Issues of minoritized indigenous languages of the North of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), Russia
Federal Research Institute of National Schools (Rusia)
Ilustración propiedad de Natalia Sitnikova.
According to the 2010 census of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), in Russia, there are more than 40 thousand representatives of ‘small peoples’ of the North, including Evenkis – 21008, Chukchis – 670, Evens – 15071, Yukaghirs – 1281, Dolgans – 1906 individuals.
The general linguistic situation of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) from the point of view of their real functioning cannot be characterized unambiguously.
The functioning of these languages is reduced to a minimum (Even, Evenk), some have come to the verge of extinction (Yukaghir). The situation with the native languages of the peoples of the North is clearly assessed as a crisis and can serve as one of the indicators of socio-economic disadvantages of the small peoples of the North.
Table 1 Number of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North of the RS (Ya) (based on the All-Russian Population Census of the Russian Federation in 2010)
As can be seen from table 1, more than half of the Evenks, 2/3 of the Evens and the vast majority of the Yukaghirs live in the republic, so the general ethno-cultural situation of this people depends on the implementation of the language policy in Yakutia.
According to the 2010 census, the proportion of people who indicated that their native language corresponds to their nationality remains low. At the same time, in comparison with the indicators of previous censuses, this share is constantly decreasing.
The peculiarities of the language situation among the small-numbered peoples of the North of the RS (Ya) are determined by several factors.
The first one is territorial: almost all currently known dialects of Even and Yukagir are represented in the RS(Ya). The dialect composition of the Evenks and Chukchis is quite inhomogeneous. This means that, unlike other regions, there is an exceptional dialect disunity in the RS(Ya). The degree of ethnic consolidation differs from other regions in a downward direction due to historical and geographical factors. The differences in economy and culture between the individual territorial groups of indigenous peoples of the North of Sakha (Yakutia) is also quite high due to the different climatic conditions and ethno-cultural ties.
The second factor is ethnosocial: in the RS(Ya), the majority is historically characterized by national-Yakut bilingualism, and in the twentieth century – Even-Yakut-Russian trilingualism. The Yakut language plays almost the same role as Russian for other regions of residence of the peoples of the North, including serving as a language of interethnic communication. For some uluses, such as Nizhnekolymsky, multilingualism is characteristic, expressed in the spread of Even, Yukagir, Chukchi and Yakut languages and the dialect of old Kolymchans Russians outside their respective ethnic groups. The nature of the use of these languages as means of interethnic communication still requires special research.
The features of the language situation of indigenous minorities of the North of Sakha (Yakutia) pose a number of serious problems in teaching language in schools of the Republic; for instance the development of literature, promoting samples of local art and culture, producing media, and an ad hoc curriculum, among other issues,.
In force of the economic-cultural features of certain groups of indigenous peoples of the North of the country, the language situation remains favourable for the use of oral and written language in seven localities of compact residence of indigenous peoples: the Even – in Berezovka Srednekolymskiy, Sebyan-Kyuel Kobyayskiy, Topolinoe Tomponsky, Andryushkino Nizhnekolymskiy ulus. The Evenk in the village of Iengra Neryungri and Tianya of Olekminsky ulus. The Chukchis – in the village of Kolymskoye of the Nizhnekolymsky region. In other areas, native languages have almost lost the function of a languages of communication.
State language policies in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and the official status of the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North
In the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), work is underway to create a legal framework to support small-numbered peoples of the North, and the «language» issue remains an area of public attention. The Republic has adopted state-legal programs for language policies. These include Laws «On the legal status of indigenous peoples of the North», «On languages in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)», «On the status of languages of indigenous peoples of the North of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)», «On state support of mass media produced in the languages of indigenous peoples of the North in Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)».
In order to promote the development of the native language as written language of the indigenous peoples of Yakutia, by Decree of the President of the Republic of February 9, 1996, February 13 was declared the Day of the Native Written Language.
The Decree of the President of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) was dated February 12, 2013 No. 1870 «On improving the language policy in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)», the annual awards of the President/now Head of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the field of preservation, study and development of native languages are continuing. Among them, the V. D. Lebedev Award for contribution to the preservation and development of the Even language, G. M. Vasilevich Award for contribution to the preservation and development of the Evenki language, N. I. Spiridonov – Teki Odulok Award for the contribution to the preservation and development of the Yukagir language.
Since 2002, the Council for Language Policy under the Presidency of the RS(Ya) has been operating, created by the Decree of the President of the RS(Ya) in order to create optimal conditions for the development the languages of the North as official languages of the RS(Ya). The state program «Preservation, study and development of state and official languages in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) for 2012-2016» was developed, aimed at maintaining the languages of the Republic.
