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Sociolingüística internacional
Winter - spring 2001

Language Policy and Minority Language Planning in Russia: the case study of the Kalmyk language,
per Bossia Kornoussova
The author gives a general overview of the sociolinguistic and ethnolinguistic situation in the Russian Federation, focusing especially in the case study of the Republic of Kalmykia.
  en català    

1. Introduction
2. The language policy and linguistic context in the Russian Federation
3. Kalmykia: historic and linguistic background
4. Language Policy and Language Planning in the Republic of Kalmykia
5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

According to the latest population census of 1989 the number of various ethnic groups inhabiting the Russian Federation is as high as 180 and represent about 28 million people, i.e. about 20% of the whole population; they occupy a vast area of Eurasia, from the Baltic in the West to the Pacific Ocean in the East, and from the Arctic Ocean in the Far North to the Caucasus Mountains in the South. There are large nations represented by millions of people (for example, the Russians comprise 83% of the countries population and are numbered in millions), medium-number population groups - some 50.000 to several hundred thousand (for example, the Kalmyks count 146,316 people), and minority ethnic groups, from less than 50.000 down to a single person. According to data published in 1992 there are 63 of such minority ethnic groups, more than 30 of them live in the North of Russia (Neroznak, 1994).

The multiethnic composition of the Russian Federation presupposes state support for the development of all the ethnoses, of their culture and languages. Regarding the subject under discussion it means that there should be an uttered state language policy including language legislation as well as mechanisms regulating the implementation of language policy and provisions of legal documents. The implementation of decrees on languages is closely connected with language planning or language programming. To put the provisions of decree into practice it is necessary to have special mechanism for their implementation. One type of such important mechanism is the program for the preservation and development of the peoples of the Russian Federation. (Neroznak, 2000).

It is obvious that the purposes and aims of language policy and language planning are dependent upon the individual linguistic context. For example, where the language in question is in a critical condition, the aim will be language restoration; where it is under threat, the language revival will be the aim. In multiethnic environment of Russia the linguistic contexts, language policies and language planning are certain to vary with every ethnic group, but there sure to be some common features influenced by the conventional state language policy. This paper doesn't claims to analyze the state language policy of the Russian Federation or the mechanisms or inputs of this policy. Its aim is to overview the approach chosen by one of the member republics of Russia namely the Republic of Kalmykia for the maintenance and development of the language of the titular nation. The case of Kalmykia can be interesting from the point of view that the mother tongue of the titular nation here can be considered one of the most endangered languages of Russia.

The perspective adopted for the analysis in this article is based on the Western approach to language planning and maintenance which states that language planning involves status planning (changing the status of a language within society by increasing or decreasing its functions), corpus planning (concerning the alteration of standardization of a language to fulfill new functions) and acquisition planning (creating language spread by increasing the number of speakers and uses by, for example, language teaching) (Baker, Collin. 1998).

2. The language policy and linguistic context in the Russian Federation

2.1. The language policy in the Russian Federation

The democratic processes started with the Perestroika in the former Soviet Union highlighted the drawbacks in the national policy of the country, which had been neglected before. Among them were the issues concerned with national identity development and minority languages maintenance. Most of minority languages were in the process of extinction or endangered. The strive to revive a sense of national self-identity as well as endangered languages created a feeling of urgency leading sometimes titular nationalities to apply radical decisions in order to protect their language and their identity. The former republics of the Soviet Union started one by one adopt language laws that proclaimed the languages of the titular nations the state languages. Many politicians and sociolinguists are of the opinion that the nationalist and linguistic issues alongside with some other ones became the key stones in the break-up of the USSR and in some cases the language decrees and laws were direct causes of the armed conflicts, for example in Moldavia. The language reforms started in the republics of the Soviet Union in 1989 has made RSFSR oversee the linguistic situation and adopt the relevant decrees. Russia was the last to adopt the law on languages after all the other republics of the former Soviet Union. I'd like to bring to your attention the main documents regulating language policy in Russia given here in the chronological order.

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