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Linguistics 115: Language and Society

Assignment 2 – Language Planning due March 5, 2020

Note: Almost all of the regions, populations, and languages mentioned in this assignment are fictitious. Purge them from your mind when you finish the assignment. Do not ask your travel agent to book a flight to Steppistan, or dredge up these names when helping your child with a 4thgrade geography project some day.

The (entirely fictitious) region of Steppistan is located in a (fictitious) remote corner of the cold and arid Steppes of the former Soviet Union. This region has recently achieved its independence from the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan (as well as from nearby Iran). Your task, as a language-planning specialist in the employ of the new government of Steppistan, is to draw up a set of recommendations for the future linguistic development of the country.

You realize that a successful language policy will have to be sensitive to the desires of the people, as well as build up a new identity for the nation, which is still in its infancy. Ideally, it will promote, rather than impede, the people’s participation in global communications.

Steppistan has a complex population of five different (fictitious) ethno-linguistic groups: the Arals, the Balqashis, the Caspians, the Dushans, and the Esmailis.
All speak different languages, which are mutually unintelligible. However, it should be pointed out that the first four of these groups speak languages that are broadly related to each other. All four are members of the Turkic family of languages, which also includes the nearby Kazakh and Turkmen languages, as well as the more geographically-distant Turkish language. The fifth group, the Esmailis, are a non-Turkic people. Their language is a member of the Iranian family of Indo-European languages.

Your set of language-planning recommendations (in 4 to 5 double-spaced pages; due date, Thursday, March 5th; submitted in hardcopy) should outline the policies that you would deem most beneficial to the newly-unified nation and its people, and provide your reasons therefor.

There is no single correct answer to this challenge, but your careful attention to the precedents discussed in class; your sensitivity to the desires of the people and consideration of their deep, historic roots in the region; your mindfulness of

economic realities; and your thoughtful, detailed, and well-reasoned recommendations will serve the nation well.

GEOPOLITICAL BACKGROUND: The homelands of the Arals, the Balqashis, the Caspians, and the Dushans had once been part of the former Soviet Union, which disintegrated in 1991. The homeland of the Esmailis had once been part of Iran, but that region declared its independence at the time of the fall of the Shah in 1979, and forged a brief political alliance with the Soviet Union.

ETHNO-LINGUISTIC MAKEUP OF THE NATION:

The Arals. The homeland of the Arals borders the Russian Federation. It has few inhabitants (the second-smallest population, after the Balqashis), no large cities, but a great deal of oil. This region is also home to a minority Russian- speaking immigrant community, which arrived in great numbers after the breakup of the Soviet Union to work in the newly de-nationalized oil fields. These Russian immigrants speak very little of the Aral language, only enough to get by in their work and in some social interactions. Because they perceive the local public schools to be inadequate, and also with an eye toward future repatriation, many of them send their children to be schooled in private Russian- language academies (K-12). This can represent a considerable expense, even for relatively affluent families in the petroleum industry.

Education is not a high priority among the ethnic Arals in the region. Schooling is compulsory only through grade 5. Classes are taught in the Aral language.

The Aral language is part of the Turkic language group, and it incorporates many borrowings from the neighboring Russian language. Ever since the Stalin era, it has been written in the Cyrillic alphabet [Кириллица]. The indigenous population includes a relatively small core of strictly monolingual speakers of Aral. The rest of the population has at least some competence in Russian, which has been used in the Aral oil fields for decades, or in the Balqashi language, a longtime lingua franca of traders throughout the region.

The population of Aralia is predominantly Christian (Russian Orthodox).
It is a wealthy group, as befits an oil-exporting region. The many television owners find that the strongest channels are broadcast in Russian.

In 1991 there was a very unfortunate period of ethnic cleansing in Aralia by a provisional government that seized power in the region as Soviet power was disintegrating. This policy was directed at ethnic Dushans, many of whom spoke fluent Aral and had established roots in Aralia for nearly a century. That government was promptly overthrown, and the remaining ethnic Dushans once again live in peace among their Aral neighbors.

It is of signal importance to the government of Steppistan to foster in its Aral citizens a sense of national unity and pride. Much of the nation’s wealth flows directly from the oil fields of that region. A secessionist movement in Aralia – advocating independence, or re-annexation by the Russian Federation – might have devastating economic consequences in the nation as a whole.

The Balqashis. Because of its proximity to Armenia, at the far western frontier of Steppistan, the Balqashi region is home to many bilingual Balqashi / Armenian speakers. A majority of the population is Christian, following the rites of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The Balqashi language (its name derived from the Old Turkic root word for ‘rock’) has been used for nearly a millennium as a lingua franca by traders heading eastward from Europe, as well as those heading westward along the Silk Road.

