LINGUISTIC KORENIZATSIIA.

I’m still reading Terry Martin’s The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (see the previous post), and I want to quote some material from the start of Chapter 3, “Linguistic Ukrainization, 1923–1932.” Martin is explaining the policy of korenizatsiia, which he translates “indigenization” (it’s derived from the adjective korennoi, as used in the term korennoi narod ‘indigenous people’; I myself would prefer to transliterate it korenizatsiya, but it’s his book):

Korenizatsiia, as definitively formulated at party congresses in March 1921 and April 1923, consisted of two major tasks: the creation of national elites (Affirmative Action) and the promotion of local national languages to a dominant position in the non-Russian territories (linguistic korenizatsiia). Linguistic korenizatsiia would prove much more difficult to achieve. Between April 1923 and December 1932, central party and soviet organs issued dozens of resolutions urging the immediate implementation of linguistic korenizatsiia. Local republican and oblast authorities issued hundreds, if not thousands, of similar decrees. Nevertheless, linguistic korenizatsiia failed almost everywhere. Why?

Martin says he “initially assumed that central authorities must have been sending mixed signals, publicly trumpeting the need for immediate korenizatsiia while privately letting it be known that this public rhetoric was largely for show,” but this turned out not to be the case: not only the “soft-line bureaucracies” were urging it, but the hard-line organs “frequently rebuked local party organizations for failing to implement korenizatsiia.[…] Stalin publicly and privately defended korenizatsiia and silenced its critics. Despite this sustained central support, linguistic korenizatsiia failed. Why?”

Although the Soviet leadership did consistently and sincerely support korenizatsiia, it nevertheless also viewed its implementation as a secondary task, an auxiliary rather than a core Bolshevik project, and therefore its support was soft. Failure to implement korenizatsiia was censured, but unlike failure to meet grain requisition quotas or industrialization targets, it rarely led to demotion and never resulted in arrest or execution. Interestingly, this meant that local conditions proved decisive. If a republic’s leadership aggressively supported korenizatsiia and could overcome local resistance without soliciting punitive measures from the center, linguistic korenizatsiia could be and was achieved. If not, it would fail. The center would not tolerate an open and demonstrative repudiation of korenizatsiia, but it would likewise not intervene decisively to correct a lackluster performance.
In terms of linguistic korenizatsiia, the Soviet Union’s non-Russian territories can be divided into three categories. For the vast majority, most of the regions that the Soviets called their “culturally backward eastern national territories,” complete linguistic korenizatsiia was never seriously attempted. The national languages were promoted vigorously in the press and general education but made little progress in government, industry, and higher education. There were simply too few educated titular nationals. As a result, all efforts were devoted to the Affirmative Action component of korenizatsiia: the training and promotion of natives into positions of authority.[…]
The opposing category, where local conditions were so favorable that linguistic korenizatsiia was achieved rapidly and with little difficulty, consisted of only two republics: Georgia and Armenia. The Georgian Menshevik and Armenian Dashnaktsutiun governments had already established their respective languages as state languages prior to the Soviet conquest.[…]
Most interesting was the third category, those republics where the local forces backing and opposing linguistic korenizatsiia were in near equilibrium. This was most true of Ukraine, Belorussia, and Tatarstan. In Ukraine, there was both exceptionally strong support for and resistance to linguistic Ukrainization. Moreover, both support and resistance came from within the party.[…] Tatarstan resembled Ukraine, with a very strong national movement encountering an even stronger and more entrenched Russian presence. The large and politically influential Russian population ultimately confined linguistic Tatarization to majority Tatar regions, where it was nevertheless pursued with great vigor.

So we see that even a powerful and brutal state apparatus has to set priorities, and the lower-priority stuff has to take its chances with local conditions. (As Martin points out, this was not the case with a top-priority policy like collectivization, which was pushed through regardless of local objections and massive economic losses, not to mention loss of life.)

Comments

  1. John Emerson says:

    It nevertheless also viewed its implementation as a secondary task, an auxiliary rather than a core Bolshevik project, and therefore its support was soft.
    You can only expect the first priority, with the second priority maybe if things go well. By the time you get to the third priority, a new ranking will be made.

