[lg policy] Forwarded request for work on post-Soviet language use in former USSR

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 29 14:51:30 UTC 2010


This request was sent to be my William Fierman at Indiana University. He is now
a member of this list, so you can respond to him directly, or to the
list in general.
His email is Wfierman at indiana.edu,


I have been collecting information on the status of Russian language
in the post-Soviet states, particularly the continued use of Russian
for a variety of high status domains in Central Asia. The level of
Russian language skills among the titular groups in areas of Central
Asia where few Slavs live—especially in most rural areas—is no doubt
falling. Some of this is a function of the decrease in the number of
hours devoted to Russian in the school curriculum and the general
decline in the quality of education. (True, those considering work in
Russia may recognize that they need some Russian, but just the same
many go with weak Russian skills.) Despite this decline in skills
among the masses, in Central Asia, Russian still occupies an important
role in communication among middle generation elites. Educated in
Russian, many individuals in their 40s and 50s who occupy positions of
authority in the higher echelons of government conduct a lot of their
business at least partly in Russian. That is, despite the requirements
mandating use of the local languages, a lot of deloproizvodstvo is
conducted in Russian. Often a copy of a version of a document is
attached in the local language, but the one that the people in
authority operate with is the one in Russian. Along the same lines,
Russian-language higher institutions (or tracks in the Russian
language) are usually associated with higher quality than those in the
local language (at least in certain specialties). This seems to be the
case even in countries like Turkmenistan, not to mention Kyrgyzstan.
(Of course elite institutions operating partly in English or Turkish
are another story…)

The scene in Central Asia is very different from that in the south
Caucasus and Baltic. Yes, as in Central Asia, the level of knowledge
of Russian among the masses has dropped in those regions as well, but
unlike in Central Asia, Russian is not used in government offices
(unless they are offices dealing with other former Soviet states), and
education in the Russian medium does not seem to be of higher quality
or attached to higher prestige. (This is especially the case in the
Baltic. I don’t have as good a feel about this in the south Caucasus.)

My sense is that the current situation owes much to the Soviet
heritage. There were, of course, Russian-medium educational
institutions or tracks in such institutions throughout the USSR.
However, whereas, it appears, local-language groups in the Baltic and
south Caucasus in a wide variety of specialties could complete all or
at least the vast majority of their higher education in the local
language, this was generally not the case in Central Asia. In some
republics, like Kyrgyzstan, for many specialties there were few if any
“titular language” groups in higher education. Moreover—and possibly
most importantly—even for titular-language groups, much of the
training after the first year or two was conducted in Russian. So
students in the first couple of years of vuz training students had to
get their Russian up to the required level in order to continue in
Russian. There was limited literature for students in the local
languages, and apparently few specialists with the language skills and
expertise to teach in the local language. For some specialties, of
course, there was no standardized terminology to use in lectures or

I am looking for sources with accounts of the use of Russian and the
local language in the last decades of Soviet power, especially in
higher education in the non-Russian union republics. In part because
of the linguistic similarities among the Slavic languages, I am less
interested in accounts of Ukraine and Belorussia. At this stage I am
also less concerned with Moldavia/Moldova, which is a special case. As
for the post-Soviet period, I am of course interested in sources with
quantitative data; however, based on what I know about how data is
compiled in Central Asian countries, I am even more interested in
qualitative accounts on the actual use of Russian/local languages.

W. Fierman

Forward by HS

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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