Linguist K. David Harrison Finds Cultural Revitalization in Europe's Only Buddhist Region

Explorers Journal: Cultural Revival in Europe's Only Buddhist Region

The Enduring Voices Project strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots-the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages-and documenting the languages and cultures within them.

By K. David Harrison of the Enduring Voices Project [and Associate Professor of Linguistics at Swarthmore College]

During the past week the Enduring Voices team visited the Republic of Kalmykia, an obscure corner in European Russia, on the Caspian Sea.

The Kalmyk people are of Mongol origin, having migrated to Europe from Mongolia at the turn of the 17th century. They experienced genocide and deportation in the 1940s under Stalin, and have struggled to keep their culture alive. They are former nomads, with an economy still partly based on horse, sheep, and camel herding.

Though the language, related to Mongolian, is endangered, we found evidence of a strong cultural revitalization among the younger generation, expressed in song, dance, poetry, and renewed use of the language. We met Kalmyks aged 9 to 91 who were determined to keep their language and culture alive by all means, whether learning ancient epic hero tales, dancing, reviving Buddhist practice, or using modern technology like texting and social media.

The Kalmyk community in New Jersey has also managed to keep the language and culture alive in the U.S., after emigrating in the 1950s....