Abstracts Nov 7 Symposium

November 7   (campus and webinar/live streaming)

Morning session (10.30-11.45, CET)

Giorgi Alibegashvili (State Language Department of Georgia) & Maka Tetradze. (State Language Department of Georgia & Tbilisi State University): Street Georgian – as a Reflection of functioning of the State language in Georgia

The quality and level of functioning of the official language is determined by many factors, including the use of the language in the field of services and the relation of the official language to other languages in public information statements or signs. The topic of our presentation is the functioning of languages on the streets in modern Georgia. On the one hand, the attitude and expectations of the society should be taken into account in relation to the issue, and on the other hand, the comparison of myth and reality is of a crucial importance, once one seeks to envisage the real picture. The functioning of the official language along with the Constitution in the country is regulated by several laws, including the organic law on the state language adopted in 2015. Article 24 of this law states that “the text of a statement intended for public information, a message, a subtitle, a poster, a sign, a poster, an advertisement, other visual information is completed in the state language. If necessary, relevant information can be given in a non-state language, and in the municipality where representatives of the national minority live compactly, as well as in the language of this national minority. The current legislation does not determine the number of non-state languages on plaques; the use of any language is not prohibited either. In Tbilisi and the big cities of Georgia, a kind of rule was formed that a company should have a bilingual writing as a sign. However, the arrangement of the Georgian signs in relation to the foreign language signs is often violated.

At the same time, only plaques made in a foreign language are particularly striking. The latter causes substantial dissatisfaction in the society. These problems are often discussed in social networks. The State Language Department checked the plaques of several regions, as well as Tbilisi tourist streets, and it turned out that there is no foreign language inscription anywhere in the majority of instances. However, there are violations. Their existence means that the law is not in fact enforced. Recently, the migration of the Russian-speaking population to the big cities of Georgia has contributed to the problem. Migrants create their own companies. A part of the society perceives its replacement with Russian or English in the field of service for the Georgian language as particularly dangerous against the background of this wave of migration.

Unfortunately, according to our research, if the institution has done the holidays in accordance with the law, it may not have a menu, indoor signs in Georgian, and, which complicates things more, the service staff may not have a command of Georgian. The Government is looking for effective ways to overcome this challenge. This report will discuss: a) an analysis of the data of the State Language Department on the functioning of the state language in the field of plaques and services; b) options for presenting plaques in Georgian, which does not raise the level of functioning of the Georgian language and often leads to a curious situation; c) The attitude of the society, the reaction of the media and the specifics of the work of the state agencies to raise the level of functioning of the state language in relation to street Georgian.


Tinatin Bolkvadze (Tbilisi State University & State Language Department): How to assess the functioning of the Russian language in Georgia (online)

According to the Constitution of the Georgian SSR, the state language of Georgia was Georgian, that could not completely change the functioning of the Russian language as the main official language of the Soviet Union in Georgia. Officially the Russian language was reflected only in the last constitution of Georgian SSR 1978. The 1978 Constitution, like all previous constitutions (1921, 1922, 1927, 1937), recognized the Georgian language as the state language (Article 156), however, according to Article 75, Russian and other languages of the population could be freely used in the Georgian SSR. Articles 157 and 158 determined the procedure for using the languages of official address in the autonomous republics and autonomous region (oblast).

The first post-Soviet constitution of Georgia was approved in 1995, but before that, amendments, including those concerning the functioning of languages in Georgia, were introduced by the Supreme Council of Georgia in 1990, chaired by Zviad Gamsakhurdia. The article on the use of Russian and other languages of the population was excluded from the Constitution of Georgia, although in life the Russian language still retained the functions of the language of communication with the former Soviet republics and the working language of scientific works and international conferences, which it has definitively lost after 2003, when the Rose Revolution was followed by a linguistic revolution aimed at replacing Russian with English. English was declared the first foreign language in schools, and the use of it, as the widely used international language and the first foreign language, was strongly promoted, which reduced the use of Russian in everyday life. Gradually, generations have grown up who do not know the Russian language or have very poor knowledge, that they cannot use it to satisfy academic, scientific and information interests in general.

