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  • by jhi (318) <jhi@iki.fi> on 2002.02.12 10:48 (#4389) Homepage Journal

    Yes, the death of smaller languages is a sad thing. Languages are pretty much what makes us; and us is what makes cultures; and languages dying is cultures dying.

    Being a native speaker of a small linguistic family has perhaps made me more sensitive to the issue: there's only five million of us Finns, and we are the second largest of Finno-Ugrian [helsinki.fi] speakers after Hungarian [harvard.edu]. Five millions is enough for "safety in numbers", but in Finland one is daily bombarded by English: and I do mean bombarded: sometimes ads can be all in English.

    But not all Finno-Ugrian [finland.fi] languages are as lucky as Finnish [finland.fi], Hungarian, and Estonian [muhu.www.ee] of having their own countries. The area of the Sami [scandinavica.com] (that's where the word "tundra" comes from) is spread over Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Norway, and they were for centuries oppressed by being driven to the Ultima Thule, and their language being oppressed in administration and in schools. Nowadays things are getting better, they are getting more autonomy, their lands are being returned, Sami is taught in schools and they have news broadcasts [www.yle.fi] in their own language. About a dozen more Finno-Ugrian languages exist in the area of Russia, but they are not doing so well. Not so much because of active oppression, as was the case during the Soviet empire (the usual you-shall-not-speak-your-language-and-we-are-robbing-your-natural-resources routine), but because of more indirect (just the we-are-robbing-your-natural-resources part) ways. One has the choice of continuing one's traditional reindeer herder ways, or go work for the Russian oil company (which incidentally has spilled all the waterways with crude oil, so your reindeer wouldn't have anywhere to drink from, anyway). And those Finno-Ugrian groups are small: few thousands of people, they do not have the safety in numbers, and they are fighting a losing battle (there, against the Russian language: empires work that way, all over the world.)