Friday, October 24, 2008

Thanks to Vitaliy of The 8th Circle, I've discovered a number of interesting papers on Ukraine presented in the past few years at Danyliw Research Seminar on Contemporary Ukraine Studies at the University of Ottawa.

One presentation was delivered in 2006 by a friend of ours, Laada Bilaniuk (Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Washington): Language in the Balance: The Politics of Non-Accommodation in Bilingual Ukrainian-Russian Television Shows.

Here's a .pdf link to Laada's paper -

And here's a page on Laada's book, published by Cornell University Press, also in 2006: CONTESTED TONGUES: Language Politics and Cultural Correction in Ukraine.

I'm still reading Laada's paper, so no comments from me yet - just wanted to share some links.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the links, Neeka!

    I’ve read The politics of non-accommodation in bilingual Ukrainian-Russian television shows with great delight.

    This is a highly insightful look into how non-accommodating bilingualism on Ukrainian television both promotes and demotes the Ukrainian language. It’s a must-read for Westerners living in Ukraine, eager to learn more about the Ukrainian language and culture.

    Television indeed offers a wealth of non-accommodation examples. By contrast, among the general population, it’s accommodation that appears to be more prevalent.

    Most of the accommodation can be traced from people who speak Ukrainian and Russian equally well to people who speak Russian only but understand some Ukrainian. Thus, we're dealing with asymmetric bilingualism, a product of Russification, as supported by the statistics below.

    According to the 2001 Census, 77.8 percent identified themselves as Ukrainians, but only 67.5 percent stated Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Moreover, while 14.8 percent of ethnic Ukrainians reported Russian as their mother tongue, only 3.9 percent of ethnic Russians claimed Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Because of Russification, one can argue that it is easier for an Anglophone Canadian to learn French than for a Russophone Ukrainian to learn Ukrainian.

    Most of the unscripted non-accommodation on political talk shows occurs between fully bilingual Politician X, who traditionally speaks Ukrainian in public, and partially bilingual Politician Y, who comprehends Ukrainian but does not speak Ukrainian, or fully bilingual Politician Z, who prefers to speak Russian to appeal to a Russophone audience. (There can be a certain degree of role flexibility between Y and Z, proFFessor Yanukovych being the best example: fully bilingual but not fully literate.)

    Bilaniuk made a good point dissecting the practice of pairing a Ukrainian-speaking host with a Russian-speaking one, usually of the opposite sex. While the practice may provide some linguistic coziness, it also provides a disincentive to mastering Ukrainian. Besides, it often involves imperfect Ukrainian, linguistic masks, air time imbalances and verbal/nonverbal cues that put Ukrainian at a disadvantage. This perpetuates the inferiority complex instituted by Russification.

    In covering the issue of television surzhyk, Bilaniuk should have interpolated the accommodation phenomenon of Verka Serduchka and her pre-Lasha Tumbai repertoire, most notably the “SV-Show.” On the “SV-Show,” Serduchka wallowed in surzhyk-laced escapades, playing the culturally inferior role of a “country bumpkin Uke” who accommodated guest stars from Russian showbiz.

    In addition to that sitcom, Serduchka made loads of money as a vocalist, touring Russia with hit songs that catered to Russian stereotypes of Ukrainian culture. I call this genre Ukesploitation, the Ukrainian version of blaxploitation.

    In conversations with diaspora Ukrainians who fell in love with Serduchka’s artistic character, I made an interesting discovery: Not all of them were aware of the full range of Serduchka’s repertoire and its cultural dimensions. I can’t blame them for it: The “SV-Show” did not run in North America, and even if it did, not all diaspora Ukrainians would have understood its slant.

    That’s why an author whose Ukrainian roots survived the melting pot makes for such a good read. It was a pleasure to read views that mirror mine and to pick up useful terminology.

    I totally agree with Laada Bilaniuk that younger generations of Ukrainians tend to be more proficient in Ukrainian and more fluent in English.