Sociolinguistic Transition in Former Eastern Bloc Countries

Two Decades after the Regime Change

by Marián Sloboda (Volume editor) Petteri Laihonen (Volume editor) Anastassia Zabrodskaja (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 494 Pages


This volume offers empirical perspectives on the current sociolinguistic situations in former Eastern Bloc countries. Its seventeen chapters analyse phenomena such as language choice, hierarchies and ideologies in multilingualism, language policies, minority languages in new legal, educational, business and migratory contexts, as well as the position of English in the region. The authors use various methodological approaches – including surveys, discourse analyses, descriptions and analyses of linguistic landscapes, and ethnography – in order to deal with sociolinguistic issues in eight countries and seven regions, from Brandenburg, Germany, in the West to Sakhalin, Russia, in the East.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Petteri Laihonen, Anastassia Zabrodskaja & Marián Sloboda - What transition, which sociolinguistics?
  • Part I: Minorities in the Russian Federation
  • Ekaterina Gruzdeva - Treasure Island at the turn of the millennium: The socioeconomic and sociolinguistic situation on Sakhalin, Russia
  • Hèctor Alòs i Font - The Chuvash language in the Chuvash Republic: An example of the rapid decline of one of Russia’s major languages
  • Nina Dobrushina - Multilingualism in highland Daghestan throughout the 20th century
  • Part II: East Central Europe
  • Verena Mezger - Sociolinguistic transition in a former GDR region: Multilingual Brandenburg and its challenges
  • Krzysztof Przygoński - Political transformation as a trigger for a sociolinguistic revolution in post-socialist Poland: English and its rising power
  • Marián Sloboda - Transition to super-diversity in the Czech Republic: its emergence and resistance
  • Attila Benő & János Péntek - Hungarians in Transylvania: Language policy and mainstream language ideologies in Romania
  • Jelena Timotijević - The sociolinguistic transition of the discourse of nationalism in Serbia from Tito to neoliberal crash in the 2000s
  • Part III: Baltic countries
  • Birute Klaas-Lang - State policies and institutional language choice: The vitality of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian in higher education
  • Meilutė Ramonienė & Loreta Vilkienė - Changes in the social value of languages in urban areas of Lithuania, 1990–
  • Brigita Séguis - Post-Soviet multilingualism: Code-switching in the Polish community in Lithuania
  • Kadri Koreinik - Multilingualism on the periphery: Valuing languages in south-eastern Estonia
  • Part IV: Ukraine, a European republic of the former USSR
  • István Csernicskó & Viktória Ferenc - Transitions in the language policy of Ukraine (1989–2014)
  • Olga Ivanova - Language situation in post-Soviet Kyiv: Ukrainian and Russian in the linguistic landscape and communicative practices
  • Part V: Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country of the former USSR
  • Sholpan Zharkynbekova & Damira Akynova - Ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan: Analysis of language preferences among high school students
  • Sholpan Zharkynbekova & Aliya Aimoldina - The role of English language in the context of new language policy implementation in Kazakhstan
  • Maganat Shegebayev - Linguistic diversity and business communication in today’s Kazakhstan
  • Contributing Authors
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index

| 9 →


We would like to thank all our contributors for the tremendous efforts they put into writing and revising their chapters, and for reviewing chapters of their colleagues. We are grateful to Juliet Langman, Jiří Nekvapil, Josep Soler-Carbonell and Tamás Péter Szabó for their valuable advice and to Tamah Sherman and Matthew Wuethrich for polishing our English.

The book received funding from Charles University Research Development Programme no. 10 – Linguistics, the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, the Czech Science Foundation (grant no. GP14-08343P), and the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Jyväskylä.

The editors

| 11 →


| 13 →

Petteri Laihonen, Anastassia Zabrodskaja & Marián Sloboda

What transition, which sociolinguistics?

1 Introduction

The present interdisciplinary book aims to investigate various aspects of the sociolinguistic situations of the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries which have started to emerge after the fall of the communist regimes at the turn of the 1990s. The book examines new sociolinguistic phenomena that have resulted from and accompanied the processes of transition.

