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Sociolingüística internacional

Language Policy and Minority Language Planning in Russia: the case study of the Kalmyk language,
per Bossia Kornoussova


The main component part of the decrees of the republics concerning the language preservation, development and study are chapters devoted to the titular nation languages, where they provide for the development of the educational system in the national language, the training of scientific and teaching cadres, the development of literature, science and arts, TV and radio broadcasting. The issues of state languages use in the sphere of official communication in the work of state authorities, in laws and acts, at elections and referendums, in courts, publishing and in the official correspondence are regulated in detail in the language laws of the republics.

At present a number of national republics, including the Republic of Kalmykia, the Republic of Tatarstan, the Republic of Chuvashia, the Republic of Buryatia and several republics of the North Caucasus have worked out their programs concerning the preservation and development of the languages of their republics, which may be called national-regional programs. However, according to Neroznak the national regional level is insufficient for their implementation and to make progress along these lines it is necessary to have federal program (3).

3. Kalmykia: historic and linguistic background

The Republic of Kalmykia stretches to the south-east of the European part of Russia and occupies the territory between the Volga and Don rivers. It has borders with the Republic of Dagestan in the south, Stavropol region in the south-west, with Rostov and Volgograd regions in the west and north-west. Its eastern border with Astrakhan region is interrupted by a narrow opening to the Volga river, in the south-east it is washed by the Caspian Sea.

Kalmykia with its population of 320,000 is a multinational republic. The main nationality of the Republic is the Kalmyks which make up 45.4 %, and there is a large community of ethnic Russians -37.7%. The rest of the population is made up by ethnic Darghins, Chechens, Kazakh, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans, Estonians, Koreans, etc. In all they represent over 90 nationalities and nations. The population of the capital city Elista is approximately 103,000 people, which makes up 32% of the whole population of Kalmykia.

The Kalmyks are a Western Mongolian people whose language is related to Mongolian; their main religion is Tibetan Buddhism. They used to live as nomadic herdsmen in north-west Mongolia known as Djungharia. At the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries they started to migrate north-west. They first appeared on the territory of Siberia in 1594 - 1597 and then moved westwards toward the Don river. In 1608-1609 the Kalmyks voluntarily joined the Russian Empire.

Till the mid of the 17th century the Kalmyks used old Mongol writing, and in 1648, the (vertically written) Mongolian script was adapted for use in Kalmyk. This alphabet, referred to as Todo Bichig (meaning "clear writing") was used until 1924, when it was replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet, then by the Latin one in 1930 and again by the Cyrillic one in 1937, which has been used till nowadays. It is obvious that these changes of script, which took place three times during quite a short period of time, had resulted in the situation when the further generations of the Kalmyk people have lost touch with their written heritage.

The deportation under Stalin in 1943 was a further and major blow to the Kalmyk language. The Kalmyks were permitted to return to their native land in 1957. The Kalmyks were probably the only repressed people who were scattered over large territories during their deportation. The deportation has reduced the total number of the Kalmyks approximately to 100,000 and had further weakened the Kalmyk language and culture. The Kalmyk people were often mixed with other deported peoples and obliged to use Russian, it being the only common language. As a result of this, the generation grew up which wasn't taught their mother tongue at school and acquired the language only in the family circle.

Even after the Kalmyks were permitted to return in 1957, the Soviet state applied decidedly assimilationist policies. Khrushchev himself believed that Communism would be embraced faster and more enthusiastically by Russian-speaking populations, implying that other languages eventually were a hindrance, and russification was actively pursued under Brezhnev. In the 1960s and 1970s, drastic cuts were made in native language education, the last Kalmyk national school was closed in 1963. The language of instruction in all schools became Russian with the Kalmyk language taught only two-three hours per week. Already in the early 70s a generation of the Kalmyks grew up who could understand their mother tongue but could not speak it. Russian became the language of everyday communication in all the spheres of life including the family circle.

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