An endangered language
As a republic language used in education, media, and the arts, and with nearly a quarter of a million speakers, the Ingush language is presently in what may be the strongest position it has had for some time. Previously, in the Soviet Chechen-Ingush ASSR, it was an officially almost unrecognized subordinate to Chechen, which was in turn subordinate to Russian. Many of the best-educated Ingush worked in the capital Grozny, which was in the Chechen part of Chechen-Ingushetia, and their children had no schooling in Ingush and generally grew up Russian-dominant and barely able to read Ingush. (In addition, the entire generationthat was schooled in Central Asia during the 1944-56 deportation, when the Ingush language was officially banned, is Russian-dominant.)
On the other hand, despite its status as republic language now, in schools and the university Ingush is taught in the same way foreign languages are taught: instruction is in Russian except in the two subjects of Ingush language and Ingush literature. In such a situation, the vitality of the language depends on people using it well and consistently in the home and in Ingush society, and on the quality and variety of linguistic models available in the arts, media, and publication. Meanwhile, the educational system fosters command of Russian and primarily Russian literacy. To know Ingush well (ghalghaaj mott dika xov) means not only to know the language well but also to be fully fluent in the traditional formal code of etiquette, which can only be observed in Ingush. This knowledge, and articulate command of the language in general, are much admired. This is roughly the situation that the Ingush language has been in for as long as can be reconstructed: restricted in scope of usage (not a primary vehicle of written communication, research, or education), used consistently in the home and in Ingush society and formal high culture, and passed on in full excellence by respected good speakers.
Transmission of the Ingush language is therefore endangered by the economic situation in Ingushetia with its attendant brain drain, out-migration of young people, and raising and education of their children in diaspora (see "Who are the Ingush?"). These things tend to remove from the speech community the practitioners of and audience for the most advanced levels of language use, and the potential transmitters of full excellence. The children of the diaspora will not be fully conversant with the formal culture, and for them the language will be a home language without important cultural support, and one in which they will be illiterate. This situation threatens to tip the language over into serious endangerment.
The following is a translation of an article entitled 'Restoring knowledge of our native language' in a brochure Respublika Ingushetia ('The Republic of Ingushetia') distributed by the Ingush government (ca. 1998):
"The status of the national language is a cause for great concern in Ingushetia. According to surveys done by the republic's Research Institute for Humanities, only about 17% of the Ingush respondents feel they know their native language fully, and over 66% can read and write only with difficulty; the remainder can read but not write or can neither read nor write. In no other republic in the Northern Caucasus is the native language in such a situation.
"Another cause for alarm is the fondness of the Ingush for words borrowed from other languages, especially Russian; such words are used even for objects and concepts for which there are native Ingush words. Philologists, sociologists, and literary scholars of the republic are considering how to stop this undesirable impoverishment of the Ingush language. Proposals include instituting instruction in Ingush in the lower grades, publishing an etymological dictionary of Ingush, and restoring the Serdaluo ['Light'] publishing house, which formerly published books in Ingush. There is an urgent need to start publishing anthologies of Ingush prose and poetry. The children's magazine Sielawad ['Rainbow'] will continue to be published. A newly opened printing firm in Nazran will undertake such publications.
"The republic's radio and television broadcasting company has recently increased the number of programs in Ingush and made them more attractive. Of particular interest are programs on folk poetry and traditional knowledge.
"The Ingush Research Institute for Humanities was opened on May 6, 1994 by decree of the President of Ingushetia. It carries out research on the Ingush language and literature, folklore, history, archeology, and ethnography and it undertakes sociological studies. The institute has already issued a dozen research publications on various aspects of life in Ingushetia."
More acutely now, the the Ingush people themselves are endangered by Russia's war on
Chechnya and the Chechen
refugee crisis in Ingushetia.