Despite various myths which exist around bilingualism, a child, who is simultaneously facing two languages becomes a bilingual individual since both of the languages are primary for such a child (De Houwer, 1996). Such exposure to two languages in the early age has got a range of positive impacts upon cognitive abilities of an individual (Hoff, et al, 2012). For me, a monolingual person, it has always been interesting to learn, how bilingual communities work and how people, and particularly children, function within it. I took this assignment as an opportunity and decided to find a community, of which I am not very well aware.
One of my hobbies is exchanging emails and communicating in other ways with people from different countries. I sometimes love talking to the people from places I know very little about. When thinking over this assignment I was thinking about finding a community beyond my city and, even more, not very typical for our country. I shared this thought and my reflections with a few of my friends abroad, and one of them, allow me not to mention the name, suggested a virtual tour through Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, one of the largest post-Soviet countries. Quite an exotic place in many respects. This friend was very good at English and thus promised to take me for a virtual tour over the city and to comment on whatever I would desire to understand in more details. Thus, this friend was a video operator, who zoomed in the camera, when necessary, and this zoom-in had the dimension of cultural integration and understanding, not merely focusing on physical objects.
Thus, Kiev, or, as it is modernly spelled, Kyiv (that’s just one of reflections of bilingualism in actions, since Kiev is the Russian version of the city’s name, while Ukrainian version is Kyiv, thus in English there are nearly two norms, which is not a frequent case).
As my friend put it, this is a place, where people care a lot what language they speak. This is, probably, one of the reasons, why they speak only one language and are proud of not being able to speak the other one. This may not be the case for all the citizens of this ancient city, but it is at least for a significant number of them.
It needs to be remarked that Russian and Ukrainian are, certainly, two very close languages, probably to a degree to which Spanish and Italian share similarities, but still, the distinctions are significant.
When I was taking my virtual tour, I noticed tables in both Russian and Ukrainian, in many instances even complemented in “Chinese”, or, for that matter rather “Russian” or “Ukrainian” English. Interestingly, Russian and Ukrainian scripts hardly ever complement one another. The number of people, who speak Russian in the city, is approximately similar to the number of those, who speak Ukrainian, and I saw a company of children, who were all speaking Ukrainian, but one of them spoke Russian, and neither one of them attempted to switch to one language. The Ukrainian speaking boy understood everything perfectly well, but he seemed to make a point of not speaking Russian. Similar scenes I saw in the stores, where the Ukrainian speaking shop lady would not care to switch into Russian with a Russian speaking customer and vice versa. However, nobody takes this as an offence, my friend says.
The languages form parallels with one another, without causing any conflicts. My friend says, that as a result many of people who belong to physical work professions speak a mixture of these two languages, which, my friend claims, is unpleasant to hear, but they understand both languages perfectly well, however do not care to distinguish them one from another. All official announcements, my friend says, are in Ukrainian. I asked to be shown a rail-way station. There all the announcements were made in Ukrainian, the majority of signs were in Ukrainian, but the trains, going to other post-Soviet countries would be also announced in Russian.
I enjoyed my mini-trip and was surprised to see how these two languages survive in a way, which did not appear to be quite natural to me.
- De Houwer, Annick. (1996). “Bilingual Language Acquisition.” The Handbook of Child Language. Ed. Paul Fletcher and Brian MacWhinney. Blackwell, Blackwel
- Hoff, E., Core, C., Place, S., Rumiche, R., Señor, M., & Parra, M. (2012). Dual language exposure and early bilingual development. Journal of child language, 39(01), 1–27.