Uzbekistan is starting to forget Russian (well, not all of it)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Location of Uzbekistan

No surprise here, but this article gives a lot of detail into exactly how the former official language is slowly starting to lose its prominence in Uzbekistan. Apparently a full 70% of the population is still fluent, but the Uzbek language has taken a much larger prominence in everyday life. Here are some details from the article:

I had a misunderstanding over an Internet card I was trying to buy from a young merchant in one of Tashkent’s stores not far from the Russian Embassy. He tried to convince me that the card was valid until 2010 while I distinctly saw that it expired in 2009.

Suddenly it dawned upon me that we were speaking about the same thing, but the vendor mixed up devyat (nine) and desyat (10) in Russian. When I spoke Uzbek, we were in agreement on the expiration date.

For much of Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet existence, President Islam Karimov has pursued de-Russification policies that have steadily decreased the number of ethnic Russians in the country, from roughly 1.65 million in 1989 to about 620,000 in 2005, or about 2.3 percent of the population at that time. Government policies have also de-emphasized the teaching of Russian language and cultural traditions in schools.

Russian was the mandatory language of government and instruction during Soviet times. Uzbek was made the official language in 1995. In the ensuring years, legislative acts and government documents were published in Uzbek. Uzbek has replaced Russian in commerce as well as government.

“Although the Russian language remains a second obligatory language in the national school system, the number of schools where Russian is the primary language of instruction declined from 1,230 during the Soviet period to 813 in 2000,” Ilkhamov wrote.

While some schools teach in a mix of Russian and Uzbek, in most Uzbek schools Russian is taught as any foreign language, for just two hours a week.

As a result, growing numbers of young people in Tashkent cannot count in Russian and students in universities do not understand questions in Russian. But the situation is more pronounced outside Tashkent, where declining numbers of people, mostly local authorities, understand Russian.

When the country's relations with the United States and other Western states soured after the brutal suppression of the Andijan uprising in May 2005, language trends tilted back toward Russia, as did the country’s political relations. Many ethnic Uzbeks moved their children to Russian-language schools and classes.

“A tendency to decrease the number of Russian-language schools and Russian-language classes stopped two years ago,” said Farit Mukhametshin, the Russian ambassador to Uzbekistan.

Mukhametshin said his embassy donates Russian-language books to the libraries of Uzbek schools and universities, and organizes summer and winter camps throughout Uzbekistan so that schoolchildren can learn Russian. Branches of three Russian universities have opened in Tashkent and are popular despite their high cost.

While I take no joy in seeing Russian somewhat losing its former prominence in Uzbekistan it is nice to see that Uzbek has firmly established itself as the language of commerce, government and daily life. It would have been nice if the article had mentioned that Uzbek isn't simply a standalone language but rather a language closely related to other Turkic languages, so any increased prominence of the language is good for Turkic languages as a whole.

For a country where 70% of the population speaks fluent Russian, their Wikipedia article on Russian is pretty weak:
Rus tili - bir til sharqiy Evropada. Slavyan tillar oilasiga kiradi.
I think I can do most of this: "Russian language - a language in eastern Europe. (belongs?) to the Slavic language family."


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