Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923-1934

Breaking the Tongue: Language, Education, and Power in Soviet Ukraine, 1923-1934

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By Matthew D. Pauly
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2014
World Rights
480 Pages 11 Images
ISBN 9781442648937
Published Dec 2014
Online discount: 25%
 $85.00    $63.75
ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781442619067
Published Nov 2014
Online discount: 25%
Full purchase $85.00

In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Communist Party embraced a policy to promote national consciousness among the Soviet Union’s many national minorities as a means of Sovietizing them. In Ukraine, Ukrainian-language schooling, coupled with pedagogical innovation, was expected to serve as the lynchpin of this social transformation for the republic’s children.

The first detailed archival study of the local implications of Soviet nationalities policy, Breaking the Tongue examines the implementation of the Ukrainization of schools and children’s organizations. Matthew D. Pauly demonstrates that Ukrainization faltered because of local resistance, a lack of resources, and Communist Party anxieties about nationalism and a weakening of Soviet power – a process that culminated in mass arrests, repression, and a fundamental adjustment in policy.

Matthew D. Pauly is an assistant professor in the Department of History at Michigan State University.

List of Illustrations

List of Terms

A Note on Transliteration

A Note on Administrative Division in Soviet Ukraine


1: Primary Lessons

2: Adapting to Place

3: The Conversion

4: Treading Carefully

5: Learning the New Language of Pedagogy

6: Limited Urgency

7: The Question of the Working Class

8: Children as Salvation: The Young Pioneers and Komsomol

9: Ukrainization in a Non-Ukrainian City

10: The Correction

11: Children Corrupted and Exalted

12: The Path Ahead


Biographical and Informational Sketches



Breaking the Tongue is ground-breaking in its focus on the link between education, politics and Ukrainization. This book will be read with great interest by scholars in the fields of Soviet studies, Ukrainian and Russian history, Ukrainization, nationalism, and post-revolutionary cultural-education policy.”

Myroslav Shkandrij, Department of German and Slavic Studies, University of Manitoba

‘This is an important monograph based on meticulous archival research and a solid theoretical foundation, Pauly’s study will be of interest to historians of Ukraine and the Soviet Union, as well as anyone investigating the relationship between education and national identity.’

Christopher Gilley, Revolutionary Russia vol 28:02:2015

‘Pauly’s highly detailed and highly nuanced monograph is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of how Ukrainization evolved and how the multinational USSR dealt with social contradictions and unintended consequences in its early period.’

George O. Liber, The Russian Review, vol 75:01:2016

‘This clearly written and effectively researched monograph focuses on educational policy as it was implemented, challenged, and ultimately practiced in the school houses of Ukraine…. Breaking the Tongue adds an important dimension to Soviet childhood studies.’

Tom Ewing, Slavic Review vol 75:02:2016

‘Packed with biographies of little-known victims of the 1930s purges, this book gives valuable insight into a pivotal aspect of Soviet history that deserves similar attention in other regions of the former USSR… Highly recommended.’

E.J. Vajda, Choice Magazine vol 52:10:2015

“Matthew Pauly’s Breaking the Tongue is a sober, lucid, and innovative study that will be of great interest to both historians and linguists. His careful investigation of what seems to have actually happened in the schools and other institutions of Ukraine at the time when they were allegedly being Ukrainized demonstrates that Soviet Ukrainization could not in fact work, not only because of the Soviets’ highly ambiguous attitude to their own policy, but also because the entire endeavour suffered from the almost complete lack of the most basic resources, including teachers, textbooks, school buildings, and even paper.”

Michael Moser, Institut für Slawistik, University of Vienna

‘It is a very important step forward in our general understanding of Ukrainization and Soviet nationality politics in the 1920s. It should be read by all those who study Soviet policies of the 1920s and Russian-Ukrainian relations.’

Alexey Miller, American Historical Review December 2015

‘Pauly’s new book brings to light extensive archival material and offers a unique insight into the workings of the Soviet nationalities policy on the micro-level of the school…. A remarkably timely and relevant contribution to the field.’

V.Reznik, Slavonic & East European Review vol 93:04:2015