Mother tongue

Хаял мекяны, the Crimean Tatar translation of my book Dream Land, is making quite a splash in Crimea. There has been plenty of TV and newspaper coverage; I have even, to my amazement, been recognised on the street. It’s all a bit overwhelming. Coverage here and here for Crimean Tatar speakers, here and here in Russian.

My favourite headline, from Голос крыма, reads ‘Now Lily Hyde is a daughter of the Crimean Tatar people’

Dream Land is the first and, so far, only fictional retelling in any language of the Crimean Tatars’ return to Crimea in the 1980-1990s. To my mind, its translation into the mother tongue of the Crimean Tatars is a unique and important event. If only it has not come too late.

I spent a lot of time with Crimean Tatar families between around 2000 and 2007. To me they spoke Russian, because I don’t speak Crimean Tatar. But between themselves they spoke Crimean Tatar.

Revisiting some of those families just a few years on, I’m struck by a big change. Their children have grown older, and are spending more time in school or college or work – and they are bringing Russian language home with them. Just a few years back, the whole family spoke Crimean Tatar with a sprinkling of Russian words. Now it is the other way round.

The older people, and many younger ones too, feel this is a tragedy. But it’s one they don’t know how to reverse. One mother told me she wants to keep her son back a year before sending him to school, because she’s afraid that as soon as he goes to school he will start forgetting Crimean Tatar. Two university students told me they hope that when they have families, their children will know Crimean Tatar. They told me this in English, which they speak quite fluently. Neither of these girls speaks their own native language beyond a very basic, household level.

I wondered even as I gave them copies of Хаял мекяны, whether they would not find it easier to read Dream Land in the original English. I couldn’t bring myself to ask.  But all the interest in the Crimean Tatar translation gives me hope that it is not too late to save this language from extinction.

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A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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