Thursday, May 4, 2017

Even Largest Non-Russian Languages in Daghestan Now in Trouble

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 4 – Many of the smaller languages of Daghestan, spoken in some cases by a few hundred people or less, are at the edge of extinction, but now there is clear evidence that even the largest non-Russian languages are at risk, the result of rapid urbanization and official failure to support them.

            Avar, one of the largest language communities in Daghestan, is among those in danger, Ramazan Alpaut writes. Between the 2002 and 2010 censuses, the number of Avars increased by almost 100,000 but the number who spoke the national language declined by 70,000 (

            As a result, more than one in five Avars does not speak his or her native language, a situation that is similar for two other large Daghestani languages, Kumyk and Ingush, Alpaut says, a reflection of rapid urbanization in which members of these groups leave their traditional mono-ethnic communities and the failure of officials to support these languages in the cities.

            Ever fewer Avars and members of the other major Daghestani languages are studying them in schools either because parents believe that their children will be better off if they study the language they are now compelled to take examinations in or because officials simply don’t want to support the non-Russian languages in schools or cultural institutions.

            Thus, as a result, ever more Daghestanis speak Russian and identify as Russian-speaking Daghestanis rather than in terms of their various groups.  Some in Moscow may be pleased by the shift to Russian, but they may be less happy with the consequences that they or their successors will have to deal with.

On the one hand, Moscow will lose its traditional ability to play one ethnic group off against another in order to maintain its position. And on the other, Daghestanis may now present an even more united front – even if it is one that is expressed in Russian rather than in the various languages of that North Caucasus republic.

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