Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 9, No 2-3 (2015)

Sakha language and education in a social, cultural and political context

Aimar Ventsel, Natal’ia Struchkova
Issued Date: 30 Sep 2015


This paper analyses the language situation in the Republic of Sakha, Russian Far East. Due economic, social and political processes, Sakha language occupies at least two niches in the society – as a language of disadvataged low social strata and as a language for the national elite. The paper demonstrates that one language can have several social positions simultaneously in an envirounment where multiple social, economic and political factors determe the social and cultural identity of its speakers. The role of education and access to the good quality schools is in the Republic of Sakha more crucial in creating a social status of the speakers and their language than official national language policy. Our paper is critical to sociolinguistic theories of “killer languages”, language utility, code switching and other theories that see a language group as homogenous body acting as a unit. The Sakha case demonstrates that in reality language speakers do not form a coherent group and the status of their language can vary according to the social position of the speakers. The paper also shows that processes we call “elitarisation” and “lumpenisation” of the language are intermingled and that people can move from one language strata into another using various strategies. As a result we conclude that in multilingual environment, education system is important as an institution that affects people’s life paths via networks they are able to establish in school or social groups they study with.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/sols.v9i2.26728


Aikhenvald, A. Y. (2002) Language contact in Amazonia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Argounova-Low, T. (2007) Close relatives and outsiders: Village people in the city of
Yakutsk, Siberia. Arctic Anthropology 44(1): 51–61. Doi:
Argounova-Low, T. (2011) The politics of nationalism in the Republic of Sakha
(Northeastern Siberia) 1900–2000. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen.
Bauman, R. and Briggs, C. L. (2003) Voices of modernity: Language, ideologies and the
politics of inequality. Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press. Doi:
Bloch, M. (1991) Language, Anthropology and Cognitive Science. MAN 26(2) (June): 183–
198. Doi:
Bucholtz, M. (2011) White kids: Language, race and styles of youth identity. Cambridge et
al.: Cambridge University Press.
Cañas Bottos, L. (2008) Old colony mennonites in Argentina and Bolivia: Nation making,
religious conflict and imagination of the future. Leiden, Boston: Brill.
Collins, C. (1999) Language, ideology and social consciousness: Developing a sociohistorical
approach. Aldershot: Ashgate. Doi:
Collins, C. (2000) Developing the linguistic turn in urban studies: Language, context and
political economy. Urban Studies 37(11): 2027–2043.
Crate, S. A. (2006) Cows, kin, and globalization: An ethnography of sustainability. Lanham
et al.: AltaMira Press.
Dawkins, R. M. (1916) Modern Greek in Asia Minor: A study of the dialects of Silli,
Cappadocia and Pharasa with grammars, texts, translations, and glossary. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Demont-Heinrich, C. (2007) Globalization, language, and the tongue-tied American:
A textual analysis of American discourses on the global hegemony of English.
Journal of Communication Inquiry 31(2): 98–117. Doi:
Dension, N. (1972) Some observations on language variety and plurilingualism. In J. B.
Pride and J. Holmes (eds) Sociolinguistics 65–77. Harmondsworth, Ringwood:
Penguin Books.
Descarries, F. (2003) The hegemony of the English language in the academy: The damaging
impact of the sociocultural and linguistic barriers on the development of feminist
sociological knowledge, theories and strategies. Current Sociology 51(6): 625–636.
Doidu, A. (2001) Khohoon, sehen, kiine, teatr [poetry, literature, cinema, theatre].
D’okuuskai: Bichik.
Donskoi, R. I. (2001) Urbanizatsiia i malochislennye narody Severa Respubliki Sakha
(Yakutiia) [Urbanization and small peoples of the North of the Respublika Sakha
(Yakutiya)]. Yakutsk: IPMNS SO RAN.
Drobizheva, L. M. (ed.) (2002) Sotcial'noe neravenstvo etnicheskikh grupp: predstavleniia i
real'nost'. [Social inequality of ethnic groups: representations and reality]. Moskva:
Duranti, A. (2003) Language as culture in U.S. anthropology: Three paradigms. Current
Anthropology 44(3): 323–347. Doi:
Ehala, M. (2005) The role of MTE in language maintenance and developing multiple
identities. In S. Kiefer and K. Sallamaa (eds) European identities in mother tongue
education 36–50. Linz: Trauner Verlag. Doi:
Ehala, M. (2010) Ethnolinguistic vitality and intergroup processes. Multilingua 29: 203–
Ehala, M. (2011) Hot and cold ethnicities: Modes of ethnolinguistic vitality. Journal of
Multilingual and Multicultural Development 32(2):187–200. Doi:
Fishman, J. A. (2002) Endangered minority languages: Prospects for sociolinguistic
research. International Journal on Multicultural Societies 4(2): 270–275.
Fairclough, N. (1989) Language and power. London: Longman.
Forsyth, J. (1992) A History of the peoples of Siberia: Russia’s North Asian colony 1581–
