Ethnicity and language in the post-Soviet period

Zoya Anayban

Ethnicity and language in the post-Soviet period

(on the example of Tuva and Khakassia)

(63rd Annual Meeting Ulaanbaatar, 2021)

The linguistic situation in different regions of Southern Siberia varies from republic to republic in the post-Soviet period, and this is explained by a whole range of factors, including the ethnic composition of the population and the dynamism of modern life. As examples, we took two republics, Khakassia and Tuva.

In Khakassia, the preservation and development of the native language is the most pressing problem in the cultural life of the population. The Khakass language is included in the group of languages that are in danger of extinction, and this fact was confirmed by the UNESCO classification. According to regional linguists, until recently, the language of the Khakassians, who still can speak their vernacular, was very limited due to the lack of language practice. New trends in the linguistic life of Khakassia, associated with a noticeable increase of the role of the Khakass language in the life of the titular nationality, a certain activation and expansion of its functions in the main spheres of life, have most clearly manifested themselves in the last two decades. So, for example, the native language took a more stable position in the national press, in scientific research, in fiction, in some kinds of art.

A different ethno-linguistic situation is observed in the Republic of Tuva. Unlike the Republic of Khakassia, Tuva is one of the few regions of the Russian Federation where the level of preservation of the Tuvan language as a native one has always been very high. Even during the Soviet period, the problem of losing their native language threatened Tuvans to a lesser extent than ethnic groups in other Russian republics. According to the results of various ethno-sociological surveys carried out recently in this region, all respondents named Tuvan as their native language (100%). At the same time, the native language is recognized as dominant, and for rural Tuvans it is the only language of communication, not only in family and everyday life, but also in the sphere of work.

However, in post-Soviet Tuva, there is a decrease in the functions of the Russian language and a significant narrowing of the number of people who speak it. In addition to the specifics of Tuvan ethnic composition, it was largely due to such objective factors as the observed migration of the Russian-speaking population from the rural areas of Tuva during this period, as well as the constant shortage of teachers of the Russian language and literature in schools, especially in rural areas. As a result, the poor knowledge of the Russian language among graduates of Tuvan schools is still one of the main reasons for their lack of competitiveness when they enter universities.

Thus, the processes of multiculturalism and the dynamism of contemporary social life require from representatives of the titular nationality equally good knowledge of both languages, national and Russian. For this reason, in the above-mentioned regions of Southern Siberia, along with the observed intensification of measures taken to further develop and spread native languages, the same attention is paid to the Russian language, since it is objectively in demand and still remains the language of interethnic communication for people living here.