Just after we moved, our real estate agent back in Pittsfield called to say that a package had been left on the doorstep by the FedEx truck. I asked her to hold it for us until the closing; when it became apparent we wouldn’t make it to the closing, I didn’t know what to do about it, but she said “Don’t worry, I’ll mail it to you” (you’re a peach, Barb!), and today it showed up: an incredibly generous LH reader used the Amazon wish list to send me a copy of An Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe! Just flipping through the book makes me want to drop the copyediting job I’m working on and spend a few days immersed in it; it has entries on everything you can imagine (Vandalic, Venetic, Veps, Vestinian, Visigothic…), and I’ve already had my preconceptions shaken up by the entry on Belarusian:
The emergence of Belarusian as a fully fledged language used in all areas of human activity came to an abrupt halt with the onset of Stalinism at the beginning of the 1930s. The grammar and spelling norms of the Tarashkevich grammar were altered by decree in 1933 to bring them closer to Russian. Active use of Belarusian was likely to attract accusations of ‘bourgeois nationalism’ and the inevitable consequences.
After 1945 the pace of Russification quickened, so that by the 1970s there were almost no schools, and certainly no higher educational establishments, in which classes were conducted in Belarusian. Parents were given the right to withdraw their children from what were supposed to be compulsory Belarusian language classes, and apparently made abundant use of that right. The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was virtually the only ‘national’ (i.e. non-Russian) republic in the USSR in which such a situation had been allowed to arise.
I had assumed that all “national” languages were officially supported in the USSR. They go on to say that Belarusian is likely to fade away: “Belarusian, unlike Slovak for example, has probably arrived too late on the scene to be promoted to the ranks of ‘high-culture’ languages.”
The book is full of figures and maps and bibliographies; it immediately goes into a place of honor on my linguistics shelf, and I’ll be consulting it frequently. Many thanks, Pamela!