According to the Law of the RS (Ya) «On the status of languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)», the languages of the peoples of the North are official in places of compact residence of these peoples. The official status of the language implies the use of the language in the public life of its society, including:
A) In government bodies, state organizations – the use of language in the work of government bodies, the publication of legislation and regulations in their native languages, document management, the use of the native language in official visual attributes and information, geographical and road signs, official correspondence, official documents of citizens, as well as providing simultaneous translation;
B) The presence of a language environments at work and language qualification requirements – there are obligations to master the official languages of employees of certain professions and in certain positions, including the need for knowledge of languages for employees of government bodies;
C) In the mass media – in visual propaganda, advertising, publication of printed materials, publication of newspapers, magazines, TV and radio programs in their native languages, provision of simultaneous translation of programs in Russian and Yakut into the languages of the peoples of the North in places of their compact residence;
D) In education-the compulsory organization of the educational processes in native languages, i.e. not only maintaining the language as a subject, but also teaching in the native language.
Much of the above seems incredible, but it should be so when we talk about the equality of languages, especially about the status of the official language. Unfortunately, there is not much implementation of these principles: In other words, in most of the 70 villages – places of compact residence of indigenous peoples of the North in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), there are no indications of the official status of the native language, i.e. the use of language in official signboards, street names, paraphernalia and information is very limited.
Moreover, iin none of the localities are the languages of the peoples of the North used in the work environment or with the authorities in offcial document management, including the translation of the main normative legal acts, and none of them have the language qualifications required to understand the official language for municipal employees. Together with no uniform language standards for the design of official documents and signs, visual campaigning; or the unequality of the annual awards of the Head of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the field of preservation, study and development of native languages. Therefore, as a matter of fact, the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North do not fully perform the role of official languages.
Languages of small indigenous peoples of the North in the educational space of the RS (Ya)
Experts recognize that a systematic revitalization intervention on the language situation of the small peoples of the North could reverse the assimilation processes that lead to language shift. In this regard, it is conceptually important for the revitalization of the languages of the small peoples of the North to focus on teaching the languages of the small peoples of the North in general educational institutions.
The study of the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North is carried out in 40 schools: in 19 schools children learn the Even language, in 12 —Evenki, in 3 —Yukagir, Chukchi and Dolgan —one school each, as well as in nomadic schools. The Evenki language is studied by 946 students, Even-718, Yukagir-101, Dolgan-132 and Chukchi – 59 students.
However, these data do not reflect the seriousness of the situation: only two schools have instruction in their native language in primary school —these are the Sebyan— Kel and Berezovskaya schools, as a subject, native languages are studied in 15 stationary and 7 nomadic schools. In other schools, languages are taught as an elective, mainly for only 1 hour per week.
This is absolutely not enough. We believe that in all educational institutions in 70 places of compact residence of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, in which our languages have an official status, northern languages should at least be studied as a subject. One of the ways to solve this problem within the current curriculum should be the opportunity for students to choose the main native language with optional study of the Yakut language. Only in this case we would solve the problem of decent remuneration of teachers of native languages, because measures to increase wages do not apply to electives and clubs, which today are in most schools the study of the languages of indigenous small peoples of the North.
We propose to increase financial support for 9 basic schools in the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North ( in the villages of Andryushkino, Berezovska, Iengri, Kolyma, Nelemninskoye, Sebyan-Kel, Topolinskaya, Yuryung-Khaia schools and the boarding school «Artic»). These additional funds should be directed to the restoration of staff of promoters of native languages, the rates of which have been optimized in recent years, payment for the creation and testing of educational and methodological manuals in the languages of the peoples of the North, support for educational and extracurricular work on the preservation and development of the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North.
Another problem most schools point out is the lack of textbooks in the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North. This is despite the fact that in recent years more than 64 titles of educational, methodological, and fiction literature have been published in the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North (including Even – 37, Evenki – 11, Yukagir – 13, Dolgan – 2, Chukchi – 1). It is necessary to make a list of recommended textbooks and teaching aids by year of study, as well as to identify the real picture of security and need to conduct an inventory of used textbooks and manuals in native languages, many of which are more than 40-50 years old, in the schools of the Republic.
Several years ago, the Federal State Educational Standards were adopted and new educational programs were approved, including those on the languages of the peoples of the North. But over the years, not a single set of textbooks has been created even for the 1st grade according to these standards. The ongoing work on them has been unnecessarily delayed. The main reasons for this were the federalization of the Institute of National Schools of the RS (Ya), which changed the priorities and main tasks of this scientific institution, and the lack of funding for this work. Therefore, it is necessary to organize and reverse this situation, by transfering the ownership of the Republic of the Research Institute of National Schools of the RS(Ya) locally, as a basic scientific institution for the creation of educational and methodological complexes for teaching the languages of the peoples of the North, and the Ministry of Education of the RS(Ya) to find funds to finance the their creation.
