Language as Boundary

In the post-Soviet world, boundaries were scarce. Growing up in the Russia of the 1990s, I had a heightened awareness of crumbling walls. Though that time felt mainly liberating, it was also scary; many of us felt unsafe in this new suddenly-turned-turbulent, wall-less world. Unsurprisingly, in the same 1990s, learning foreign languages became the most obvious and appealing choice for many Russian youngsters, myself included. It was our way of pushing the barriers.

When I proudly announced to my father that I would pursue studying linguistics, he bursted out in anger saying that languages were futile and would not give me any tangible skills. Growing up in the Soviet Union, my father had never had an opportunity to master a foreign language. This skill was not on the state’s agenda for its citizens, probably another means of keeping the iron curtain in place. In the most classical Ivan Turgenev way, what was the most liberating and empowering choice for me reminded my father of his own inability to speak any tongue other than his own, naturally triggering a feeling of shame.

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