The transition itself has been multifaceted and has occurred in various directions in different countries: from communist socialism to neoliberal democracy or authoritarianism, from a centrally planned economy to a free-market system or a mixture of both, from communal life to competitive individualism in some countries, from the policy of closed borders to international openness or a leaking closure in the context of increasing mobility, transnationalism and globalization. One of the most topical sociolinguistic dilemmas relates to changing status and use of languages (this is seen in the debate over the former language of interethnic communication – in Russian, язык межнационального общения – versus national/titular languages), including top-down initiatives and legislative measures by the nationalizing states as well as a bottom-up shift in everyday individual linguistic practices and cultural orientations.

The book covers a vast geographical area, including East Central Europe (the former German Democratic Republic, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Serbia) and the post-Soviet Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), a European republic of the former Soviet Union (Ukraine), a Central Asian country (Kazakhstan) as well as the Russian Federation (Chuvash Republic, the Republic of Dagestan and Sakhalin Island). The book provides a window for comparisons of sociolinguistic developments, taking into account the striking heterogeneity over such a large area.

The post-communist transition has had a profound and complex impact on the lives of individuals and societies. A number of political, economic and social aspects of the transition have received a great deal of scholarly as well as popular attention. However, the sociolinguistic aspects of these complex, dynamic and sometimes dramatic processes have received very few book-length treatments in English (see Andrews 2008; Pavlenko 2008; and the two special issues by Zabrodskaja and Ehala published in 2014 and 2015; also see some of the articles in Laitinen and Zabrodskaja 2015; for earlier edited volumes in both German and English, see Panzer 2000 and Zybatow 2000). To fill this gap, this book presents a collection of studies focusing on sociolinguistic dilemmas and issues related to the socioeconomic transition of the 1990s and 2000s. ← 13 | 14 →

Two decades after the fall of the communist regimes, the outcomes of the initial language policies set at the beginning of the transitions from above by the political and social actors within and outside the countries are now easier to identify on the ground (for studies on the Baltic region, see e.g. Cheskin 2013 and Zabrodskaja 2014). The chapters in this volume investigate these developments and their recent outcomes. The chapters vary in their topics, theoretical backgrounds, methodological approaches and frameworks such as language policy and planning, language choice and ideologies, languages in education and language and mobility.

2 On diversity and super-diversity

The need for this volume was expressed during a panel on linguistic super-diversity in former Eastern Bloc and post-Soviet countries at ‘Language and Superdiversity: Explorations and Interrogations’, a conference held in Jyväskylä, Finland, in June 2013 (for a detailed report, see Sloboda 2014). In this book we are summarizing, how super-diversity evolves in the discourses on state legislation, the speech communities themselves and the transnational forces and individuals trying to cope from below with the demands of top-down legislation, environment and identity. This discussion continues to be an important strand in Western European sociolinguistics, too.

The term super-diversity has not yet been applied to the regions that belonged to the Eastern Bloc. This is because, as Vertovec (2010: 87) argues, ‘super-diversity is a term intended to capture a level and kind of complexity surpassing anything many migrant-receiving countries have previously experienced’. The former Eastern Bloc has had a long history of a negative balance in migration. However, since the opening of borders after the fall of the communist regimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the region has experienced an influx of Western capital and culture followed by increasing rates of immigration (cf. Brunarska, Nestorowicz & Markowski 2014; Okólski 2004; Sloboda, in this volume). At the same time, homogenizing nationalist movements – aiming to create nation-states on the debris of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia – have gained momentum. These challenges, brought on by changes in sociopolitical situations, deserve far more attention than they have received so far. This volume argues that they should be examined in the context of the region’s past and the increasing complexity of its present vis-à-vis the concurrent nation-building and vari-directional transitions.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia have traditionally been diverse areas in the ethnolinguistic sense. In Western European nation states, in contrast, economic modernization entailed the exclusion of minority languages from education, media and administration. As a result, suggests Wright (2009: 98), ‘the congruence of language and state was successfully achieved: there are now no monolingual minority-language speakers in states such as France and the UK’. Although many formerly multicultural cities in the East also monolingualized due to industrialization and repopulation after WWII, it is not difficult to find Russian monolinguals in the Baltic countries (among older generations), not to mention in Ukraine, or rural monolingual Hungarian speakers in Romania or Slovakia. As Pavlenko (2011: 39) points out, the Soviet Union never ← 14 | 15 → made Russian the sole language of education. Rather, it made ‘instruction in the native language’ of the historical minorities possible. This practice was in line with the communists’ nationality policy and also adopted by the other countries of the Eastern Bloc.

