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  • Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923–1934 by Matthew D. Pauly
  • Svitlana Malykhina
Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923–1934, by Matthew D. Pauly. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2015. xx, 456 pp. $85.00 Cdn (cloth or e-book).

Relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to the evolution of national language planning and schooling in Ukraine. In this respect, Matthew Pauly's monograph attempts to fill this lacuna. Divided into [End Page 359] twelve chapters, Breaking the Tongue examines a series of policies pursued by the Communist (Bolshevik) Party of Ukraine. In Ukraine, within the period 1923–34 Ukrainian was preferred as an official language throughout society, and the volume analyzes why Ukrainization did not yield any tangible results. This monograph has something to offer historians of education, anthropologists, specialists in language policy, and sociolinguists.

From this book one gains the impression that Ukrainization, rather than appearing coherent as it might look from afar, is described as fragmented, with contested and conflicted results. The book also serves as an important first step in chronicling the period of affirmative action for Ukrainians in the Soviet Union. This study brings sufficient evidence to light to show that in the period under examination educational policies and reforms were not exclusively controlled by Marxist theory. In fact, both enlightened party functionaries and aspiring educators borrowed very generously whenever they could find something useful in the young Ukrainian republic. The ideas of progressive American educational reformer John Dewey (1859–1952) provided a theoretical underpinning for effective practices in Ukrainian language schools and pedagogical colleges. Tragically, these innovative and inspirational ideas were immediately suppressed and rejected for political reasons.

One particularly welcome point on which the author sheds light is the difference between the systems of schooling in the Soviet Russian and Ukrainian republics. Pauly selected documents to show how pedagogical reforms, despite invasive state control, sought a fundamental re-imagining of a shared past and the paternalistic relations with the Russian educational system. Ukrainian Party functionaries at the Ukrainian Commissariat of Education, as well as progressive educators, linguists, and historians, caught the spirit of change and created opportunities for aspiring teachers and students. A number of documents demonstrate the promotion of cultural and linguistic differences that have shaped a specific national identity. A careful reading of varied state media unveils the tension and controversy in the party's nationalities policy at the time of the Cultural Revolution. Pauly acknowledges frequent contradictions in Ukrainian identity as well as the fluidity of individual responses to Ukrainization. Rather than reprint the official legal documents or party policy statements, Pauly interprets them and communicates the vexing problems of the campaign.

Pauly also devotes considerable attention to regional pluralism in Odessa, Luhansk, and Kharkiv, showing that discussions were always taking place. From the differences of opinion between Ukrainian and Kremlin party leaders, at times real hope appeared for successful educational reforms in which each side might address some of the oversights of the other. Nevertheless, no matter how much attention the Ukrainian leadership paid to the language issue, with the total change of the political climate and the [End Page 360] beginning of Stalinist terror in the early 1930s, the Ukrainization campaign was stopped by Moscow.

Pauly focuses on the reasons for challenges and the reversal of Ukrainization in Soviet Ukraine: the divergent political bias of the hard party line and the revisionist views of the Ukrainian administration, as well as the non-changing position toward public education, and the isolation of Ukrainian area studies from social sciences. In this account of events, those familiar with the history of the period would find the cases persuasive, spotlighting forceful measures that were implemented to ensure the official status of the Ukrainian language: special courses for administrative officials were opened, the school and higher education system changed to Ukrainian, and linguists and philologists started the serious work of modernizing terminology and ordering grammar. Although the whole atmosphere of the '20s favoured various modernization projects of schooling in Ukraine, Pauly, via official testimonies, reveals that many in post-secondary administration took a formal approach to the reforms. Professors either...


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