A Review of Literature on the Language Policy of Imperial Russia and the Modern Linguistic Situation

Keywords: language policy, Russia between the 19th and early 20th centuries; bilingualism, monolingualism, language building, cyrillisation, language of interethnic communication


This article traces Russian nationality and language policies from 1800 to the early 20th century based on historical, historiographic, sociological, and sociolinguistic sources. The 1822 Charter on the Governance of Indigenous Peoples (concerning the peoples of Siberia) was indicative of Russian national policies in general. It ordained that ethnicities be self-governed and that official routines, school education and church services be in native languages. However, following the Polish uprisings of 1830–1831 and 1863, the empire began to tighten its grip on its western regions. Polish was banned from schools and publications outside the Kingdom of Poland, while Ukrainophilia was repressed; alternatively, Lithuanian and Belarusian were advanced and Russian schools introduced. Basically, the policies of Russia reveal a pattern of dynamic fluctuations, dependent on domestic political conditions and the international situation – liberal in calm and prosperous times, repressive in times of external/internal threats. By and large, Russia governed so as to preserve the diversity of its national provinces. In the 20th century, it quite logically resulted in the principle of democratic centralism in the nationality policy of the USSR, the autonomy of Soviet national republics united in a single centralised multinational state. The Russian Federation largely inherited its current nationality policy from imperial and Soviet models.

Author Biography

Elena Shelestyuk

Dr. Hab. (Philology), Professor, Chelyabinsk State University.

129, Bratyev Kashirinykh Str., 454001, Chelyabinsk, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0003-4254-4439



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How to Cite
Shelestyuk, E. (2019). A Review of Literature on the Language Policy of Imperial Russia and the Modern Linguistic Situation. Quaestio Rossica, 7(3), 939–954. https://doi.org/10.15826/qr.2019.3.416