While internal migration within the Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union was intense, towards end of the socialist period, the governments severely restricted international migration – not only to and from, in the words of the official discourse, the ‘imperialist’ West, but also between the ‘friendly nations’ themselves. The collapse of the old social order brought about the rise of nationalist values and feelings, including a ‘monolingual turn’ (Pavlenko 2013: 266), spreading the monolingual ideals of the nation-state. But the subsequent transition has brought unseen international mobility and rapid globalization into previously self-isolating Eastern societies. The Western world has appeared in the East in many ways. As soon as the Soviet Bloc opened up its borders, a high number of English teachers arrived in the area to meet the demand for the teaching of English (see Prendergast 2008). The knowledge of English has become an important factor for social division in the global economy in the region as well (Gal 2012; Przygoński, this volume). Western/global businesses have appeared not only in large cities, with their dense communicative environment, but also in many small towns (see Shegebayev, in this volume, on how English influences business communication in Kazakhstan). In the urban landscapes, this transition began with fast food restaurants and continued with shopping malls. In rural Eastern Europe, a significant number of low-cost Asian products, sold by Asian migrants, have been introduced to village markets, and new industrial plants built by multinational companies have brought about changes to the life of local communities (on oil drilling companies’ impact on traditional communities on Sakhalin, see Gruzdeva, in this volume). Due to advancing European integration, the region’s populations have started to migrate within the region as well as to the West in great numbers. However, some of the new EU member states and Russia have also started to attract significant numbers of economic migrants, particularly from Asia.

The goal of our panel at the ‘Language and Super-Diversity’ conference was to investigate the forms of past linguistic diversity and to see what has happened to this diversity in the context of new national identity formation and globalization. The tensions between the continuing nation-building processes and the incoming super-diversification were another important topic (Berezkina 2015; Zabrodskaja 2014). During the panel, we considered the different policies used to ensure the hegemony of the national languages over various minority languages, together with heteroglossic practices of increasing transnational interaction. The East Central European transition from centrally governed states to democracies modelled on Western Europe has been a foregrounded process, but by no means a universal one. How has the transition affected the forms of the incipient super-diversity in the region? The panel found that the current situation in the former Soviet sphere of influence – where historical diversity combines with new national identities, migrant diversity, globalization, transnationalism and post-multinationalism (Brubaker 2011) – required further analysis of its linguistic historiography and the consequences for linguistic practices and language ideologies among various groups. ← 15 | 16 →

3 On transition

Gal and Kligman (2000: 10), in their seminal essay ‘The politics of gender after socialism’, remark that transition, as a term to mark the rupture caused by the collapse of communist socialism, advocates a concept of history as an evolutionary process. The evolutionary view of history is a popular one indeed, as the title of books such as Heller’s (2011) influential monograph Paths to Post-Nationalism seems to indicate, where history is shifting into a specific, universal direction. Monica Heller, like most sociolinguists of our time, does not work with Eastern European contexts, and Brubaker (2011) has suggested that a ‘post-multinationalism’ stage has begun with the transition. That is, multicultural federations (e.g. the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia) have been divided into smaller units, which have then begun nation-building enterprises. These efforts have in turn been encouraged by post-WWII, Western European models of diversity management, which themselves have been based on the hegemony of one language over politics, education, media and administration.