The situation changed after Russian military forces invaded Ukraine and Russia begin an aggressive war in Ukraine at the end of February, 2022, declared general mobilization, and a significant part of the Russian population began to uncontrollably move to other countries, including Georgia, to avoid life-threatening duties required by the state. This situation in Georgia, especially in Tbilisi and Batumi, increased the number of Russian-speaking people, a significant part of whom are still in Georgia as tourists, and the other part was drawn into the Georgian economy, which first revived and then expanded the spheres of functioning of the Russian language in Georgia.

The paper deals with the criteria that can be used to determine the scope and scale of the actual functioning of the Russian language in Georgia.


Afternoon session 1 (13.00-14.15 CET)

Nadiya Kiss (JLU Giessen): Languages at war: Language shift, contested language diversity and ambivalent enmity in Ukraine

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the cultural and language situation in Ukraine has experienced tremendous changes. Sociolinguists and cultural anthropologists, particularly, Corinne Seals and Lada Bilaniuk observed a language shift from Russian to Ukrainian even before the full-scale invasion, marking it as a “choosing mother tongue” movement (Seals 2019) or “linguistic conversion”, fueled by language activists’ groups (Bilaniuk 2020). Just before the full-scale invasion a flashmob in social media started – influencers, businessmen, and public figures appealed to Russian-speaking Ukrainians to use more Ukrainian in everyday life, demonstrating such a language behaviour by their own example. Sociological data, collected by the sociological group Rating in 2022-2023, have proven that these are not individual cases, but a mass-scale process. During the full-scale war, in public discourse and social media posts, Ukrainian is often defined as a language of resistance and freedom (Kulyk 2022), and Russian as a language of enemy and aggression. Such a shift in language attitudes and use could be explained by different factors: 1) postcolonial resistance towards everything that represents the Russian Federation – language, culture, symbols, and Soviet heritage; 2) forced migration processes within the country and abroad.

The conceptualisations of language resistance are also present in public discourse, literature, and art. As Serhiy Zhadan, a prominent Ukrainian writer, defined it in his book Sky over Kharkiv (2022): “Today history is not simply being rewritten – it is being rewritten in Ukrainian” (p. 26). Language itself reacted to the war with numerous neologisms, starting from the famous phrase about Russian warship, many of these words and phrases became also international, included, for instance, in the online Urban Dictionary. Another Ukrainian writer Ostap Slyvynskyi published a collective book of poems Dictionary of War, in which Ukrainian poets reflected on the sensitivity of language in times of war and how words acquire new meanings. Discussions about language use during the wartimes are also vivid on social media, especially within the circles of public intellectuals. On the level of language policy, recently the decision was made to allow writing the words Russia, Russian Federation, and Moscow using a lowercase letter in unofficial documents. Such a decision just standardised the practice of language use in online and social media which started from the bottom-up level immediately after the full-scale invasion.

The situation of forced migration affected not only the dynamics of Ukrainian-Russian bilingualism, but also minority language communities. Representatives of national minorities also fled abroad, for instance, many Crimean Tatar families, exposed to persecution and fear of mobilization into the Russian army, left the peninsula; many Hungarians fled from Transcarpathia to Hungary, mostly because of the economic crisis in the region, caused by the war. Such a situation has an impact on schooling (not full classes, not enough schoolchildren for minority language lessons), and communication within the national minority groups. Summing up, the complex language situation in Ukraine is even more complicated due to the war situation. On the other hand, postcolonial identity transformation and cultural resistance bring positive effects on language policy and management.        

Bilaniuk, L. (2020). Linguistic Conversion in Ukraine: Nation‐Building on the Self. In: Journal of Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, 59–82.

