The Sociolinguistic Situation and Ethnic Stereotypes in Khakasia

Borgoyakova, Tamara

Khakas State University, Russia, Russian Federation

WS162: Language Policies in Social Practice: Constructing Identity, (Re)Claiming Language Rights

This presentation addresses an existing correlation between the current socio-linguistic situation and the ethnic stereotypes of Khakasians and Russians living in the Republic of Khakasia, Russia. It begins with a brief outline of Khakasia’s geography, kinds of autonomy and demographic data. Then status planning analyses is suggested in the context of the regional, national, and international language law. The presentation shows the contradiction between the legal status of the second official language the Khakas language has in the Republic on the one hand, and its endangered future on the other. According to the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages (North-Eastern Asia), 1997 Khakas language was one of the endangered languages of Russia. The fact that only a small number of children speak the mother tongue, even in the places with a mostly Khakas population, was one of the symptoms of endangerment. Recent surveys also show that the sociolinguistic situation is characterized by dynamic language shift to the dominant Russian even in the traditionally mother tongue domains; this is exacerbated by the decrease of children being taught in the mother tongue at school, lack of teaching materials and text-books. Low self-esteem and prestige of the mother tongue among the young is often the result of the attitudes of the Russian-speaking majority. Ethnic stereotypes are revealed through preliminary results of free associative experiments. These analyses show that both main ethnic groups of the republic (Russians and Khakasians) have mostly positive self-perceptions (autostereotypes). Heterostereotypes (perceptions of others) include positive attitudes as well. However, characteristics such as impudent and arrogant about Russians; slow-thinkers, ugly unattractive language about Khakasians; and terrorists, aggressive, cruel about Tuvinians and Chechens reveal critical perceptions of other ethnic groups. An analysis of the reasons for these negative attitudes reveals the correlation with a traditional world view and ethnocultural differences. Khakas people still value the ability to be self-reserved and to avoid conflicts. Russians, from the point of view of Khakasians, are more talkative and loud. Thus, despite 300 years of a close association inside Russia, intercultural misunderstanding, prejudice, and discriminatory majority-minority relations persist. I conclude by discussing how Khakas youth and adults are responding to the crisis of language loss, their mixed feelings of pride and shame concerning the mother tongue, and counter-initiatives to lingua-cultural assimilation.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Language Policies in Social Practice: Constructing Identity, (Re)Claiming Language Rights
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 06