Following an evolutionary concept of history, Eastern Europe should thus go through a stage that includes the swift construction and stabilization of a core culture, including language, after which it could enter the next stage of development: the post-nationalist era (Heller 2011). Despite the popularity of the evolutionary concept of history, knowledge of actual events and developments in Eastern Europe since 1989 indicates that the evolutionary view of history has little explanatory value in the case of most of Eastern Europe. For sociolinguistic research, the evolutionary concept of history has been central in making the unique linguistic developments in Eastern Europe uninteresting to researchers. For instance, the contribution of Eastern European minorities to linguistic diversity has been under-researched and often misinterpreted when the models of language policy established in the Western context have been followed (Pavlenko 2011). Research on unrecognized indigenous linguistic minorities in Eastern Europe has been especially meagre because the main interest has been on the new majority, national or titular languages, as well as on issues related to Russian (e.g. Ryazanova-Clarke 2014; Brown 2013; Pavlenko 2013, 2008).

A further problem with the concept of transition is that it presumes all aspects of life were different between the two sides of the Cold War. This illusion was partly constructed by the institutional division of social science in the West, which did not investigate parallels between the two systems (Gal & Kligman 2000: 8). Problems with the term transition also include the idea that ‘all aspects of society change and in the same direction’ (Gal & Kligman 2000: 11). Such an idea hides or obscures the continuities that are observable in most Eastern European and post-Soviet societies and that also have parallels with pre-1989 capitalist countries.

In brief, the field of sociolinguistics in general is skewed (Heller & Duchêne 2012: 15) towards Western Europe and North America. Rather than claim global validity, the newest paradigms can be reconsidered in light of data from Eastern European contexts. Against this backdrop, authors in this volume follow Gal and Kligman’s (2000) practice of taking a critical stance towards terms such as ‘transition’ and not taking its premises and implications for granted. Furthermore, the editing of this ← 16 | 17 → volume has taught us lessons in how the term is interpreted in various ways. Some of our authors consider it to be a process that took place in the 1990s, and others view it as a more longue durée phenomenon, where the endpoint of something perceived as stability is not yet in sight.

Sociolinguistic transition, as a change in a language regime accompanying an overall political, social and economic transformation, is certainly not specific to the former Eastern Bloc or to the so-called post-communist countries, but has appeared in other parts of the world and involved other types of government as well. This volume opens up space for possible wider comparisons that could provide more insight into the phenomenon of transition and into the nature of social organization, social order and change in general. Admittedly, such comparisons are not easy to carry out, as they require good knowledge of very different settings, and this volume does not have such aspirations, but see, for example, an already existing comparative study by Rudwick (2014) on post-transition perceptions of the languages promoted by former political regimes, Russian and Afrikaans, in the Czech Republic and South Africa, respectively. The present volume, which provides rich explorations of a range of settings in Eastern Europe, serves as an English-language source of knowledge that can be used for similar comparisons in the future.

4 On previous research

Sociolinguistic research was already carried out in the socialist era. It was based on local traditions, such as the Prague School (see Choupek & Nekvapil 1986; Nekvapil & Ondrejovič 1993), but basic Western sources (e.g. Haugen, Hymes and Labov) have also been translated into Russian (the language of wider communication or lingua franca of the whole area) as well as into local languages (e.g., Chemodanov 1975; Haugen 1975). Even though there used to be various, and at times somewhat random, obstacles to free choice of topics and research questions, early sociolinguist careers in the Eastern Bloc did emerge (cf. Harlig & Pléh 1995).1

