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Home » Art and Culture News, Linguistic Geography, Siberia

“Language Nest” Program to Nurture the Enets Language

Submitted by on May 14, 2012 – 5:40 pm 2 Comments |  
A “Language Nest” program has recently opened at the local kindergarten in the village of Potapovo, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. The goal of the program is to maintain—and to some extent revive—the Forest Enets language, one of the many endangered native Siberian languages. The program works by complete linguistic and cultural immersion of 3-to-6-year-olds whose parents do not speak the indigenous language and therefore cannot pass it to their children. The first “Language Nest” program was originally designed to save the Maori language in New Zealand. Similar programs are now used for Cree and other Native American languages. As this methodology is already being used successfully in Saami regions of Finland, the former president of Finland Tarja Kaarina Halonen proposed to apply the same methodology to rescuing Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic languages in Russia. “Language Nest” programs for Karelian, Veps, and Komi languages are now in operation in Petrozavodsk and Syktyvkar, in northwestern Russia.

The Enets language, of which Forest and Tundra varieties exist, is now in critical condition: very few ethnic Enets still speak the language. In the village of Potapovo, where most Enets live, there are 320 residents, of which only 68 are ethnic Enets. But no more than 15 speak the indigenous language. Only the older speakers in their 60s and 70s use the language in everyday life. Most Enets that do speak the language are self-employed in reindeer herding and fishing, so few of them get to use the language in work-related situations. The rest work in Russian-dominated environments, though a few women work at the local kindergarten. It is up to these ladies to run the “Language Nest” program. They have collected various teaching materials. Stylized ethnic costumes and toys have been made for the children and texts in the Enets language have been recorded. Folklore and ethnic games also constitute a large component of the program. The parents have been extremely supportive of the program. They actively participate in cultural events, teach the children about Enets traditions and customs. Even non-Enets parents now want their children to learn the Enets language.

While such “Language Nest” programs have been quite successful with the Saami language in Finland, it remains to be seen how much can be achieved for the Enets language because there are far fewer speakers of Enets than of Saami. Assimilation pressures in Siberia remain very strong. But even though the children enrolled in the program will not become native speakers of the Enets language, there is hope that their children might.

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  • Kenan

    Great topic and I hope they are successful in their aims.  Looking at the picture I counted 10 kids.  The article says there is 16 speakers of Enets in the village which means that class alone could increase the number of speakers by two thirds. (:
    Of course it’s more complicated than that and for the language to remain relevant it needs a place.  At home or work, religion or cultural practices which means reaching out to the village as a whole including the ethnic Russians.  So come on mum’s and dad’s learn a bit from your kids and to the Russians, it’s good for your kids to learn another language and something off the native culture where they live and will grow up.
    Language immersion for young kids is a good start, ‘give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’, and it also needs to be followed through on beyond that.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      It is certainly a great program but whether it will succede in maintaining the language or even reviving it is highly questionable, I think. As you correctly point out, the language needs to have a place, a niche. I am not sure Enets does (or will). After all, it is not the Russian kids who grow up in the Enets environment/culture, but the other way around. But having some ethnic pride associated with language which is limited in application and not really spoken natively by anyone (or only by very few people) is still a great thing!

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