One of the most important achievements of recent years has been the introduction of the Unified State Exam in the languages of indigenous peoples of the North. This makes it possible both to standardize the requirements for knowledge, skills and abilities of students and to identify the most problematic issues of teaching native languages. Unfortunately, many schools have not introduced the practice of passing exams in their native languages in the form of the Unified State Exam, arguing various reasons. One of the main ones was the focus of students on passing the Unified State Exam in general education subjects, the results of which depend on the success of admission to educational institutions. Based on the above, we offer to do the exam in the mother tongue mandatory for schools peoples of the North and to postpone the date of the exam in the native languages to Spring during the early phase of the exam.
The issue of staffing the preservation of languages remains important. In the Republic, teachers are being trained to teach the languages of the peoples of the North at the Department of Northern Philology of the North-Eastern Federal University, Yakut Pedagogical College. A special feature of the current stage is the training of teachers who are not native speakers of the languages of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North. Therefore, for this category of teachers, it is necessary to conduct advanced training courses and develop and conduct special courses to improve language competences. Such a statement involves conducting separate training courses for teachers in the Even and Evenki languages.
One of the main conditions for the success of language education is its consistency. Preschool education plays an important role in language learning. The probability of success increases many times from an earlier start of language training. However, from year to year the number of kindergarden groups with the languages of the peoples of the North is steadily decreasing.
Scientific support for the languages of the Artic
The Institute for Humanitarian Studies and Problems of Small-Numbered Peoples of the North SB RAS conducts fundamental studies on the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North. Applied research is carried out only within the framework of the state program «Preservation, study and development of state and official languages in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) for 2012-2016». The level of funding for these studies is insufficient, the importance of which, for example, speaks the high demand to develop publications in recent years, pocket Russian-Evensk, Russian-Evenki and Russian-Yukagir easy guides, etc..
Due to the lack of official statistics on the peoples of the North, comprehensive studies and monitoring of their functioning as official languages are necessary to obtain an objective picture. Terminological dictionaries, in particular socio-political vocabulary, are very necessary to bring the design of official documents, signs, and visual propaganda in the languages of the peoples of the North. The experience of creating a phrasebook of the Evenki language for mobile devices, developed by the leading specialists of the Institute G. I. Varlamova and A. N. Varlamov with a grant from the Department of Peoples ‘ Affairs of the RS(Ya), is also interesting.
The most important challenge remains providing scientific support for language education. A special role in creating a scientific and methodological basis to teach native languages should belong to the Research Institute of National Schools of the RS(Ya), which ownership should be returned to f the Republic to work on teaching complexes in native languages. It is necessary to develop new methods and techniques of language education in these conditions of limited language functioning, as well as the revitalization of already almost dormant languages. In this respect, it is important to study, adapt and adopt the methodology of nest recovering of native languages, the success of which is proved by the revival of Maori languages in New Zealand, Sami in Norway, etc.
Languages of small indigenous peoples of the North in the media
We should take advantage of the digital era, which media in our context is rapidly developing, previously more associated with books and newspapers, later – with radio and television, and now – with the Internet. In November 2011, the Law of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) «On State support for mass media publishing in the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)» was adopted. However, its enforcement and most of all implementation is still unsatisfactory.
Since the beginning of the 1990s, TV and radio studio «Gevan» has been producing programs in the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North. In the 90s, the staff of the united studio was up to 6 people, and there were 3 announcers, leading programs separately in Even, Evenk and Yukagir. Total airtime of TV and radio programs reached 5 hours per week, which was 5% of the total airtime of the local TV and radio company. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a retreat from the positions reached in the early 1990s. There was a reduction in staff, including no TV program host in the Yukagir. Today, the broadcasts of the studio «Gevan» on the NVC «Sakha» and «Sakha24» include two TV shows of 30 minutes each. and four 20 minutes on the radio. In total, this is only 2 hours per week in Even, Evenk and Yukagir. And this against a background of increasing broadcast NVK «Sakha» and the introduction of round-the-clock channel «Саха24», a total of more than 200 hours per week, broadcasting in the 5 official languages of the indigenous minorities of the North. At the same time, unfortunately, there are no TV and radio programs in the languages of the peoples of the North, produced by regional branches.
In the field of print media, the only newspaper in the languages of the peoples of the North remains Ilken, which is published 12 times a year. In 1994, when the newspaper was created, there were 3 people in the staff. Today, there is a decrease in these indicators. At the same time, materials in official languages, such as newspapers, unfortunately, amount up only to 25-30% of the total production. Last year, attempts were made with the Ulus to publish two newspapers in their native languages. Individual notes in the languages of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, which are of an irregular nature, are found in 5 district newspapers.