Despite the fact that the works of Mikhail Bakhtin and Valentin Voloshinov are considered to be forerunners of sociolinguistics in the West, in general a highly normative, purist and prescriptionist approach to language became prominent in Eastern European universities and academies in a substantial part of the region during the socialist era (see Harlig & Pléh 1995). The Prague School was a notable exception, in that its programmatically anti-purist and functionalist approach alleviated the prescriptionist practice of schools. In some Eastern European countries, the normative strand has retained a strong position. In the socialist period this normative strand best fit the idea of a strong central authority. Now, however, it is fuelled mostly by nationalist arguments. The goal of homogenous and normative reproduction of speakers of the standardized national language has replaced communist ← 17 | 18 → core ideologies. In Estonia and Slovakia, in particular, even legislative steps have been taken to ensure the primacy of the standard variety of the national languages in public use and especially in public spaces. Visual manifestations of national revival measures have also been frequently embodied in changes of toponomy (see Zabrodskaja 2014). Of course not all linguists have joined the ranks of normative, authoritative or national-minded academics, in neither the socialist period nor since the change of regime. Critical studies on various linguistic phenomena have been carried out in most Eastern European regions, too (for an overview, see Druviete 2009 and Kontra, Nekvapil & Kiełkiewicz-Janowiak 2009).

From a Western point of view, knowing your enemy made the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc interesting during the Cold War. Sociolinguists from the West have been involved in the study of Eastern Europe through the most severe periods dictatorship, such as Ceauşescu’s Romania in the 1970s (see, e.g., McClure & McClure 1988 and Verdery 1985). Since the change of regime, conducting collaborative research on the new and unexplored situations offers, in the sense of Pennycook (2012: 29), ‘possibilities of critical thought’ for Western researchers (cf. Csernicskó & Laihonen 2016). Cooperation with Eastern European researchers has proven useful, as it provides more insights into local phenomena, especially when it requires long-term observations, and their interpretation in different local frames (e.g. Brubaker et al. 2006; Zabrodskaja & Ehala 2015). In this way, international researchers can also reassess their premises or combine local perspectives with their perspective as an outside researcher (see, e.g., Besters-Dilger 2009; Hentschel, Taranenko & Zaprudski 2014; Laihonen & Tódor 2015; Pavlenko 2008; among others). Still, cooperation between researchers affiliated with Western European or North American universities and Eastern European academics have remained rather small scale even today. Despite some individual projects (see Pavlenko 2008; Gal 2008; Langman 2012), there has been no sociolinguistic theoretical breakthrough from a larger project, such as LINEE (Rindler Schjerve & Vetter 2012), that has included Eastern European researchers. This volume begins the process of understanding the sociolinguistic dimension of recent world events in the Eastern hemisphere while awaiting a major venture integrating Eastern European and Central Asian perspectives into the mainstream and invigorating sociolinguistics to fit new contexts and developments that have been bypassed or marginalized in the West.

5 The chapters in this volume

Our volume is a compilation of studies on the social aspects of languages in the former Eastern Bloc. Such collections are still an exception in the fields of sociolinguistics or applied linguistics (cf. Kramsch 2015). In our selection of articles, we took every effort to include a diversity of approaches and settings. For the sake of interdisciplinarity, we have accepted some articles which go beyond the realm of sociolinguistics. Methodologically, the papers include both qualitative and quantitative methods. We believe that, for a reader, it is instructive to become acquainted ← 18 | 19 → with and compare different case studies from one region or to be introduced to phenomena with the help of a similar approach applied to different settings.

The chapters are divided into five sections on the basis of geography. Although we understand the shortcomings of such an approach (e.g. sometimes contact zones between different regions are discussed), it allows readers to grasp situations in five regions and obtain a ‘thick description’ of the developing contexts in the former Eastern Bloc.

The volume opens with a section on minorities in the Russian Federation. Ekaterina Gruzdeva describes the situation of Sakhalin indigenous communities under the social, political and economic changes that occurred before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, highlighting, for example, the impact of raw material extraction by supranational companies on the extinction of indigeneous languages.

In his article, Hèctor Alòs i Font takes readers to the Chuvash Republic. Alòs i Font examines knowledge of Chuvash, intergenerational language transmission, language use and attitudes towards Chuvash language among upper-secondary school students. This article echoes the previous one in a sense: a local language competing with Russian loses its position, notwithstanding the fact that Chuvash is an official language.

