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Balachka (Russian and Ukrainian: балачка) is a term used to label the dialects spoken by Cossacks living in Russia. Originally the term was applied to the dialects of Ukrainian language spoken in the region around the Kuban river, however the usage of this term has recently broadened to include the Cossack dialects spoken on the Don, Terek, Ural and even those further out into Asiatic Russia and Central Asia.
The term originated from the Ukrainian term "balakat'", which means to babble, and was originally was used in the Russian language as a derogatory term to describe the language used by the Kuban Cossacks which differed considerably from literary Russian. For the Don Cossacks this was due to their historical proximity to Ukraine (Little Russia), and for the Kuban Cossacks due to their descendency from the Ukrainian speaking Black Sea Cossacks. The Kuban Cossacks group have two separate dialects, one is the Black-Sea Cossack group spoken in the Taman peninsula which is similar to literary Ukrainian, the second is the Mountainous regions of the Forecaucasus, where due to historical interactions with the Circassians population a different accent and vocabulary developed.
Some linguists characterize Balachka vernacular as a dialect or group of dialects. Balachka does not appear as a separate language on any language codes. Nevertheless, some Cossacks consider it to be a separate language and at least one academic case has been made in this regard.
The most significant instance of the Cossack dialect is the Kuban-Black Sea Balachka. Originally starting as a central Ukrainian dialect used by the Black Sea Cossacks who moved to the Kuban in 1792. Over the years the language began to acquire more Russian vocabulary, coinciding with the rising literacy rates in the late 19th century. The Kuban Cossack Chorus artistic director Viktor Zakharchenko points to the local folk songs dating to early and mid-19th century., where those that originated in the Kuban would have their own unique literary flavour and differ from those in standard Russian and Ukrainian. During the 1897 Russian census the dialect was classified as Little Russian language rather than Great Russian. (See further down on the political aspects of this particular dialect).
The historical closeness of the Don Cossacks with Ukraine led to mutual exchange of communication methods, between the two peoples. The Don Balachka is known for its soft sounds, for example идти idti (to walk) is said as итить itit', as extensively shown in Mikhail Sholokhov's literature. During the Russian Civil War a short-lived Don Republic was formed, and its leader Ataman, Pyotr Krasnov suggested using the Don Balachka in favour of standard Russian though this did not gain much support.
This Balachka differs uniquely from the other Cossack vernaculars in its free use of Circassian terms, particularly from modern Adygeya. This is explained by Russia's conquest of the Northern Caucasus where intensive interaction with the indigenous Circassian peoples resulted in their influence of Cossack dialect, and also in dress, music, dance and cuisine. Further south Karachay-Cherkessia and Stavropol - the traditional home of the former Caucasus Line Cossack Host, their accent has a greater Circassian influence, and is thus considered a balachka not by the initial definition but due to the term being becoming applied universally to all Cossack dialects. This is also true to the Vainakh and Avar influenced dialect of the Terek Cossacks, sometimes also being referred to as a Balachka.
It is not known how widespread the use of Balachka is. Education and strict requirements of the Russian Academy of Sciences mean that local press such as TV and radio adhere to standard Russian, with a notable exception for historical films (particularly those involving Cossacks) and Folk music groups and ensembles, such as the Kuban Cossack Chorus.
As a result there has been a gradual erosion in the use of authentic dialects and accents, with unique terms being slowly replaced by standard Russian ones. This is particularly noticeable in the younger generations. At the same time, beginning in the early 1990s, the re-awakening of the Cossacks movement was often done with rekindling of old traditions. It is thus not surprising that many Cossacks use Balachka (or some of its elements) in their speech to punctuate their Cossack heritage and/or affiliation.
Political aspects have played a direct role in the classification of the Kuban Balachka. Although this Balachka was initially officially classified as a dialect of the Little Russian language (the official term in pre-revolutionary Russia for the Ukrainian language) , and some Ukrainian sources actively support the idea of Balachka being a dialect of the Ukrainian language, this is being contested by some Russian linguistic research, and some of the Kuban Cossacks themselves, who point out that already by the 1860s there was a separate dialect that morphed out of Ukrainian and Russian..