The situation with the Internet is even worse. In 2007, the Kuyaar portal was opened, which contains several materials in the Even and Evenk languages, which have not been updated since then. In 2011 NEFU opened a portal Arctic-megapedia.ru where there are pages in Evenk and Yukagir. The website ewesel.ogd in the Even is open, there are pages with resources on the Evenk and Yukagir in social networks too. Nevertheless, there is a large reserve for expanding the use of the language in the digital information sphere.
With modern technologies, it is not difficult to provide 1-2 pages in Ulus (district) newspapers for materials in the native language prepared by teachers or native speakers. Given the official status of the languages of the small peoples of the North, this rule could be mandatory for Uluses and Naslegs that have the status of national i.e. place of residence of indigenous minority people.. Given the difficulties of national budget financing, the costs of paying for the services of a correspondent journalist could be borne by the local budget. Costs would not exceed 200 thousand rubles per year. It is also very important to potentiate children studying in their native language, a work that can also be built upon on a grant basis. It is even easier to organize this work within the framework of schools in the form of issuing leaflets/newsletters/wall newspapers.
On the Internet, it is possible to post materials in native languages on the websites of national schools, administrations of national Naslegs and districts.
Public tasks in the preservation and development of the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North
Despite such measures, the language situation among the peoples of the North is deteriorating. One of the main problems is the loss of the language in terms of its functionality to serve as a means of communication and thought formation, which leads to its rapid displacement from circulation. It is clear that languages do not die by themselves, it is due to the actions of a person who gives up his language. It is clear that there are many factors that affect such a person in the process of langauge shift. But there must be a sense of responsibility for your language and teaching it to younger generations.
Unfortunately, no educational programs can compensate for the destruction of the language environment. Islands of the traditional way of farming and traditional way of life with the use of native languages are the production teams that remain in reindeer husbandry. Modern problems of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North dictate the need to link education with the traditional way of life of small-numbered peoples of the North. Nomadic schools have emerged as a result of the social activity and civic position of representatives of the North and play an important role in teaching and upbringing, familiarizing children of reindeer herders and hunters with the language, traditional occupations and native culture, to strengthening the family and preserving the environment that sustains language use and vice versa. Currently, the nomadic schools of Yakutia are experiencing a new birth in the conditions of innovative development of pedagogical theories and unique educational practices. In this respect, the state’s support for reindeer husbandry and other branches of the traditional economy of the peoples of the North is one of the main and necessary measures for the retention of their languages.
The basis for the preservation of any language is the family. Public organizations need to do a lot of work with the elders, the outmost native speakers of the language and guardians of the culture, motivating them to transfer their knowledge to the younger generations. Almost no one, familiarly or officially will talk to our children and grandchildren in their native language. This is one of the most common problems with language preservation, since many of us see it as someone else’s task, not their own. This ‘passivity’ of native speakers in defending their linguistic rights leads to thier loss. To face this situation we need to develop a national culture of respect and honor language diversity. One of the areas of language circulation should be ritual language and culture based on reviving ancestral holidays and restored practices of customs and traditions. Here the role of rural intellectuals and cultural workers constitutes a huge challenge.
A strong basis for preserving the language is a sense of pride in your people and language, moral motivation, iincreasing self-awareness, all necessary to actively promote the history and culture of the peoples of the North.
For the languages to develop, it should be possible to join the world culture through the native languages, including developing contemporary expressions such as the pop culture, sports, science, politics, literature, cinema, etc. This trend is called ethnofuturism, in whcih there is a combination of folk traditions with modern elements, as well as the global culture, producing glocal cultures. That is, if children have the opportunity to identify themselves with for instance TV and pop stars, athletes who speak their language, etc., this can significantly affect their language settings, choices ideologies and practices. It is important to remember that when a language becomes a medium of «high» or «modern» culture, its role in society changes. Of course one other resource should be producing literature in the languages of the indigenous peoples of the North. It is clear that we do not have enough works of indigenous literature. It is necessary to actively develop the institute of literary translators, so that children have the opportunity to join the best examples of world literature in their native language. Here we cannot do without the support of NEFU in training personnel and the Ministry of Culture and Spiritual Development of the Republic, securing financial support.
In sum, it is necessary to find new foundations for restoring the functional and spiritual significance of the Northern languages. The success in preserving Artic languages is possible only through joint efforts of the state, the general public and most of all indigenous communities.
The above-mentioned measures, of course, are not complete and universal, but their implementation will allow to some extent both to arrest the disappearance of the languages of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, creating new opportunities to reverse language shift in the near future, along the lines of the Decade of Indigenous Languages recently declared by UNESCO, in which we should all be together.