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Nikolai Sandzhiev, On the State of the Kalmyk Language

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Terbish, Baasanjav 


Nikolai talks about the state of the Kalmyk language in Kalmykia:There are about 100 ethnic groups in the Republic of Kalmykia. We have Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims. When I meet people, I always say to them the following: ‘Although we differ from each other in terms of our language, customs, traditions and religion, we are united in the sense that we all live in Kalmykia. We have one land, one sun and one sky above us. Together we must unite our efforts to make our life better’. It is in the past 15 or so years that the Kalmyks have been thinking about patriotism, their language, history, culture and customs. It is important that we revive Kalmyk starting at the level of individual families. We try to help this language revival process through cultural events. We have National Theater that puts on plays in the Kalmyk language. The local Russian Theater also holds performances in Kalmyk for children. The Musical College teaches how to play national instruments. We also organize various language competitions. We ask our artists to draw pictures depicting Kalmyk landscape. If we administer pressure to revive the Kalmyk language and culture from many sides simultaneously, the language will eventually revive. The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, Kalmyk State University and the theaters unite their forces in the solution of this problem. What I am afraid of is that we might not solve this problem today and leave it for posterity. Some scholars say that the root of the problem with the Kalmyk language lays in the Siberian exile of our people. But I don’t think so. Other nationalities were also deported, but they managed to keep their language alive. I think that we just gave up on our language. Therefore, we, as a united people, can also revive Kalmyk. Recently, we held the Festival of Oirat Peoples here in Kalmykia. Two elderly women in their 90s from Mongolia participated there, one was a Derbet and the other was a Bayad. I enjoyed my conversation with them. They told me that they were amazed to hear that our language resembled the language that they parents spoke. The governor of Uvs aimag of Mongolia paid us a visit too. It turns out that Mongolian scientists had asked him to find out what the situation was with Kalmyk cattle. That is to find out whether the Kalmyk breed of cattle had changed in the 400 years that we have been living in Russia. During the meeting, I asked the governor whether his Mongolian scientist had also asked him to learn about the situation with the Kalmyk language, to which he said ‘no’. He told me that Oirat dialects in his province had been replaced by the Khalkha dialect. When Oirats went to Ulaanbaatar, people laughed at their language. Well, the same happened to us in Elista. Urban dwellers ridiculed the language of their rural compatriots. As a result, today there is no distinction between rural and urban areas in that everywhere people have forgotten their native tongue. Some writers use Kalmyk wrongly, and through their work and songs spread the wrong form of Kalmyk. Such mistakes are dangerous for the language. I often read works written in Kalmyk. Sometimes I rejoice, but sometimes I cry. Why? Because of the mistakes that some authors make. Just recently Vyacheslav Ubushiev published his novel Torgan Dun (The Crane’s Song). It is a wonderful novel, but how many mistakes were there! I put all my work aside and spent several weeks correcting his mistakes. When I correct young writers, they also get offended. Some people tell me not to do this because this supposedly discourages young writers from writing in Kalmyk. But I think mistakes should be corrected at all levels. What will happen if people start memorizing these verses written in the wrong Kalmyk? In conclusion, I just want to say that the Kalmyk language developed far away from other Mongolian languages and peoples. It is necessary for everyone who knows their native language, to try to write and speak in Kalmyk.




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Kalmyk Cultural Heritage Documentation Project, University of Cambridge

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Sponsored by Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin