By Paul Goble
Many evaluate the threat to the survival to languages spoken by relatively few people by focusing on when the last native speakers of these languages will die; but they may need to worry about another threat, one that the authorities in the country they live in has more control over: the disappearance of those who can teach these language in schools.
Indeed, even languages still spoken by a relatively large number of people may become at risk if there are no teachers to instruct children in them; and governments may be able to avoid being held accountable for what is in fact a consequence of their policies if they argue that if no one wants to teach these languages, they don’t enjoy the support needed for continued existence.
The number of teachers for many of the numerically smaller languages of the Russian Federation has declined in recent years not only because the Russian authorities are anything but supportive but also because those who might become teachers of these languages can see the handwriting on the wall and choose other careers.
The statistics on this are anything but complete, but some new ones from Buryatia, a republic of nearly one million people, almost 300,000 of whom identify as Buryats, tell a frightening story. There, 67,287 of the 132,475 pupils in the general education system are Buryats studying their national language (regnum.ru/news/society/2316840.html).
Among their instructors are only 319 teachers of the Buryat language, three percent of all teachers in the republic and one for every 207 students. That is hardly enough to keep the language alive; and more seriously, it is an indication of what is likely true in other and even smaller republics and non-Russian areas elsewhere.