Throughout the persecution of the Soviet Union, the Chulym people of Siberia had been dissuaded from speaking their native language and had to speak Russian. This was noticed by American linguist K. David Harrison when he was talking with them in their native language. They felt embarrassed that they would speak their native language, so they decided to speak Russian instead. Harrison knew perfectly well that the embarrassment had historical precedent. While seeking clearance from the Russian mayor to continue the research, he noted how the mayor joked about how the Chulym could not hold their liquor.
He set out to make sure that these stereotypes would not be passed down, so he set out to find the remaining Chulym language speakers with very little luck. Eventually, he discovered that the translator who was with him also spoke Chulym and was able to communicate with one of the old language speakers–in spite of her deafness. What Harrison ended up recording were basic words and an account of the woman being 12-years-old when she broke through the ice and nearly drowned.
Then, he traveled to meet an elderly couple who also spoke Chulym, where they agreed to be video-recorded speaking their mother-tongue. Upon seeing himself in the post-production video, he commented at how immortalized he had become.
This scant information proofed to be beneficial, since it turned out that Chulym was part of the same language family tree as the Turkic languages. This was due to the migration of Turkic peoples towards the Siberian region, whereas the indigenous language and the Turkic language intermingled until Chulym came into the existence within the tongues of the people.
With the help of the children, they team published a children’s book entirely in Chulym. This is an important step in language revitalization, which is to make the language relevant to the next generation by utilizing creativity.
As of 2010, the number of Chulym speakers was around 44. Of course, there may have been more speakers due to the presence of Greg Anderson, K. David Harrison, and the rest of the team. Nonetheless, the language is at risk of becoming silent if there are not enough Chulym children not just speaking the language, but actively immersing themselves into it.
- Chulym. Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
- Harrison, K. David. “The Last Speakers: The Quest To Save The World’s Most Endangered Languages.” National Geographic. 2010.
- “Ös (Chulym).” Living Tongues Project.
- Warner, Natasha, et al. “Revitalization In A Scattered Language Community: Problems And Methods From The Perspective Of Mutsun Language Revitalization.” International Journal Of The Sociology Of Language 2009. 198 (2009). pp. 135-48. SocINDEX with Full Text.