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The interregional round table «Preserving native language in the conditions of globalization: new practices»

On February 21, 2023, in the International Day of Native Language, the interregional round table «Preserving native language in the conditions of globalization: new practices» took place in a mixed online-offline format at the Regional House of Friendship. The organizers of the event were the House of Friendship of the Leningrad Region, the Regional Branch of the All-Russian Public Organization “Assembly of Peoples of Russia,” and the Resource Information Center of the North-West Federal District.

The interregional round table was held within the framework of the «Week of Native Language» and the project «Language – the means of interethnic communication» of the House of Friendship of the Leningrad Region, as well as the Decade of Indigenous Languages.

Linguists, educators, language activists, and philologists from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Leningrad Region participated in the round table: teachers and students of the Institute of the Peoples of the North at the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia, the Moscow State Linguistic University, and representatives of national and cultural public organizations.

The participants discussed current issues of preserving the native languages of the peoples of Russia who live far from their homeland, in megacities, as well as considered new practices used by language activists and educators for the preservation and development of languages, including the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples.

The Acting Head of the House of Friendship, Sergey Novozhilov, greeted the participants of the round table, noting the importance of the work that language activists of public organizations are doing to preserve native languages.

«Despite the difficulties of today, we are moving forward together as one team and developing, all peoples of our multinational Leningrad region and Russia. I thank all the activists who are doing tremendous work in our region to preserve the culture of their people, including language», said Sergey Novozhilov.

The deputy director of the House of Friendship of the Leningrad Region and the head of the regional branch of the All-Russian Assembly of Peoples of Russia, Elena Ermolina, acted as the moderator of the round table. «Of course, during our meeting we will not find answers to many questions, but we will try to at least outline ways to solve such pressing problems that concern each of us: why do people forget their native language when they are away from their homeland, and how to arouse the interest of young people in learning the language of their ancestors», she noted in her speech, addressing the participants of the round table.

Sophia Unru, the Director of the Institute of Northern Peoples at the A.I. Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University, shared her experience of teaching the languages of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North. «Many of our graduates return home after completing their university studies. They become specialists in various fields, but first and foremost, it is culture and education. We have several educational programs, including ethno-cultural and historical directions. The students study the folklore and history of their ethnicity. We train specialists who help preserve the authenticity of their people. After all, there is a deep meaning behind every symbol and pattern, and it is important to understand this in order to preserve oneself, not to assimilate and not to dissolve», said Sophia Unru.

She drew attention to the fact that many students who come to study with them do not know their native language, and they learn it precisely in the institute. And the reason for this is banal: the dispersed settlement throughout the country certainly does not contribute to the preservation of the language. But there are exceptions. For example, the Nganasans, of whom there are only 800 people, preserve their language and both adults and children speak it.

Valeria Fedorenkova and Victoria Valenkova, teachers at the Institute of Northern Peoples at the A.I. Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University, gave reports on «Some aspects of preserving the native Even language» and «The interaction of school, family, and socio-cultural environment in preserving the native (Nenets) language».

Igor Brodsky, the deputy director of the Institute of Northern Peoples at the A.I. Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University, spoke about teaching the Veps language, the language of one of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East. «The Veps live in the Leningrad and Vologda regions, as well as in Karelia. The Veps language has been taught at our institute since 1999. Over all these years, the list of specialties and the number of students has changed several times. This academic year, we have 11 students and two postgraduates studying with us».

The people disappear and the language goes away. We try to stop this process as best we can. For three years, we have been holding courses in the Vepsian language. The first year we tried it in two nearby villages, Ozery and Yaroslavichi. We managed to find teachers who were native speakers of Vepsian. We studied using Igor Brodsky’s textbook. Thank you so much. We have developed a course designed for 72 hours. Why in the summer? It’s very simple. In the summer, grandchildren come to the village to visit their grandmothers. And children actively participate in this work. The intergenerational connection helps to learn the language,” said Vladimir Etoev.

He rightly noted that their courses provide a foundation for learning the language. What’s next? New forms are needed. Other interested institutions and organizations should be involved. Interaction, cooperation, and support are crucial for the nonprofit sector. This year, the “Veps Community” planned to hold a seminar for native speakers of the Vepsian language. They asked for support from the House of Friendship of the Leningrad Region, which will undoubtedly be provided.

Teachers and students from the Moscow State Linguistic University participated in the round table. Assol Ovsyannikova, a professor at the Department of Languages and Cultures of the CIS and Near Abroad Countries at MSLU, shared the future of the Ukrainian language and its role in Russia: “Irreversible processes are underway. The number of Ukrainian citizens who have moved to Russia in recent times has increased by 55% compared to the previous figure. They are moving primarily to Crimea, the Belgorod Region, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. The Ukrainian language is included in the list of languages of the peoples of Russia. Textbooks are being developed for teaching Ukrainian language, primarily in primary schools for grades 1-4. This is especially important for newly annexed territories. Work is underway to write a textbook for senior classes, and the textbook is being piloted in parallel.”

Deputy Chairman of the Mari National-Cultural Autonomy of the Leningrad Region “Shiy Korno,” Larisa Arlamova, shared practices for preserving the native language in the absence of a language environment. “We were interested in the practice of holding language camps for adults, which have been organized for several years in Udmurtia and Chuvashia. Last year, we decided to try this too and organized a summer camp in Mari El. Thirteen people joined us. The work continued, and in the autumn, we launched online courses for learning the Mari language.

The topic was continued by the chairwoman of the interregional public organization “Society of Korean Women of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region “Kovin” Inna Tsai.

We are already the fourth generation living far from our historical homeland. Our ancestors were able to adapt in Russia, assert themselves, but they could not preserve the language. Rather, the language that our grandmothers remember is no longer used, it is not spoken in Korea. And today, when we meet with relatives or fellow countrymen from Korea, we do not understand each other. And this is a problem. I started learning Korean at the age of 19 when a Korean center appeared in Rostov, where I lived with my parents at the time, and language teachers and native speakers began to visit. Thanks to the help of the House of Friendship, we have been conducting Korean language courses for adults and children for several years now, and Korean teachers work with us. Their arrival became possible with the support of the Consulate of the Republic of Korea.

Other participants in the round table, representatives of national-cultural public organizations in the region, also spoke about the difficulties of preserving their native language. “UNESCO has classified the Chuvash language as disappearing. An unpleasant forecast has been made that by 2050 it will not exist,” noted the head of the “Chuvash Cultural Society” of the Leningrad Region Valerian Gavrilov. According to him, all structures need to be involved here: family-society-state. 51% of the world’s population wants to live in cities. Urbanization will not contribute to the preservation of languages.

Summing up the round table, the deputy director of the House of Friendship of the Leningrad Region, the head of the regional branch of the All-Russian Public Organization “Assembly of the Peoples of Russia” Elena Ermolina, thanked all its participants for interesting speeches that outlined vectors for further work in the field of preserving the languages of the peoples of Russia in the Leningrad Region. All interesting proposed projects will definitely find practical application.