Kulyk, V. (2022). Die Sprache des Widerstands. Der Krieg und der Aufschwung des Ukrainischen. In: Osteuropa 6-8, 237–248.

Seals, C. (2019). Choosing a mother tongue: The politics of language and identity in Ukraine. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Slyvynsky, O. (2023). Wörter im Krieg. Edition Foto Tapeta, Berlin. 

Zhadan, S. (2022). Himmel über Charkiw. Nachrichten vom Überleben im Krieg. Suhrkamp.


Andrey Makarychev (University of Tartu): Estonian Russophones: A Biopolitical Story

The concept of biopolitics usually refers to different modalities of governing (managing, controlling, monitoring, regulating, categorizing, but also care taking and incentivizing) human bodies. In a broader sense, biopolitics is meant to integrate life (and thus the realm of corporeality) into political calculations and agendas. In this presentation I argue that language can be a meaningful part of the biopolitical toolkit, since language-induced differentiations and ‘soft’ hierarchies have always been elements of biopolitical community-making. This is particularly so in the territory of the former Soviet Union where two mutually incompatible visions of the nexus of language and biopolitics confront each other.

On the one hand, the concept of the Russian world exemplifies the imperially transgressive figuration of the language – biopolitics nexus. In a matter of a couple of decades it transformed from what might be dubbed soft power biopolitics to a weaponized instrument of the hybrid warfare against Ukraine and the Baltic states. On the other hand, the model of national biopolitical communities grew in importance among Russia’s neighbours, being based on the presumption that a good command of the national language is a major prerequisite for – if not a guarantee of – a sense of belonging and the ensuing loyalty to the state.

I will use the case of Estonia for illuminating the functionality of this model and discussing its limits.  Biopolitics in this case refers to various practices of using the language as a marker of a different regime of belonging’ related to the ‘Russian world’ which can be described as a form of biopower. After the restart of Russia’s war against Ukraine this alienation from the ‘Russian world’ in Estonian mainstream politics has accelerated – from the discontinuation of Russian language announcements in the railway station in Tallinn to the state’s warning about possible legal consequences of decisions taken by the authorities in the city of Narva in Russian language. The linguistic factor was decisive in the intention of the Ministry of Education to make exceptions for Russian students and allow some of them to finish their studies in Estonian universities despite the general policy of the Estonian government. These and other empirical examples illustrate my argument of the growing (bio)political importance of language-related matters in Estonian politics after 2022. 


Afternoon session 2 (14.30-15.45 CET)


Mariam Manjgaladze (Caucasus University, Tbilisi): Issues of the Official Language Ecology in Contemporary Georgia  

States regulate the functioning of the state language through similar or varying approaches. However, it is not infrequent for the majority of states to face challenges of law enforcement. Consequently, there is a notable requirement for increasing awareness among both citizens and civil servants to ensure the proper implementation of the legislation.

Georgia regained its independence in 1991, and in 1995, the new constitution of an independent Georgia was ratified. Article 8 of the Constitution includes the following provision: “The official language of Georgia shall be Georgian, and, in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, also Abkhazian”. Unlike previous constitutions, national minority languages (and others) are not mentioned in the current constitution, with the assumption that a language law would be drafted. The Law on State Language was approved on July 22, 2015. In 2018, the Department of State Language commenced its operations and formulated a strategy for the development of the state language, according to which the goal of the unified state language program is: Strengthening the constitutional status of the Georgian language in the entire territory of Georgia, alongside Abkhazian in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, ensuring the full functioning of the state language in all aspects of public life; protection and development of languages common in Georgia; protection, research, preservation of Georgian linguistic diversity and addressing other essential issues.

