Language, Violence, and Peacemaking in Ukraine

Room 121 Muirhead Tower Edgbaston Campus University of Birmingham
Thursday 20 October 2022 (15:00-16:30)
Blue and yellow posters of peace hung on a long string, attached to railings

The war in Ukraine is not about language politics. When, where, or whether at all one can or should speak Russian, mixed dialects, or minority languages has long been a topic of debate in Ukraine, but language choice was not a direct cause of the eight-year armed conflict in the country's south and east, nor does it justify the 2022 Russian invasion.

But language more broadly conceived has played a substantial role in the war. This presentation asks: how can we study (the multitude of) relationships between language and violence ethnographically? And what about the flip-side: what role is language through to play in peacemaking, and reconciliation? This talk investigates some of the language ideologies that undergird common assumptions about the sorts of speech – for example, dehumanizing slurs, imperialist historical narratives, disinformation, lack of a "common language" – presumed capable of wounding people, creating division, or even provoking armed conflict, observing that what is most audibly troubling is not necessarily that which is most powerful. I then compare and contrast language's presumed role in bringing about violence with assumptions about its importance in peacemaking and reconciliation efforts.


  • Deborah A. Jones is a linguistic and sociocultural anthropologist focused on Ukraine. Her most recent fieldwork was with people working in landmine clearance in then Kyiv-controlled Donbas. She is also engaged in refugee support in Germany, where she is a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology.

Chair and Convenor: