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Russian and Ukrainian in a time of war

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The Guardian published a report that it seems that many Ukrainians whose first language is Russian are trying to change the language they use most often to Ukrainian.  The article can be found  at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/apr/24/russian-speaking-ukrainians-want-to-shed-language-of-the-oppressor

There are interesting comments about how Russian had been seen as the language of the city of Kharkiv/Kharkov and how Ukrainian speaking people from the countryside had faced stigma and had often switched to Russian. 

There seems to have been a dramatic increase in the use of Ukrainian in formerly Russian speaking areas.  This has not happened suddenly and one speaker says she decided to use Ukrainian more after 2014 but this change has become more marked since last year's invasion.

One person in the article referred to Russian as a lingua franca and presumably it still could be if there become more contacts with other countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union.  It will be interesting to see whether people in Ukraine continue to learn and speak Russian because of its instrumental usefulness or focus even more on languages like English and German.

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Open Learn Ukrainian course

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 8 Nov 2022, 15:23

There is now a free Ukrainian course on Open Learn 


I think it is particularly aimed at people who have contact with Ukrainian refugees but I am finding it interesting as someone who knows Russian and is interested in that part of the world in general.  

I have done the first two weeks of the five week course.  I had started learning Ukrainian on Duolingo.  This Open Learn course is generally better.  It is more contextualised and teaches in a more varied way that the “sink or swim” approach of Duolingo - I wonder if I could have coped without my knowledge of Russian because nothing is really taught on Duolingo.

The Open Learn course has discussion forums and they provide some social learning but they have not been used much yet.  There has been some feedback and I hope that as more people join there will be more interaction.
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Language issues - Russian and Ukrainian

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Aug 2022, 17:07

As often, the London Review of Books has an interesting blog posting related to some of the language issues regarding the invasion of Ukraine and how language choices may often reflect the social realities (Hanafin 2022).  The writer is studying Russian in Paris.

One point that is made is that Ukrainian is very different from Russian.  I am trying to learn Ukrainian on Duolingo and my previous knowledge of Russian is a great aid in this but I am struck by how much is different.  The language distance seems as great as between Russian and Slovak.  Incidentally, there is mention of the language/dialect distinction and this is always a political rather than a linguistic one (there is a famous quotation that a language is a dialect ""a dialect with an army and a navy" (attributed to Weinreich, RLG 2010).

A second point that resonated was the way that teaching examples might change.  So, Hanafin describes how his teacher is adding points about how people and institutions referred to in the texts used for teaching are affected by the war.  This seems to be a reminder that texts used for teaching are not politically neutral and presumably ignoring the war would be a political choice that for Russians would be tacit support for the war.  In a similar way, many language teaching texts address political issues such as climate change.  Language teachers may not be politicians but they do have political as well as language and teaching interests.

Hanafin refers to the way some refugees he encounters "couldn't or wouldn't speak Russian".  The latter seems more plausible to me but of course, I do not really know.  I can imagine that many Ukrainians may now have a negative attitude to the language of the invaders.  This slightly reminds me of a more trivial example I experienced in Hungary.  I do not speak Hungarian and encountered a waiter who did not speak English and seemed apologetic about this, I tried French and again he seemed apologetic but when I tried Russian, he seemed indignant that I asked. 

Hanafin S (2022) Translation exercises LRB Blogs at https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2022/july/translation-exercises?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20220803blog&utm_content=20220803blog+CID_dc3d5ac355cacfedc0624ee8c34eefb4&utm_source=LRB%20email&utm_term=Read%20more {accessed 04/08/22}

RLG (2010) Of dialects, armies and navies The Economist August 4th 2010 at https://www.economist.com/johnson/2010/08/04/of-dialects-armies-and-navies {Accessed 04/08/22}

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