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Wikipedias in the languages of Russia: Growing multilingualism online

Submission @ Wikimedia CEE 2018 portal

«Wikipedias in the languages of Russia» related language codes



The project


Why it matters

  • Identity issues
  • Preservation of heritage (timeless link to the riches of accumulated experience of generations of humans)
  • Creativity support (we are more than a single culture)
  • Diversity: easier to value and keep than disregard & then have to reinvent the wheel later

Who cares


What needs to be done


How we can get there

  • Attractiveness
  • Ease of discovery
  • Supporting participant and community development
  • Communicating existence & importance of respective Wikipedias
  • Engaging existing readers to participating in respective Wikipedias




  • Value transformation: Wikimedia projects' role is evolving - Promote reinventing their use
  • Operational optimization: Group similar support functions together to be performed accross language versions in a standardized centralized manner, similar to Small Wiki Monitoring Team activities.
  • Reader/Contributor engagement: Content and community development support a priority - translation & interpretation of Wikimedia events & educational materials into principle regional languages
  • Other stakeholder engagement: Grow Usergroups & partner networks in all countries & their regions - popular Wikipedia needs ongoing promotion


Current version of slides to be used when delivering the presentation

Breakdown of slides

  1. Cover (Title, logo, presenter name & Username, etc.)
  2. What the project is about (a number of slides - quote, map, population stats, WIL)
  3. Why it matters (a number of slides - list, images, examples, challenges)
  4. Stakeholders & participants (a number of slides - formal and informal, support and development, lists & graphs)
  5. Things to do: Action Plan (a number of slides - lists & examples of activities)
  6. How are we getting there: Action Plan (a number of slides - list, images, examples, ideas)
  7. Where are we today: Statistics (a number of slides, to be updated & prepared)
  8. Lessons learned - Summary



The purpose of this presentation is to describe the logic of a long-term project started on the Russian Wikipedia in 2005. We currently have around 30 active Wikipedias in the languages of Russia. Since my last formal presentation on the topic (Lightning Talk @ Wikimania-2017 in Montreal, slides), we now have a formal initiative to have a Globally-oriented User Group to start engaging people interested in this group of languages over and above what we are able to do using Wikimedia Russia chapter or language-specific Wikimedia Community User Groups from the Russian Federation. With users contributing in the greater majority of the languages of Russia residing within the Russian Federation (where the working language of business, education and government is Russian), it is clear that our experience and approaches can be of value to the world - when less than 100 languages out of 6000-7000 on the planet Earth currently having official federal status in the sovereign states.

My living in the Republic of Tatarstan of the Russian Federation at the times of knowledge economy helps me to appreciate importance of daily plurilingualism (I use 3+1 out of my 6 native languages on a daily basis) and the purpose of the presentation is to share what it means going forward. In my high-school years (over 20 years ago), I was exposed to using 4 languages as a medium of education (in different subjects), and one of such schools in the region is interested in actively engaging with Wikipedia Education Program.

The only way to preserve languages and knowledge that was accumulated, encoded and passed on through them for the long term is to untangle their linkages to specific territories, currently predominant cultural and ideological viewpoints or social groups, especially that distances nowadays don't play the important role they previously had in the human society.

With the advent of cheap mobile internet, social networks and messengers, the sun started setting on the importance of such concepts as sovereign states & ethnic nations (even if we will see agonies of these dead men walking for a few more centuries), and we, as Wikimedia movement, should recognize this & make sure we are well prepared to collect and preserve the factual and cultural knowledge in the Noah's Ark of the Digital era.


  • To be prepared

Theme 1: Aspirations

  • Wikipedia is first and foremost an effort to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language. — Jimmy Wales @ WP:Purpose
  • The Foundation will make and keep useful information from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity. (Mission)

I like these feel good words. Let's give them a reality check.

Theme 2: Reality check

"Of the approximately 7,000 languages spoken today ... less than 5% ... can still ascend to the digital realm. ... To summarize a key result of this study in advance: No wikipedia, no ascent."[1]

— András Kornai

Business & education, NGOs etc. choose to use the languages that provide them with best choices of human & educational resources, access to readily available information and political clout. UN and UNESCO might declare whatever they like, but their funding comes from their about 200 member states, which use less than 100 working languages in their day-to-day tasks. English and regional lingua franca's are relatively safe, others are there for as long as the nationalistic fervor is can be used by political elites, but majority a just a personal hobby or nostalgia.

How can we make Veps or Atikamekw competitive against Russian or French, and those regional languages competitive against English? What do we, the volunteers of Wikimedia movement, can do to make those feel good words a reality? To have someone invest own time into developing the language skill, creating or reading content therein, one must be motivated to make that effort and not spend time otherwise. Kids have neither nostalgic patriotism, nor idealistic selflessness. Unless something is done to balance the content-creation playing field, penetration of Internet and smartphones is will lead to mass language death and loss of cultural diversity. And Wikipedia is the place where this fate will be decided.

