Choosing a Mother Tongue: The Politics of Language and Identity in Ukraine

Author: Corinne A. Seals

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Multilingual Matters
Number of pages:
234mm x 156mm
Price: £99.95
Price: $139.95
Price: €119.95

This book presents a sociocultural linguistic analysis of discourses of conflict, as well as an examination of how linguistic identity is embodied, negotiated and realized during a time of war. It provides new insights regarding multilingualism among Ukrainians in Ukraine and in the diaspora of New Zealand, the US and Canada, and sheds light on the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war on language attitudes among Ukrainians around the world. Crucially, it features an analysis of a new movement in Ukraine that developed during the course of the war – 'changing your mother tongue', which embodies what it is to renegotiate linguistic identity. It will be of value to researchers, faculty, and students in the areas of linguistics, Slavic studies, history, politics, anthropology, sociology and international affairs, as well as those interested in Ukrainian affairs more generally.

Seals examines language and identity among Ukrainians in Ukraine and in diaspora in great depth, introducing for the first time in sociolinguistics the discourse of 'changing your mother tongue' which occurred throughout the narratives of the Ukrainians interviewed by her from 2009 to 2015. The result is a masterful study of language and identity among Ukrainians after the Orange Revolution and during a time of war.

Andrii Danylenko, Pace University, USA

This is a compelling text set against the backdrop of the 2014-2015 war in Ukraine. Complex questions on language, imagined identities, investment, and nationhood are addressed with great skill and exemplary scholarship. Corinne Seals has made an outstanding contribution to contemporary debates on language and identity.

Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia, Canada

Corinne Seals deftly combines fine-grained discourse analysis with a transnational perspective, shedding new light on the dynamics of language and identity construction in Ukraine and its diasporas. This is a valuable book for sociolinguists and regional scholars interested in the impact of the ongoing war on national ideologies and linguistic choices.

Laada Bilaniuk, University of Washington, USA

Choosing a Mother Tongue is a remarkable illustration of the current meta-discursive debate concerning language ideology in Ukraine [...] The volume gives us an opportunity to not only better and more fully understand the linguistic and cultural specificity of the language situation in Ukraine, but also allows a glimpse of the processes of identity construction in discourse and through discourse.

Language in Society 49 (2020)

Seals presents a multifaceted and elegantly cohesive depiction of the linguistic situation in Ukraine and its diaspora communities. In addition, though speaking about a specific people, she presents a nuanced picture of its individual members, successfully working around the problem of essentialization that typically accompanies this type of research.

LINGUIST List 31.2015

Seals' book is an empirically rich, theoretically relevant and stylistically approachable contribution. It will be of value to scholars working on language and identity in post-soviet contexts, or contexts of migration, and to those interested in language shift and language maintenance. It also has an easy to read style, which makes it relevant to advanced scholars as well as those who are new to the field.

Language and Education, 2020

Corinne A. Seals is Senior Lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She is co-editor of Heritage Language Policies Around the World (with S. Shah; 2017, Routledge) and Embracing Multilingualism Across Educational Contexts (with V. I. Olsen-Reeder; 2019, VU University Press). Her research interests include language and identity, language and politics and Ukrainian issues.

Chapter 1. Historical Language Ideologies and Sociopolitical Conflict in Ukraine

Chapter 2. Language and Identity After the Orange Revolution                   

Chapter 3. Othering and Positioning During a Time of War            

Chapter 4. Who's Responsible? The Politics of Language

Chapter 5. Renegotiating Identity and 'Changing Your Mother Tongue'

Chapter 6. Investment and Loyalty in the Ukrainian Diaspora

Chapter 7. 'It Doesn't Matter What You Speak': Challenges to Dominant Language Ideologies by Ukrainian Young Adults

Concluding Thoughts     


Postgraduate, Research / Professional
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