Multilingualism in Post-Soviet Countries

Multilingualism in Post-Soviet Countries

by Aneta Pavlenko (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847690876
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 09/15/2008
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.80(w) x 9.80(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Dr. Aneta Pavlenko is an Associate Professor at the College of Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA. She has lectured widely in Europe, North America, and Japan, and published numerous scientific articles and book chapters on sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics of bilingualism and second language acquisition. She is an author of Emotions and Multilingualism (Cambridge University Press, 2005), co-author of Crosslinguistic Influence in Language and Cognition (with Scott Jarvis; Routledge, 2008), editor of Bilingual Minds (Multilingual Matters, 2006) and co-editor of Negotiation of Identities in Multilingual Contexts (Multilingual Matters, 2004).

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Multilingualism in Post-Soviet Countries: Language Revival, Language Removal, and Sociolinguistic Theory

Aneta Pavlenko

CITE Department, College of Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA


In December of 2007, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine announced that starting in 2008 all foreign-language movies shown in the country will have to be translated into Ukrainian via dubbing, subtitles, or synchronous translation. There would be nothing attention-worthy about this announcement if the 'foreign language' category didn't also include Russsian, the native language of 30% of the population of Ukraine (, and one used and understood by the majority of the remaining 70%. The new law thus was not driven by linguistic needs, as it would be in the case of movies in French, Danish or Hindi. Nor was it driven by economic needs – the demand for Russian-language books and media continues to be high in Ukraine, and the measure may actually be detrimental to the already struggling film industry. In fact, it is the popularity of the Russian-language media – inconsistent with Ukraine's nationalizing agenda and political aspirations and alliances – that drives the new law whose purpose is to ensure that Ukrainian citizens live in a Ukrainian-language environment.

The announcement sparked a stormy debate in the media. Russian media have decried the law as yet another illiberal step taken by the Ukrainian government to deprive consumers of free choice and to impinge on the rights of Russian speakers. President Yushchenko contradicted this accusation stating that Ukrainian language policy conforms to all liberal European standards and that Russian is the language of another country that would not allow Ukrainians to identify themselves as Ukrainian.

This heated discussion is not unusual – rather, it is just another chapter in the ongoing saga of the Russian language in Ukraine (Bilaniuk & Melnyk, 2008). Nor are concerns about language status, policies and rights in the post-Soviet space limited to Ukraine. As will be shown in this collection, in the past two decades, post-Soviet countries as a whole have emerged as a contested linguistic space, where emotional exchanges over language-related issues are fodder for the daily news and where disagreements over language- and education-related decisions have led to demonstrations and at times even military conflicts and secession (cf. Ciscel, 2008).

For decades, and sometimes centuries, many inhabitants of what is now called post-Soviet countries have watched their native languages take second seat to Russian, the lingua franca of the Russian empire and then of the USSR. The dissolution of the USSR in 1991 has created conditions for a unique sociolinguistic experiment, in which 14 countries previously united by the same language and political system could renegotiate this linguistic imbalance, strengthen the status of the titular languages and snatch the safety net from under the feet of monolingual Russian speakers, imposing new linguistic regimes in the process of building new nation-states.

A comparative analysis of language shift outcomes and of challenges faced by the 14 states in implementing new language laws and restructuring educational systems offers a unique contribution to contemporary theories of language policy, shift, minority rights and language education. It is all the more surprising then that the post-Soviet context as a whole has been largely ignored in the scholarship on language policy and bi- and multilingualism. Foundational work in this area was conducted by political scientists, most notably Laitin (1998), Kolsto (1995, 2002) and their teams, that rushed to the newly independent countries to document the change of linguistic regimes. Other cross-country investigations have been conducted by the interdisciplinary teams of Smith and associates (1998) and Landau and Kellner-Heinkele (2001), and, in the post-Soviet context, by the teams headed by Lebedeva (1995) and Savoskul (2001). The resulting monographs have documented the initial stages of the negotiation of national identities and laid the theoretical and methodological foundations for the future study of the area.

In the years that followed, linguistic anthropologists, sociolinguists and education scholars have joined the fray to examine sociolinguistic and educational changes in single countries (e.g. Bilaniuk, 2005; Ciscel, 2007; Korth, 2005). This work offered nuanced, detailed and theoretically sophisticated sociolinguistic portrayals of the countries in question but without the integrative drive displayed by political scientists. Moreover, until recently, investigations conducted by Western and local scholars proceeded in parallel, rather than in collaboration.

At present, we are witnessing a transition to a new stage in the study of post-Soviet sociolinguistics, ushered in by pioneering efforts of three scholars intent on creating conditions for sustained and systematic collaboration between East and West. The efforts of Gabrielle Hogan-Brun have created conditions for such collaboration between Lithuanian, Estonian, and Latvian scholars and their international colleagues (Bulajeva & Hogan-Brun, 2008; Hogan-Brun, 2005a,b; Hogan-Brun et al., 2007). The efforts of Ekaterina Protassova and Arto Mustajoki have united scholars of Russian diaspora from around the world (Mustajoki & Protassova, 2004) and spearheaded a large-scale international investigation of multilingualism in Central Asia under the auspices of the INTAS project (Orusbaev et al., 2008; Smagulova, 2008).

