“I was told, ‘Don’t speak Ukrainian’,” the young woman reported to CNN. “They said it’s not safe.” She was hiding her face from the cameras as she spoke.
While the roots of the deepening Russia-Ukraine conflict are complex and multi-layered, one thing is for sure: we are witnessing a bitter lesson in the importance of language to individual and ethnic identity.
The conflict itself has been intensely covered by the press, but curiously, there has been little mention of something that happened early on. In fact, it was the day after the Ukrainian Parliament voted to dismiss President Viktor Yanukovich.
As a new government, their very first act was to repeal a law that gave official status to Russian and other minority languages.
Although the Ukrainian Parliament quickly backpedaled, fears had been stoked that minority languages would be trampled on. As it turns out, people are willing to fight, and even die, to protect their language.
As I research the impact of language on our lives, including a link between native language loss and youth suicide, I realize that stories of our deep connection with language are all around us.