Irina Khaleeva, Moscow State Linguistic University teaching national languages in russia




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Irina Khaleeva, Moscow State Linguistic University

TEACHING NATIONAL LANGUAGES IN RUSSIA


  1. The state-legal regulation of language relations in Russia

The language situation in Russia is rooted in its historical and cultural traditions. The latest population census (2002) found that 80 out of the 160 languages of the RF have the status of a standardized language. Such languages are protected by the Federal Law “On languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation”.

For the first time in Russian history, the Russian language has become the state language.

And today Russia is in the process of defining its language policy and language planning on a legal basis.


  1. The linguistic situation in the RF

Language policy is a major component in the formation of any state. This country is the homeland of 160 various nationalities. In the RF, the language policy is aimed at realizing the right of all peoples to use their native languages. Russians account for slightly over 80%, and other nationalities and ethnic groups for about 20%.

About 60 numerically small peoples live in Russia. They mainly inhabit the Caucasus and the North. The most numerous of them are Nenets (more than 430,000) and the Evenks (30,000); some other peoples being a lot less numerous, for example, the Akhvakhtsi number merely about 5,000.

There are peoples hardly reaching a thousand people – these are Aleuts, Kumandintsi Oroks, Tofalars and other.

Among the peoples in the RF there are all titular nationalities of the Commonwealth of Independent States countries (and the Baltics). Over recent years, the influx of migrants has led to an increase in the number of Armenians (from 0.53 million to 1.13 million people), Azerbaijani (from 0.34 million to 0.62 million people), and Tadjiks (from 0.04 million to 0.12 million people) and so on.

Various ethnocultural associations and organizations function in many regions. In the Ryazan region alone, there are around 20 ethnocultural and ethinoreligious organizations. There are more than 100 national-cultural associations operating in Moscow.

One of the most common and important goals of all diasporas and associations is to preserve their native tongue in Russia. Among these are such well-known organizations as the Assembly of the Peoples of the Russian Federation, the Union of Diasporas of Russia, the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress, the federal ethnocultural autonomy “Ukrainians of Russia” and so on.



  1. The language policy of the state

The native languages of the peoples of the RF and the CIS are today in the focus of public attention and state concern, which contribute to restoring the ethnic values.

Under the current laws on languages or the appropriate articles of constitutions of the RF republics, 30 languages have the status of state language and five languages have the status of official languages (Dolgan, Chukchi, Evenk, Even, Yukagir).

Compared with previous years, the use of state languages of the RF has significantly expanded, and many of them have become languages of education for the first time. The social prestige of native languages is growing. Programmes are being developed to promote the learning of native languages by those who have found themselves outside their native territories.

The languages of numerically small peoples have also received their share of attention. In recent years alphabets for many of them have been developed and programmes and textbooks have been prepared in their native languages. Thus, in 1991, the Agul alphabet was created, a Tsahur language primer has recently been produced, and so on.

It is obvious that each language has its own value as an object of research. It is also obvious, however, that by far not all the languages exercise similar social functions and therefore some languages are used only for everyday communication.

Russia has historically developed as a polycultural state, whose unity greatly depends on the inculcation of Russia’s spiritual and cultural values within the Russian education system. It is common knowledge that it is in the school years that the basic worldview is developed. In this country the concept of ¨worldview¨ comprises Russian national and ethnic self-identity, tolerance towards other languages and cultures, native and non-native customs and tradi­tions. No less significant is the mastering of mother tongues and other languages functioning in a specific linguo-socio-cultural sphere.



  1. The contact languages in the Russian Federation

    1. Contact of the Russian language with other languages of the RF

In many cases, contacts between the Russian and other langua­ges of the peoples of Russia have a long history that goes many centuries back. Thus, the interaction of Russians (or rather Eastern-Slavs) with some of the Turkic languages of Russian peoples goes back over 1500 years, with the Komi-Permyak language at least 7–8 centuries, while the Evenk-Russian language contacts began as early as the 16th century. The results of a lengthy period of contacts have manifested themselves at different levels: phonetic, lexical and grammatical. Thus, under the influence of Russian, the Komi-Permyak and some other languages of RF peoples acquired a lot of features they did not previously have.

The results of these contacts are evident in the Russian language as well. Prof. Vinogradov, a prominent Russian linguist and philo­logist, noted that “throughout its history the Russian language borrowed a great deal of words and expressions from other langua­ges, adapting them to and assimilating them with the Russian language system.”

The Russian language has, above all, been influenced by the genetically related Ukrainian and Byelorussian languages. But other languages of Russia’s peoples (Turkic, Finno-Ugric, Roman, and so on) also added to the vocabulary of the Russian language; lexical contributions include terms used in everyday speech as well as in the industry, economy, culture and arts.


    1. Contacts between national (other than Russian) languages of peoples of Russia

There are also wide contacts among other national languages of neighbouring peoples of the RF.

  1. On Russian mentality

Russia’s polycultural and multilingual situation, which has developed for many centuries, enables those studying intercultural communication (i.e. the theory of contacts within a state) to speak of the phenomenon of Russian national mentality.

