Sashura sent me a link to Dmitry Sukhodolsky’s piece in Russia Beyond the Headlines (an offshoot of Rossiyskaya Gazeta) about the many languages of Russia and the difficulty many are having in surviving. There’s an interesting discussion of Karelian (“Karelians living in the more distant areas of Tver Region and other spaces have kept their language alive until the present, even though they live closer to Moscow than Valdai”) and a sad reference to “the Kerek of Chukhotka, of whom there are just four people,” but what prompted me to post it was the last section, on Dagestan. Apparently “speakers of unwritten languages are treated with flagrant scorn” there:
Those who speak the non-written languages – who might amount to everyone in a village, or at least half a village – are traditionally calculated as being members of one of the more numerous linguistic groups (the Avars being the most numerous). Thus, they do not benefit from the slightest relief from taxes, cultural-fund or other social benefits. […]
One example is that of the Botlikhs. There have been countless meetings and endless petitions in the Botlikh village to recognize the cultural autonomy of Botlikhs and their language belonging to the Andi group of Avar-Andi-Tsez languages of the Nakh-Dagestanian family.
Yet they continue to be classified as Avar speakers, just as they were under Stalin, the Soviet Union’s Commissar for Nationality Issues, in the 1920s. The result is that only 200 Botlikhs, out of a population of 6,000, know their own language.
Yes, I realize there are more pressing issues in Russia in general and Dagestan in particular, but I wish the languages of small groups of powerless people wouldn’t get swept quite so brutally into the dustbin of history. (By the way, the comment thread on that article is amazingly civilized and full of useful information.)