Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine. Culture and Society after Socialism

By Ushchyna, Valentyna | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2006 | Go to article overview
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Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine. Culture and Society after Socialism


Ushchyna, Valentyna, Canadian Slavonic Papers


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Laada Bilaniuk. Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine. Culture and Society after Socialism. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006. x, 230 pp. Appendix. References. Index. Map. $59.95, cloth. $24.95, paper.

The volume under review will certainly become an important resource IOr those interested in political, cultural and linguistic changes in the states formerly belonging to the Soviet Union. Being a Ukrainian citizen myself, I have to say that Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine by Laada Bilaniuk invoked not only my academic interest as a linguist, but also grabbed my attention as a native speaker of Ukrainian. The problem of the place of language politics in Ukrainian society is considered from the perspective of an impartial outsider who is not involved in this language debate. It should also be noted that the book's scope is more than a linguistic analysis: the author reviews the subject matter within the framework of linguistic anthropology, cultural linguistics, ethnography and sociolinguistics.

The book consists of six chapters, each of which sheds light on the language politics and process of cultural correction in Ukraine, but from a different perspective. Thus, Chapter 1 addresses Ukraine in cultural and linguistic transition with an analytical focus on Soviet and post-Soviet language policies. The theoretical background is found in the "habitus" and "symbolic power" theories of Bourdieu(1977, 1984, 1990, 1991), although the problem of language change is approached in a more dynamic and complex way, since the main focus is on language. The author offers certain solutions to the problem of escalated ethnolinguistic tensions appearing in the period of social instability, that is, linguistic non-accommodation and the acceptance of the equal coexistence of the Ukrainian and Russian languages in the same spheres of use.

The construction of social values and relationships through language is presented in Chapter 2 with four biographical narratives. These biographies reveal the ways in which linguistic forms and social roles are interrelated and influenced by both historical circumstances and individual attitudes. The life stories of these interviewees cover a wide range of problems in Ukraine's recent history, particularly concerning language choice and correctness, the urban-rural dynamic, regional variation, institutional control of language, Soviet systems of language planning and linguistic changes after independence. To my mind, though, this chapter lacks an account of linguistic correction from a Western Ukrainian to make the regional representation eomplete.

Chapter 3 contains a deep and thorough analysis of the historical circumstances under which the attitude of the Ukrainian people toward the Ukrainian language was shaped. tile-language is seen as an ideological and political construct, and therefore is highly sensitive to ideology, language policy and economic conditions. I cannot but agree with the author's assumption that Ukrainian still suffers the status of a low-prestige rural language, while Russian is viewed as a prestigious city language for many Ukrainians. The only criticism I have of this chapter is that the great Ukrainian poetess Lesya Ukrainka should have been mentioned alongside the other great minds that have influenced the history of Ukraine and molded the spirit of "Ukrainianness.

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