Ivanov, who is from Vladikavkaz, a multicultural city in southern Russia, was raised speaking only Russian, though he was surrounded by bilingual friends. He eventually studied English, French and the local Ossetic tongue, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy his curiosity. Upon entering university, he started mastering Esperanto, the invented international lingua franca. In his spare time, he even learned Polish, in honor of his ancestry.
His fascination with languages would end up being his life’s work. This interest led him to develop language-specific websites, such as those dedicated to Ossetian, linguistics and Esperanto.
The Russian linguist estimates he has made more than 10,000 wiki edits, dating back to approximately 2004 and mostly on the Ossetian Wikipedia. The first contributions he made were to the Vladikavkaz page. Now, he says he devotes about an hour a day to Wikipedia’s smaller language editions. He also participates with Wikimedia Russia, the official Wikimedia chapter in the country.
For Ivanov, this fascination is simple. “All people have some kind of hobby. Some people go skiing, and some people are interested in languages,” he said.
While most of his wiki work on lesser-spoken languages had to do with those that he knows or is connected to, he also got involved with languages that are further afield. For instance, he helped with the proposal to create a Wikipedia for Lak, a language that is spoken by approximately 160,000 people in Dagestan. He also participated in the development of Wikipedia for the Avar language, from a Northeast Caucasian language group spoken in the region that includes Dagestan and Azerbaijan.
Ivanov was recently recognized at an Ossetian Language and Literature Day, with an official award for his contributions to the “popularization and development of the Ossetian Language.” The award ceremony, conducted in Ossetian, aired on television. And the award, a book-like medal, now sits on a bookcase in his living room.
Beyond learning about others’ worldviews from working collaboratively, Ivanov said he derives great satisfaction from creating content that will allow people to gain access to some of the smaller, yet culturally significant languages.
“I see it as a reward when other people are using the materials that I create, especially when I know that they’re using them to learn,” said the 34-year-old linguist. “It gives me satisfaction.”
Profile by Alice Debois-Frogé, Wikimedia Foundation Communications volunteer
Interview by Victor Grigas, Wikimedia Foundation Storyteller