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Dialect loss in the Russian North: Modeling change across variables

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 February 2020

Michael Daniel
HSE University, Russian Federation
Ruprecht von Waldenfels
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Aleksandra Ter-Avanesova
V.V. Vinogradov Russian Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Polina Kazakova
HSE University, Russian Federation
Ilya Schurov
HSE University, Russian Federation
Ekaterina Gerasimenko
HSE University, Russian Federation
Daria Ignatenko
HSE University, Russian Federation
Ekaterina Makhlina
HSE University, Russian Federation
Maria Tsfasman
HSE University, Russian Federation
Samira Verhees
HSE University, Russian Federation
Aleksei Vinyar
HSE University, Russian Federation
Vasilisa Zhigulaskaja
HSE University, Russian Federation
Maria Ovsjannikova
Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Sergey Say
Institute for Linguistic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences
Nina Dobrushina
HSE University, Russian Federation


We analyze the dynamics of dialect loss in a cluster of villages in rural northern Russia based on a corpus of transcribed interviews, the Ustja River Basin Corpus. Eleven phonological and morphological variables are analyzed across 33 speakers born between 1922 and 1996 in a series of logistic regression models. We propose three characteristics for a comparison of the rate of loss of different variables: initial level, steepness, and turning point. We show that the dynamics of loss differs significantly across variables and discuss possible reasons for such differences, including perceptual salience, initial variation in the dialect, and convergence with regionally or socially defined varieties of Russian. In conclusion, we discuss the pros and cons of logistic regression as an approach to quantitative modeling of dialect loss. Our paper contributes to the study and documentation of Russian dialects, most of which are on the verge of extinction.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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The article was prepared within the HSE University Basic Research Program and funded by the Russian Academic Excellence Project ‘5–100.’ We wish to thank the community in Mikhalevskaja, who welcomed us and shared their stories with us. Some of our consultants are not among the living anymore, and we honor their memory. We also thank all other consultants and friends, and are deeply grateful to Svetlana and Nikolai Pushkin who hosted us during our first stays and immensely helped us with the organization of all aspects of our fieldwork.

The main contributors to the text of the paper are Michael Daniel and Ruprecht von Waldenfels, and then, in order of appearance, Nina Dobrushina and Aleksandra Ter-Avanesova. Polina Kazakova and Ilya Schurov provided all plots and coded statistical models in R (R Core Development Team, 2009). Ekaterina Gerasimenko, Daria Ignatenko, Polina Kazakova, Ekaterina Makhlina, Maria Ovsjannikova, Sergey Say, Maria Tsfasman, Samira Verhees, Aleksei Vinyar, and Vasilisa Zhigulskaja interpreted and coded linguistic variables. Nina Dobrushina, Ruprecht von Waldenfels, and Michael Daniel are supervising the Ustja River Basin corpus project. Nina Dobrushina and Aleksandra Ter-Avanesova supervised the transcription of the interviews and the coding of the variables. Ruprecht von Waldenfels and Ekaterina Gerasimenko provided all technical infrastructure for the Ustja River Basin corpus. All authors participated in data collection and transcription. Scripts, data and additional materials are available at



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