Thursday, 3 November 2011

Doukhobor Russian Language Research

"Saskatchewan Doukhobor Native Speaking Fluency" is a joint research project at the University of Saskatchewan with the State University of St. Pertersburg, Russia. The Russian government is funding the study and a related Russian website.

The project was launched by Dr. Veronica Makarova, Associate Professor in the Department of Languages and Linguistics and the Interdisciplinary Linguistics Program Chair at the University of Saskatchewan. In 1992 she earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of St. Petersburg. Her bibliography lists 37 papers published up to 2011.  She is editor of Russian Language Studies in North America : New Perspectives from Theoretical and Applied Linguistics (200 pages) to be published March 2012. In 2012 she moved to the Department of Religion and Culture.

Most Canadian Doukhobors recently learned about this project from newspapers on Saturday Oct. 29, 2011.
  • Linguist to rescue Doukhobor language, The Star Phoenix, Saskatoon
    (copied on Doukhobor Genealogy Message Board)
  • Russian linguist wants to rescue dying Doukhobor language, The Vancouver Sun
  • Researchers try to save language, Edmonton Journal, October 31, 2011

Dr. Makarova published her first paper about Doukohor Russian in March 2011:
Язык саскачеванских духоборов: введение в анализ The Language of Saskatchewan Doukhobors: Introduction to the Analysis
В.А. Макарова, Э.В. Усенкова, В.В. Евдокимова, К.В. Евграфова. Известия вузов. Серия «Гумани-тарные науки», 2 (2) 146-151. 25-05-2011.  Markarova, V.A, E.V. Usenkova, V.V. Evdokimova, K.V. Evgrafova. News of Higher Schools. Series "Humanities", Vol. 2, Issue 2, 25 March 2011, pages 146-151.
В статье описывается состояния русского языка этнического меньшинства канадских духоборов провинции Саскачеван. Этот уникальный диалект, находящийся на грани исчезновения, никогда ранее не подвергался лингвистическим исследованиям. В статье приводится краткая история духоборов Саскачевана, описываются некоторые характерные черты их речи и показываются причины постепенной утраты ими русского языка. Речь данной группы представляет особый интерес с лингвистической, социолингвистической и антропологической точек зрения. Описание и сохранение образцов этого уникального диалекта, находящегося на грани исчезновения, для последующих поколений является важной задачей. This paper introduces the description of the state of Saskatchewan Doukhobor Russian, the language of an ethnic minority residing in one of Canadian provinces. This unique dialect is on the very brink of extinction, and yet it has never been subjected to any linguistic studies. The speech of this minority group is of particular interest from the linguistic, sociolinguistic and anthropological perspectives. The paper gives a brief survey of Saskatchewan Doukhobor history, describes some characteristic features of Saskatchewan Doukhobor Russian speech and outlines the reasons for the language loss.
Download the Russian-language paper above.

Mae Popoff (B.Ed, BA and PDG graduate studies), president of the Doukhobor Cultural Society of Saskatchewan, and editor of the Sheaf, contacted Dr. Makarova and cleared the main question most have asked — about all the Russian-speaking Doukhobors in B.C.  Popoff reports:
  • I arranged for her to interview Russian speaking Doukhobors, including myself and my Chernoff relatives. 
  • Professor Evgrafova from St. Petersburg has been in Saskatoon for 10 days and leaves Nov. 6, 2011. 
  • I made Professor Makarova aware of British Columbia Doukhobors but she is concentrating on Saskatchewan for now.
  • I will continue to be in contact with Dr. V. Makarova and the Saskatoon Doukhobor Society

Also see Blog: Q43: Is 'Doukhobor Dialect' Defended? about Dr. Schaarschmidt defending the Doukhobor-Russian language dialect.  Malarova's project was news to him, as he writes (11/1/2011):
If she is correct about the fact that there are still about 50 speakers of the language there is hope for the maintenance and revitalization of the language but it will take more than the efforts of a linguist to accomplish this goal or else the language will only be "rescued" as a museum language and not as a form of daily communication. It will take a community effort to be willing to achieve the maintenance and revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in everyday communication. I know that the situation in BC is much better than the one in Saskatchewan but nonetheless I look with concern at the obituaries in Iskra.

UPDATE July 1, 2012:

A chapter about the Canadian Doukhobor Russian dialect is at the end of Dr. Makarova's book published June 1, 2012:

Schaarschmidt, Gunter. "Russian Language History in Canada. Doukhoboor Internal and External Migrations: Effect on language development and structure," (Chapter 10, pages 235-260) in Russian Language Studies in North America: New Perspectives from Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, edited by Veronika Makarova. London: Anthem Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780857287847.

See previews at Google Books, and Anthem Press.

Introduction, page xvii: "... the author illustrates an interplay between the colloquial and ritual functional styles in Doukhobor Russian. The unique features of Doukhobor Russian are explained by its largely oral traditon, relative geological isolation, deliberate resistance to the influence of Canadian English, and the influence of Ukrainian, dating mainly to the first generation of settlers in the province of Saskatchewan. This study is the first major work introducing the language history and structure of Doukhobor Russian."


  1. Gunter Schaarschmidt5 November 2011 at 09:19

    Prof. Makarova has since written to me that the 50 speakers she had in mind do not form a homgeneous speech community and are scattered all over the province of Saskatchewan. This makes things very difficult of course for the revitalization and maintenance of the language although it may still be worth while recording what is there, if only to establish dialectal differences between the language in BC and the language in Saskatchewan, an area that I have neglected in my forthcoming chapter in Prof. Makarova's book (Schaarschmidt 2012).

  2. There are recordings of interviews with about thirty Old Time Douchobors in the "Special Collections Department" of the University of British Columbia. They were interviews done by the late UBC Professor Alex Harshenin. I have listened to these Old Douchobor speakers for many hours of enjoyment and information about their past lives. The recorded interviews were collected by Professor Harshenin as part of his study on the Russian Douchobor dialect. Maybe the people present on this forum already know of this good source of Old Douchobor speech. dan b