The ongoing war in eastern Ukraine has fueled two opposed tendencies in language ideologies and practices, which may be summed up thus: “language does not matter” versus “language matters.” These opposed trends have implications for the definition of what Ukraine is and should be. Those who believe that language does not matter embrace the existing widespread Ukrainian and Russian bilingualism in the country, whether simply because it is the status quo, or due to an ideology rejecting a unitary ethnolinguistic definition of a nation. In contrast, those who believe that language matters consider a titular language to be an important attribute of nationhood. This ideological tendency is divided, based on stance toward Ukraine’s sovereignty: those who support it consider linguistic Ukrainization to be critical, while those who would deny it, particularly in Russian-occupied Crimea and the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, push for Russification. The tugs of war between bilingualism and monolingualism, Ukrainian and Russian languages, ethnonational and civic definitions of the nation are played out everywhere—from parliament to private spaces. This study examines each tendency in turn, how it is manifested, and how it relates to the existing language legislation.
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