Spaces of Identity - Part 7

posted by usha on 2005/09/04 13:22

[ Spaces of Identity ]

Language has seemingly been one of the most powerful instruments of building and expressing one's identity. This is so in the case of teenage sociolect, and it is the case with professional language, and with socially and/or ethnically differentiated slang, as well - variations within a theoretically common language.

Europe as a multilingual federation of countries, communities, and nations seems to be aware of the necessity of a fair language policies. Thus, 2002 has been "the year of language". The re-structuring of the teaching of languages and various programmes of support for language projects is still going on. Though, the availabe PDF keeps matters very short and is only speaking of "early language learning" and "content and language integrated learning". The topic of "Regional and Minority Languages of the European Union" informs about varieties, and here are some programmes for safeguarding and promoting minority and less used languages.

Wether Ukraine belongs to Europe culturally is unquestioned, but if it is ever going to join the EU is uncertain. Nevertheless, close relationships and manifold cooperations between the EU and Ukraine have been guaranteed in 2004. A lot has changed in Ukraine since Yushchenko has been elected President of Ukraine. What did not change is the support of the Ukrainian language as lingua franca states Ivan Lozowy in TOL:

Those anxious about Ukrainian now talk about a market-driven russification of publishing. Publications in Russia are freed from most taxes, which is not the case in Ukraine. The number of newspapers printed in Ukrainian dropped from 68 percent in 1990 to 39.6 percent in 1998, with publishers switching to printing in Russia and in Russian to avoid duties. During that same period, the percentage of Ukrainian-language magazines dropped from 90.4 percent to 11.5 percent. And for all the regulation, a mere 18 percent of all television broadcasts in 1999 were in Ukrainian. Ukrainian may have dominated the home, but Russian dominated the media.
The Ukrainian nation is split about the language issue. The tricky thing that cannot be neglected is that it does not matter that almost everybody understands Russian, but that it is a matter of identification, which language one uses actively and passively. The model of language as pure referential means for communication is outdated and has proven wrong. The use of language is the dwelling in a certain dynamic symbolic system signifying much more than verbal acts. The speech act is also an act of self-assertion and self-expression. "History speaks", as a subheading in Lozowy's article is called, on both sides of the concept of language-as-identity, as well as on the (hegemonically, capitalistically, etc.) forced use of the foreign language Russian to the disadvantage of the national language of Ukrainian.

There has been done so much research on language as identity as it developped in the 19th century and so much critique of this concept within Cultural Studies, and Post/colonial Studies. Yet, knowing the problems and "illusions" of the creation of a national identity via a national language does not provide any help to break with the experience of being a linguistic (and thus cultural) minority in one's own country. The issue is too tricky to be solved rationally, since nowhere - neither in EU's programmes nor in the respective academic research or in NGO's activities - the concept of language identity is fundamentally challenged, but approved as being an instrument of power. And this is what Ukrainian (or Latvian or Estonian, or teenage, or black, etc.) personal bodily and mental experience is telling one about.



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