Russian language prestige in the states of the former Soviet Union
Tyson, Michael J.
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The prestige of the Russian language has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nicholas Ostler, a linguist and language historian, categorized four reasons why an imperial language would remain after the colonizing power leaves. He applied this theory to Russian in the states of the former Soviet Union. He found that only Belarus maintains a significant enough number of Russian speakers to fall into one of his categories. I find that the Russian language is prestigious in all fourteen former Soviet Union states because of its use regionally as a lingua franca. I begin with a review of language policy from Tsarist times through today's Russia. I follow this with a demographic survey of the major languages in each of the 14 former Soviet states, as well as a linguistic comparison of Russian with each republic's titular language. Next, using census data and language attitudes revealed through surveys and polls, I show how Russian is still a prestigious language in all FSU states, despite a decrease in the number of speakers, especially in younger generations. I conclude with a review of Ostler's four categories and reasons why I call Russian a dying regional lingua franca.
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