1) In Russia:

…So the main task is survival. Mr Heinapuu and his colleagues try to bolster their kinsfolk’s language and culture and highlight Russian chauvinism. The first is difficult. In the two-room world headquarters of the Finno-Ugric movement in Tallinn, Mr Heinapuu proudly shows a shelf of newly published poetry in Mari and other languages. It is a drop in the ocean. “What we really need is the ‘Da Vinci Code’ in Udmurt,” a colleague ruefully complains.
A more promising idea is to bring students from the Finno-Ugric bits of Russia to study in Estonia. That initiative, the Kindred Peoples’ Programme, began in 1999. It was meant to create expertise, expose students to western society, and boost morale.
It hasn’t worked out like that, though. Half the 100-odd students decided to stay. “These were the first towns they had ever lived in. They adapted too well, and those that went back had problems with Russian life,” says Mr Heinapuu. Now the focus has shifted to graduate education. And the money involved in the student programme is tiny: just 3m Estonian kroons ($230,000). Rich Finland gives only a bit more, Hungary almost nothing.

(From The Economist, where you will find a nice map of the Volga minority-language republics and some history of the “Idel-Ural” separatist movement; via georgeland: the blog.)
2) In Canada:

With only eight competent speakers left, the Ditidaht language is on the verge of vanishing, along with half of the languages now spoken around the world…
So the Ditidaht are fighting back.
The survival of their language now hinges, perhaps, on three tiny bodies crammed together on a couch in the Asaabus daycare. The giggling children are the first to take part in a Ditidaht language-immersion program that begins in early childhood.
Qaatqaat, hiihitakiitl, hi7tap7iq, kakaatqac’ib,” recites four-year-old Krissy Edgar, singing and doing actions to a Ditidaht equivalent of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

It has been three years since the band council approved construction of the $4.2-million Ditidaht Community School to teach students their language and culture from kindergarten to Grade 12. Previously, village students were bused out to an English-language school.
Already, the village is astounded by the program’s success, Elsie Jeffrey, the language co-ordinator for the 70 children enrolled in the school, said.
“We’re doing whatever we can to document what’s left. We’ve put out CDs, DVDs; we’re working on digitizing the language on,” she said, referring to a website that holds audio records for 15 endangered native communities.
“We just have to do what we can because we’re endangered.”

(Matthew Kwong, reporting in The Globe and Mail. Thanks, Derryl!)
Incidentally, Ditidaht used to be called Nitinat:

The indigenous name is /di:ti:dʔa:ʔtx/. This was originally the name of the group around Nitinat Lake. It was later extended to include all Ditidaht-speaking people. The currently favoured English name Ditidaht is an adaptation of the indigenous name. The more widely used English name Nitinat reflects the fact that the indigenous name used to be pronounced /ni:ti:n?a:?tx/. After the name was borrowed into English, Ditidaht /n/ changed to /d/.
The Ethnologue considers Ditidaht a dialect of Nuuchanulth (which it calls Nootka). This view is not generally accepted among specialists in Wakashan languages.


  1. Mari is an official language in Mari-El, whereas Russian is not an official language in Estonia.
    See also:
    Now when Estonia is in the EU, Estonians should worry about the future in which Estonian will become a “useless peasant gobbledegook” being replaced by English for all the usefull purposes.

  2. TALLINN – Taxis in Tallinn will be forced to display their fares in both English and Estonian and negligent drivers will be slapped with hefty fines after new regulations go into effect this week.

  3. A, almost none of the Mari El republican government speaks Mari. Those who have tried to keep Mari cultural life alive have faced enormous obstacles, including assault and loss of jobs. If people walking out of a pleasant evening concert of Mari songs are set upon by skinheads and mercilessly beaten, you can’t say all is rosy in Mari El. Russian speakers in Estonia don’t face problems even close to that of the speakers of the FU languages in Russia.

  4. But A’s comments are useful indications of common Russian attitudes.

  5. A is not wrong when he points out that small boutique languages have a very hard time competing against the global English monoculture. In the future Estonians will, in all likelihood, consume the majority of their pop music, television and even books in English. All business and scientific discussion will take place in English. This process seems to be well underway even in countries with fairly robust literary and scientific traditions like Sweden and the Netherlands and to an extent in Germany and France. So A is probably correct that Estonian will be replaced by English “for all the useful purposes.” Of course given a choice between English and Russian it is not surprising Estonians are choosing the former.