The section ends with Nina Dobrushina’s exploration of the case of Daghestanian villages where, unlike in many other areas of the Russian Federation (including the two previously mentioned), speakers are able to maintain knowledge of local native languages. In these villages, individual multilingualism is highly distributed and a striking heterogeneity is observed.

The next section is devoted to East Central Europe. Verena Mezger describes the family language policy of Polish–German and multilingual parents in the former GDR state of Brandenburg. She concludes that contemporary migration flows have found their way to Brandenburg and that the Polish-speaking parents form a heterogeneous group with regards to passing on the Polish language to their children. Mezger’s article also contributes to the understanding of contemporary forms of the historically burdened Polish–German communication on the personal level as well as on the societal level of language policy.

Krzysztof Przygoński focuses on the growing role of English in Poland. After the fall of communism, compulsory Russian lessons were replaced mainly by the teaching of English as a foreign language. This has led to an influx of English language and culture experiences into a once-secluded society. English is perceived as a useful contribution to societal changes in the context of internationalization.

Marián Sloboda describes the nature of emerging super-diversity in the Czech Republic. Using both quantitative macro-level data and qualitative evidence, he documents the Czech Republic’s transition to a net immigration country and the transformation of its capital Prague into a site of super-diversity. From this viewpoint, the Czech Republic is placed somewhere in-between Western Europe and the rest of East Central Europe. Nevertheless, strict policy towards economic migration from ‘third’ countries during and after the Great Recession and negligible numbers of refugees make further diversification less likely. ← 19 | 20 →

Attila Benő and János Péntek examine the linguistic rights of the Hungarian minority in Romania. The Hungarians are among the largest ethnic and linguistic minorities in East Central Europe. Among the large Hungarian minority communities in the Eastern Bloc, Hungarians in Romania had the best starting-point after World War II (Kamusella 2012: 694) but ended up with the worst status by the 1980s. This background informs the premises in Benő and Péntek’s article, which examine the expectations and current situation of the status of Hungarian following the end of Ceauşescu’s national communism (see Verdery 1991).

In her article, Jelena Timotijević deals with how political discourses first in Yugoslavia and then in Serbia have changed. She analyses the discourses that initially enabled a union of different ethnicities but which ultimately led to war and the fracturing of the federation into smaller countries. Josip Broz Tito constructed and cherished the idea of Yugoslav nationalism, whereas the new elite that followed him turned to traditional ethnic nationalism, which broke the political solidarity between the parts of the federation, as well as the linguistic bonds enabling communication between the various groups of people. This article helps to understand the ideologies of nationalism in the Eastern Bloc federations, and the downplaying of Western European ethnic nationalism during the socialist era, which also helped the major linguistic minorities to survive modernization.

The Baltic countries are considered in four articles, all approaching local language situations in diverse spheres. Birute Klaas-Lang looks at the implementation of institutional management of languages of instruction in higher education in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Titular languages are clearly supported institutionally, but in the context of internationalization and the increasing numbers of students coming from abroad, the presence of English is mobilized and has now become part and parcel of the transnational educational mobility process.

In an attempt to measure the social value of Lithuanian, Russian and English since the restoration of independence in 1990, Meilutė Ramonienė and Loreta Vilkienė consider local multilingualism in large cities in Lithuania. They have a special focus on language use in different spheres and the attitudes towards such uses among various ethnic groups. The authors also discuss an intergenerational shift in the case of English and Russian. The former, under the conditions of globalization, acts as a foreign language best known by the younger generations, and the latter has become increasingly used as a means of interethnic communication by members of older generations.

Brigita Séguis continues research on trilingualism in Lithuania from another angle, namely, languages-in-contact, examining three languages, specifically the cases of Polish–Russian and Polish–Lithuanian code-switching. In an overview of the various types of code-switching present in the data set, the author analyses its properties in the light of modern contact linguistics models. It is also noteworthy to mention that, in the case of Poles, one cannot say that there are significant differences intergenerationally nor that the knowledge of Russian is decreasing among younger generations.

