LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 38, No.1 - Spring 1992
Editor of this issue: Robert A. Vitas, Lithuanian Research & Studies Center
Copyright © 1992 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Michael Kirkwood (ed). Language Planning in the Soviet Union. New York: St. Martin's. 1990. 230 pp. $45.00
The contributors to this book describe the history and the effects of language planning in the USSR. The first four chapters examine the overall picture: the linguistic situation, the ideology used to rationalize language planning, and the practices which have affected language use. The remaining chapters discuss effects of Soviet language policy on specific languages or geographic areas. One chapter outlines changes in Russian itself. As is true of almost all edited volumes, the contributions are uneven, but all are well written and of some interest.
Michael Kirkwood provides an introduction to issues relevant to language planning as well as a description of the linguistic situation in the (former) USSR. Over 100 languages from six languages families are spoken there. Some are associated with republics, others are spoken within autonomous regions or districts. Often the numbers speaking a particular language are small, e.g. there are only 500 speakers of Aleut and 1,100 speakers of Ket, a Paleo-Siberean language.
Within this diversity, the history of language planning in the USSR has vacillated between one pole, based on Lenin's dictum that all languages are equal, and the other pole, that all languages are equal but Russian is more equal than others. This history is described in two contributions, one by Simon Crisp, who covers the story from the revolution in 1917 to the death of Stalin in 1953; the other, by Isabelle T. Kreindler, who takes up the story in 1953 and finishes with the beginning of the Gorbachev era and glasnost.
The early period of language planning is based on a resolution of the 1921 Communist Party Congress, declaring an intention to develop cultural and educational outlets in the various native languages. There followed a period of gathering data about languages and dialects, and developing orthographies based on the Latin alphabet for many languages, some with no written tradition, and others with a written tradition based on Arabic. In the 1930s, scripts based on the Latin alphabet were dropped in favor of Cyrillic, and the vocabulary of languages was to be enriched by loan words as similar to Russian as possible. From this time, there has been a steady rise in the status of Russian, but officially the principle that early education should be available in the native language has been maintained.
Kreindler documents a shift in official policy under Kruschev and Brezhnev which gave Russian official status as the premier language among the languages of the USSR. All non-Russians were diagnosed as having a "craving" for the Russian language (p. 53). Consequently, education should either be in Russian or Russian should be introduced as early as possible in the school system. The desired result would be one-way, "harmonious bilingualism" on the part of speakers of other languages which "does not impinge at all on the equality of languages" (p. 53). Russian either displaced the native languages as the medium of instruction or was introduced as a subject at an earlier and earlier age. The last two "holdouts", Estonia and Lithuania, introduced Russian in the first grade in 1980-81 (p. 54).
Of most interest to readers of this journal is Francis Knowles' contribution: "Language Planning in the Soviet Baltic Republics: An Analysis of Demographic and Sociological Trends." Knowles begins by surveying the history of the region and describing the Baltic languages. He then examines the influence of Russian on the languages themselves, as well as documenting an increase in knowledge and use of Russian.
The major effect of Russian on the Baltic languages is through loan words and this is publicly encouraged. Knowles quotes Bolshevik: "When a new term is needed. . . it must not be created anew but must boldly be taken from the Russian, which is the richest of languages" (151). In contrast, effects of the Baltic languages on the Russian spoken locally are minimal.
Knowledge and use of Russian by the local populations is promoted most effectively through the educational system. At the time, Knowles writes, children who were being taught in Russian exceeded the number of children having Russian as a native language in all three republics (p. 158). At the university level, the language of instruction for most students was Russian. In addition, the well-known influx of Russian speakers made Russian a part of daily affairs. The use of Russian was encouraged in other circum-stances. Knowles cites Sovetskaia Latviia: "Latvians do not adequately appreciate the value of speaking Russian among themselves." (152).
Finally, Knowles provides tables describing the proportion of the populations which know Russian to some degree, and ends with projections of the spread of Russian. It would be on a more or less equal footing with Estonian and Latvian within twenty years. Knowles cautions that his mathematical projections "cannot take account . . . of obtrusive cataclysmic events such as wars, famines, plagues" (p. 164) or, indeed, successful independence movements.
Sadly, there are no contributions by residents of the Baltic States. Also lacking is any discussion of the view from the inside, i.e. what it is like to be on the receiving end of Soviet language planning.