Minority Languages in Siberia

John writes:

I read that the ancestors of modern day Aboriginal Canadians/Americans still live in parts of Siberia but they are fading away linguistically and culturally due to Russian culture, do you know anything about this? I know that the indigenous people of Russia were all Mongoloid and Siberia was all Mongoloid type people before the Russians came. So how is it that Russia is not causing harm to these cultures?

Russia has a pretty progressive attitude towards these folks. None of them are separatists, so there is not much to worry about. Russia doesn’t settle it with Russians because no Russian wants to go live in Siberia. I suspect they might even let some of these groups separate because I am not sure how much Russia cares about all these frozen wastes. I just wrote a huge paper on these groups that will appear soon in a new book. Russia lets all of these groups use their languages as much as they want to. They can study them in schools, or they can even use them as a medium for instruction as long as kids end up fluent in Russian too. They can declare one or more of their languages as official state languages alongside Russian. They can use the language alongside Russian in government and universities. They can have newspapers, magazines, TV and radio in their languages. The USSR supported language rights, and the new Russia has more or less inherited that mindset. Quite a few of even the small groups related to Amerindians still speak their languages. For instance, the Altai languages are still widely spoken. Children are still being raised as native speakers in some of these languages. However, many are on their way out with most speakers age 40+. Some languages have only elderly speakers and are moribund. Speakers of these languages often suffer from lack of funds for learning materials in the schools, and their media productions either lack funding or tend to get shut down due to financial issues.

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0 thoughts on “Minority Languages in Siberia”

  1. Technically, the only language group in Siberia with an actual specific proposed relationship to a Native American language group is Yenesian, of which the only surviving language, Ket, is currently very moribund.
    The healthier minority languages in Siberia tend to be the bigger Altaic languages, such as Tuvan. Other Siberian languages are mostly moribund.
    Ethnic Russians did settle in Siberia in significant numbers, many of them along the border with China (southernmost parts of Siberia). However, I don’t think they’ll increase their presence in Siberia beyond the territory they’ve already occupied, since the places left that they haven’t really settled are really frighteningly inhospitable. Russians are paranoid of potentially having Chinese hordes encroach on their Siberian territory though, so I think official policy is still to encourage whatever migration to Siberia they can muster up if possible.
    One issue of concern for Far Eastern Siberian minorities in Russian Siberia is that in Russian culture they are stereotyped by the majority ethnic Russians as primitive “eskimo-like” herdsmen with strange languages, with sounds like “chuck-chee” (like the “ching-chong” slur for Asians in America). Ethnic Russians living in ethnic republics don’t bother learning any of the minority languages; I had a Russian linguistics professor who said she had a really hard time convincing some minorities that she was actually interested in learning their language for research purposes, since they had never heard of an ethnic Russian bothering to learn their language.

    1. Isn’t there a top Russian general who is half Tuvan? There are a lot of Russians who have Siberian genes.
      In addition to Tuvan, Yakut, Evenki and Dolgan are also doing well. I believe that the Altai languages are still being learned by children.
      The Altai are not related linguistically to Amerindian languages, but they are related to the Amerindians genetically.

      1. Not sure, possibly. Overall there still is some discontent/resentment among the Tuvans; they’d most likely jump on the option of independence if they were offered it, but they’re not rash/dumb enough to fight for it like the Chechens. Independence is probably a little more reasonable here than elsewhere in Siberia due to them being on the border near Mongolia.
        Overall, Turkic-family languages are the ones doing the best, like Tuvan, Yakut, Altai, etc. (a minor exception here and there like Chulym). These will likely be able to hold on long term. Mongolic-family languages seem okay, but future is unclear. Many Tungusic-family languages are threatened long-term. Paleo-Siberian languages such as Ket are the most threatened. Increasing the number of domains a language can be used in is vital to the long-term survival and thriving of a language, so if a language is only in the private sphere and not used in the public sphere alongside Russian, eventually children will not acquire the full breadth of the language due to lack of exposure, and come to rely more on Russian because they are not familiar with, say scientific vocabulary or political vocabulary in the minority language.
        However, Russian settlement of Siberia is nothing for the USA to use and accuse them of imperialism, since the USA did basically the same to Native Americans (and took over more of the land too). Pointing a finger at Russia or China over Siberia and Xinjiang is meaningless unless the USA is also willing to release a portion of its land back to Native Americans, Hawaiians, etc., which of course will never happen.
        The fairest option would have to be some sort of an agreement between all large nations (including at least Russia, Canada, USA, China, India, Brazil, Australia, and Indonesia) to release a portion of their territory that has historical/cultural rationale for independence. It wouldn’t really be balanced to demand just China to give up Xinjiang while USA keeps all its land and India keeps Kashmir and its Northeast.
        Obviously, such an agreement will never happen.

        1. There aren’t any ethnic groups in the US who want to secede from the state. We already gave the Indians lots of land in form of Indian reservations. Also they get lots and lots of stuff for free or cheap from the government. In addition, we now let them run those casinos and make money off that.
          Chinese behavior in Xinjiang is pretty lousy.
          Evenki is still being learned by children in some places and one of the Samoyedic languages is too.

        2. The aboriginals in USA has no desire to secede. The white man do. USA was brought together as a result of Lincoln’s war, before that it was something a little stronger than EU you see today.
          Chinese behavior in Xinjiang is up to standards. There are a total of 56 races in China, and no one other than Uighur and Tibetan seek Independence.
          Manchus dont and Mongols dont, not even the Hui Muslims which are much more numerous than Uighur. Not even Kazakh which has substantial numbers in Xinjiang. Right now, the USA talk as if there are only Uighur in Xinjiang but in reality there is around 20% of Kazaks
          The problem of Xinjiang is Islam. Problem of Tibet is Dalai Lama.
          Put Islamist into any other country they will make trouble and create terrorism until the day they took over the country. Then they will shit hard on minorities.

  2. Russia is pretty progressive on minorities today. The intellectual class among Chinese are aware that the early Russian conquerers mass massacre the men and took the in the SIberian women as sex slaves.
    The Siberian today is well treated by the Russians. Many of the Siberian outpost requires a transfer of wealth from Russia, as they are consumer, not producer of wealth.
    If there is no such transfer, the Siberians will be living primitively instead of having all modern convenience.
    Try living as a minority under Islam.

    1. Why are you saying “try living as a minority under Islam” when Russia is an Orthodox Christian country? Or do you mean that the Muslims will treat minorities worse than Russians? Anyways I disagree with the transfer of wealth, as it further accelerates the destruction of their culture. I don’t see the problem with them living primitively, I’m sure they were happy and had all they needed, no pollution and a supply of fresh fish. Why do they need modern conveniences?

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