1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gerasimov, I., J. Kusber, and Semyonov, A. (eds) (2009) Empire speaks out: Languages of
rationalization and self-description in the Russian Empire. Leiden: Brill.
Graham, P. (1999) Critical systems theory: A political economy of language, thought,
and technology. Communication Research 26: 482–507. Doi:
Grenoble, L. A., and Whaley, L. J. (1998) Toward a typology of language endangerment.
In L. A. Grenoble and L. J. Whaley (eds) Endangered languages: Language loss
and community response 22–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Doi:
Gudmundsson, G. (1999) To find your voice in a foreign language. Authenticity and
reflexivity in the anglocentric world of rock. Young 7(2): 43–61. Doi: http://
Haugen, E. (1953) The Norwegian language in America: A study in bilingual behavior.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Ivanova, A. (2011) Sakha tyla tol'ko dlia elity? [Sakha-Tyla for elite only?] Nashe Vremia,
Khazanov, A. M. (1995) After the USSR: Ethnicity, nationalism, and politics in the
Commonwealth of Independent States. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Lapparova, I. F. (2002) Sotsial’nye posletsviia promyshlennogo osvoeniia Yakutii v
raionakh prozhivaniia korennykh malochislennykh narodov Severa [Social
consequences of Yakutiya’s industrial mastering in districts of the North smallnumbered
indigenous peoples’ residence]. In G. A. Ivanov and T. E. Andreeva (eds)
Malochislennye etnosy Severa Respubliki Sakha (Yakutiia) glazami molodykh
uchenykh [Small-Numbered peoples of the North of the Respublika Sakha (Yakutiya)
through the eyes of young scientists] 15–20. Yakutsk: IPMNS SO RAN.
Mauss, M. (1990) The Gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies. New
York: W.W.Norton.
Mowat, F. (1970) The Siberians. London: Heinemann.
Mufwene, S. S. (2001) The ecology of language evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. Doi:
Mufwene, S. S. (2004) Language birth and death. Annual Review of Anthropology 33:201–
222. Doi:
Nettle, D. (2002) Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world's languages. Oxford, New
York: Oxford University Press.
Nikolaev, M. E. (1994) Narody Sibiri – kul'turnoe vozrozhdenie v kontekste novoi Rossii.
Doklad na mezhdunarodnom kollokviume [Siberian peoples – cultural revival in the
context of new Russia. A paper on the international colloquium]. 3-6 noiabria 1993
goda, Parizh. In M. E. Nikolaev (ed) Arktika: bol' i nadezhda Rossii [The Arctic Zone:
Pain and Hope of Russia] 90–95. Moskva: Sakha-Tsentr, Izdatel'skii Dom ‘XX vek’.
Robbek, V. (1998) Language situation in the Sakha republic (Yakutia). In E. Kasten (ed.)
Bicultural education in the North: Ways of preserving and enhancing indigenous
languages and traditional knowledge 114–122. Münster et a;.: Waxmann.
Rubin, J. (1972) Acquisition and proficiency. In J. B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds)
Sociolinguistics 350–366. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books.
Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2001) Linguistic human rights in education for language
maintenance. In L. Maffi (ed.) On biocultural diversity: Linking language, knowledge,
and the environment 397–411. Washington, DC and London: Smithsonian
Institution Press.
Sleptsov, P. A. and Robbek, V. A. (1994) Problemy sokhranenia i razvitiia iazykov
arkticheskikh narodov Rossiiskoi Federatsii (Rossii) [Problems of maintenance and
development of the Arctic peoples of the Russian Federation]. In V. N. Ivahnov, T. N.
Oglezeneva, I. A. Potapov and V. M. Nikiforov (eds) Iazyki, kul'tura i budushchee
narodov Arktiki [Languages, culture and future of the Arctic peoples] 15–19. Yakutsk:
Smith, N. (1999) Chomsky: Ideas and ideals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Doi:
Talib, I. S. (2006) Language and nation. Theory, Culture & Society 23(2-3): 66–67. Doi:
Thomason, S. G. and Kaufmann, T. (1988) Language contact, Creolization, and genetic
linguistics. Berkley, Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Trenz, H.-J. (2007) Reconciling diversity and unity: Language minorities and European
integration. Ethnicities 7(2): 157–185. Doi:
Tyrylgin, M. A. (2000) Istoki fenomenal’noi zhiznesposonosti naroda sakha [Sources of
phenomenal vitality of Sakha people]. Yakutsk: Bichik.
Vakhtin, N. B. (2001) Iazyki narodov Severa v XX veke. Ocherki iazykovogo sdviga
[Languages of the North peoples in the XX century: Essays about language shift].
Sankt-Peterburg: Evropeiskii Universitet v Sankt-Peterburge.
Veinguer, A. A. and Howard, H. D. (2007) Building a Tatar elite: Language and national
schooling in Kazan. Ethnicities 7(2): 186–207. Doi:
Ventsel, A. (2005) Urbane Identität sibirischer Indigener. Chantische Studenten in Surgut.
In S. Bauer, S. Donecker, A. Ehrenfried and M. Hirnsperger (eds) Bruchlinien in
Eis.Ethnologie des zirkumpolaren Nordens 17–30. Wien: Lit.
Ventsel, A. and Dudeck, S. (1998) Do the Khanty need a Khanty curriculum? Indigenous
concepts of school education. In E. Kasten (ed.) Bicultural education in the North:
Ways of preserving and enhancing indigenous peoples’ languages and traditional
knowledge 90–99. Munich et al.: Waxmann.
Weinreich, U. (1953) Languages in contact. Mouton: The Hague.
Yakutia. (2007) Yakutia. Istoriko-kul'turnyi atlas [Yakutiya: The historical and cultural
atlas]. Moskva: Feriia.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy