Language acquisition, ethnicity and social integration among former Soviet immigrants of the 1990s in Israel

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Abstract

Russian immigrants in different host countries are prone to ethno-linguistic retention which in Israel was augmented by their advanced age structure. The issue of the dominant language (Hebrew versus Russian) is very central to the local discourse on ethnicity and immigrant integration. As a by-product of ethnic mobilization during the 1990s, a rather autonomous Russian community has emerged in Israel - with its own labour market, consumer services, media and social networks. Drawing on the survey in a representative national sample of 804 post-1989 immigrants, this article highlights the key role of host language acquisition as a pathway to economic success and social integration. The improvement of Hebrew skills with increasing tenure in Israel was mainly found among young and middle-aged respondents, while older ones did not report positive change over time. Younger and upwardly mobile immigrants showed a tendency towards additive bilingualism, incorporating the elements of Hebrew into their everyday communications and cultural/media consumption. Mastering and using Hebrew serves as a trigger for reshaping immigrants' identity, resulting in the gradual formation of a new ethnic entity - Russian Israeli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-454
Number of pages24
JournalEthnic and Racial Studies
Volume27
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The survey described in this article was part of the research project funded by Israel Science Foundation (Social Sciences and Humanities Grant No 899/00).

Keywords

  • Ethnic identity
  • Language acquisition
  • Russian immigrants

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