The Balqashi language has long used its own characteristic script, comprising elements of the Georgian [!”#$%&'(] and Armenian [դասական] scripts.

From the early 18th century on – at the instigation of tradesmen — a simple protocol has existed for the transcription of Balqashi into Latin script.

The Balqashi homeland has the smallest population in all of Steppistan. Literacy is high, with obligatory K-12 schooling conducted in the Balqashi
language. Because of the limited population base of the Balqashi region, many of its inhabitants have felt it advantageous to become bilingual, or even trilingual. The most common second (or third) languages in the Balqashi region are Armenian, Russian, and nearby Caspian.

The Caspians. Caspia is the home of the newly-designated capital city of Steppistan, and also of the only university in the country. It has a large and highly literate population. Secular education (taught in the Caspian language) is obligatory for grades K-12.

Caspian is a Turkic language, augmented by borrowings from Russian and, more recently (particularly in the technology sector), from English. Nearly one-third the population is bilingual to a degree (i.e., conversant, if not fluent) in English. Under the former Soviet Union, the writing system was Cyrillic, but as that union dissolved, a Latin script [Ol aç däl] was adopted in Caspia.

The large population of Caspians, second in size only to the Dushans, is mainly Christian (Russian Orthodox), though almost half of the inhabitants, particularly the young, decline to align themselves with any formal religion. The dress and mannerisms of young Caspians are considered somewhat scandalous in the more conservative regions of the new nation.

Per-capita income in Caspia is not as high as in oil-rich Aralia, but the income base is more diversified. There is a rapidly-expanding technology sector, not to mention a burgeoning customer-service call center industry, which together attract young immigrants from all over Steppistan. Predictably, patterns of diglossia are becoming established in the region.

The Caspian and Dushan languages are not quite mutually intelligible, but each is rather closely related to the Turkmen language, which is spoken in nearby Turkmenistan. Caspianscan,withsomeeffort,getasenseofwhatisbeing reported in Turkmen newspapers, which are, helpfully, printed in the same Latin script as Caspian. Foreign publications do not make their way into the Dushan homeland, however.

The Dushans. The Dushan people have had an unfortunate history of hostile relations with the Aral people. (This dates back to the abduction of a Dushan princess in 1588, and was exacerbated by ethnic cleansing of Dushans in nearby Aralia in the 1990s.)

The Dushans are a large, agrarian population. However, due to the harsh climate, agriculture there is challenging and poorly remunerated. The socio- economic status of the Dushan population is among the lowest in Central Asia. Gender roles are strictly observed, and female attire is modest.

The Dushan language is part of the Turkic language group. Thus far, no written form of Dushan has been developed. The populace is predominantly monolingual, and the Dushan language is highly resistant to lexical borrowing

for the expression of any new concepts in invention or technology. Schooling is not mandatory.

The Dushan people are, however, famous throughout the region for their oral literary tradition – epic poetry describing the long history of the Dushan people, and beautiful verses written in the 16th century — which have been passed along from generation to generation, despite the lack of a written language. Even though the neighboring populations cannot understand the Dushan language, they have very positive attitudes toward the artistry of the Dushan populace.

The Esmailis. The oil-rich region of Esmailia, formerly a part of Iran, has a small, wealthy population, predominantly Muslim. An extremely modest dress code is in place for Esmaili women and girls.

Relatively few children attend secular schools, which are taught in the Esmaili language. Many attend religious academies, also taught in Esmaili. There are no universities within the borders of Esmailia. However, literacy is high.

The Esmaili families who own televisions are few (due to cultural, rather than economic limitations). By far the strongest channels that they can receive are broadcast in Farsi, originating in Iran.

The Esmaili people speak an Indo-Iranian language related to Farsi, which is written in the Persian alphabet [همهٔ افراد بشر آزاد], a modified variant of Arabic

script. There are few bilingual speakers in the country, though many older individuals still speak Farsi, dating back to the union with Iran. Only a very small minority is at all conversant in English (mainly internet jargon). There are a somewhat greater number of Esmaili/Caspian bilinguals who once were attracted to city life, but who ultimately returned to their Esmailian homeland. Still, these returnees cling to some favored customs — congregating in outdoor cafés that serve Caspian delicacies such as sturgeon and blinis, and attending the musical theatre (which, throughout Steppistan, is only performed in Caspian).

Relations between the Esmaili populace and the other inhabitants of Steppistan are cordial, though their political alliance is quite new. For millennia before that, the Esmailis were under a different sphere of influence than the Turkic- speaking ethnic groups in the region. Even today, their Aral, Balqashi, Caspian, and Dushan co-nationals regard the Esmaili people as somehow “different”.

 

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