Theme 3: Background

Based on the results of our research we can now confidently state that all humans, even aborigines of the yet unnamed islands, have the knowledge of everything about the world, its structure, interactions within, as well as contents of awe-inspiring phenomena in the field of physics, mathematics, etc., because they were able to create own language. ... By creating own language they have proved own greatness. ... our planes, atomic bombs, computers – all these achievement turn out to be nothing in comparison with the greatness of any human language, as it already contains everything from the evolving world.

— Gaynulla F. Shaykhiev[2]

This presentation is not about getting to the Truth, nor is it about just encyclopedia. It's about the role of Wikipedia in helping Mankind stay human – reminding that our own languages and cultures are just points of view – and thinking what can and should be done to prevent our project from eventually evolving into another strong POV-pushing player.

To keep the diversity, we must find ways to catch the attention of people able to read in various minority languages of the planet, as well as to attract and retain volunteers qualified to contribute in them. We must have structures in place to discover and train the latter, provide various technical and social support. Those busy fighting for own causes within the cultural aquariums of the larger languages are usually too busy to get distracted from their versions of reality, so the Wiki-communities trying to sustain and grow projects in the languages of non-sovereign ethnic groups don't seem to find much support from the wider community.

  • List of languages by the number of speakers
  • List of Wikipedias by the number of contributors

Theme 4: Wikipedias in the languages of Russia


Theme 5: Why it matters

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

— Nelson Mandela

"The paradox related to preservation of language and culture is that they can only stay active by welcoming changes. Only dead languages and cultures can be fully preserved against change."[3]

— Annika Pasanen, Janne Saarikivi

  • Cultural diversity has benefits on both societal and a personal level. Diversity of cultural identities help people to be creative.
  • Language is a cultural code that defines the way its speakers perceive the world. When there's no access to the soft infrastructure, necessary for developing and preserving one's plurilingualism, the individual is losing not just the linguistic skills or the benefits of active multilingualism, but own sovereignty regarding the cultural code that is defining his or her worldview. Internalizing a number of strong diverse cultural identities also helps individuals to keep sane under the constant fire of POV-pushing cultural propaganda and manipulations around identity politics (a.k.a. mass media news cycle).
  • Diversity of Intangible cultural heritage: easier to appreciate and keep than disregard & then have to reinvent the wheel later (which can be late or too costly).

Theme 6: Who cares


Theme 7: What needs to be done

[T]he time has come when ... a language has become only a tool, another means of expressing reasoning patterns. ... A language that continues its development is usually being used in all areas of life. Excluding the language from use in some field of human activity, be it some specific scientific discipline or a type of artistic pursuit, an industrial or services sector of economy, i.e. from generating more reasoning patterns, is blowing an irreversible damage that promotes language death. ... It's very important to aspire towards such a state of things, when any news are expected to be expressed by that specific language means.

— Gaynulla F. Shaykhiev[4]

There is a lot of work to be done: it is estimated that in order to cover all human knowledge, an encyclopaedia today should have over 100 million articles.

— Wikidata: the new Rosetta Stone

So what's the conclusion [from 1% rule]? Only that you shouldn't expect too much online. Certainly, to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.

— Charles Arthur[5]

People only spend their time on what they see as valuable, so WP in every language must be attractive

  • Topics of interest[6]
    • Children — cartoons, basic articles about the world and human body, humanities, science & technology, professions, etc.
    • Teenagers — hobbies, family issues, sports, personal relationships, sex, music, film, etc.
    • University students & young adults — travel, personal development, specialized topics in education & career, social sciences, parenting, etc.
    • Adults & Seniors — history, cultural heritage, advances in science & technology, current political events, personal convictions, etc.
  • Quality of encyclopedia
    • Ease of navigation & discovery, help pages
    • Quality of language
      1. Standard language
      2. Correct grammar
      3. Easy-to-understand sentence structure
      4. Encyclopedic style
  • Discovery portal
    • Dynamic Main Page, rich in information
    • Community Portal about what's planned & what's going on
    • SiteNotice & Central Notice about specific opportunities

Theme 8: How can we get there

"Young people need language-related attractive role models to be interested in associating themselves with their heritage language. Such areas of language use as home and school are no longer good enough, folklore culture with its nostalgia of the past is not exciting at all. But constructing youth culture from outside is difficult — only youth itself can create its own culture and role models. This great challenge encountered by the modernizing community of the local language speakers requires attention."[7]

— Annika Pasanen, Janne Saarikivi

  • Any long-term work requires planning & team that makes it happen. In case of volunteer-driven WP, any developments only happen when there's project community willing to contribute their time.
    • Sharing news about Wikimedia movement in regional lingua francas
    • Online & Offline mentoring in regional lingua francas
    • Knowledge-sharing & skill development events in regional lingua francas
    • More active engagement into the activities of global Wikimedia movement in regional lingua francas
  • Cultural identity, linked with respective language & its speakers, must be attractive for netizens.
    • Conscious efforts in promoting sociocultural evolution seem to be the only reasonable way forward.
    • Wikipedias in respective languages can & must be the most modern, diverse & attractive sites for younger speakers & semi-speakers of the language.
    • If the Wikipedia in the language of a stateless nation is not attractive for younger speakers thereof & these do not participate in its development, the heritage language is no more an important part in their identity & thus this specific group identity is likely to disappear.