  6. I was in Tallinn at the end of June, only for about 36 hours. the conversations I heard were about half in Russian, half in Estonian (not counting the tourists, and assuming that just about all of what I heard that wasn’t any language I know was Estonian). Many of the older museums had displays in Russian, or Russian/Estonian, but the newer ones were all English/Estonian. Supermarkets were all Estonian only, and it was only in the really touristy areas that anyone spoke English (and then, only young people).

  7. To a degree, if English becomes everyone’s second language, it might strengthen some of the medium-to-small-languages, though only as neighborhood / kitchen / literary languages. For example, Georgian and English might both gain at the expense of Russian, or perhaps Catalan might gain at the expense of Spanish and French.

  8. I once crooned for kroons in Estonia. I was mostly “es-stoned” in those days.
    Glad you’re up and running again,
    Ur fiend,

  9. John Emerson (but also Vanya and A): I would think that a culture is a lot more than just outside influences or outside relations, but this is pretty much the only thing English is used for in Estonia — for communication with the rest of the world. It could only replace Estonian if the influx of English texts was so massive that it would drown out Estonian ones. This could happen if there were not enough translators to meet the demand for translated books, movies etc. This seems to have been the case in the 1990s, but the situation has improved quite a lot since then. The translators (and the translations they produce) might not all be good ones, but there’s still need for them (mostly in business, it seems), which, I think, means that the Estonian won’t disappear in the near future.

  10. michael farris says

    A Polish newspaper (Gazeta Wyborcza) recently sent a number of reporters to various European countries to see if they could arrive blind (as it were) and find employment within a week or so.
    The reporter sent to Finland was the only one to not find any job within the week and could barely contain her fury at the reason: she knew no Finnish and apparently made it clear she had no intention of ever learning any.
    Her attitude was that she knew English and all the Finns she was meeting (and asking for jobs) spoke English so why should she have to know any of that ridiculous Finnish language?
    I left a message on the board that it seemed that Finns probably think of English only as a way of dealing with outsiders and aren’t interested in making life easier for potential long term residents who won’t learn the language, I also wrote that she may have had more luck if she said she didn’t speak Finnish _yet_ and made her intention to learn clear (including starting to use everyday expressions like kiitos instead of thank you etc). She answered, saying that was an example of ‘xenophobia’…

  11. Great anecdote. “No, my attitude towards the stupid Finns and their stupid useless language is not xenophobia, thank you very much!”

  12. At my URL, my reprint of a sketch of the simple, logical Finnish language by one Richard Lewis.

  13. Spotted and Herbaceous Backson says

    How do you pronounce a 7 when it’s inside a word like that? I mean, apparently representing a phoneme outside of English?

  14. Michael: I have a suspicion that she didn’t succeed because she probably made it very clear that she just arrived for work. While in Finland I met a large amount of other ‘foreigners’ in various different situations who had managed to find jobs without speaking English, and heard about many who had been there for years and still didn’t speak Finnish.
    Naturally, I was a curiosity for coming to speak Finnish, but that aside, it really depends what you’re coming to look for. If you’re coming for the IT industry, or something that requires specific skills you’re trained for, it likely doesn’t matter, but if you’re looking for something where you have to deal a lot of people speaking Finnish would definately give you points. Often in terms of immigration, they want you to perhaps prove that you already have a job. This woman showed up out of nowhere, and expected to find something in two weeks. Not so easy, if you speak only English!
    Also yeah, making an effort to seem like you want to fit in would probably help too.

  15. One has to distinguish between organic development — or decay — and government interference, which often runs counter to the inner logic of social evolution, sometimes against human nature itself. What we observe in the Ugro-Finnic republics of the Volga area, is probably the last stage of the Slavic-Ugric assimilation which began over a thousand years ago when Eastern Slavs began colonizing the Upper Volga — which assimilation yielded what we know as the Russian people. However sad the loss of Mari or Udmurt may be to the linguistic community, it will be brought about not by politicians or mysterious skinheads, but by the ruthless logic of modernization.
    The case of the Russian language in Estonia is entirely different. Russian was artificially imported by the Soviets, and the post-Soviet regime is trying to artificially root it out. Both ways, it’s something painfully unnatural.

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