Understanding Passive Bilingualism in Eastern Ukraine


  • Anastasia Lakhtikova Independent Scholar


Eastern Ukraine, passive bilingualism, language ideology, multilingualism, Ukrainian language


This essay explores the linguistic profile of native Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine from a sociolinguistic point of view. It argues that the population of Eastern Ukraine is largely fluently bilingual, with Ukrainian as the second fluent but passive language. It further argues that a supremacist Russophile worldview often prevents even the bilingual individuals themselves from recognizing their bilingualism. Moreover, Lakhtikova critiques the polling data collected by governmental agencies as to the linguistic makeup of the Eastern Ukrainian population, which are skewed toward collecting information on (largely inherited) language attitudes, rather than on real linguistic abilities  of the people living in the region. The argument shows how this collected data can be misleading, representing the linguistic profile of the Eastern Ukrainian population as monolingual. The essay further delineates the internal and external factors that influence people’s motivation and ability to use Ukrainian actively, and what expectations of the majority of the Russian-speaking population in the East are reasonable or unreasonable, as regards switching to Ukrainian language in the public domain in the current linguistic environment. Finally, obstacles and inclusive strategies for increasing self-awareness of the Russian speakers in Eastern Ukraine as Ukrainian citizens are discussed.