Language Has a Spirit: Sakha (Yakut) Language Ideologies and Aesthetics of Sustenance

Jenanne Ferguson


Since the end of the Soviet period, usage of the Sakha (Yakut) language has become once again more widespread in its usage in both the public and private spheres in the Republic of Sakha-Yakutia. Language ideologies that circulated in the Soviet era focused on the rodnoi iazyk (Russian: native language); this paper examines the contact and interplay of these ideologies with indigenous Sakha beliefs about the nature of language and the reciprocal relationship between a speaker and their language(s), which involves mutual sustenance and protection. The concept of agency in language is discussed, in light of both the belief in the agentive powers possessed by the tyl ichichite (Sakha: spirit of language), and in terms of how bilingual Sakha-Russian speakers make choices about their communicative practices in terms of style and register, which has repercussions for the sustainability of the Sakha language as a whole.

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