Activist Emre Pshigusa talks about his work revitalizing the Circassian-Kabardian language

Photo provided by Emre Pshigusa and used with permission.

As part of our ongoing series highlighting the work of activists promoting European minority and regional languages in digital spaces, we would like to feature Emre Phsigusa (@emrepshigusa). Through his research of the Circassian-Kabardian language at Ohio State University, Emre has been motivated to promote the language in digital spaces for its preservation.  Emre is based out of Turkey.

Rising Voices spoke to Emre over email about his work.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Emre Pshigusa (EP): My name is Emre Pshigusa and I am a PhD candidate in Applied Linguistics at Ohio State University. I’m a native Circassian-Kabardian speaker and Circassian maintenance and revitalization is one of my research areas.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

EP: Circassian is spoken in the historic homeland in the North Caucasus of Russia and several other diaspora countries; Turkey hosting the largest population. Unfortunately due to the assimilationist language policies of Turkey, Circassian was oppressed for so many years. Within the past 10 or so years there have been some elective language courses at the middle school levels in public schools. In terms of online language instruction, there were not any initiatives until the Covid pandemic as far as I know. However, several Circassian associations in Turkey started online language courses during the pandemic over Zoom.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

EP: My main motivation as a native Circassian speaker is to preserve the language and transfer it to future generations. To be able to do so, there is a strong need for Circassian presence in digital spaces.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online

EP: The main challenge is the lack of educational materials to learn Circassian. There are a handful language activists creating online materials for Instagram pages or other social media outlets and there is one language app called Optilingo that offers Circassian. Unfortunately, these are not enough to preserve the language.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

EP: There are many steps that both the language policy makers and the speakers of Circassians can take. Firstly, the government’s language policies should encourage language maintenance for linguistically minoritized populations. In nation state countries like Turkey, mother tongue education is seen as a threat to the national unity, which limits the linguistic human rights of ethnolinguistic minorities. There needs to be instruction in mother tongues in schools and Circassian NGOs in Turkey need to encourage parents to enroll their students in Circassian courses. Also, more educational materials are needed especially for younger children such as cartoons and educational games etc.

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