The language of war
We express our identity and make sense of our world through language. Languages can define us as both individuals and communities. An undeniable aspect of being human, language can both connect us or divide us. This month, while we celebrate the International Day of Multilingualism, we also witness an international conflict that is not allowed to be called a “war” or “invasion” in Russian. And as we publish this newsletter, the citizens of Ukraine are fighting for their homeland, their language and their identity; our hopes and thoughts are with the people of this brave country as well as those Russian citizens who oppose this war. We would also like to share a poem written by a former WIDA colleague, Ruslana Westerlund – a linguist, researcher and proud Ukrainian.
Learning the language of war
Language is an experience...
How do you name things without experience?
I do not have any language for war because I didn't experience war.
I have language for education, for linguistics, for praying, for celebrating, for encouraging, for mentoring, for supporting
I have language for sourdough, for gardening, planting and harvesting, for loving and living, for cooking and fermenting.
I know the language of peace and not the language of war
Today was the day for learning the language of war
I learned it in Ukrainian by talking to my family in Cherkasy, Rivne, Kyiv, Vinnytsia.I learned it in English by talking to the reporters
I'm bilingual in the language of war
"The Kyiv city sky lit up with explosions" Київське небо засяяло від вибухів
"My cousin enlisted as a volunteer in the Ukrainian Army" Мій двоюрідний брат пішом добровольцем в армію
"We heard rockets flying overhead but we didn't recognize that sound" Ми чули як ракети пролетіли над головою і ми не впізнали того звуку
"Gasoline is being rationed, 20 liters to save the rest for the army" Бензин роздають по 20 літрів а решта для армії
"The stores are empty, no salt, no matches" У магазинах нема нічого, ні солі, ні сірників
"There are no bomb shelters in our village" У нашому селі немає бомбосховища
"The root cellar is damp and cold but it's safe" У льоху холодно і мокро але безпечно
I wonder what language of war I will learn tomorrow
- Ruslana Westerlund, February 24, 2022
Language can be used to either oppress or liberate. Over the past year, we’ve learned that the simple act of writing and pronouncing “Kyiv” instead of “Kiev” expresses solidarity, dignity and the right to self-determination. We recognize the significance of the Ukranian spelling of the capitol city “Kyiv” in WIDA resources and web pages, not only for our WIDA member schools in Ukraine but also for Ukrainians around the world. Language and identity are interdependent, and in this newsletter we include an article that features the voices of some of our WIDA colleagues reflecting on their personal connections between multilingualism and identity. As a university-based research center, WIDA tries to live its commitment to both multilingualism and social justice every day, in the resources we develop and the support we provide. We also encourage our readers to use their voices on social media and to identify local or international aid organizations to support the people of Ukraine. Please visit WIDA member Pechersk School International for more information.
Each month we sign off in a different language, and this month we share a simple wish for peace, which happens to be the same word in both the Ukrainian and Russian languages.
Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Programs director
*Ukrainian and Russian: peace