Multilingual Societies





Multilingual Societies

Globalization has changed the world in many ways. Modern technologies have brought the world closer together, creating a global community in which values, norms and traditions from one culture transcend physical obstacles to reach other societies. Through these technological advancements, it has become easier for people to travel from one country to another and this has resulted in a lot of movement. Through this traveling, people have shared various elements of their cultures with one of the most significant exchanges being those of indigenous languages. Globalization has turned many of the world’s communities into multilingual societies. Most countries in the world now have multiple languages within them, with many having multilingual people. For some regions, there is a mix of several indigenous and foreign languages such as English and French. This especially applies for countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In other parts of the world, people speak multiple languages all of which are also spoken internationally. For instance, the United States is an English speaking country but has a sizeable number of Spanish speaking people. The spread of multilingualism around the world is having various effects on the affected regions. In some cases, the introduction of languages such as English and French has made it easier for the residents of a country to interact with foreigners. In other cases, foreign languages have led to an erosion of the indigenous culture of the host communities. Russia is an excellent example of a multilingual society. The largest country in the world is home to more than one hundred and fifty million people. More than one hundred languages are spoken in Russia. The multilingual nature of the Russian society is a result of the country’s history and the existence of multiple ethnic groups within its borders.

There are more than one hundred languages spoken in Russia. The most dominant language in the country is Russian. Over eighty-one percent of the population is fluent in Russian. Additionally, most of the people who speak minority languages have Russian as a second language. The remaining languages have speakers within different regions in the country. Thirty-five languages in Russia are used officially in various regions. These include Adyghe, Avar, Abaza, Aghul, Buryat, Bashkir, Drargwa, Kalmyk, Chechen, Tatar, Kumyk, Ossetic, Udmurt, Yakut, Moksha, Lak and Mari among other languages (Salminen 59). Many of these languages were introduced into Russia from other regions and as such, are spoken outside Russia. In some cases, languages that appear to be dying out within Russia have large amounts of speakers outside the country’s borders. Examples of languages from other regions include Ossetic (Iranian), Kumyk (Turkish) and Buryat (Mongol) (Salminen 60). The fact that various republics Russia use these languages officially reduces the threat of extinction for them. However, the fact that fewer younger people are learning some of the languages means that there is a real possibility of some going extinct in decades to come.

Apart from the major languages spoken in Russia’s republics, the nation also has a number of smaller minority languages that have very few speakers. A majority of the minor languages in spoken in Russia are indigenous languages. These languages are unique to certain regions in Russia and many of them face extinction (Salminen 60). Within the Southern part of the country, spoken minority languages include Akhvakh, Archi, Bolitkh and Ginukh. Most of the languages in central Russia are officially recognized in the Russian Republics with few exceptions. The people in Northwest Russia speak six languages. These languages are Finnic and include Ludian, Vepsian, Ingrian, Olonetsian and Karelian (Salminen 60). There is also a large number of languages spoken in remote sections of Russia that have very few speakers. These languages face varying threats to extinction with some of them having ten thousand speakers as others only have two hundred remaining. Examples of these languages include Koryak, Nanai, Shor, Northern Altai, Tofa, Ulcha, Ket Sirenik, and Itelmen (Salminen 61).

In addition to the various indigenous and ethnic languages in the country, Russia also has a significant number of people who speak foreign tongues. A poll by the Public Opinion Foundation discovered that almost sixty percent of the people in Russia are capable of speaking a foreign language (Foreign Language Skills Valued by Russians, Poll Says 1). English is the most popular foreign language in the country with thirty-eight percent of the respondents claiming to be fluent in it. Second to English was German with nineteen percent of the respondents speaking it, while French and Spanish also had substantial numbers of speakers (Foreign Language Skills Valued by Russians, Poll Says 1). The ability to speak foreign languages is fast becoming a valuable skill for Russians with many of the study’s respondents stating that it helped them in different ways. The value that Russians place on foreign languages is only increasing the extent to which Russia is a multilingual society by increasing the number of tongues spoken in the country.

