Culture In Depth, 01/05/2017

Language Situation in Ukraine Attracts Young Dutch Researcher

Marieke Droogsma is Master’s student in Linguistics. She had a special interest in Ukraine for many years, and that is why she decided to write her master thesis on language situation in Ukraine.

Marieke Droogsma: My interest in Ukraine started after I watched Eurovision. I really enjoyed the music from all the different countries and cultures, but one particular song stood out for me — Wild Dances by Ruslana from Ukraine. I liked the energy of the song and the performance, and it was hard not to start dancing. I voted, and when the winner was announced, I was super happy. Later I followed the developments in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, where Ruslana was also an active participant, and I became a member of the online fanclub. Being a true patriot of Ukraine, Ruslana sings most of her songs in Ukrainian, and so I began learning Ukrainian.

Question: How come you ended up in Kharkiv?

MD: Growing up in a multilingual region in the Netherlands triggered my interest in languages. And I have always enjoyed learning new languages and cultures. After developing a special interest in Ukraine, I was fascinated by the language situation, and in a way, the widespread use of Russian in Ukraine reminded me of the widespread use of Dutch in Friesland, my native region.

I am completing my Master’s Degree at Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands. Leiden is a city of students. I really enjoy studying in Leiden as one can see and feel history in many corners of the city, which is still smaller and cozier than, for example, Amsterdam. Another reason for me to study in Leiden is the fact that the faculty of humanities offers courses in many different languages from all over the world. During my graduate study in linguistics, I decided to write my thesis on the language situation in Ukraine. And the best way to do research on language is to visit the country and see (or in this case listen to) what is going on.

Q: Are there any language problems in the Netherlands?

MD: Well, in the part of the Netherlands that is Holland (aka the region of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague), there is no language problem, but in many other regions there are definitely tensions regarding languages. The regional languages and dialects are used less and less and are replaced by standard Dutch. Also, some varieties have more official recognition and thus financial support than others, and this gives rise to a lot of tensions. Besides the official Dutch language, there is only one that is recognized as official minority language — Frisian. This is the language of my ethnic group, and it is spoken in the province of Friesland. Friesland used to be an independent country in the Middle Ages. During this time lots of legal texts were written in Old Frisian. This language is actually closer to English than to Dutch, but now Frisian is assimilating more and more into Dutch.

Q: What do Dutch people know about Ukraine?

MD: Well, in general, I would say not very much. The last couple of years Ukraine has been in the news a lot, so now people know that there is a war in Ukraine. No one will soon forget the MH17 airplane that was shot down when flying over the conflict zone. Other events that many people associate with Ukraine are the widespread corruption, Chornobyl, Yulia Timoshenko aka the woman with the braid, the 2012 football championships, and the Orange Revolution!

Interview: Victoria Sklyarova