Kadri Koreinik examines a case of multilingualism on the periphery where four languages interplay: Võru as one of the southern Estonian varieties, standard Estonian as an official language, global English, and Russian as a former dominant language. ← 20 | 21 → The post-Soviet sociolinguistic situation in Estonia has mostly been considered from the point of view of language policy and macro-sociolinguistics, with a focus on the question of Soviet-era newcomers. This study provides necessary insights into situations where other varieties, Võru in particular, are used in real life.

The articles focusing on Ukraine as a European republic of the former USSR provide additional insights into language policy. István Csernicskó and Viktória Ferenc offer a broad view of language policy in Ukraine. They also include a more detailed discussion of one particular region, Transcarpathia (see also Csernicskó & Laihonen 2016). Csernicskó and Ferenc seek to understand recent developments in Ukrainian statehood from a perspective that does not simply reduce the discussion to a case of replacing Russian with Ukrainian. While the mainstream view has been effective in political campaigns both internally and internationally, they outline how the practical manifestations of language policy and the grassroots multilingual reality, with various minorities and regional majorities, paint a different picture.

Among the former Eastern Bloc countries, issues of language policy have been perhaps the most emotionally loaded in Ukraine. Since the country’s independence in 1991, news stories about fistfights in the Rada (Parliament) while drawing up language regulations have become familiar around the world. Csernicskó and Ferenc are Hungarian minority researchers in Ukraine. However, they take a comparative and holistic perspective on Ukrainian language policy in general, and provide an explanation of Ukrainian developments from a critical insider’s point of view.

Olga Ivanova offers a sociolinguistic description of Kyiv, which in the Soviet period was Russian from both above and below, whereas now it is increasingly Ukrainian from above. Ivanova meticulously describes the relationship of Ukrainian and Russian in the capital since Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Ivanova stresses that it is remarkable how, since 1991 and despite all the political battles – including the fistfights over language issues in the Rada, Kyiv as a community (at least on the level of inhabitants’ language preferences and practices) has been defined more by continuity and stability than by swift transformation and change. Of course, the events that began in 2014 leave the future unforeseeable.

The fifth and final section leaves Europe behind for Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country of the former USSR. Sholpan Zharkynbekova and Damira Akynova combine the topics of education, trilingualism, students’ language ideologies and preferences. The situation of Kazakh between two powerful languages, namely Russian and English, is described through the lens of high school students representing various ethnic groups. Their examination includes reflections on the rapid changes in the sociolinguistic situation and the re-conceptualization of norms that is taking place, two phenomena that are probably interdependent.

Zharkynbekova and Aliya Aimoldina look more closely at the enhanced presence of English in Kazakhstan. English is strongly encouraged from above but also clearly enjoys non-official support among the younger generations. There is a developing popular discourse about the importance of English, but it is not necessarily linguistic; rather the authors argue that the necessity of English is often understood in terms that are overly instrumental. ← 21 | 22 →

Maganat Shegebayev introduces everyday business language practice patterns in both domestic and international businesses. The author describes how the policy of trilingualism implemented by officials has resulted in the growing use of English in written business communication with the global community, with Kazakh becoming more popular to use as well, and Russian maintaining its position as a language of interethnic communication.


Andrews, E. (ed.) (2008) Linguistic Changes in Post-Communist Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs.

Berezkina, M. (2015) Russian in Estonia’s public sector: ‘playing on the borderline’ between official policy and real-life needs. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2015.1115004.

Besters-Dilger, J. (ed.) (2009) Language Policy and Language Situation in Ukraine: Analysis and Recommendations. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Brown, K. D. (2013) Language policy and education: space and place in multilingual post-Soviet states. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 33, 238–257. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0267190513000093.

Brubaker, R. (2011) Nationalizing states revisited: projects and processes of nationalization in post-Soviet states. Ethnic and Racial Studies 34 (11), 1785–1814. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2011.579137.

