Dynamics of ethnolinguistic vitality of Maris

Elena Vedernikova
Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, University of Tartu

Current research is about ethnolinguistic vitality of Mari, a Finno-Ugric minority of Russia (total number is around 550, 000). Mari is a slowly decreasing ethnic group (around 3% every 25 year), mainly due to linguistic and ethnic assimilation (Ehala&Vedernikova 2015). The concept of ethnolinguistic vitality was defined as "that which makes a group likely to behave as a distinctive and active collective entity in intergroup situations” (Giles et al 1977) and involved such disciplines as social psychology, sociology and linguistics. For last 30 years the theory of vitality was refined significantly, having extended significantly its interdiscipliniarity.

There are numerous research works concerning various aspects of historical, linguistic, and cultural development of Maris. Based on the descriptive knowledge, some authors make attempts to assess the strength of Mari people in the Russian society but they lack empirical basis for which the the question "How vital is Mari people in Russian society?" had been left unanswered. Meanwhile, if to take into account the social and political situation in Mari El (autonomous republic), this issue is vital for Maris themselves.

The research is based on the ethnolinguistic vitality theory of Martin Ehala (2010), whose mathematical model allows to calculate the vitality and answer the question "What is the vitality of Maris?" The main components of the given model are: 1) the perceived strength differential PSD; 2) perceived intergroup discordance (D); 3) perceived intergroup distance (R); and 4) the level of utilitarianism (U). In collecting the data, survey questionnaire of ethnolinguistic vitality (Ehala 2009) was used. It included 60 questions using Likert scales. The results of the quantitative study were deepened by qualitative analysis (interviews) of public discourse in Mari El with focus group interviews.

The whole data was collected during three fieldworks in 2013-2014 (Mari El, Russia), and processed by SPSS statistical package (14.0 version).

As according to Austin and Sallback (2010), 50-90% of current distinct languages will become extinct by the 2100, then the issue of preservation of multilingualism and multiculturalism of the world becomes more essential. There are numerous language revitalization projects all over the world, and one of the goals of scientific community is to assist their activities by exploration of vitality of an ethnic group in order to elaborate a high-efficient revitalization program. The case of Mari can be a good example for conducting a similar research of other minorities both in Russia and outside of it.

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Ehala, Martin. 2009. An evaluation matrix for ethno-linguistic vitality. In S. Pertot, T. Priestly and C. Williams (eds.), Rights, Promotion and Integration Issues for Minority Languages in Europe. Palgrave Macmillan.
Ehala, Martin. 2010. Refining the notion of ethnolinguistic vitality. International journal of multilingualism.
Ehala, M. Vedernikova, E. 2015. Subjective vitality and patterns of acculturation: four cases. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.
Giles, Howard, Bourhis, Richard, Taylor, Donald. 1977. Towards a theory language in ethnic group relations. – Language, ethnicity and intergroup relations. London: Academic Press.