Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Russia Day: The Languages of Russia, Part 1

On this day in 1990, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, as a member of the Soviet Union, undertook a huge constitutional change which would lay the foundations for Russia to become the country it is today. It wasn't until Christmas Day in 1991 that they would make the change, and every year since then the country has celebrated Russia Day.

Since it's fairly topical, we thought we'd take a look at some of languages spoken across the world's largest country, Russia. Russian is its most spoken language, but we've already covered that in its very own language profile. Today it's the lesser-known languages spoken in Russia that have our undying attention.

Russian is the official language, though there are 26 other languages with co-official status in various regions of the country. Today we'll be quickly covering all the co-official Turkic and Mongolic languages.

The Turkic Languages

Tatar is the co-official language of Tatarstan, is spoken by around 6.5 million people and can be written using the Cyrillic or Latin alphabets or an Arabic abjad. The language spoken in Chuvashia, Chuvash, has around 1.6 million speakers and is considered a Turkic language. However, unlike Tatar, it is only written using the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Temple of All Religions in Kazan,
the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia.
The third of our Turkic languages native to Russia is Bashkir, a language spoken by around 1.4 million people in the Russian region of Bashkortostan where it holds co-official status. Azerbaijani has 23 million speakers across the world but fewer than 700,000 of them are native to Russia. Unsurprisingly, the majority of its speakers are found in Azerbaijan.

The remaining languages known as Yakut, Tuvan, Nogai, Altay and Khakas all have very small numbers of speakers but nonetheless hold their co-official status in each of their respective regions, the Sakha, Tuva, Karachay-Cherkess, and Altai Republics, and the Republic of Khakassia. Karachay-Balkar is co-official in both the Kabardino-Balkar and Karachay-Cherkess Republics.

The Mongolic Languages

The Ulan-Ude Ethnographic Museum in Ulan-Ude,
the capital of the Buryat Republic, Russia.
Buryat, the first of our two Mongolic languages, is another language that is dubiously classified. Is it a language in its own right or merely a dialect? Some consider Buryat to be nothing more than a dialect of Mongolian, but since it has its own co-official status in the Buryat Republic in Russia, we'll go with it being a language. Buryat has around 500,000 native speakers with almost 370,000 of those inhabiting the Buryat Republic in Russia.

Our other Mongolic language, Kalmyk, has only around 153,000 speakers, the large majority of which live in the Russian region of Kalmykia.

Tomorrow we'll be back with the next 14 of Russia's co-official languages!

Read part 2.