Professor Smirnova: Language, Political Identity Linked in Ukraine Conflict

Thursday, June 09, 2016
Photo of Anastasia Smirnova in front of the Humanities Building

SF STATE NEWS -- The language associated with a person’s political preferences could play a significant role in forming social prejudices throughout a bilingual region, according to a new study from Anastasia Smirnova, assistant professor of linguistics at SF State.

The findings, recently published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, reveal strong correlations between language, political identity and the ethnic conflict in the Eastern European nation of Ukraine, Smirnova’s native country, and offer guidance for those working to solve such conflicts.

Smirnova’s study focuses on ethnolinguistics — the branch of linguistics concerned with the relations between linguistic and cultural behavior. To better understand these relations in the context of Ukraine, a hotbed of cultural and political unrest since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region in 2014, Smirnova and co-author Rumen Iliev studied two different paths through which language could trigger social discrimination — linguistic identity and political identity. Through linguistic identity, people may favor others who simply speak the same language and have the same accent. Through political identity, people may favor others who use a language that is associated with their own personal political views and beliefs, even if the actual language of the speaker differs from their own.