Brubaker, R., Feischmidt, M., Fox, J. & Grancea, L. (2006) Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Brunarska, Z., Nestorowicz, J. & Markowski, S. (2014) Internal vs External Migration in Post-Soviet Space. CARIM-East Research Report. CMR Working Papers 67 (125). Warsaw: Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw.

Chemodanov, N. S. [Чемоданов, Н. С.] (ed.) (1975) Новое в лингвистике, выпуск VII: социолингвистика [The New in Linguistics, Issue 7: Sociolinguistics]. Москва: Прогресс.

Cheskin, A. (2013) Exploring Russian-speaking identity from below: the case of Latvia. Journal of Baltic Studies 44 (3), 287–312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01629778.2012.712335.

Chloupek, J. & Nekvapil, J. (eds) (1986) Reader in Czech Sociolinguistics. Praha: Academia.

Csernicskó, I. & Laihonen, P. (2016) Hybrid practices meet nation state language policies: Transcarpathia in the 20th century and today. Multilingua 36 (1), 1–30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/multi-2014-0073.

Druviete, I. (2009) The development of sociolinguistics in the Baltic States. In M. Ball (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics Around the World. Abingdon: Routledge, 402–411. ← 22 | 23 →

Gal, S. (2008) Hungarian as a minority language. In G. Extra & D. Gorter (eds) Multilingual Europe: Facts and Policies. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 207–232.

Gal, S. (2012) Sociolinguistic regimes and the management of “diversity”. In A. Duchêne, & M. Heller (eds) Language in Late Capitalism: Pride and Profit. Routledge: New York, 22–42.

Gal, S. & Kligman, G. (2000) The Politics of Gender after Socialism. Princeton University Press: Princeton.

Harlig, J. & Pléh C. (eds) (1995) When East Met West: Sociolinguistics in the Former Socialist Bloc. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Haugen, E. (1975) Stigmata bilingvismu [Stigmata of bilingualism]. Slovo a slovesnost 36 (1), 8–17.

Heller, M. (2011) Paths to Post-Nationalism: A Critical Ethnography of Language and Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hentschel, G., Taranenko, O. & Zaprudski, S. M. (eds) (2014) Trasjanka und Suržyk – gemischte weißrussisch-russische und ukrainisch-russische Rede: sprachlicher Inzest in Weißrussland und der Ukraine? Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Kamusella, T. (2012) The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Kontra, M., Nekvapil, J. & Kiełkiewicz-Janowiak, A. (2009) Sociolinguistics in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. In M. Ball (ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Sociolinguistics Around the World. Abingdon: Routledge, 359–371.

Kramsch, C. (2015) Applied linguistics: a theory of the practice. Applied Linguistics 2015: 36/4: 454–465. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/applin/amv039.

Laihonen, P. & Tódor, E. (2015) The changing schoolscape in a Szekler village in Romania. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2015.1051943.

Laitinen, M. & Zabrodskaja, A. (eds) (2015) Dimensions of Sociolinguistic Landscapes in Europe: Materials and Methodological Solutions. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Langman, J. (2012) Analyzing qualitative data: Mapping the research trajectory in multilingual contexts. In R. Bayley, R. Cameron & C. Lucas (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics. Oxford University Press, 241–260.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Multilingualism Globalisation Post-Soviet countries Central and Eastern Europe
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 494 pp., 46 b/w fig., 42 tables

Biographical notes

Marián Sloboda (Volume editor) Petteri Laihonen (Volume editor) Anastassia Zabrodskaja (Volume editor)

Marián Sloboda is Assistant Professor at the Department of Central European Studies, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Petteri Laihonen is Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Applied Language Studies, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Anastassia Zabrodskaja is Professor of Estonian as a Second Language at Tallinn University and Senior Research Fellow in Sociolinguistics at the University of Tartu, Estonia.


Title: Sociolinguistic Transition in Former Eastern Bloc Countries