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Review of  The Russian Language Outside the Nation

Reviewer: Liubov Baladzhaeva
Book Title: The Russian Language Outside the Nation
Book Author: Lara Ryazanova-Clarke
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Russian
Issue Number: 27.2878

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


‘The Russian Language Outside the Nation’ edited by Lara Ryazanova-Clarke addresses relatively recent phenomena – Russian language spoken in large communities outside Russia and the formation and development of multiple new dialects that are more or less independent of the language of the metropolis. The breakup of the USSR led to the emergence of both Russian-speaking communities in the former Soviet countries and numerous immigrant communities around the world. The book deals with language policies on the micro-level inside the communities, the policies instituted by the countries the speakers live in, and the relationship of these communities with the Russian language spoken in the modern Russia.

Lara Ryazanova-Clarke. “Introduction: The Russian Language, Challenged by Globalisation.”
The introduction focuses on the new status of Russian as a global language, spoken by multiple communities around the world. The chapter offers an overview of the history of the global status of Russian, starting with its role as lingua franca for the linguistic minorities in the Russian Empire and the USSR, the emergence of Russian-speaking diasporas in the 20th century, and the current pluricentric state of Russian which resulted from the divergence and independent sociolinguistic processes happening in the language communities. The introduction also presents an overview of the chapters in the volume.

Part 1: Russian and Its Legal Status

Chapter 1: Michael Newcity. “International Law, Minority Language Rights and Russian(s) in the ‘Near Abroad’.”

This chapter provides an examination of the current legal status of Russian in the former Soviet republics and a controversy regarding its position of a “minority language”, when in many countries it is spoken by the majority of the population (either natively or as lingua franca). The author also places Russian in the global context of the legislation on regional and minority languages of such entities as the UN, Council of Europe, and European Union. The chapter specifically focuses on the status of Russian in Armenia and Latvia as representing the two ends of the spectrum of the official policies towards Russian in the FSU. Armenia is a member of the Council of Europe and it has a small Russian-speaking minority. Armenian language policies are based on the European Charter and place Russian among other minority languages of the state. In Latvia more than a third of population speak Russian natively; however, the language has no official status in the country and the official policies towards Russian-speaking residents have been quite controversial. Recently, when Latvia became the member of the European Union, these policies started to change and became more favorable toward Russian as a result of the influence of the European Charter and the European Court of Human Rights. .

Chapter 2: Bill Bowring. “The Russian Language in Ukraine: Complicit in Genocide, or Victim of State-Building?”

This chapter focuses on the conflict over the legal status of Russian in the independent Ukraine. While Russian is linguistically quite close to Ukrainian and almost all the population of Ukraine speaks it either natively or as a second language, use of Russian has often been seen as a threat to the political independence of Ukraine and to the vitality of the Ukrainian language. The author concludes that Russian in Ukraine does not quite fit the definition of a minority language adopted by the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages and a different kind of legislation has to be adopted to regulate its status.

Part 2: Linguistic Perceptions and Symbolic Values

Chapter 3: Curt Woolhiser. “The Russian Language in Belarus: Language Use, Speaker Identities and Metalinguistic Discourse.”

The chapter examines the relationship between the actual language use and language attitudes and identities in Belarus. The author claims that Belarus, unlike other post-Soviet countries, displays a rather weak link between the titular language and the national self-identification. Both Russian and Belarusian are official languages of the state, however, the majority of the population prefers to use Russian or a mixture of the two in daily life. On the one hand, many Belarusians believe they also have ownership of the Russian language and their version is different from the language of the metropolia, just like the English of the USA differs from that of the UK. On the other hand, the idea of the nation-state is becoming increasingly popular, as is seeing the influence of Russia as a threat to independence; and this results in more and more people believing that Belarusian should be spoken more widely in the country.

Chapter 4: Volodymyr Kulyk. “What is Russian in Ukraine? Popular Beliefs Regarding the Social Roles of the Language.”

This chapter again turns to Russian in Ukraine; however, it looks at it from a different perspective: not the legal status of the language, but the beliefs and attitudes of people towards it. The chapter presents a study of focus group discussions in different regions of Ukraine regarding language use. Traditionally, the western part of Ukraine is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking, while the east and south regions speak mostly Russian. While the participants in the western Ukraine argued that Ukrainian should be the sole official language of the state and all citizens should speak it at some level, they readily accepted that, in daily life, Russian is the main language of communication for many Ukrainian citizens and it will remain so. The participants from the east and south argued that Russian has to be granted official status alongside Ukrainian; however, they did not want the full dominance of Russian over Ukrainian. The author concludes, that although the official discourse tends to present the divide between Russophone and Ukrainophone ideologies, the majority of people take up a centrist position in which Ukrainian holds a symbolic status as the national language, while both languages coexist peacefully in most social domains.

Part 3: Russian-Speaking Communities and Identity Negotiations

Chapter 5: Monica Perotto. “Post-Soviet Russian-Speaking Diaspora in Italy: Results of a Sociolinguistic Survey.”

