Breaking the Tongue
Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923-1934
University of Toronto Press 2014
New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in EducationNew Books in HistoryNew Books in LanguageNew Books in Literary StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network November 15, 2016 Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed
Matthew Pauly’s Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923-1934 (University of Toronto Press, 2014) offers a detailed investigation of the language policy–officially termed Ukrainization–that was introduced in Ukraine during the formative years of the Soviet Union. Out of a massive amount of archival records and documents, Pauly reconstructs a complex and controversial process that happened to have significant consequences for the subsequent decades.
In his research, Pauly presents Ukrainization as a process that impacts multiple fields, outlining the connection between the nation formation and language/cultural policy. The areas that appear to have experienced changes as a result of Ukrainization include educational institutions, political establishment, economy, ethnic groups. Significant attention is given to education and pedagogy. Breaking the Tongue in much detail discusses the role of educators in the process of the Ukrainian culture popularization. While accounting for the policy decisions made and promoted by the Communist leaders, Pauly intriguingly brings to light the contributions which could be attributed to children. On the one hand, for obvious reasons children were the main target of Ukrainization; on the other hand, children through the involvement in youth organization were actively participating in the dissemination of the Ukrainian language and culture.
Through the twelve chapters that constitute the research, Pauly observes the trajectory of Ukrainization: its enthusiastic implementation was followed by introducing limitations and restrictions. According to Pauly, Ukrainization could go as far as the Communists leaders would allow: the revival of the interest in the Ukrainian Studies in Ukraine, although it may seem and sound paradoxical, presented potential threats to the solidifying Soviet Union. Breaking the Tongue documents how ardent and genuine supporters of the development of the Ukrainian language and culture were subsequently persecuted being accused of sabotage and nationalism. The final part, “Biographical and Informational sketches,” presents information about the activists who became victims of the Soviet repression: it is a reminder of the controversial language policy as well as manipulative strategies employed by the Soviet authorities in the process of producing programs that would secure the stability of the Soviet Union.
Matthew Pauly is an associate professor in the Department of History, Michigan State University.