Linguistic conversions

Bilaniuk, Laada. 2020. Linguistic conversions: Nation-building on the self. Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Societies 6(1): 59-82.

Abstract: Linguistic conversion is the choice that some Ukrainians have made to categorically change their everyday linguistic practices, to speak only Ukrainian in all contexts. In a country where most people are at least passively bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian, this move has more symbolic than practical implications for day‐to‐day communication. This symbolic significance is key as the issue of language choice has been central in debates about Ukraine’s policies and its cultural and political orientation. Linguistic conversion is an assertion of agency through active construction of one’s personal identity, which has the potential to shift the overall linguistic landscape and narratives of belonging in the country. This article draws on life‐story interviews as well as published accounts of linguistic conversion of people of both Russian and Ukrainian ethnic descent to examine the circumstances and motivations that have led them to make the choice to speak only Ukrainian. Their stories illuminate the factors shaping ideologies of national belonging in Ukraine.

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