“Language Nest” Program to Nurture the Enets Language

May 14, 2012 by

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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  • Great to see this happening. Russification is one of the worst things that has occurred in all of human history in my opinion – at least culturally. These languages are part of the shared and intangible heritage of mankind and I would hate to see them go. I hope this is successful. 

    • Really? Worse than “Americanization” of the Native Americans?

      More on Russification of Siberia:

      • Well, yeah, worse; because they were more developed peoples. 
        I mean, what happened to the Tatars and the Sakha was really appalling. We’re talking genocide here. 
        Also what happened to the Chinese in outer Manchuria; what happened to the peoples of the caucasus… So many dead languages, so much lost culture, so many religions, opinions and ways of life that are now gone from the world. It’s literally one of the greatest cultural losses in human history. 

        • As you throw around words like “genocide” around, do you want to substantiate that facts? Because the Sakha are doing quite well lately, as you can see from my partner’s today’s post: http://geocurrents.info/place/russia-ukraine-and-caucasus/siberia/sakha-yakutia-since-the-fall-of-the-soviet-union  Asya Pereltsvaig GeoCurrents.info
          My newest book: Languages of the World: An Introduction

          • This is from Wikipedia, and I don’t know if you trust it as a reference or not but here it is:

            >Russian brutality in collection of the pelt tax (yasak) sparked a rebellion among the Yakuts and also Tungusic-speaking tribes along the River Lena in 1642. The voivode Peter Golovin, leader of Russia, responded with a reign of terror: native settlements were torched and hundreds of people were tortured and killed. The Yakut population alone is estimated to have fallen as a result by 70 percent between 1642 and 1682.[8] 

            The discovery of gold and, later, the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, brought ever-increasing numbers of Russians into the region. By the 1820s almost all the Yakuts had been forcefully converted to the Russian Orthodox church

            Losing your religion and your language seems like a cultural genocide to me. Losing 70% of your ethnicity seems like an actual genocide – in fact, I think that’s a higher proportion than that of Jews that were killed during the holocaust. And unlike the old Sakha faith, the Jewish religion is still dominant, so in many ways they were more lucky.

          • I wouldn’t necessarily accept Wikipedia as a single source, especially on such an emotionally charged topic. The picture which emerges from a variety of other sources is much more complicated: