Rita Valkovskaya reflects on his semester on the Eurasian Regional Language Program in Dushanbe as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad scholarship recipient and the connection between internet usage and language.
Tajiks have a widely different internet experience than do Americans. While participating in the American Councils Farsi program, I became an internet user of the Tajik system, and also a casual observer of my friends’ and neighbors’ usage. What I discovered was a vibrant desire to use the internet and social media that is common in the West and a starkly different cultural media environment influenced by Russia and the Middle East, especially Iran and Turkey.
Facebook, Instagram and Viber (an alternative to WhatsApp) are used by many Tajiks, especially those in my generation. Many Tajiks that I communicated with via Viber prefer to use the Cyrillic alphabet to write Tajik or Russian messages. Farsi letters are rarely used, even with people who do know Iranian Farsi, for example my former conversation partner. Unlike in many countries around the world, the English alphabet is not as often used to write out private messages because even for those Tajiks who study English, English letters are harder to use than the well known Cyrillic.
Instagram is widely used, and the images posted by my host family and the friends of my host sisters are often glamorized and very similar to those created by Americans. They show beautiful images of the subjects, boost the status of the poster, and are often discussed and shared among friend groups and used during gossip. The older generation is often included in these conversations because during the ubiquitous family gatherings, the young teach the older generation how to use phones and the favorite applications. Because respect for elders is extremely important in Tajik society, many younger people have tremendous patience in explaining how to use technology to the elders.
The YouTube experience, as well as television media, varies most from the Western, American experience due to its strong influence from the Middle East and Russia. For example, my conversation partner, who grew up in Tajikistan and Iran, has opened up a new media world to me by showing me videos of various famous Iranian singers, images of fashion and beauty that is decidedly Middle Eastern and Central Asian, as well as videos of Russian comedians. Languages in these videos are used interchangeably and include Russian, Farsi, Tajik, and even Turkish and Uzbek. However, the Russian cultural influences remain, because the highly developed and entertaining Russian television and media via YouTube continue to be of interest to the Russian speaking Tajiks.
On Facebook, people of all generations participate in posting photos of family, events, and following up with the members of the family or friend circles. My host mother has told me of various fiery discussions that arise on the topics of immigration, patriotism, and expressions of support or criticism in local communities in Facebook comments. Facebook is also used to view various videos and content relating to Central Asia and Tajikistan, and as such the content that is viewed by Tajiks is region-specific. Many posts are done in either Tajik or Russian.
About Fulbright-Hays Scholarships from American Councils
American Councils for International Education has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad, to provide scholarships for advanced overseas Russian and Persian language study. Learn more about the eligibility requirements here.
About Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad
The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, commonly referred to as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was made law by the 87th U.S. Congress under President John F. Kennedy on September 21, 1961. Senator J. William Fulbright and Representative Wayne Hays introduced the legislation, which represents the basic charter for U.S. government-sponsored educational and cultural exchange. 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of this landmark legislation. More information about Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad can be found here.