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Probing the concept of language vitality : the state of titular languages in the national republics of Russia Boltokova, Daria


This essay seeks to examine vitality of ‘titular languages,’ that is, languages of ‘titular nations,’ in the national republics constituting autonomous units of the Russian Federation. An attempt to map the vitality of languages indigenous to titular nations of Russia is made in order to identify major emerging trend(s) in the use of autochthonous languages. I hypothesize that the years of Soviet rule that promoted the Russian language as the lingua franca throughout the territory of the Soviet Union could not leave the vitality of languages of titular nations unaffected. I suggest that there exists a peculiar relationship between institutions and language vitality in the national republics of the Russian Federation. Political institutions, thus, are an independent variable in this study and language vitality is the dependent variable. The relationship between the two is contingent on the intervening variable of the demographic composition of the republics. I argue that de facto Russification affects the vitality of the languages indigenous to titular nations depending on the demographic composition of the republic, while de jure recognition of the titular languages by the state and the republics’ constitutions in present-day Russia may not imply fundamental changes in their overall strength. Apart from in the field of linguistics, language vitality is a fairly new concept and has not been extensively explored in the political science literature. Therefore, I will begin by analyzing theories from different disciplines to build a definition of language vitality and how it will be ‘measured’ for the purposes of this paper. In the second section of the paper I will introduce the major trajectories of the Soviet language policy, which subsequently flow into the language policy of contemporary Russia. I will conclude the theoretical section by emphasizing the importance of language vitality for theories of ethnicity and nationalism in political science. The paper relies on the 1979, 1989, and 2002 census data and uses descriptive statistical and linear regression analysis.

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