Colonialism, nationalism and language vitality in Azerbaijan

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Many of the less-widely-used languages in countries that emerged from the USSR are endangered as a result of Russification. Azerbaijan is home to a dozen less-widely-used languages. Various writers have claimed that most are endangered, although the shift is to Azerbaijani, not Russian. Research conducted from 1998 to 2002, however, found that most of the languages were actively spoken in at least core areas. In this paper I examine factors that led to claims of endangerment. Analyzing the situation in terms of language ecology and its relationship to colonization, I argue that Russian, Azerbaijani, and the less-widely-used languages filled different niches and so did not compete with each other. Since independence, however, shift towards Azerbaijani has accelerated. As a result of nationalism, Azerbaijani and these languages are competing for the same niche. I propose that by expanding the domains of the less-widely-used languages, they can coexist with Azerbaijani.


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