[lg policy] Volodymyr Kulyk: Ukrainians are ready to shed the legacy of Soviet Russification
francis.hult at englund.lu.se
Sun Oct 8 04:13:01 EDT 2017
For folks working on Ukrainian language policy, a recent thesis by one of my research students, Svetlana L'Nyavskiy, might be of interest.
Ukrainian Language Policy: The Status of Russian in English Language Medium Ukrainian and Russian Newspapers and in the Linguistic Landscape of Four Regions
Full text: http://lup.lub.lu.se/student-papers/record/8626476
Francis M. Hult, PhD
Centre for Languages and Literature
Editor, Educational Linguistics book series
Co-editor, Contributions to the Sociology of Language book series
From: lgpolicy-list-bounces at groups.sas.upenn.edu <lgpolicy-list-bounces at groups.sas.upenn.edu> on behalf of Harold Schiffman <hfsclpp at gmail.com>
Sent: Saturday, October 7, 2017 21:57
Subject: [lg policy] Volodymyr Kulyk: Ukrainians are ready to shed the legacy of Soviet Russification
Volodymyr Kulyk: Ukrainians are ready to shed the legacy of Soviet Russification
By Volodymyr Kulyk<https://www.kyivpost.com/author/volodymyr-kulyk>.
Published Oct. 6 at 3:00 pm
People select books at the Arsenal International Book Festival on May 17, 2017 in Kyiv.
Ever since Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, its leaders have been careful with the so-called language issue, and Western advisers have urged them to apply even more care. Latest survey data indicate that the time has come for a more resolute language policy.
After the Soviet rule, the country’s population included 22 percent of ethnic Russians, and even more people who retained their Ukrainian ethnicity but came to speak Russian as their main language. While amounting to just above a half of all Ukrainian citizens, this combined population of Russian-speakers constituted a large majority in the eastern and southern regions. Any resolute imposition of the titular language could be expected to provoke mass discontent on the part of Russian-speakers who were accustomed to using Russian for all purposes and often lacked proficiency in the previously marginalized Ukrainian.
Therefore, the Ukrainian state’s policy in the language domain has been cautious, inconsistent, and heterogeneous in terms of both region and domain. Although Ukrainian was proclaimed the sole state (official) language, Russian continued to be widely used in virtually all social interactions. While Ukrainian prevailed in the west and was increasingly used in the center, Russian remained predominant in the east and south. While Ukrainian became the main language of public administration and education, Russian stood its ground in business, media and many other prestigious domains. Although most people valued Ukrainian as their national language, this symbolic valorization did not necessarily affect their communicative preferences.
EuroMaidan and the Russian aggression brought about a change in ethnonational identities which, in turn, shifted a balance of language attitudes in favor of Ukrainian. The alienation from Russia led many Ukrainians to renounce the Russian language and, at the same time, embrace Ukrainian as the language of their nation to which they came to feel stronger attachment.
While the full-fledged switch from Russian to Ukrainian was rather exceptional, many people changed their preferences for particular practices such as communication with the authorities and consumption of the media. Even those who continue speaking primarily Russian themselves now want the state and service providers to use more Ukrainian and thereby gradually change the language landscape of society.
Data of a comprehensive survey on language practices and attitudes, which was commissioned by the Research Initiative for Democratic Reform in Ukraine and implemented by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in May 2017, vividly demonstrate this change. When compared to the results of two previous surveys designed by this author and conducted by the same institute in 2012 and 2014, this data shows that Ukrainians increasingly support the use of the titular language in various practices, both within and beyond the public sector.
One of the most impressive findings is a marked shift from Russian to Ukrainian in the responses about the actual and desirable languages of media consumption. This trend pertains to various types of media from books and newspapers to television and the internet.
The earlier prevalence of media products in Russian resulted from both its use on many post-Soviet markets and the consumer preferences within Ukraine where Russian remained the language of choice for most urban residents who were more affluent than rural ones and, therefore, more popular with advertisers. No less important, people speaking mostly Ukrainian in everyday life were more willing to consume the media in the accustomed Russian than those speaking mostly Russian were ready to embrace the still not quite familiar Ukrainian.
It is this fundamental post-imperial asymmetry that the surveys show gradually disappearing; that is, Ukrainian-speakers became more selective and Russian-speakers more willing to add Ukrainian to their language repertoire. This change in the two groups’ preferences resulted in a stronger total demand for media products in Ukrainian.
In some media types such as books, the producers met this demand with an increased supply of various products. In other types such as radio and television, the marginalization of Ukrainian persisted, thus urging its champions to initiate legislative provisions on the minimal share of airtime in the state language. These recently adopted provisions will make the broadcasters to bring their language regime in accordance with the audiences’ new preferences. On the radio for which the legislation took effect almost a year ago, this is already happening.
A no less important trend revealed by the surveys is the Ukrainian citizens’ increased preference for the use of the titular language by people servicing them in both the public and private sector.
For the state establishments, the latest survey shows a clear preference for the exclusive use of Ukrainian, with 68 percent of respondents indicating this option for documentation and 59 percent for oral communication with citizens. When asked whether public servants are obliged to respond in Ukrainian to those visitors addressing them in that language, fully 70 percent agreed that such an obligation applies to the entire Ukraine and further 15 percent limited it to those territories where Ukrainian is the language of the local majority. Such an attitude would be trivial for an established nation-state but it is new and remarkable in a post-imperial context.
Even more remarkable is the fact that 54 percent of respondents support the same nationwide obligation for employees in trades and services, that is, in the private sector. Although there is currently no such provision in the legislation, most citizens seem to believe there should be. President Poroshenko seemed to grasp this mood in his recent announcement of a draft law on the use of Ukrainian in service industries.
While it is certainly necessary to put an end to marginalization of the titular language in this important domain, a patchy approach to language policy focusing on the most urgent problems is inadequate. More appropriate would be the adoption of a comprehensive language law that would set clear requirements on the use of Ukrainian in various domains, in accordance with its status of the sole state language, while safeguarding the right to use the minority languages as stipulated by Ukraine’s international commitments.
By making good knowledge of the Ukrainian language necessary for careers in both public and private domain, such a law would also justify the increased focus on the knowledge of that language in the newly adopted law on education. Although this law caused protests by some of
the neighboring states concerned with the reduced scope of schooling in the minority languages, the Ukrainian government is certainly right to introduce the instruction mostly in the majority language as a precondition for its good knowledge and subsequent use. However, there is not much sense to prioritize the knowledge of Ukrainian while ignoring the problem of its inadequate use in many domains where graduates of schools and colleges will come to work.
Actually, a draft language law intended to ensure the prevalence of Ukrainian in all social domains was submitted earlier this year by several dozen members of different parliamentary factions. However, President Poroshenko and other top politicians have so far refrained from publicly expressing their support for the draft, probably for the same old fear of Russian-speakers’ discontent, now exacerbated by their reluctance to make radical domestic moves at a time of foreign aggression.
The survey data indicate that they are wrong. Ukrainian society is ready to shed more resolutely the legacy of Soviet Russification. It is time the state leadership matched that readiness.
Volodymyr Kulyk is head research fellow at the Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. He has taught at Columbia, Stanford, and Yale universities, and has published widely on the politics of language and identity in Ukraine.
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