Some Remarks on the Minority Languages Question

Stan Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at
Sun Oct 12 23:09:30 UTC 2008

Would it be interesting to compare how the languages of the Arctic fared in 
Russia vs. the US and Canada. I have the impression Yupik is weaker in 
Russia than in Alaska. I wonder why?

Stan Anonby

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Harold Schiffman" <hfsclpp at>
To: "lp" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Sunday, October 12, 2008 11:03 AM
Subject: Some Remarks on the Minority Languages Question

> Some Remarks on the Minority Languages Question
> The recent posts on minority languages have elicited some interesting
> comments. Commenting on The Record of Communist Language Policy,
> silver, a Serb, notes:
> In Eastern Europe, a similar thing occurred with the fall of the
> Communist regimes. In general, nationalist regimes took their place
> and quickly began attacking minorities and minority tongues. This has
> been most pronounced in the former Yugoslavia. I'm not aware of
> Serbian nationalists attempting to suppress Hungarian or Albanian.
> Even throughout the supposedly nationalist Milosevic era I think
> Hungarians were able to graduate university in Hungarian (and, of
> course, Albanian in Kosovo). I'm pretty sure Albanian has fared better
> in Macedonia under independence than during Yugoslavia; little-known
> Vlach certainly has.
> A new poster, A Jew Coming to Get You, who will be tolerated as long
> as he behaves, notes:
> A relevant book discussing Soviet nationality policy is called
> Affirmative Action Empire. Regarding the Chinese dialects, dialect
> speakers don't consider themselves members of a separate nation, hence
> there is no demand for linguistic autonomy. In Taiwan the issue is
> politicized, maybe it will become so in China if ever it becomes a
> Democracy.
> In Tibet (and in Xinjiang) you have a colonial situation which differs
> substantially with the relationship between Mandarin and the smaller
> Chinese dialects.
> It's nice to hear that Milosevic's repression did not extend to
> national languages. He kept the Tito position (that I had never heard
> of) that allowed even Hungarians and Albanians to have all of their
> education in their native tongue, all the way through university.
> Impressive! And in Macedonia, while there have been serious problems,
> the regime has tried very hard to accommodate the often-difficult
> demands of local Albanians. And it's nice to hear that there is
> support even for little-known Vlach.
> I would not really call the Macedonian government an ultra-nationalist
> regime, though. It's well-mixed with Macedonians and Albanians.
> Allowing national minorities to have education their native tongue
> seems shocking in a US context, but it's fairly common in Europe. Some
> tongues even get to take university courses in their native language,
> though that's not very common.
> That book, Affirmative Action Empire, seems very interesting. The
> now-dominant line that the USSR was uniformly hostile to all
> non-Russian tongues was shown to be a lie. Nationalism for all of the
> non-Russian nationalities was encouraged by Lenin to make them less
> hostile to a revolutionary movement led by Russians.
> Until World War, Russian nationalism, and not just Great Russian
> chauvinism, was not only not promoted, but was actively discouraged.
> Each large nationality was given its own republic, and many smaller
> ones were given their own autonomous republics.
> In many cities, the local nationality was not even the most common
> nationality. In Tbilisi, Armenians were a majority for many years. In
> Kiev and Minsk, it was Russians and Jews. Prague had a German
> majority. Yerevan often had a Muslim majority.
> The Soviets attempted to rectify this situation in their nation by
> moving members of the national ethnic group into the cities to make
> them a majority in their own cities. Amazing. These Communists could
> be seen as champions of ethnic nationalism.
> Alphabets, grammars, school texts, etc. were created for nearly every
> tongue in the USSR. These were often the first attempts at literacy
> for these languages. At the same time, national minorities were
> expected to become proficient in Russian.
> Attempts by local minorities to "become Russian" were actively
> discouraged! Ukrainian nationalists will be loath to admit this, but
> for years, a Ukrainization policy was actively encouraged. It is
> interesting that this attempt was not very successful. Most Ukrainians
> were not interested. They wanted a dual Russian-Ukrainian culture
> rather than a Ukrainian one.
> In terms of the Chinese minorities, most still live in places where
> they form the majority. I think they all have a right to education in
> their native tongue and I think most of these small languages are
> still in very good shape.
> The case with Mandarin and the other Chinese lects is different.
> Although these are full languages and not dialects, the fact that they
> are all Chinese is probably seen as evidence that they are competing
> with Mandarin. Hence, it is true that they are discouraged, but they
> all still have many speakers.
> It is certainly true that Xinjiang and Tibet are colonial situations.
> The aboriginal languages of Taiwan are not in good shape at all. Most
> young people are speakers, but not very good speakers. They speak
> aboriginal languages mostly with their grandparents, who are not very
> proficient in Mandarin. The kids' education has been in Mandarin, and
> this is the language they are most able to speak. I'm afraid that in
> 60 years, they might be history.
> There are a few classes offered in aboriginal languages, but it only
> boils down to 1-2 hours a week, and it's not really working. Taiwan
> has no mother tongue education policy and for decades, aboriginal
> tongues were suppressed by the Nationalists (fascists). What else is
> new?
> References
> Lee, Hui-chi Lee. 2004. A Survey of Language Ability, Language Use and
> Language Attitudes of Young Aborigines in Taiwan. In Hoffmann,
> Charlotte & Jehannes Ytsma (Eds.) Trilingualism in Family, School, and
> Community pp.101-117. Clevedon, Buffalo: Multilingual Matters.
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