In this chapter identities of the Russian-speaking community in Italy are analyzed. The community is mostly made up of the last immigration wave, people who moved to Italy after the USSR’s breakup. It includes both Russians and people of other nationalities who speak Russian either natively or as a second language. In the sociolinguistic questionnaires most of them stated that they identify with Russian or Soviet culture. However, Russian language was not the main part of their identity. The author believes that the reason for this is the small number of Russian speakers in Italy and the lack of a strong and unified community: the immigrants tend to assimilate and Italian dominates many spheres of their lives. Their Russian speech is characterized by multiple instances of code-switching and borrowing. The author thinks that language loss and a switch to Italian in future generations are most likely.

Chapter 6: Martin Ehala, Anastassia Zabrodskaja. “Ethnolinguistic Vitality and Acculturation Orientations of Russian Speakers in Estonia.”

In this chapter, the authors analyze the Russian-speaking community of Estonia in terms of ethnolinguistic vitality. Based on the questionnaire analysis, the authors conclude that the community is far from unified. It can be divided into several subgroups differing from each other in their attitudes towards Russian language and culture, ranging from very assimilated to those who feel very strongly about their Russian identity. The researchers suggest that it is only possible to talk about ethnolinguistic vitality in regard to these subgroups, but not to the community as a whole, because it is too diverse. Since there are several groups who tend towards the maintenance of Russian, it is safe to assume that the language will be present in Estonia, at least in some segments of the currently Russian-speaking community.

Chapter 7: Claudia Zbenovich. “Linguistic Performance of Russianness among Russian-Israeli Parents: Child-Raising Practices in the Immigrant Community.”

Zbenovich turns to the parent-child communications in Russian-speaking Israeli families. She discovers a clash between the Russian (or Soviet) model of child-rearing and the Israeli one in the relationship between immigrant parents and their Israeli-born children. Russian child-rearing practices are considered to be more authoritative and more concerned with “proper” behavior and showing respect to adults, while Israeli practices place children at the center and give them much more freedom. Parents use the Russian language to transmit their cultural values to children and to discuss their differences with the Israeli culture, while children use Hebrew with their parents to promote Israeli values and child-rearing practices.

Part 4: Language Contact and the Globalisation of Russian

Chapter 8: David R. Andrews. “Similarities and Differences between American-Immigrant Russian of the 1970s and 1980s and Post-Soviet Russian in the Motherland.”

Andrews compares two situations of Russian-English contact: daily speech of the Russian-speaking immigrants in the US and English borrowings in the Russian of Russia. Andrews shows that certain phenomena are only happening in the speech of immigrants, such as categorical shifts mimicking English categories, while in other aspects, such as using phonetic and not graphemic borrowing, modern Russian of Russia is closer to the Russian of immigrants. In both versions borrowed words become phonologically and morphologically assimilated. A major difference is that in the Russian of immigrants borrowed words are mostly used in the same sense and context as in English, while in Russian they change or acquire additional meanings.

The Russian of Russia also uses phonemic borrowings from English, while in the past most borrowings were graphemic or mixed. The study presents a difference between the processes of a regular language change caused by changes in culture and a change induced by direct contact with another language.

Chapter 9: Aleksandrs Berdicevskis. “Predictors of Pluricentricity: Lexical Divergences between Latvian Russian and Russian Russian.”

This chapter provides another argument for Russian as a pluricentric language, describing the differences between the Russian of Latvia and that of the metropolis. The author conducts quantitative and qualitative analysis of the Latvian Russian corpora and concludes that there are multiple lexical differences from the Russian of Russia. These differences exist not just in the colloquial speech, but in the high-register varieties as well, such as newspapers, legislation, documents, and official speeches. He suggests that these instances point out to the existence of the local standard of the language, different from the standard of the metropolis, and this standard is being organically developed and codified, making Latvia an independent center of Russian language.

Part 5: Globalisation of Russian as Soft Power

Chapter 10: Lara Ryazanova-Clarke. “Russian with an Accent: Globalisation and the Post-Soviet Imaginary.”

While the previous chapters looked at the versions of Russian being developed in other countries, this chapter looks at the Russian-language TV channel ‘Mir’ which broadcasts in the FSU countries. The channel is produced in Russia and one of its main goals is to present Russia as the center and the golden standard of Russian language and culture. The author analyzes examples of programs and language practices that conduct this message, such as the programs on how to speak Russian properly. However, at the same time when regular speakers are shown in the newscasts and TV-shows, they speak different varieties of Russian, demonstrating its globalized and pluricentric tendencies.


The volume brings an overview of an extremely important topic – development of new centers of Russian language and new dialects and status of Russian in different communities in the past decade. The chapters of this volume make an argument that the versions of Russian in the many communities outside Russia either already constitute new dialects or are on the way toward developing as dialects. The chapters also make a case for the possible future development of a pluricentric Russian similar to English or Spanish, with different standards in different countries.

The volume presents many different aspects of Russian outside the nation. All the chapters present high quality research and the introduction connects them smoothly. However, there might be too much focus on Russian in the Western (mostly European) countries, while Asian countries (both the FSU and countries with significant Russian minorities, such as Thailand) get very little if any attention.
Liubov Baladzhaeva is a PhD student at the University of Haifa. She is interested in multilingualism, language acquisition and attrition.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780748668458
Pages: 304
Prices: U.K. £ 70