Despite the existence of a wide array of indigenous, minority and foreign tongues in Russia, Russian is still the most popular language in the country. The history of the Russian language goes back to the fifth century, when the Slavs of Europe divided themselves into three groups (Kiparsky 13). A separation in the language spoken was soon to follow the ethnic branching as the people formed three major dialects. The Eastern Slavs separated themselves from the rest of the ethnic group and started speaking Ukrainian (Kiparsky 18). The two remaining group existed as a solitary unit until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 when the people of Byelorussia declared their independence and curved out their own state. Before this second separation, people had collectively referred to the two dialects as Russian. After this event, Belarusian became a language on its own, distinctly different from Russian (Kiparsky 19).

The impact of Russia’s history on its languages is evident in the tongues that Russian people use. Despite the existence of more than one hundred minor languages, Russian is still spoken by an overwhelming eighty-one percent of the population. The second most popular indigenous language in the country is Tatar, spoken by over three percent of the country (Cubberley 13). The remaining languages are only spoken within the ethnic groups that they originate from. This includes tongues such as Abaza, Mari and Moksha. The fact that very few people in Russia speak the minor languages indicates a certain level of cohesiveness in the nation. The Russian people share a common history and heritage, and this is reflected in their spoken tongues.

The multilingual nature of Russian society has been the result of different global events and phenomena. Some of these processes started more than three hundred years ago and persist to this day. In Russia’s case, frequent interactions with foreign societies contributed to the growth of minority languages within the borders of the current nation (Salminen 62). These interactions included economic movement such as migration, religious contact and cultural exchanges. Accordingly, many of the minor languages spoken inside Russia today are also spoken in the country’s neighbors. Some of the countries that introduced minor languages in Russia include Iran, Turkey, Finland and Mongolia (Salminen 62).

Recent technological developments have changed the manner in foreign languages grow in Russia and the reasons for their spread. The spread of the English language has mainly been the result of globalization. Many experts explain that the use of the English language in popular culture, science and technology has helped it grow within many regions and countries including Russia. Indeed a poll into foreign languages within Russia found that many Russians prefer to learn English because it helps them when their travelling, studying and using technologies such as computers and the internet (Foreign Language Skills Valued by Russians, Poll Says 1). Modern technologies have also helped to spread foreign languages within Russia by providing easy access to classes and lessons.

Globalization and industrialization have resulted in a reduction in the number of people who speak certain indigenous and minor languages in the region. Since the turn of the nineteenth century, several languages have gone extinct in Russia. Experts attribute this decline to industrialization. Technological advancements in the country have led to a reduction in the value and importance that people place in some languages. Young people are particularly disinterested in minor languages from the country because they foreign tongues such as English and French to be more useful in their careers and daily lives (Foreign Language Skills Valued by Russians, Poll Says 1).

Language is a fundamental aspect of human civilization. This is because effective communication is the cornerstone for human development. The dynamics of language are much more intricate in multilingual societies such as Russia. Home to more than a hundred million people, Russia has over one hundred languages. These languages include Russian, the predominant and most widely spoken tongue, along with smaller lingos such as Abaza, Ukrainian and Tatar. While globalization and industrialization have threatened the existence of some of the languages, others face no threat of extinction and are likely to remain for decades to come.


Works Cited:

Cubberley, Paul. Russian: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

“Foreign Language Skills Valued by Russians, Poll Says.” Themoscowtimes. The Moscow Times, 25 July 2013. Web. 29 April 2014.

Kiparsky, Valentin. Russian Historical Grammar: The Development of the Sound System. Ann Arbor: J.I. Press, 1979. Print.

Salminen, Tapani. “Minority Languages in a Society in Turmoil: The Case of the Northern Languages of the Russian Federation.” Endangered Languages: What Role for the Specialist? Proceedings of the Second FEL Conference. Ed. Nicholar Ostler. Edinbrugh: The Foundation, 1998. 58-63. Print.


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