Date of Award

Fall 12-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Austin Jersild

Committee Member

Peter Schulman


How we, as humans, define ourselves and our national and ethnic distinction often centers on visible characteristics—physical features, group traditions, and language. Of those, language is both mutable and plays such a central role in daily life that it is often a hotly contested and manipulated factor in defining national identity. This paper examines the role language has played in the formation of crisis situations in the former Soviet Union. Linguistic identity has been used as a basis to establish the legitimacy of independence for both Soviet republics and separatist groups within those republics. As such, it is a highly manipulated factor in the development and resolution of conflicts in the region.

This thesis examines the role that linguistic identity has played in conflicts in the post-Soviet space. It looks at several case studies and extracts the various factors of linguistic identity and its interplay in daily life to build a profile of how language is manipulated in those societies. Through this lens, the paper seeks to understand how both language affects these conflicts and how the conflicts affect the evolution of linguistic ability in the regions.

By analyzing these factors, the thesis concludes that language and linguistic identity play a large role in the development of conflict in the regions, but only as tools to motivate voter bases for self-interested politicians and as a convenient lever of soft power for external influence. These factors are easily manipulated due to their visibility in all aspects of daily life and the relative mutability of linguistic ability as a factor of ethnic identity. The fact that conflict in the European post-Soviet states is a direct benefit to Russia, as it disqualifies those states for membership in European political and security institutions, explains the prevalence of conflict in those states and the relative harmony seen in Central Asia. The paper also finds that the presence of frozen conflicts can actually have a stabilizing effect on linguistic-identity based conflict in the region by providing negotiating forums as stable avenues for the legitimate statement of grievances beyond fiery rhetoric.


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