  2. Trond Engen says:

    Isn’t this about sociolinguistics? Historically, professional or political success would have come with acquring Russian. This would have turned the russianized register of the bilinguals into the prestige variety of the local language and made even pretend knowledge of Russian attractive. The Soviets tried to turn the table, but by building a bigger local elite thay actually speeded the process up. Even the new indigenous elites would largely have gained their positions through out-of-state education and (near-)native command of Russian. For anyone wanting to drop subtle hints to their position in the new system*, the local language wouldn’t do**, since the elite would never have better command of it than their subjects. Thus, the prestige variety would still have a complex set of rules for codeswitching between varieties of the local language and different registers of Russian. And soon the very elite that fronted the battle for the indigenous cause would find reasons to send their own children to all-Russian schools. Bluntly, an elite won’t just give up that sort of advantage (Ireland, anyone?).
    * which of course mainly would be those just outside of any real position
    ** except for bureaucratic neologisms in a conspicuously non-native pronunciation

  3. Jongseong Park says:

    Regarding the transliteration, I think Terry Martin chose to follow the Ukrainian National transliteration (1996) in his book. In this system, є, ї, ю, and я are rendered ‘ie, i, iu, ia’ except word-initially, where they are rendered ‘ye, yi, yu, ya’. The use of ‘y’ to transcribe и in this system might have something to do with the tendency to avoid ‘y’ for the glide. Of course, that means we see ‘iia’ for ія.

  4. Actually, it’s the Library of Congress system, widely used for both Russian and Ukrainian. I just don’t happen to care for it; to treat i as a glide simply isn’t natural in English. Ya is automatically read correctly; ia looks like “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!”
    Trond Engen: Your explanation is part (but only part) of what went on, but the important point is that it was only able to happen that way because the policy was not considered a top priority, and thus there were no serious consequences for failing to comply (for a few years there were occasional firings of people in the UkSSR who ostentatiously refused to learn Ukrainian—most simply attended a few classes and went right on using Russian—but even that quickly ceased). If they had sent people for the Gulag for violating or obstructing the policy, it would have succeeded.

  5. If they had sent people for the Gulag for violating or obstructing the policy, it would have succeeded.
    Don’t you think “succeeded temporarily” would be more like it, since the Gulag did not save the Soviet Union from its disintegration, but instead hastened it. “Failed successful policies” is an interesting category. I suppose we don’t need a WiPe article on it because the newspapers are full of examples, day after day.

  6. In the long run, nothing succeeds other than temporarily. Except entropy, I suppose.

  7. The whole point about the spelling “Iä!” is that the word has two syllables.

  8. michael farris says:

    I’m generally in favor of romanizing Russian and Ukrainian so that they look more like the Slavic languages normally written with the Latin alphabet*, especially in academic works where an anglicised romanization just doesn’t look very …. serious or academic (to me).
    That means for є, ї, ю, and я I’d prefer je (maybe ie after a consonant if it appears then), ï, ju and ja (again iu and ia after a consonant). I also think ‘korenizacija’ looks better than hat’s or the book’s author’s preference (assuming that it is spelled with ц in Cyrilic).

  9. The whole point about the spelling “Iä!” is that the word has two syllables.
    That’s not what I was taught at Miskatonic U. I’d go into detail, but… you understand.
    I’m generally in favor of romanizing Russian and Ukrainian so that they look more like the Slavic languages normally written with the Latin alphabet*
    Apparently a lot of people feel like that. I don’t; the Czechs and Poles can transliterate Russian however they like, but it seems to me that material intended for English-speakers should be transliterated in a way that makes sense to English-speakers, for whom j is an entirely different sound.
    *Where’s the footnote?

  10. michael farris says:

    the footnote was about Belorussian łacinka, about which I decided to not say anything (but forgot to edit out the *
    I wouldn’t mind the anglocentric romanization for Russian/Ukrainian if it were restricted to English language material, but it’s becoming the international norm and steadily working its way into other languages (including Polish and German ime) where it looks awful.
    As an international cross-linguistic standard (which is, I think, needed), I think ya is worse than ja by just about every metric except one (makes sense to English speakers who know no Slavic language).

  11. aqilluqqaaq says:

    To romanize Cyrillic I usually use ISO 9 for a one-to-one transliteration: -ия to -iâ, but if I were concerned about pronunciation, I’d transcribe it into IPA as /ɨ.jə/.

  12. I wouldn’t mind the anglocentric romanization for Russian/Ukrainian if it were restricted to English language material, but it’s becoming the international norm and steadily working its way into other languages (including Polish and German ime) where it looks awful.
    Ah well, I certainly agree with you there.

  13. …or you could just use the original alphabet. Assume that people who are interested enough to read the article are either a) interested enough to have taken a couple of hours at most to learn how to read the alphabet. or b) they are not interested enough, and won’t bother remembering the words you mention anyway.