It is well known that changes in the social and political environment greatly impact language ecology, and Georgia is no exception in this regard. While during the Soviet period, a number of lexemes from the Russian language were introduced and established, and the issue of the prestige of knowing the Russian language and receiving education in the Russian language wasn’t a matter of controversy for the majority of citizens, after gaining independence, a special interest in European languages naturally emerged. English, as an international language replaced, Russian. Alongside Georgian-language schools, English-language, German-language, and French-language schools were opened,  leading to a generation that no longer knows Russian. Unfortunately, as the Russia-Ukraine war enters its second year, there has been a substantial influx of citizens from the occupying country into Georgia, and, in many cases, they are attempting to establish themselves in a strange way: They request services in Russian, believing that everyone should know the Russian language; They also arbitrarily print informational texts in their own language and distribute them, or open the so-called “Centers of Russian Language and Culture” in violation of the law, where teaching follows programs developed in Russia. Banners that have been produced in violation of advertising regulations have emerged in the country. The consequences of this irresponsibility cannot be solely attributed to them but also to the citizens of our country, demanding greater attention from the state.

Although we encounter new opportunities and challenges in language research and knowledge sharing in the twenty-first century, it is crucial to comprehend the role of language in society and the significance of every citizen’s engagement in preserving the ecology of language. As the famous American researcher Richard Ruiz suggests in his research, three basic orientations toward language and its role in society should be taken into consideration: language-as-problem, language-as-right, and language-as-resource (Ruiz, 1984). We will focus on these  three components when discussing the example of Georgia in our paper.


Lidia Zhigunova (Tulane University, USA): Russia’s War on Indigenous Languages:

The Case of Circassian in the North Caucasus

Despite the fact that there are speakers of more than 155 languages in Russia, some of which have the status of state languages within individual federal subjects, from the outside Russian society may seem almost monolingual. To a large extent, this situation has been the result of government policies in recent decades, especially in matters of education: minority languages have disappeared from the compulsory school curriculum, and their support is often of a decorative nature. In fact, while the Russian government was actively engaged in the rhetoric of defending the linguistic rights of ethnic Russians in the neighboring post-Soviet countries, and even resorting to military aggressions in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014, all indigenous (non-Russian) languages spoken on the territory of the Russian Federation had been fighting for their survival. The number of speakers in the Russian Federation was only increasing for Russian, in all other languages it has been declining and, in some regions, sharply.

This paper closely examines the Soviet/Russian state language policies and their effects on the ethnolinguistic situation in the North Caucasus on the example of Circassian language, the official language in three republics – Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, and Adygea. It will specifically discuss the Russia’s 2018 Language Law amending the Federal Law on Education that introduced the principle of voluntariness in the study of the state languages of the republics. This law which is now in effect makes education in 34 of Russia’s 35 official languages—every language except Russian—optional, limiting instruction in ethnic-minority languages to two hours per week. Previously, native-language instruction had been exclusively the purview of regional governments in Russia’s 26 ethnically defined autonomous republics and okrugs (in their Constitutions, the native languages have the same official status as Russian). It was presented as a choice by which parents choose the language of instruction but in reality, it was about the federal government consolidating power, and taking choice away from Russia’s autonomous republics. The language about a “parent’s choice” is merely a distraction from the central aim of the legislation, which is the suppression of minority languages. By limiting native-language instruction to two hours a week, Putin’s administration stroke a devastating blow to the already fragile minority languages in Russia. The situation is worsened by Soviet-era language teaching practices at schools, outdated textbooks, and the lack of resources and teacher preparation programs for indigenous languages, as well as the lack of literature and other materials (films, cartoons) in the indigenous languages.

At the grassroots level, language activists are working on these issues trying to ensure the reproduction of their speakers and increasing the visibility of the indigenous (non-Russian) languages on the platforms that are accessible to them (social media, NGOs). However, without the comprehensive and systematic measures that would address the asymmetry in the power dynamics and issues of equity and human rights as fundamental elements in the social use of languages, without developing and applying the linguistic ecology frameworks that would ensure the promotion and protection of local languages, the indigenous languages in Russia would eventually disappear.  


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