Languages in Uzbekistan: how it is going to work
Alex Ulko would like to share his opinioins about the status of the three languages (Uzbek, Russian and English) that are going to shape the multicultural life of our society in the future
Earlier this year the country’s educational system was profoundly shaken with the President’s decision to introduce English as a core subject at all levels, starting with primary and extending towards the MA and PhD degrees. I have already had a chance to praise the intended reform (and I mean it) at the same time expressing my doubts about the strategic aspects of its implementation. What I would like to share now are some very brief descriptions and predictions related to the status of the three languages (Uzbek, Russian and English) that are going to shape the culture of our society in the future.
The Uzbek language, the only state language in the country for many years, has faced controversial issues in its functioning (see http://www.fergananews.com/article.php?id=5092). Its use continues to increase as the new generation of young people speaking only Uzbek (the result of educational policy of the 1990s) gradually emerges on the scene. However, its smooth development is hampered by many factors, e.g. the failure of the Latin alphabet to replace Cyrillic in everyday life and the growing discrepancy between its spoken dialects, and, as a consequence, further marginalisation of the official Uzbek as the language of administration. The unexpected resilience and flexibility of Russian and the growing importance of English will make the Uzbek-only population less and less competitive in the modern labour market.
New Uzbek Latin alphabet in work. This sign just means “Sausage factory”. Not what you think about.
The decision to deprive Russian of any status made back in late 1980s, has paradoxically helped it cement its purely functional position in the society outside any forms of governmental control. In other words, Russian is currently used only when it is needed, and, to everyone’s surprise, the areas of its use are still vast. No longer the property of the Russians, it has retained its position as the only lingua franca of the region and the language which gives access to great resources of information (most importantly, in the internet) and learning (e.g. other languages, information and other technologies etc.) While Russian-only speakers may find difficulties in the Uzbek-speaking world, the knowledge of Russian is and will remain an indisputable asset to everyone in the country.
The sudden enthusiasm for English is, indeed, commendable and one only can lament the fact that it took Uzbek government good 20 years to finally recognise its global importance. Well, better late than never, but it will take another 10, perhaps even 20 years of focused and professional effort until we see a profound change following its introduction in the society. If Uzbekistan chooses to remain a traditionalist country lost somewhere on the periphery of the civilised world, English will have no communicative base there and will therefore remain the language of the would-be elite. The government and its educational system are facing a mammoth task of changing perceptions, methodology and mentality as well as teacher training, material development and curriculum development infrastructures before English will make any radical impact on the society as a whole.