Theme 9: Where are we now

  • Annual Wikimedia Russia Wiki-Award for contributors in the Languages of Russia (since 2011?)
  • Wikimedia Conference Russia sessions on the issues of Wikimedia communities writing in the regional languages of Russia a tradition
  • Regular Wiki-seminars in the regions with local languages
  • Multilingual Wikimedia Russia wiki-page
  • Multilingual Russian Wikinews
  • over 100 members of the Russian-speaking FB Languages of Russia group
  • Mass media in the Russia's regions with local languages is periodically speaking about Wikipedias in respective languages
  • Onwiki visitors and editors' statistics tracking

Theme 10: Lessons learned

  • State of the wikis monitoring dashboards & statistical reports
  • New user support groups
  • Standardizing technical tasks across language versions
  • Wikimedia news & best-practices guidelines in the regional lingua francas
  • Cooperation with and across national chapters
  • Inclusion into annual Wikimedia chapter and Wikimedia Foundation progress reports


  1. Digital Language Death by András Kornai
  2. (Russian) "Наши исследования позволяют заявить, что каждый человек, даже абориген безымянных островов, знает всё об этом мире, о его строении, структуре, взаимодействии в нём и содержание таких премудростей нашего восхищения, как физику, математику, и т.д., ибо он смог сотворить свой язык. ... он велик, создав свой язык. ... наши самолёты, атомные бомбы, компьютеры – оказывается, эти достижения ничто перед величием любого языка, ибо в его содержании уже есть всё из творящегося мира."
    Шайхиев Г.Ф. "Татарский язык за один день, или рассказ инопланетянина" Казань: 2000 ISBN 5-85264-026-3 pp.93-94 Глава II. Язык – это мировоззрение ("Tatar in a day, or an alien's tale" / Chapter II. Language is a worldview).
  3. (Russian) "Парадокс сохранения культуры и языка заключается в том, что они сохраняются исключительно путем изменения. Только мертвые языки и культуры можно полностью обезопасить от перемен", from Замятин К., Пасанен А., Саарикиви Я. "Как и зачем сохранять языки России"./ Часть I. Многоязычное общество и многоязычный индивид. Глава "Изменяющаяся роль языков", 35 с.
    ("How to and why keep languages of Russia". / Part I. "Multilingual society and multilingual individual", Chapter "Evolving role of languages", p.35)
  4. (Russian) "[Н]астал момент, когда ... язык стал лишь инструментом, средством выражения образов мысли. ... Развивающийся язык находится обычно в общении во всех сферах жизненного цикла. Исключение хотя бы одной сферы, будь она разделом какой-то науки или искусства, производства или услуг, из общения на этом языке, т.е. из производства образов мысли, наносит языку непоправимый удар, способствует его вымиранию. ... Надо стремиться, чтобы новость ожидали из формулировок этого языка."
    Шайхиев Г.Ф. "Язык разума. Мы думаем и по-татарски, и по-русски, и по-английски..." Казань, изд-во «Хәтер»: 2000 ISBN 5-900004-83-X сс.230-231 Глава V Раздел 9 Асимметрия в эволюции мышления. ("Language of Reasoning. We (can) simultaneously think in Tatar, and in Russian, and in English..." /Chapter V Section 9 Asymmetry in evolution of reasoning)
  5. Charles Arthur "What is the 1% rule?" The Guardian, Thursday 20 July 2006 01.17 BST
  6. The thirst for knowledge will be satisfied in either supported or dominant language. It's important to avoid causing cognitive dissonance and cultural alienation, which is possible when person discovers he missed something important that was not made available in or was specifically censored out from his/her native tongue cultural environment.
  7. (Russian) "Для того, чтобы отождествлять себя с родным языком, молодежи требуются привлекательные образцы для подражания, связанные с этим языком. Такие сферы употребления языка, как дом и школа, уже не вполне достаточны, ностальгирующая по прошлому фольклорная культура нисколько не привлекает. Однако молодежную культуру сложно конструировать извне — только молодежь может сама соз давать свою культуру и образцы для подражания. Это представляет большую трудность для модернизирующегося сообщества носителей локального языка, на которую следует обращать внимание."
    Замятин К., Пасанен А., Саарикиви Я. "Как и зачем сохранять языки России". / Часть III. "Пути сохранения языков под угрозой исчезновения. Практические советы", Глава "Преподавание на языке меньшинства в школе", раздел "Что кроме школы и после школы?", 162 с. ("How to and why keep languages of Russia". / Part III. "Ways of preserving vulnerable languages. Practical advice", Chapter "Minority languages as a medium of instruction at school", section "What on top of and how about after school?", )