Sunday, August 24, 2008

Language And Conflict In the News: Georgian and South Ossetian

This is a NY Times story by Ellen Barry discussing the linguistic issues in Georgia and South Ossetia mostly from the perspective of individuals.  It includes language bias preventing people from learning the language of the "other."
A war between the two groups in the early 1990s divided them almost surgically. Young Georgians stopped learning Russian, the lingua franca for the entire region in Soviet days; young Ossetians did not learn Georgian. Older people, who spoke both, pretended not to.

Magdalena Frichova, who monitored the conflict in South Ossetia for 10 years for the crisis group, recalled watching local officials wait, poker-faced, for a translator even when it was obvious that they understood. Over time, people began to struggle with languages they once spoke fluently.
Ellen Barry seems ignorant of early Soviet history, which encouraged society in the local language, and even redivided the Tsar's Russia into 15 Soviet Republics, each with their own language (although Belarus and Ukrainian are almost completely mutually intelligible with Russian).

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