In the same spirit, the first aim of the present collection is to support and expand the collaboration between scholars working inside and outside of the post-Soviet countries. Its second aim is to introduce language developments in the post-Soviet countries to the larger scholarly community. The third aim is to begin the process of integrating and theorizing the findings and to reflect on the challenges these findings present for sociolinguistic theory, in particular with regard to articulation of minority rights of speakers of a 'postcolonial' language.

Since the post-Soviet context is not particularly well known to the majority of readers, I will use this introduction to provide a general background against which developments in particular countries can be better understood. I will begin by placing these developments in the sociohistoric context of language policies of the Russian empire and the USSR. Then, I will offer a comparative overview of the outcomes of language shift in 14 post-Soviet countries, separated into three geographic groups: Eastern European countries, Transcaucasus and Central Asia. Throughout, I will highlight historic, demographic, linguistic and sociopolitical factors that shaped distinct language shift outcomes in geographically close countries. Then, I will outline the contributions and challenges to contemporary sociolinguistic theory that emerge from this work and point to productive directions for future research.

Language Policies and Practices in the Russian Empire and the USSR

Russification in the Russian Empire

Despite its multilingual and multiethnic character, until the eighteenth century Russia had no consistent language policy (Belikov & Krysin, 2001; Weeks, 2001). Russification took place slowly or not at all, while Russian administration used translators to communicate with local populations. Peter the Great was the first to formulate consistent language policies with regard to ethnic and linguistic minorities: German was kept as the official language in the Baltic territories, Swedish in Finland, and Polish in the Kingdom of Poland (Belikov & Krysin, 2001).

In the mid-nineteenth century, the administration of Alexander II attempted to unify the empire through a number of measures, including the spread of Russian, and thus began articulating its russification policies. Alpatov (2000) and Weeks (2001) argue that these policies were not an across-the-board mandate, rather they applied selectively to particular ethnic and social groups. Thus, russification of Orthodox Christian Slavs, such as non-Catholic Ukrainians and Belarusians, was considered critical. Russification of racial and religious minorities, such as Kalmyks or Uzbeks, was considered less important, and russification and assimilation of Jews was often forcefully prevented.

Class and social status were also at play – whether through added incentives of social and educational advancement, or through enforcement, russification measures often targeted primarily or exclusively local elites. To give but one example, upon annexation of Georgia the tsarist regime closed all Georgian schools and opened Russian ones, where Georgian was taught as an optional subject. Yet in 1860 Georgia had only 145 primary and secondary schools catering to 7850 pupils (1% of the total population) (Hewitt, 1985). Consequently, these measures did not have a wide-reaching effect.

The Georgian example also brings to attention the concomitant policy to limit the uses of other languages, replacing them with Russian. Once again, these measures were not applied across the board. Rather, they were taken in order to reduce the cultural power and influence of particular ethnic groups, such as Poles in Lithuania or Germans in Latvia and Estonia, and to subjugate groups that might foment nationalistic rebellions. Thus, in the European territories measures were taken to limit the uses of Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Moldovan, Lithuanian and German and to replace them with Russian in primary education and in secular secondary and higher education. Russian-language newspapers came to replace local-language and bilingual newspapers. On the other hand, in Central Asia, the Russian language never moved beyond the bureaucratic structures, and native languages enjoyed an unprecedented revival.

As Belikov and Krysin (2001) point out, language policies were not consistently applied throughout the empire – rather, there existed numerous contradictions and discrepancies between laws and policies, on the one hand, and specific measures, on the other. Some laws and measures were met with either resistance or dismissal. Nevertheless, by the end of the nineteenth century, throughout the Russian empire, with the exception of Finland, secular secondary and higher education could only be obtained in Russian (Belikov & Krysin, 2001). After the revolution of 1905, a more tolerant language policy was introduced: numbers of minority language schools increased, and literature and periodicals appeared in a variety of languages, including Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Georgian, Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian (Alpatov, 2000).

The goal of imperial russification policies was bilingualism of the titular elites, and by the time of the 1917 revolution, the elites throughout the empire had integrated Russian into their linguistic repertoires (Laitin, 1998). On the other hand, non-Russian peasants and members of many other social strata had neither incentives nor opportunities to develop competence in Russian.

