers) • 130 ethnic groups • Approximately 200 languages • 15 Republics, each organized around a major nationality

  4. Language hierarchy created by USSR • 1st tier: Russian, sole official language of administrative, educational and legal practice • 2nd tier: titular languages with official status within their Republic • 3rd tier: languages with written forms and some gov’t support but no official status • 4th tier (bottom): languages without official support

  5. 1. Organization of the Soviet State • Republics can be grouped as: • Baltics (Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian) • Caucasus (Armenian, Azerbaijan, Georgian) • Central Asia (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik Turkmen, Uzbek) • Slavic + Moldova (Russian, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Moldovan) • Russian Far East (Siberia)

  6. 1. Organization of the Soviet State, cont’d. • Republics did not follow strict ethno-linguistic boundaries, but had political purposes • Some Republics designed to create new identities or destroy old ones • Central Asia was pan-Turkic, pan-Islamic, distinction Uzbek vs. Kyrgyz is new • Old clan associations of Siberia were suppressed in favor of larger nationality

  7. 1. Organization of the Soviet State, cont’d. 1939 census • The three largest ethnic groups are all Slavic (Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian) = 78% • Next largest segment of population is Turkic languages (Uzbek, Tatar, Kazakh) • Remaining languages of top ten ethnic groups are titular languages of the Caucasus (Azerbaijani, Georgian, Armenian)

  8. 1. Organization of the Soviet State, cont’d. since 1939 • Birth rates (high for Turkic, esp Uzbek, low for Slavic), genocide, WWII -- all these factors shifted population • New top ten list is: Russian, Ukrainian, Belorusan, Kazakh, Tatar, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Tajik, Georgian

  9. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Language families: • Indo-European • Altaic (Mongolian, Tungusic, Turkic) • Uralic (Finno-Ugric, Samoyedic) • Caucasian • Paleosiberian (families and isolates based on location: Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Eskimo-Aleut, Ket, Nivkh, Yukagir) • Isolates

  10. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Indo-European • Over 80% of USSR had an I-E language as native language • Baltic – both living Baltic languages in USSR • Entire East Slavic subfamily, plus Poles and other West Slavs in Lithuanian & Ukrainian SSRs

  11. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Indo-European • All four subgroups of Indo-Iranian represented: • North-West Iranian (Kurdi, Talysh, Beludji) • South-West Iranian (Tajiki, Farsi, Tat) • North-East Iranian (Osetin, Yagnobi) • South-East Iranian (Rushani, Bartongi, Oroshor, Shugni, Yazgulya, Ishkashimi, Wakhi) • Largest is Tajiki, with over 4M in 1989 in USSR

  12. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Altaic • composition of this family is controversial due to internal complexities, migrations of speakers, lack of clear ethnonyms, language contact • Altaic languages: agglutinating, vowel harmony, grammatical number & case, but NO gender, SOV • Three major branches in USSR: • Turkic (Uzbek, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, Tatar) • Mongolian • Tungusic

  13. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Turkic • Most Turkic languages (except Turkish) spoken in USSR, over 50M speakers in 1989 • Turkic language continuum from Azerbaijan SSR in W to S regions of Tajik SSR, and from S of Tajik SSR N to the Chuvash SSR – in this area, language is mutually comprehensible • More distinct Turkic languages: Chuvash, Yakut, Dolgan, Gagauz (Moldavian SSR), Urum (Georgian SSR)

  14. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Mongolian • Only 2 Mongolian languages (Buriat, Kalmyk) spoken in USSR • Classical Mongolian served as literary language for most Mongolian languages • Vowel harmony, vowel length, human vs. non-human (in pl) • Case before possessive affix (opposite order from Turkic)

  15. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Tungus (these languages spoken in Siberia and China, related to Manchu) • Evenki (30K), Even, Negidal; Orok (only 190), Oroch, Nanai, Udihe, Ulch • all groups are small, traditionally nomads, dialectal fragmentation • Agglutination, vowel harmony, lack of gender, contact with Russian & Turkic

  16. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Uralic: Finno-Ugric & Samoyedic • Vowel harmony, lots of cases, agglutination, lack of gender • Finno-Ugric: • 32 languages (includes Finnish & Hungarian), all spoken in USSR • Ugric (Siberia): Khanty/Ostyak, Mansi/Vogul • Finno-Permic: Komi-Permyak, Komi-Zyrian (Komi ASSR), Urdmut (NE of Moscow); Old Permic recorded by Stephen of Perm 14th c

  17. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • More Finno-Ugric: • Finno-Cheremisic • Cheremisic (2 languages) • High Mari, Low Mari • Finno-Mordvinic • Baltic-Finnic (Estonian), Balto-Finnic (Finnish), Lappic (Saami)

  18. 2. Linguistic map of USSR • Samoyedic (all are indigenous to Siberia): • Northern: Enets, Nenets, Nganasan • Southern: Selkup Very small numbers of speakers, ranging from only 200 up to 35K Vowel harmony, agglutination, sg/du/pl

  19. Caucasian • North Caucasian vs. South Caucasian (Kartvelian) may not be related to each other • South Caucasian: • Georgian, Svan, Laz, Mingrelian • North Caucasian: • Northwest (Abkhaz-Adyghe) • Northeast (Nakh-Daghestanian) • (see diagram of all the languages)

  20. Caucasian • Caucasian languages are famous for: • Long consonant clusters (Georgian) • Large phonemic inventory (Ubykh) • Ergativity • Postpositional • SOV and SVO

  21. Paleosiberian • Languages that are relatively isolated and not related to each other • Tend to be ergative and agglutinating and to express grammar with prefixes, and to lack gender • Eskimo-Aleut covers Siberia, Canada, Greenland, Alaska • Chukchi -- different pronunciations of consonants depending on gender of speaker • Gilyak -- consonant alternations conditioned syntactically and 5 degrees of near/farness in demonstratives

  22. 3. Ethnic composition of USSR • No republic was monolingual • Language was seen by Soviet state as key trait in identifying ethnicity, and this fact was manipulated both by official policy and by individuals reporting census data • The majority of non-Russians declared their heritage language to be their native language, only 15% (1989) declared Russian as their native language • Over half of non-Russians speak Russian, total of 75% of USSR spoke Russian

  23. 4. Analyzing the USSR • Language policy was careful & deliberate, for vast numbers of unrelated languages • Goals were not transparent, sometimes contradictory, and always secretive • Promotion of Russian accelerated over time, suppression of other languages, squelching of nationalist movements

  24. 4. Analyzing the USSR: data • Soviet census data • Very politicized: 1926, 1937, 1939, 1959, 1970, 1979, 1989 • Number of nationalities recognized varied • “Native language” interpreted as language of childhood • 2nd Language ability self-reported • “From the time of the first All-Union Census, ethnic identity was constructed by the Soviets, not by the people.” • Soviet laws & legislation • Soviet statistics

  25. 4. Analyzing the USSR: names, ethnonyms, and spelling • The naming of languages and ethnic groups in USSR was politicized • Before formation of USSR, many minority languages and ethnic groups did not have names, and ethnic groups were created by Soviet policy, along with Russified names • Lots of confusion…

  26. 4. Analyzing the USSR: conclusion • Complex interactions of many ethnic groups and local vs. state-level politics meant that policies were not very uniformly implemented • For example, all languages (few exceptions) were required to use Cyrillic by late 1930s, but this was variously implemented…

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