  14. John Emerson says:

    There are a lot of generalists and comparativists who don’t read Cyrillic script well.
    Over the years I’ve learned Cyrillic, Greek, and old Mongol script adequately, and while I had a need for it I even had a passing knowledge of Arabic/Persian script, but even so, romanizations are easier for me.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    I think I lost my original point halfway into the comment. What I meant is that sociolinguistic trends are run by those trying to emulate the elite rather than the elite itself. The elite may well have switched from russified to russified-craving-to-derussify, but those sound pretty much the same, and the emulating class would keep on russifying. Short of replacing it with uneducated native speakers honestly struggling with Russian, what the soviets did or didn’t do to the elite wouldn’t necessarily have mattered.

  16. trends are run by those
    it’s a good point. I think it’s not so much about who runs the trend, but about the trend gaining momentum and developing on its own, with its own logic and consequences – after the original political push. When Dostoyevsky made friends with Valikhanov in 1850s kazakhs were hardly distinguishable from kyrghyz, and even Boris Pilnyak, in the period of Martin’s research, refers to them as ‘kyrghyz’ and the whole giant area was just ‘Turkestan’. But by 1960-70s both Kazakhstan and Kyrghyzstan had their own cultural identity, literature, cinema – and stars popular throughout the Soviet Union. And now Borat has succeeded in giving Kazakhstan a firm place on the cultural map of the world.

  17. Well, the “Kirgiz” thing is a special case. Up until the ’30s, the Kazakh were called Kirgiz and the Kirghiz were called Kara-kirgiz, but they were clearly differentiated.

  18. John Emerson says:

    And the Kirgiz (however spelled) of Genghis Khan’s time were something else entirely. There’s speculation (and maybe evidence) that they were originally neither Turkish nor Mongol, though it may just be that they spoke an atypical Turkish or Mongol dialect. In any case they were said to have “their own language” which they spoke among themselves.
    It’s not really as odd as we think the way proper names float around. It happens with us too, e.g. Portland in various places. But confusion is created in historical studies by this kind of homonymy. “Tatar” is another example.

  19. In the sixties we read and spoke of romanization and roman letters. Now I see the phrases ‘Latin alphabet’ and ‘Latin letters’ but no-one’s refering to the Latin language. Why was it thought necessary to dump ‘roman letters’?

  20. The problem with romanizations is that you have to know the language to understand them–you can’t just paste them into google translate to get the meaning.

  21. In the sixties we read and spoke of romanization and roman letters. Now I see the phrases ‘Latin alphabet’ and ‘Latin letters’ but no-one’s refering to the Latin language. Why was it thought necessary to dump ‘roman letters’?
    Yes, I’ve noticed that too, but I have no idea why.

  22. ‘Latin alphabet’ and ‘roman letters’?
    an anti-catholic conspiracy? or a catholic conspiracy? In Japanese it’s still ロマージ – roman characters.

  23. just to lighten Hat’s material: here is a video of the famous rape/arrest/nude episode from the 1965 Andrei Konchalovsky film ‘The First Outchitel’. (the team: script – Chinghyz Aytmatov, kirgiz writer, director – Russian, brother of Nikita Mikhalkov, main part – Natalya Arinbasarova, kazakh, wife of Konchalovsky at the time, camera – George Roerberg, Russian of Swedish stock, other actors – kazakh and kirgiz. If you think style is reminiscent of Tarkovsky, you’re not mistaken – Roerberg did Zerkalo (Mirror) with him later, in 1974.
    And here are a few bits of Soviet nostalgia – clips by Roza Rymbayeva, the Kazakh singer who became a Soviet bloc super-star in the 70s: in Russian here (note: music by Raymond Paulls, Latvian, lyrics Robert Rozhdestvensky, Russian/Karelian) and ‘Aliya’ in Kazakh here – this was a really big hit in 77, and a kind of ‘the Land of My Fathers’ ( Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau), but in kazakh.

  24. Thanks, I wasn’t familiar with her, and I like her singing. (Too much vibrato for my wife’s taste, though.)

  25. Unicode uses the word Latin for scripts instead of Roman to avoid confusion with roman, the upright type style opposed to italic. So there can be roman Cyrillic and roman Latin, whereas roman Roman would just be weird.

  26. I have always assumed that the term roman for scripts originated in typography, but never felt any confusion. I’m still not confused. I’m perfectly comfortable using roman opposed to italic as well as opposed to Cyrillic or Hangul or whatever. And I’ve never seen roman capitalized in this context.
    Is anyone else confused?

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