Dunya Zakharova. Yakut “zaum” (abstruse)
Dunya Zakharova
I have been living in Moscow for almost half of my life. The first half was in Yakutia, where I grew up with the Yakut language as mother tongue.

I studied it quite enthusiastically, writing texts, even winning local language competitions. Soon after leaving the language environment, however, I noticed that my confidence in the correct reproduction of native sounds started to slowly fade away. Therefore, these days I deliberately focus on what I remember — by whispering, singing, writing, even scratching in Yakut, trying to preserve in myself the sounds that are natural, organic to me.

As for my works, the use of the Yakut language has no narrative function. As with any rare language, and Yakut is now listed as "endangered", to non-native speakers it appears as a mysterious set of unfamiliar sounds which form words everyone can interpret in their own way. The additional strange charm of the Yakut language is the use of the Cyrillic alphabet mixed with of some of its own characters, which opens a possibility for some Russian-speaker to vocally reproduce the text.
The resulting effect and the perception of language is not quite unlike "Zaum" — the literary device invented by Russian futurists in the early 1920s, where the rational elements of natural language are rejected, in favour of creating verbal constructions without a certain meaning, to give the phonetics itself a chance making an impact.


A perfect, and most definite example, is this famous sequence from a 1913 poem by Alexey Kruchenykh:



"Dyr bul schyl
ubeshshchur
skum
vy so bu
r l ez"

1913
This poem in particular not only gives me inspiration, but also rids me of the embarrassment about my own "dyr bul schyl’s" in the Yakut language.


I like how the emotional, the intuitive prevails over the rational in such abstruse language, where the sounds of a poem can be felt almost physiologically.
As Kruchenykh once explained: "Consonants give life, nationality, severity, vowels - the opposite, universal language."


I decided to embroider, write out the words in Yakut that are often repeated inside me in the rhythmical manner of a spell, and I illustrate them with scraps of sketches.

"The water is gone. It became quiet. Sleep has come, sleep well." I repeat these words to myself before going to bed. "Uu" - water. "Uu kelle" - literally your water has come, but here it's like "a dream has come". "Uu chuumpu" - here “uu” reinforces the definition of "chuumpu" - silence.
"Good. Have a rest. The soul wakes up." So a Yakut shaman wrote to me after one ritual, when I slept for almost 20 hours.
"Soft-soft, pure-pure, white-white snow is coming." I wrote this when I was 9 years old. Recently I found a notebook with naive letters and drawings.
"A strong snowdrop flower emerged from the permafrost." This is a scan of the first snowdrop that I saw last spring in Yakutia during the pandemic.
"How cold it is. I am frozen in this ground!"
"Enter this state. Wake up, Nyunnukka (that's what some relatives call me). Having driven away the terrible animal, dance, my bird."

In the photo, I am a 10-year-old dancing Yakut folk dances.
Information help:

The Yakut language is one of the 136 languages of Russia that are in danger, 20 of them have already been declared dead. Such figures are given in the interactive Atlas of Endangered Languages of the world (https://ich.unesco.org/en/interactive-atlas-00206), published on the UNESCO website. The number of native speakers of the Yakut language, according to the 2010 census, totals 450,140 people living mainly on the territory of Yakutia.


UNESCO calculates the viability of languages according to 9 criteria, including the number of native speakers, the transmission of language from generation to generation, the availability of educational materials, the attitude to language within society. Further , all languages are classified into 6 categories: "it is safe", "the situation is alarming", "the language is in danger of extinction", "the language is in serious danger", "the language is in critical condition", "the language has disappeared".


If we consider the map of Russian languages, then in addition to 20 extinct languages (for example, Ainu, Yuga, Ubykh) in Russia, 22 more are considered to be in critical condition (Aleutian, Tersko-Sami, Itelmen), 29 are in serious danger (Nivkh, Chukchi, Karelian). 49 languages, including Kalmyk, Udmurt and Yiddish, have become endangered. The situation of 20 languages is of concern, including Belarusian, Chechen, Yakut and Tuvan. Note that if we sum up the number of languages in each of the five categories, we get not 136, but 140. It is also worth considering that Udmurt, Kalmyk, Yakut, Tuvan and Chechen are the official languages of the republics of the Russian Federation.


In total, the UNESCO atlas recognizes 2.5 thousand languages out of 6 thousand existing in the world as endangered. There are 199 languages spoken by no more than ten people. In the last few decades, 200 languages have completely disappeared, according to the Associated Press.


Researchers predict that by 2050 there will be a noticeable replacement of the Yakut language with Russian, and only a small proportion of children born in 20 years can communicate in Yakut. And for the next generation, the Sakha language will turn into a kind of museum culture, when it will be spoken about as the language of the ancestors.


According to the forecast, by 2050, the Yakut language may be replaced by Russian or languages of international communication. The experts drew up a graph and showed the dynamics of the language proficiency of representatives of the Sakha people, depending on the period of birth (from 1950 to 2030). Currently, there are already trends that can lead to the execution of this scenario. By the 30th year and beyond, the loss of language will become a noticeable phenomenon. The researchers explained this by the fact that it may be replaced by the Russian language.


"Perhaps the majority of the population will know the language at the everyday level, but only a few will use it as a living language – to communicate, to think. The question remains whether young people reconsider their positions when they get older. After all, a lot is changing," explains Alexandra Prokopyeva, senior lecturer at the History Department of the North-Eastern Federal University, Faculty of History. Based on forecasts, among those born in 2021-2030, only 60% will be fluent and speak their native language, only 40% will discuss household and personal affairs with their family, and only a quarter of them will think in their native language.


(Sources: https://www.1sn.ru/184325.html, https://lenta.ru/news/2009/02/20/languages/)


Dunya Zakharova is an artist (born in 1987 in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), lives and works in Moscow), whose main motive of creativity is giving emotional coloring to abstract forms. The emotions of interest to the artist are diverse. Those are loneliness and suffering caused by extreme weather conditions, and, at the same time, tenderness and love. All these states of the human soul are dissected with the precision of an entomologist and decomposed into components. All works are distinguished by the thoroughness of working with the material, the purpose of which is to maximize the expressiveness of the finished object. The images that eventually appear in the works seem to resemble fantastic creatures from fairy tales, dreams or our unconscious fears. There seems to be some hidden threat in them, but the very placement of these creatures in the exhibition space "disinfects" them and turns them into safe objects for viewing. Solo exhibitions: "Hysteria" - ART4 (2019), “-77.8°C" - Osnova Gallery, Moscow (2017), "Extinct species" - Osnova Gallery, Moscow, (2016).