Invisibility and Ownership of Language: Problems of Representation in Russian Language Textbooks

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Abstract

Using the 2 theoretical lenses of representation (Barthes, 1977) and ownership of language (Higgins, 2003), this article offers a critical analysis of representations of Russian speakers in 9 widely used Russian language textbooks aimed at university-level learners. Particular attention is paid to representations of Russian speakers other than white Orthodox Christian ethnic Russians. Findings indicate that there are virtually no representations of such “other” speakers in the materials under investigation. This absence is framed as an erasure (hooks, 1992), a violent removal that significantly misrepresents the actual diversity of speakers of Russian and restricts putative ownership of the Russian language. The authors argue that not only is this inaccurate portrayal pedagogically problematic; it is also politically so, as it coincides with a rising tide of ethnic Russian nationalism in the Russian Federation. The article ends with a call for more accurate portrayals of the actual diversity of users of Russian.

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