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Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit


Buryat,  Kalmyk and Tuvinian languages in Russia

Language loss by ethnic minorities in Russia was a part of the wider cultural assimilation process, triggered by socialist modernization and the radical restructuring of cultural and ideological life in the Soviet Union. The change from the Old Mongolian script to Cyrilliс script culturally and linguistically detached Buryats and Kalmyks from their Mongolian heritage, in order to extend the domination of Soviet/Russian culture, and more broadly European ‘civilization’, over ‘culturally backward’ ethnic minorities. 

Though minority languages were guaranteed an official status in the ethnically defined regions (e.g. the Buryat republic and Kalmyk republic), these languages have been slowly devalued to the level of ‘kitchen’ languages spoken only within the home. Succeeding generations were forced to sacrifice their native language for the sake of career success in the Russian language environment.  However, post-Soviet ethnic revival brought a heated discussion about native language loss and many cultural and educational initiatives aimed to revive Buryat and Kalmyk language ‘before it was too late’.  However,  in the 2010s the discourse of language revival was deemed by the Russian state to be associated with ethnic separatism. Starting from 2014 Buryat language was excluded from compulsory education programs in secondary schools, and limited to only two hours per week as an additional course.  At the same time,  strong public initiatives have recently resulted in opening more social public spaces in Buryat language and broadcasting 24/7 in the main Buryat language dialects: selenge, xongoodor, erхүү, bargajan, and хоri dialects, such as  and  accessible worldwide. Often Buryat language programmes are supplemented by Mongolian television and radio programmes produced by Buryats living in Mongolia.  

The situation with the Tuvan language is less dramatic compared to Buryat and Kalmyk languages due to the late inclusion of the Tuva into the USSR at the end of  1940s, and the limited  presence of a Russian speaking population there.  

Dr Sayana Namsaraeva 


Further Reading: 

Buryat Republic

Badaraev, Damdin. (Ed.) 2020.Buryat Language in the Russian regions,  Mongolia and China: Current Situation,  Language Preserving, and Further Development.2-nd edition. Buryat State University:  Ulan-Ude. In Russian  [Бурятский язык в регионах России, Монголии  и Китая: состояние, проблемы, факторы сохранения и развития]  ISBN 978-5-9793-1312-2

Chakars, M. 2014. The socialist way of life in Siberia: transformation in Buryatia. Budapest, New York: Central European University Press.

Chakars, M. 2014. Buryat Literature as a political and cultural institution from the 1950s to the 1970s, Inner Asia11(1): 47-63.

Graber, Kathryn & Joseph Long. 2009.The Dissolution of the Buryat Autonomous Okrugs in Siberia: Notes from the Field, Inner Asia  SI: Buryats, Vol. 11(1):147-155)

Graber, Kathrin. 2017. The Kitchen, the Cat, and the Table: Domestic Affairs in Minority‐Language Politics, Linguistic Anthropology, 27 (2): 151-170.

Graber, Kathrin. 2020. Mixed Messages: Mediating Native Belonging in Asian Russia. Cornell University Press.  ISBN13: 9781501750519

Humphrey, Caroline, 2001. Marx Went Away—But Karl Stayed Behind. Updated edition of Karl Marx Collective: Economy, Society and Religion in a Siberian Collective Farm. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.   ISBN 0-472-06676-5

Khilkhanova, Erzhena. 2009. Language and Ethnic Identity of Minorities in Post-Soviet Russia: The Buryat Case Study, Journal of Language, Identity & Education. Vol. 3 (2): 85-100. DOI: 10.1207/s15327701jlie0302_1

Namsaraeva, Sayana. 2010. The Metaphorical Use of Avuncular Terminology in Buriad Diaspora Relationships with Homeland and Host Society. Inner Asia, Vol. 12(2): 201-230.

Quijada, Justine Buck. 2019. Buddhists, Shamans and Soviets: Rituals of History in Post-Soviet Buryatia.Oxford University Press: NY. ISBN 9780190916794

萨雅娜。那姆萨拉伊娃(Sayana Namsaraeva) 2009. 俄羅斯,中國和蒙古三國的布利亞特族群划分, 克思·普朗克社会人学研究所西伯利研究回民族出版社:北京。P 120- 157.  ISBN: 7105102527  [Buryats separated between Russia, China and Mongolia]


Kalmyk Republic

Ketinov, Baatr. 2020. The Kalmyk Identity in the 21 Century: Are the Ethnic, Religious and Language Backgrounds the Important Matters ? In Johannes Reckel & Merle Schatz (Eds.). Oirat and Kalmyk Identity in the 20thand 21stCentury.Universitaetsverlag Goettingen.  P 249- 262. ISBN 978-3-86395-464-2

Reckel, Johannes. 2020. Research in Modern Oirat-Kalmyk Language and Literature, In Johannes Reckel & Merle Schatz (Eds.). Oirat and Kalmyk Identity in the 20thand 21stCentury.Universitaetsverlag Goettingen.  P 249- 262. ISBN 978-3-86395-464-2


Tuva Republic 

Khabtagaeva,  Bayarma. 2009. Mongolic elements in Tuvan Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Oorzhak, Lidiia & Margarita Kungaa, 2018.  The role and importance of Tuvan literature and teaching it in schools in the preservation and development of Tuvan languageNovye issledovaniâ Tuvy, Vol. 3 (1): 32- 44. Available at: DOI: 10.25178/nit.2018.1.3  [Роль и значение тувинской литературы и ее преподавания в школе в сохранении и развитии тувинского языка]