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The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, 2nd Edition by William C. Ritchie, Tej K. Bhatia

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35 

Multilingualism and Language Renewal in Ex-Soviet Central Asia

BIRGIT N. SCHLYTER

Introduction

Bilingualism and multilingualism in Central Asia have developed throughout history under continuously changing conditions resulting from both migration and coercive political campaigns. Contact between languages and linguistic interference have been common and continue to be recurring phenomena in this region. Although linguistic diversity is a characteristic feature of most areas of the world where there are a fairly large number of people, the situation in Central Asia can, nevertheless, be regarded as conspicuous with respect to the great number of language families represented in the region. Besides Turkic languages, which comprise by far the largest group, there are speakers of Indo-European languages – primarily Slavic and Iranian – and Semitic languages, as well as Chinese and several others. Of equal significance is the fact that Central Asians are typically bi- or multilingual rather than monolingual, first and foremost in urban environments. Language contact thus occurs within one and the same speaker as much as between different speakers and speech communities.

In ex-Soviet Central Asia, which is the focus of this chapter, the main autochthonous ethnolinguistic division is that between Turkic and Iranian populations, with present-day proportions favoring Turkic ethnicities by about six to one. From a historical perspective, in particular with regard to literary language, ...

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