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Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia

Zinaida Dubinina is fighting to save the Karelian language, but despite the revival of minority languages people are rapidly being Russified


Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia Zinaida Dubinina
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia
Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia Andrei Gorškov
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By Juhani Saarinen in Kotkatjärvi/Petrozavodsk
     
      A battle. That is the word that Zinaida Dubinina is using.
      Dubinina is fighting a battle in the bedroom of her home in the village of Kotkatjärvi in Russian Karelia.
      At her desk she has committed her most important acts in order to save her native language: translated the entire Kalevala, the national epic of Finland, as well as parts of the Bible into Karelian.
      Dubinina’s choice of words is dramatic, but her struggle is a real one. A defeat in the battle would mean a death-blow to the Karelian language and culture.
      ”I do not honestly know what will happen to the Karelian language”, she quitely contemplates.
     
In the village of Kotkatjärvi, the Karelian language is still alive. On the bumpy roads, one meets people whose speech-patterns are oddly familiar.
      ”Olgua hyvin!Viktor Pärkiyev wishes us politely, before setting off on a bicycle that looks quite as old as the cyclist himself.
      Nevertheless, the cognate languages of Finnish are facing difficulties.
      The number of those who speak Finnish, Karelian, and Vepsian of the Veps language is shrinking rapidly.
     
According to the most recent census in Russia, the number of people who speak Finnish has declined by one-fourth, while that of people who can speak Vepsian has come down by more than one-third over a period of slightly less than a decade.
      The number of people who can speak Karelian has collapsed to half of what it was.
      In addition, fewer people than before perceive themselves as Finnish or Karelian. The Soviet policy to harass minorities left behind permanent scars: young people have grown up to become Russians.
      In Petrozavodsk (Petroskoi in Finnish), the Finnish language can be seen in very few places.
      A billboard saying ”yleisönpalvelukeskus” (”Public Service Centre”) is still standing on the roof of a large concrete colossus, but otherwise many Finnish-language billboards have disappeared from the streetscape.
     
In principle, the cognate languages of Finnish are not beyond hope.
      Today, the Republic of Karelia is led by Aleksandr Hudilainen, a man of Finnish descent, and Finnish, Karelian and Veps have been recognised as the minority languages of the republic.
      ”In practice, these languages nevertheless have no status”, says researcher Sanna-Riikka Knuuttila.
      Knuuttila is preparing her thesis on the revival of Karelian at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu. A part of the study has been made in Kotkatjärvi.
      ”It is true that the Karelian language is more vital now than it was slightly more than 20 years ago, but it continues to be extremely endangered”, Knuuttila notes.
      ”I am not willing to make pessimistic forecasts, but it is also rather difficult to make a very positive prediction, either”, she adds.
     
The decline also affects the relationships of minority languages.
      ”There are Karelians who feel that the Finnish language and identity pose a greater danger than the Russian language and identity”, says editor-in-chief Mikko Nesvitski of the Finnish-language newspaper Karjalan Sanomat, published in Petrozavodsk.
      The greatest problem faced by Karelian and Vepsian is the fact that young people do not regard studying them as being of any use.
      ”If you are a doctor and can speak Karelian, it will not have any effect on your salary”, Knuuttila says. ”Young people think that being able to speak English is much more useful”, he adds.
      At the same time, studying Finnish could improve their possibilities to find a job. In the schools of the Karelian Republic, a total of about 4,000 children study Finnish, while only slightly more than 1,000 pupils study Karelian.
     
A total of 104 out of the 160 pupils in the Kotkatjärvi school study Karelian.
      However, they have only one lesson in the subject per week, and school director Marina Tšupukova notes that such a minimal number of classes is not enough to save the language.
      Tšupukova used to teach in the same school earlier, and in her view, the decision-makers should draft a law that would guarantee the language a better status.
      The law could for example order that a part of authorities should be able to use the Karelian language.
     
The steadily worsening situation of the language is also attributable to the fact that the villages themselves are in decline.
      Kotkatjärvi also used to be a prosperous little place, but today there are only two small shops in the centre of the village, on the corners of which some men can be seen knocking back vodka. All young people have left for cities to find jobs.
      ”If you go to the city, you will have to know Russian. What would you do with Karelian in the city?” Dubinina asks.
     
However, there is at least one exception. Andrei Gorškov or Ondrei, is the first rap artist who performs in Karelian.
      Born into a Karelian family in Aunus, Gorškov says that he wrote his first rhymes in Russian, but his Karelian teacher encouraged him to change languages.
      Gorškov’s first gig was at the end of last year, and at present, he is preparing his first album.
      He also acts in the National Theatre in Petrozavodsk, where performances are in Finnish, Karelian, and Russian.
     
     
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.9.2012


Previously in HS International Edition:
  Alcohol remains a major health concern in Russian Karelia (13.9.2012)
  Thousands in Russia still waiting for go-ahead to move to Finland (11.9.2012)

See also:
  New leader of Russian Karelia has Finnish roots (28.5.2012)

Links:
  Republic of Karelia (Wikipedia)

JUHANI SAARINEN / Helsingin Sanomat
juhani.saarinen@hs.fi


  18.9.2012 - THIS WEEK
 Cognate languages of Finnish are disappearing in Russia

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