“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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