Russian language use in the multilingual context of Israel: Looking into a Dominant Language Constellation

Larissa Aronin, University of Haifa, Israel

This study considers the functioning of the Russian language in the unique multilingual setting of Israel. It analyzes the findings of a series of three separate studies of the same 360 young (ages between 17.5 and 25) tri/multilingual students learning at various educational establishments of Haifa. The Dominant Language Constellation of these students consists of Russian, Hebrew, and English. We have attempted to answer the question how Russian language usage changes due to the multilingual situation in which the other two languages gain increasing importance. As the immigrants/multilinguals reshape their multilinguality they rearrange the configuration of their set of languages, adjusting the Russian language roles and even their own attitudes to it, according to their changing needs. It would be an oversimplification to state that Russian undergoes a transformation from a speaker's single language, used to perform all functions, to merely one among several languages. The preliminary findings show that the shift takes place in various directions. On the one hand, some speakers develop a clearly emotional attitude toward Russian. On the other hand, its usage is very often reduced to mundane domestic spheres in which personal and professional development play a relatively small role. Within the Dominant Language Constellation Russian is awarded a narrower usage than previously, providing surety in tasks such as learning new words. Having been the tool for cognition from birth, the native language retains this role in a modified manner. It is still the major tool for cognition, but it shares the task with L3 and L2 attaining the clearly defined role of 'the last resort', stored in waiting till it is needed.