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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Internet Both Helps and Hurts Minority Languages in Russian Federation, Soosaar Says


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Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – The internet and the globalization it promotes threatens many languages spoken by relatively small communities because young people often find it easier to use international languages like English rather than their own. But at the same time, developing websites in their national languages can help save them, Sven-Erik Soosaar says.

            The Estonian linguist who specializes on minority languages in the Russian Federation says that it is important to understand the way in which the internet cuts both ways and also to focus not just on the micro-nationalities numbering in the 100s or less but on larger nations that are losing speakers rapidly (ru.fennougria.ee/intervyu-kak-spasti-korennye-yazyki-na-fone-vseobshhej-tsifrovizatsii/).

            The Russian Federation is the only country in the world with a legal category for “numerically small peoples.” It includes groups numbering fewer than 50,000 members each and gives them some limited protection. But other minority nations, with more than that threshold number, aren’t given even that. And they are losing speakers rapidly.

            Their problems must be addressed as well, “even though the number of their speakers is not so small.” That is because “they are becoming ever smaller and smaller.” According to Soosaar, the internet can play a key role in their defense because they are still large enough to articulate sites in their languages.

            For that to happen, however, there must be government support. And that requires international attention not just to the smallest nations which the UN and other international bodies display but to those only a little larger who are often neglected when there are discussions of saving minority languages.

 

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