Belarussian as an Endangered Language: Can the Mother Tongue of an Independent State be Made to Die?
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While decline and/or extinction threaten an ever-increasing number of languages, most of these are minority tongues that struggle for survival against dominant languages. The present paper reports the case of Belarussian, a national and co-official language, which the great majority of the population of Belarus considers as its mother tongue, but which has became endangered due to sustained official policies discriminating against it, and the general apathy of the population. The paper places this complex and puzzling situation in the historical context of people long accustomed to changing cultural and linguistic elites, with a succession of rulers that paid little regard to the wishes or needs of the majority of the country's inhabitants. Recent data are presented showing the rapid decline in the teaching of Belarussian language in schools and other public domains and the use of mixed dialects as the prevailing mode of communication, shifting through a Belarussian-Russian mix (trasianka) to Russian. The efforts of a small national linguistic elite to sustain the use of standard Belarusian is examined against the concept of language as a core value of culture and Fishman's framework for reversing language shift, in order to evaluate the prospects of maintaining Belarussian as an integral part of the linguistic heritage of Europe.
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