Nativization and Russification in the USSR

Following the October Revolution of 1917, Bolsheviks began to remake the country in a new image. To do so, they needed to convey their ideas quickly to people who spoke over a hundred different languages and were often illiterate to boot (Liber, 1991; Smith, 1998). Consequently, early language policies advanced by Lenin and his followers aimed to support and develop national and ethnic languages on the assumption that the new regime would be best understood and accepted by various minority groups if it functioned in their own languages. This support for national languages was part of a policy known as korenizatsiia (nativization or indigenization), which itself was part of a larger nation-building program that supported national territories, cultures, languages and elites in an attempt to organize the population into economically and administratively viable and stable national-territorial units. In this nation-building process, the Soviets drew and redrew borders, dissolved ethnic groups (e.g. Sarts), created new ethnicities and languages (e.g. Moldavians/Moldavian), reinforced boundaries between fluid identity categories and dialects (e.g. Uzbek/Tajik), formed new national territories (e.g. Turkmenistan), and eventually firmly embedded national categories into the very fabric of Soviet life (Edgar, 2004; Fierman, 1991; Hirsch, 2005; Martin, 2001; Slezkine, 1994).

The USSR is commonly viewed as a country that had the longest and the most extensive experience with language planning (Anderson & Silver, 1984). Korenizatsiia of the 1920s involved systematic efforts to ensure that local administrations, courts and schools function in local languages, to translate world literature into local languages, to standardize a variety of languages, to support the development of new literary languages, to create alphabets for languages that did not yet have literacy, to encourage Russians to learn local languages, and to teach local populations to read and write – and sometimes even speak – in 'their own' languages (Alpatov, 2000; Edgar, 2004; Fierman, 1991; Kreindler, 1982; Liber, 1991; Martin, 2001; Slezkine, 1994; Smith, 1998).

As a result of these initiatives, titular languages began to assume their functions across all domains, albeit to varying degrees. In Armenia and Georgia, two territories with large native intelligentsias, strong nationalist movements, and small Russian populations, national languages quickly assumed hegemonic functions (Martin, 2001; Suny, 1994). Great success was also achieved in Ukraine, despite strong opposition from Russians and russified titulars and minorities; belarusification was also making great strides, with documentation, press, and primary education shifting to Belarusian (Martin, 2001). On the other hand, in republics relying on Turkic languages advances were complicated by illiteracy and difficulties linked to language standardization and Latinization of the alphabets (Edgar, 2004; Fierman, 1991; Smith, 1998).

In the 1930s, concerns about bourgeois nationalism led to a wave of repressions and purges of national elites. Coupled with apprehensions about the poor mastery of Russian by non-Russians and the difficulties in implementation of Latin alphabets, these concerns led to retreat from linguistic nativization. The administration began to realize that 'presiding over 192 languages and potentially 192 bureaucracies was not a very good idea after all' (Slezkine, 1994: 445) and developed a new appreciation for Russian as a language of state consolidation, industrialization, and collectivization. Language propaganda began to glorify the great and mighty Russian language. However, a course towards the greater spread of Russian did not entail a complete rejection of the nativization policies. Native languages continued to be used in education, the arts and the press. Thus, between 1928 and 1938 the number of non-Russian newspapers increased from 205 titles in 47 languages to 2,188 titles in 66 languages (Slezkine, 1994).

The russification of the 1930s took a three-pronged approach that involved status and acquisition planning (Russian) and corpus planning (local languages) (Alpatov, 2000; Slezkine, 1994; Smith, 1998). In the area of acquisition planning, a 1938 decree declared Russian an obligatory second language in non-Russian schools. While most schools already offered Russian, the decree established a set of universal standards, centralized the curriculum, increased the number of hours dedicated to Russian, and made textbook publication and teacher training a priority. In doing so, it highlighted the role of Russian as the de facto official language of the country and a necessary prerequisite of a true Soviet citizen. As a standard, however, the decree remained unfulfilled and Russian language teaching in non-Russian schools continued to be uneven, particularly in Central Asia (Fierman, 1991; Smith, 1998). Three decades later, the 1959 educational reform gave parents the right to choose the language of instruction for their children. This law led to an increase in enrollment in Russian-medium schools, which offered opportunities for social mobility, and a rise in Russian-language competence.


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Table of Contents

Preface - Aneta PavlenkoLanguage management and language problems in Belarus: Education and Beyond - Markus Giger and Marián SlobodaA tense and shifting balance: Bilingualism and Education in Ukraine - Laada Bilaniuk and Svitlana MelnykUneasy Compromise: Language and Education in Moldova - Matthew H. CiscelLanguage and Education Orientations in Lithuania: A Cross-Baltic Perspective Post- EU Accession - Tatjana Bulajeva and Gabrielle Hogan-BrunEstonianization efforts post-independence - Mart RannutLanguage policies of kazakhization and their influence on language attitudes and use - Juldyz SmagulovaMultilingualism, Russian language and education in Kyrgyzstan - Abdykadyr Orusbaev, Arto Mustajoki & Ekaterina ProtassovaLanguage and education policies in Tajikistan - Mehrinisso Nagzibekova

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