Bilaniuk Laada. Contested Tongues: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 2005. 230 p. Paper. $24.95
Unfortunately, we do not have enough monographs in English devoted to the in-depth research of contemporary situation with the Ukrainian language and specifically rapid and fascinating changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of a new country – Ukraine, which recently celebrated its 17th anniversary of independence.
Professor Laada Bilaniuk published previously a couple of articles in the leading Western journals on sociolinguistic situation in Ukraine, interrelation between Russian and Ukrainian, the problem of mixed language (surzhyk), etc.
Bilaniuk conducted serious and prolonged research in Ukraine, including archival and media research, spent more than two years of fieldwork there. That is why the reviewed book has a solid foundation for conclusions and observations, contrary to some researchers, who are making conclusions on Ukrainian language without any research data.
The author undertakes a serious research of “complexity of identities”, which is not an easy task.
The book consists of Introduction, 6 chapters, Epilogue, Appendix, References and Index.
In the Introduction Bilaniuk clearly defines three main objectives of her monograph:
“examine language ideologies and language politics in Ukraine, including historical context to the extent that it is critical in understanding contemporary dynamics and developments during the first decade of post-Soviet independence”;
“to shine the spotlight on “mixed language” practices in Ukraine”;
“to build on general theories of language and power that so far have been based mostly on the analysis of relatively stable situations” (see pp. 10-11).
The first chapter has the title “Language Paradoxes and Ideologies of Correction”. Strict constraints of book review precludes me from detailed analysis of every/each chapter. Only brief observations will be made and certain points highlighted. The content of the chapter can be revealed in the titles of its subsections: “Ukraine in Cultural and Linguistic Transition”, “Contextualizing Correction: The Legacy of Soviet Language Policies”, “Changes and Continuities in De-Sovietizing Ukraine”, “Post-Soviet Practices”, “Language Paradoxes: Ideology and Power in the Construction of Languages” and “Linguistic Solutions and Dissolutions”.
Particularly interesting and shrewd is her observation about ‘low language’ status of Ukrainian during the ex-USSR period, though being standardized, codified, and having its own literature (see p. 15). Bilaniuk’s precise arguments are presented in the reviewed book. Brief history of language mixing in Ukraine has been provided as well as observation on interrelation between language and dialect. Suffice it to mention here that Ukrainian case is compared with other languages situation and mostly recent references/bibliography are presented. It allows to see the Ukrainian case/situation in a broader perspective.
The second chapter is entitled “Lives of Language: Individual Motivations, Practices and Symbolic Power in a Changing Social Order”. “The life stories of individuals presented here give a sense of how language politics are experienced, how and why corrections are enacted, and what shapes the emergence of ethnolinguistic awareness” – remarks Bilaniuk (p. 37).
Some of the Ukrainian forms, presented by the author, are incorrect (see, for example, dvichnyk should be dviiechnyk (p. 43), colloquial form could be dviiochnyk, or surzhyk form dvoiushnyk, used is Rivne Region in the 70ies, but never dvichnyk; opolonnyk (p. 45) should be opolonyk. Both words are registered in Velykyi tlumachnyi slovnyk suchasnoi ukrains’koi movy by V.T. Busel (Kyiv-Irpin’: Perun, 2002). The first word is on. p. 209 and the second one on p. 675. The dictionary is among Bilaniuk’s references. Skrynky (p. 52) should be skryn’ky, the plural form of moskal’ should be moskali, and not moskal’i (p. 52). There is also problem with transliteration. Some Ukrainian cities are transliterated without soft sign, like Dnipropetrovsk, Dniprodzerzhynsk, Luhansk (though on the same page 49 we find the form Luhans’k with soft sign, Novohrad-Volyns’kyi, Zhytomyrs’ka (p. 65)). The city of Zaporizhia (p. 49) should be transliterated as Zaporizhzhia. Russian neval’aška (p. 63) should be either nevaliashka (Library of Congress system) or nevaljaška (Linguistic transliteration and phonetic transcription). Ohirjochky (little pickles) (p. 63) should be ohirochky in Ukrainian. Or probably a man used the form ohir’ochky? Or was it really ohirjočky? It is so important to present correctly transliterated words when we talk about nuances of pronunciation, meaning, surzhyk, etc. Otherwise, there is no guarantee in other words correctness. You can not read one word in one system, and the second one – in another. The word kacapy, for example, is in Linguistic Transliteration and Phonetic Transcription. The list of inconsistences could be easily continued.
The third chapter “Language at the Threshold: A History of Ideological Categories and Corrections” consists of an Overview of Ukraine’s History; Pre-Soviet Restrictions on Ukrainian Language; Standardization of the Ukrainian Language; Language Policies in the Early Soviet Period; Ukrainianization; Return to Policies of Russification; Russification and Language Engineering in the Late Soviet Period; Language Status and Independence.
The fourth chapter is entitled “Surzhyk; A History of Linguistic Transgressions”. The same remark could be made that Ukrainian words had to be better transliterated. The subsections ‘Ideologies of Purity and Mixing after Independence” and ‘A Typology of Surzhyk and Forces Leading to Language Mixing” are especially interesting and informative. The author distinguishes five major categories of surzhyk: (1) urbanized-peasant surzhyk; (2) village-dialect surzhyk; (3) Sovietized Ukrainian surzhyk; (4) urban bilinguals’ surzhyk (habitual language mixing by bilinguals); and (5) post-independence surzhyk (p. 125). Bilaniuk considers these categories in detail, providing her argumentation and in-depth analysis.
The fifth chapter is entitled “Correction, Criticism, and the Struggle over Status”. There is no reason to capitalize certain Ukrainian words: Пункт Обміну Іноземних Валют (p. 182). Іn Ukrainian it is always Пункт обміну іноземних валют. On page 184 Солодкий дотик/Sweet Touch is presented correctly on the photograph, but wrong underneath it: Solodkyj Dotyk.
The sixth chapter is “Concealing Tensions and Mediating Pluralisms” (especially informative and interesting are subsections “Public Signage and Advertizing: English in the Mix” and “Language Politics on Television”).
The Epilogue is subtitled “The Language of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution”.
The book under review is worthy to be on the bookshelves of major Slavonic European collections, in the libraries of the universities. It provides fresh, summarizing and unbiased look at complex sociolinguistic situation in Ukraine.
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