From 'Muteness' to Eloquence: Immigrants' Narratives about Languages

Maria N. Yelenevskaya, Larisa Fialkova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Immigration mobilises laypeople's awareness of language. When immigrants begin to learn a new language, comparisons between the mother tongue and a new language are inevitable. If learning occurs simultaneously with entering a new language community, speakers become more sensitive to the cultural and social implications that multilingualism involves. This study is devoted to personal narratives of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union. It is based on 115 in-depth interviews with 135 immigrants, which make up approximately 75 hours of recording, transcribed in full. The interviews were conducted in Russian, the mother tongue of both the interviewees and the interviewers. Immigrants' interviews reveal awareness that language is a status category. Imperial attitude towards minority languages in the USSR has been transferred to the linguistic situation in Israel. As in the Soviet Union, Russian is associated with superior culture. Hebrew, on the other hand, is perceived as an instrument of upward mobility. In the situation of emerging bilingualism, immigrants separate domains in which they use different languages and assign different symbolic value to them. All the informants perceive Russian as the language in which they can realise full potential of their personality, express emotions and feel at ease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-48
Number of pages19
JournalLanguage Awareness
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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