This concept of mentality in a way overlaps with the concept of “national character.” There are some traditional methods to study this phenomenon: direct polling of various population groups (for instance, focusing on the hierarchy of basic values – law, success, family, income level etc.), followed by analysis of the results and their interpretation. In the process mentality is viewed as a psychological category. However, the “collective subcon­scious” which shapes our mentality does not lend itself to direct observation and can be studied through language.

We define mentality as the linguo-cultural content of conscious­ness (individual and collective) made up by verbally expressed cognitive units.

Russian mentality is to a great extent deprived of a prevalent ethnic colouring, it has developed as a result of interaction of various ethnic mentalities.

The Russian Language Research Center of MSLU makes use of linguistic methods to study the new type of interaction of languages and cultures of the peoples of Russia – at the level of interaction of mentalities.

This approach makes for a multitude of research dimensions that cannot be ignored, especially development of Language Port­folios for the RF languages, which lends it a special significance.

First and foremost, the 160 languages of Russia are socio-linguistically different (the factors that are known as the external system of a language – alphabet, dialects, literature, native tongue teaching, developed mass media and so on). Any language can develop its external system.

There exist different models of interaction between ethnic languages and the state language, hence the difference in the interaction between various mentalities.

The theory of ‘Euroasianism’, developed already in 1927 by the outstanding Russian philologist N.Trubetzkoy remains relevant. The basic concept is that of ‘Personality’, applying both to single persons and to groups of people, the so-called ‘Symphonic Per­sonality’.

In his terms, every nation is a “symphonic personality” made up of “single-person personality”, “many-person personality”, “single-nation symphonic personality” and “many-nation symphonic per­sonality”.

This theory applied to the Russian Federation helps both to understand and shape our approach to maintaining and building a national self-consciousness while at the same time encouraging the different peoples in the country to be proud of their heritage, culture and language.



National education policy within the system
of general education

The content of education and upbringing of the younger generation is based upon the awareness of the “native” cultural tradition as a system-forming factor.

According to official data, in 2003/2004 academic year, the Russian Federation had 6260 general education institutions with native (non-Russian) languages of instruction (9,9% of the total number of schools), and in 10404 schools the native (non-Russian) languages were taught as separate disciplines (16,4%).

The most widely used (after the Russian) languages are the Tatar, Bashkir, Chouvash. The least used languages are Latvian, New Greek, Georgian, Estonian, Kazakh, Polish, as well as languages of some indigenous numerically small peoples of the RF.

Today, about 20% of Russian education institutions teach monoethnic students in the native (non-Russian) tongue.

Within the structure of Russia’s education system these schools, traditionally described as “national”, represent a specific and independent type of education institutions that have a basic common feature, bilingualism and biculturalism.

Bilingual teaching process provides for five models of such schools.

Model 1. “National schools” where instruction is provided in the native tongue from 1st to 11th grades, and the Russian language is offered as a separate subject (Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Sakha (Yakutia)).

Model 2. “National schools” where instruction is done in the native tongue up to the 7th or to the 9th grades, and where the Russian makes up a separate subject, with senior classes instruction in the Russian language (the rural school of Touva, Buryatia, Chouvashia, Kalmykia, the school in the North Caucuses and the urban schools of Tataria and Bashkortostan).

Model 3. “National schools” where instruction is done in the native tongue up to 4th grade, the Russian language is offered as a subject, and a further transition to the Russian language as the language of instruction (the urban schools of Touva, Kalmykia, Adygeia, North Ossetia-Alania, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkesssia, Mariy-El, Mordovia and others).

Model 4. “National schools”, where instruction from the 1st to the 11th grades is done in the Russian language, and where there is a more profound study of the native tongue and culture (Karelia, Mordovia, Mariy-El, Udmurtia, Komi, Komi-Permyak Administrative District, schools where children of indigenous numerically small peoples of the Far North, Siberia and the Far East study).

Model 5. “National schools”, where instruction from the 1st to the 11th grades is done in the native tongue, with a further transition to the Russian language as the language of instruction (traveling schools beyond the Polar Circle, traveling family schools of Yamalo-Nenetski Administrative District and other territories).

The acquisition of new functions by minority languages as the state languages of some constituent regions of Russia in the 1990s has resulted in greater bilingualism in national schools.

Currently the instruction in the RF educational institutions is conducted in 31 written languages, with 12 languages used in secondary schools, 6 languages at the compulsory stage of 9-year school, and 13 in the primary school.

It should be noted that only large ethnic groups with a developed native tongue have been able to take advantage of the new opportunities to learn their native tongues from 1st to 11th grades. In the rest of the ethnic groups the native tongues are taught only as a school subject or an optional course (45 native tongues). Thus, 76 native tongues of the RF peoples are learned in the RF education system.



The above-mentioned brings into focus the need for a new and more specified vision of the goals of the national education policy, of its priorities and targets as well as mechanisms of their implementation.



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