“Forgetting How to Speak Russian”

“Forgetting How to Speak Russian” January 6, 2015


Repin Tolstoy portrait
Ilya Repin portrait of Leo Tolstoy (1887)
Click to enlarge.


It’s a stunning thing — it won’t likely make the headlines, but, historically speaking, it’s far more significant than what typically does make the headlines — to witness the rapid decline of a major world language, a language that has contributed enormously to both science and world literature.  (Think of the Latin of Rome, or the Aramaic of  Babylonia and the Coptic remnant of ancient Egyptian that both fell before Arabic.)  But that’s precisely what’s happening, right now.


This little article specifically discusses the decline of Russian in the former Soviet Central Asia, but the same dramatic shift, I believe, is occurring in Eastern Europe.  And, while the article mentions predictions that the total number of Russian language speakers will fall from 300 million in 1990 to 150 million by 2025 — fifty percent in just 35 years — it doesn’t mention one of the most obvious factors in that fall.  Or, if it does, it mentions it so passingly that I missed it:


The fertility rate required simply to maintain population stability is 2.01 children per woman.  But, in Russia (as of 2012), the birthrate per woman is only 1.59.  In other words, the Russian population — the population of Russian speakers — is failing to replace itself.  The death of Russian isn’t occurring only through political disaffection among those who’ve escaped the yoke of Soviet tyranny.  It’s happening through demographic suicide.


Vladimir Putin’s dreams of restoring Holy Mother Russia are endangered by a looming lack of Russians to sustain them.



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