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Chapter 4. When networks tell just half the story

Social networks, language and social identity among Russian German and Russian Jewish migrants in Germany

image of Chapter 4. When networks tell just half the story

Abstract The theoretical framework of social network analysis predicts that a stronger co-ethnic network in migrant settings will support language maintenance, while a looser inter-ethnic network will weaken it. This assumption was tested by analyzing 78 interviews with Russian Jewish and Russian German migrants. Surprisingly, despite tighter co-ethnic networks, the Russian German sample displayed clearer signs of language shift, including a relaxed attitude towards L1 loss among children. At the same time, despite more diverse networks and stronger orientation to acquiring L2, the Russian Jewish group demonstrated a higher emphasis on L1 maintenance, also for younger migrants.

These findings suggest the existence of additional factors overriding the effects of the social network structure, mainly the need to negotiate a post-migrant identity both within the host society and within the Russian-speaking migrant population. By accepting German as an in-group code and promoting it among younger community members, Russian Germans reclaimed their historically German identity. The Russian Jewish community favored additive bilingualism with full maintenance of L1 as a way to establish distinctiveness from the Russian German group. These findings suggest that the effects of the social network were intertwined with ongoing identity negotiations and distinct ideologies affecting communities’ linguistic choices.

  • Affiliations: 1: Ludwigsburg University of Education, Germany University of Michigan, USA
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