At the end of a year in which the alarming loss of languages around the world has been gaining more attention and groups and projects like The Endangered Language Alliance, Our Mother Tongues, Living Tongues and National Geographic’s Enduring Voices, the film We Still Live Here, and the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices initiative have been working to combat this global issue, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a law that may put Russia’s indigenous language in greater danger of extinction. While the law does not directly ban education in indigenous languages, it also does not grant them the same protection that it gives the Russian language. The law guarantees education in Russian, stating that classes in non-Russian languages cannot be carried out if it is found that this is “to the detriment” of teaching Russian. This law will take effect in September, 2013, in time for the new school year.
Languages are more than words; they contain the unique knowledge and cultural heritage of a people. Thus, the protection and perpetuation of languages is crucial to the survival and transmission of culture and knowledge. This new law appears to be a step backward at a time when it is critical to move forward in supporting – not discouraging – the teaching of indigenous languages.