Language in the News, Language on TV, Linguistic Stereotypes

Power of the Language of Power (Part 1)

Two articles crossed my desk this week that I thought were worth writing about, and they both have the same idea at their heart: language and how it relates to power. The first, about the Ukraine, I’ll discuss today, and the second, about women directors specifically and gender in the arts more broadly, I’ll write about next week.

I’ve found a few articles about the uprisings/unrest in the Ukraine that mention the importance of the language and cultural differences between Western, European-leaning-and-Ukrainian-speaking Ukraine, and Eastern, Russian-leaning-and-speaking Ukraine. I’ve chosen to share this one from the International Business Times, primarily for the last few paragraphs. They explain that while the languages are “closely related Slavic tongues…they are also distinct languages with separate ethnic and national identities” and how the language you speak can determine whether you’re viewed as a second-class citizen.

Knowing the linguistic and cultural differences can help explain why certain Ukranian citizens prefer to think of themselves as more Russian than Ukrainian, particularly those in Sevastopol with its Russian Naval presence. And why they view intervention by Russian military forces as welcome, rather than as an invasion.

Linguistics and how it relates to the concept of national identity has been studied by several sociolinguists, including work focusing on the many countries formed after the fall of the Soviet Union. When politics or economics draw boundary lines, they don’t always take the more personally and socially relevant concepts like language and culture into consideration. And as we’re seeing in the Ukraine, the resulting clashes will be heard around the world.


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