Russian Doukhobors Canada

January 20, 2012 by staff 

Russian Doukhobors CanadaRussian Doukhobors Canada, The Doukhobors are a Christian sect who in 1899 established a number of commune-style settlements in Western Canada. They have brought with them a Southern Russian dialect of their communities of origin, which over the following decades underwent some changes under the influence of the Canadian English environment and the speech of the Ukrainian settlers in Saskatchewan.

Over several generations, this dialect has been mostly lost, as the modern descendants of the original Doukhobor migrants to Canada are typically native English speakers, and when they do speak Russian, it is typically a fairly standard variety of it.

It is reasonable to assume that the formative period for the speech of the Doukhobors was the first four decades of the 19th century. It was in 1802 that the Doukhobors, as well as the members of Russia’s other dissenter Christian groups, were encouraged to migrate to the Molochna River region, around Melitopol near Ukraine’s Sea of Azov coast. Over the next 10-20 years, the Doukhobor, Molokan, and other settlers, speaking a variety of mostly Southern Russian dialects arrived to the Molochna from several provinces located, primarily, in what is today eastern Ukraine and south-central Russia. In the settlers’ villages an opportunity thus arose for the formation of a certain dialect koiné, based on Southern Russian and Eastern Ukrainian dialects.

Starting in 1841, the Doukhobors (as well as Molokans and certain other dissenters) were resettled from southern Ukraine to Transcaucasia, where they founded a number of villages surrounded by mostly non-Russian speaking neighbors (primarily Azerbaijanis in Elisabethpol Governorate, Armenians in Tiflis Governorate, and likely a mix of both in the later (post-1878) settlements in Kars Oblast). These conditions allowed the dialect to develop in comparative isolation from the “mainstream” Russian.

With the migration of some 7,500 Doukhbors from Transcaucasia to Saskatchewan in 1899, and some smaller latecomer groups (both from Transcaucasia and from places of exile in Siberia and elsewhere), the dialect spoken in the Doukhobor villages of Transcaucasia was brought to the plains of Canada. From that point on it experienced influence from the English language of Canada and, during the years of Doukhobor stay in Saskatchewan, the speech of Doukhobor’s Ukrainian neighbors.

A split in the Doukhobor community resulted in a large number of Doukhobors moving from Saskatchewan to south-eastern British Columbia around 1910. Those who moved (the so-called “Community Doukhobors” – followers of Peter Verigin’s Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood – continued living a communal lifestyle for several more decades, and had a better chance to preserve the Russian language than the “Independent Doukhobors”, who stayed in Saskatchewan as individual farmers.

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