Academic journal article Trames

Impact of Change of the Language Environment on the Extent of Language Shift in the Context of Linguistics

Academic journal article Trames

Impact of Change of the Language Environment on the Extent of Language Shift in the Context of Linguistics

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The Soviet time brought to Estonia an alien population, both culturally and language-wise. Estonian culture was still preserved, but two different communities developed in that time. With the regained independence, the status of the ethnic groups living here, changed (Ehala 2009, Rannut 2009, Lauristin, Vihalemm 2004, Lauristin 2008). That in turn caused the change in identity categories (Kirch, Kirch 1995, Masso 2002). While in the process the acculturation the double- or multi-identities can develop (Gellner 1996:647, Valk 2003), also the two cultures can blend and a new culture with different traits can arise, then the acculturation can become a catalyst for the development of the new identities (LaFromboise et al. 1993, Valk, Karu 1999:81). This kind of identity evolution mechanism is working in many social groups, which are drifting away from their culture of origin, because they have lived in their current community a longer time (Valk, Kara 1999:81, Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, Valk 2003:246).

At the same time we should remember: the fact that the people are speaking the same language, does not mean that they have necessarily the same identity (i.e. the third nations, who might speak Russian as a first or only language, but do not identify themselves as ethnic Russians) (Verschik 2001:537, Verschik 2005:295). On the other hand, there are people, who speak Russian as their first language, but they do not constitute a community, they are rather heterogeneous (ibid.).

The Russian immigrants and also the third nation immigrants, who were born in Estonia and who are the interviewees of the study this article is based upon, have a very clear difference in identity: they do not identify themselves with the Soviet-time immigrants or their offspring, but it has been seen that a new Estonia-Russian identity is evolving (or has already evolved) (Kirch 2004, Vihalemm 2004, Vihalemm 2007).

1.1. Social links of the language and ethnic identity

Different schools have different ideas about identity: one side emphasizes that ethnic identity changes constantly, and everyone can create one, using language, as the situation arises (a constructivist approach, e.g. Wendt 1995:46, Tabouret-Keller 2000, Katzenstein, Keohane 2006). Other researchers handle it as something static, bringing out persons' need to belong and the security (functionalist direction, e.g. Phinney et al. 1994, Jenkins 2004). The representatives of both schools still see ethnic identity as a practical phenomenon that an individual can create depending on the situation for the pragmatic goals, and common trait is the existence of the language, as an important cultural trait and divider.

Different studies (e.g. Tabouret-Keller 2000:317, Mills 2001, Kidd 2002:192, Iskanius 2005) stress the importance of the language in developing identity. The main point of these directions is the fact that the language is the mediator of the personal and also the social identity, i.e. the language choice is seen as the method of the definition of the identity, at the same time the language offers tools to create and to express this bond (ibid.). Language choice is seen as the most important part of developing ethnic identity (Tabouret-Keller 2000, Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, Iskanius 2005, Shannon 2007), but it does not mean just speaking a language, but also feeling a bond with the other groups speaking the same language that is true for the ethnic minorities also (ibid.).

In sum, different schools have emphasized the existence of the language of the origin as the most important trait of ethnic identity, but it is also sometimes true, if the language skills are low and the language use is marginal (e.g. Fishman 1991, 2001, Bilaniuk, Melnik 2008), i.e. regard towards the national language can be positive and supporting without using the language (Bilaniuk, Melnik 2008:436). Today's globalisation because of migration can leave the minorities less opportunities to preserve their ethnic identity (Kidd 2002:195). …

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