Language purity and the de-Russification of Tatar
Author: Suzanne Wertheim
Publisher: Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies
Publication date: 2002
Number of pages: 29
Format / quality: PDF / excellent
Size: 0,511

Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies
Working Paper Series
University of California, Berkeley
Suzanne Wertheim
Spring 2002 0,511 MB 28 pages
Suzanne Wertheim is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Linguistics
at the University of California, Berkeley.
Funding for the publication of this working paper comes from the Carnegie
Corporation of New York.
The Berkeley Program in Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies (BPS) is a leading center for graduate training on
the Soviet Union and its successor states in the United States. Founded in 1983 as part of a nationwide effort
to reinvigorate the field, BPS.s mission has been to train a new cohort of scholars and professionals in both
cross-disciplinary social science methodology and theory as well as the history, languages, and cultures of the
former Soviet Union; to carry out an innovative program of scholarly research and publication on the Soviet
Union and its successor states; and to undertake an active public outreach program for the local community,
other national and international academic centers, and the U.S. and other governments.
-Tatar in the context of endangered language theory
-Language attitudes, internal and external
-Functional domains of Tatar
-“Pure” and “impure” Tatar
-Purification movements
-Orthographic reform
-Lexical reform
-Individual means of de-Russification
Figure 1: Continuum of styles and language mixing for urban Tatar bilinguals

More than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, transitional post-Communist Russia
continues to be fertile ground for investigations of ethnic identity and investigations of the
struggle to retain linguistic and cultural integrity in an assimilating society. In this paper, I
will be examining the sociolinguistic context, language ideologies, and linguistic
performance of Tatar, a Turkic language currently spoken in Tatarstan by one quarter of its
four million residents.1 Additionally, I will examine the role that language plays in ethnic
self-identification and nationhood. Using data gathered during ten months of fieldwork in
Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan,2 I will demonstrate that Tatar identity, in
particular as constructed through linguistic performance, is inextricably linked with
orientation towards or away from Russian language and culture, such that the integrity and
cultural .purity. of post-Soviet Tatars . thought by many to be necessary for the survival
of the Tatar language, culture, and nation . is equated with their de-Russification. De-
Russification, or the removal (or .purification.) of salient Russian influence, is expressed
in various ways by Tatars in present-day Tatarstan . for example, by choices in attire,
food and alcohol consumption, and sexual mores . but in this paper my focus will be
exclusively on purification and de-Russification as expressed in linguistic performance.
Linguistic performance, particularly speech carefully cleansed of salient Russian influence,
plays a significant role in the construction of Tatar identity: this performance can be both for
outsiders, such as fieldworkers or unknown members of large audiences, and for insiders,
such as members of a small social network (e.g., a Tatar social club). Broadly speaking, Tatar
identity appears to be defined in opposition to Russian, such that the focus is less on what
Tatars are and more on what they are not . and what they are not is Russian. In this context,
with an oppositional definition, the .pure. Tatar individual comes to mean the .de-Russified.
Tatar individual, one who has removed Russian influence from his or her life (even if he or
she has retained Arabic or Persian influences). This purification can be seen in various choices
made in daily life, such as for clothing (with an explicit goal of modesty for women) and for
food and alcohol (including the avoidance of both alcohol and pork products), but its most
consistent, continuous, and unconscious expression is found in linguistic choices and
De-Russification is bound up in the Tatars. ongoing struggle to resist religious, cultural,
and linguistic assimilation into the Russian majority. Tatar discourse on language is often
either symbolic of, or explicitly related to, discourse on nationhood, with the hope that through
preservation of the integrity and distinctiveness of the language, the integrity and distinctiveness
of the nation can also be retained. As the Tatar saying goes, .Tugan teldä . millät yazmïshïi.
(In a native language is the fate of a nation).

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