The Language Situation in Ukraine: A Pursuit of Reality or Idealized Symbolism in the Film Orange Sky?

By Alla Nedashkivska (University of Alberta)

© Alla Nedashkivska, 2009


The language question in Ukraine continues to enjoy a great deal of attention and often seems as a never-ending debate. The co-existence (peaceful or not) of Ukrainian and Russian in the society is a question for the Ukrainian public, media, and also for researchers. Questions of language-use surface at several levels, particularly in the domains of media, and more recently in film. The present study focuses on the social meaning behind the language use in one recent Ukrainian feature film—Orange Sky (Pomarancheve nebo), produced following the Orange Revolution in Ukraine of 2004. This particular film stands out on the map of Ukrainian cinematography specifically due to the fact that both Ukrainian and Russian are used intentionally to portray the socio-political and linguistic situation in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution.

There are several studies that analyze the linguistic situation in Ukraine since its independence in 1991 (for detailed descriptions, consult Bilaniuk 2003, Janmaat 1999, Marshall 2002, Krouglov 2002, and Taranenko 2007 among others). For the present study, it will suffice to point out that the situation is far from a clear case of diglossia (in Ferguson’s terms), bilingualism, language variance, or simple coexistence of two languages in a society. In today’s Ukraine both Ukrainian and Russian are used regularly, but the usage is dependent on several factors: geographical regions, urbanity/rurality factors, generations, social strata, situational use, and others. The situation is even more complex if one takes into consideration the vitality of the language variant surzhyk, which is a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian (and sometimes other languages) (see Bilaniuk 1997, 2004, 2005). As Krouglov (2002) notes:

the country’s internal linguistic situation is characterized by periods of peaceful co-existence at certain times and open war at other times between Ukrainian and Russian […]. The “language war” in Ukraine […] existed for many centuries but its intensity either increased or diminished according to the socio-political and economic environment of the time. (Krouglov 2002: 223).

Following the Orange Revolution of 2004, several films were produced with political content related to the event. Often appearing under the heading pomaranchevi fil'my (“orange films”), these were both fiction and documentary films. Among them, three feature films stand out: We will Break Through (Prorvemos'), OrANGELove, and Orange Sky. The first of them, Prorvemos', as Olga Bryukhovetska points out, ended up a failed attempt to produce “the first Ukrainian blockbuster,” demonstrating its makers’ total helplessness in making full-length feature films, with its special effects simply provoking laughter in the audience (Briukhovets'ka 2007: 21). The other two films, besides their relatively greater success, were also distinguished by the use of both Ukrainian and Russian in them. OrANGELove is, appropriately enough, a love story, with a young man from Russia and a young woman from Ukraine as the two leading characters. In the film, these two use Russian and Ukrainian respectively. However, the depiction of language use in OrANGELove is quite problematic, as it would be almost impossible for a young male from Russia to carry out a bilingual, romantic dialogue with a Ukrainian speaker (the male speaking Russian and the female speaking Ukrainian). Code-switching would be inevitable in such a situation: most likely, the Ukrainian speaker, being exposed to Russian in everyday life and knowing Russian to a certain extent, would switch to Russian (a Russian speaker from Russia would not be able to switch to Ukrainian due to a simple lack of both knowledge and exposure to the language). Therefore, this film could not be regarded as relevant for a discussion of the language situation in Ukraine. One of the dominant themes in the third “orange” feature film mentioned above, Orange Sky, is also a love story, but this time between two citizens of Ukraine: Mark, a Russian-speaking man, and Ivanna, a Ukrainian-speaking woman. Therefore, the film provides an important document of language politics practiced in Ukraine, and serves as the focal point of the analysis offered here.

Directed by Oleksandr Kyriienko, Orange Sky was released in 2006. The plot revolves around the Maidan (Kyiv’s Independence Square, the epicenter of the Orange Revolution) with a dominant melodramatic love line between Mark and Ivanna. Mark is from Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital) and is the son of the Kyiv governor. Ivanna is a student from Lviv (Western Ukraine), who is an active participant in the revolutionary events. Mark has his bright future plans laid out in front of him: he has a well-to-do fiancée, Asia, who is the daughter of the chief of police of Kyiv, and he has plans for an education at a prestigious London school. His worries are limited to the choice of a car to drive, a nightclub to visit, or the time to take his fiancée shopping to some posh boutiques. Ivanna’s personality contrasts drastically with Mark’s. She is an unpredictable and emotional young woman who cares not only about herself and her future, but also about the future of the entire country and nation. The differences between these characters are highlighted throughout the film. On several occasions there are statements such as: [Mark’s mother to Mark in Russian] Ty zhe sovsem drugoi (“You are entirely different”); [Mark’s father to Mark in Russian] Oranzhevyi tsvet nam s toboi ne podkhodit (“Orange color does not suit us”); [Asia to Mark in Russian] U nas s toboi drugoe budushchee, nezavisimo ot tsveta lentochki (“We have a different future, regardless of the color of the ribbon”). Moreover, Mark and Ivanna literally speak different languages, which fact, however, does not prevent them from falling in love. In the end, Ivanna changes Mark, leading him to join the “Maidan” and become “orange.”

The film received very mixed critical reviews, most of them not very positive. Nevertheless, with respect to language use some reviewers of this film stressed the fact that the use of both Ukrainian and Russian in Orange Sky signals that both languages can coexist peacefully in the Ukrainian society. According to Bryukhovetska (2007: 22), the bilingualism of the couple in Orange Sky signals an attempt to articulate real Ukrainian bilingualism inherited from the colonial past. This bilingualism, according to her, presents a cultural dilemma for cinematographers. On the one hand, national cinematography is expected to use the national language (Ukrainian) in its productions, on the other, if a film is to portray present-day reality, Russian also needs to be represented on the screen (Briukhovets'ka 2007: 22).

The present analysis suggests that the film offers a more complex depiction of linguistic situations in Ukraine in respect to the use of Ukrainian and Russian in the society. Additionally, it should be pointed out that the use of the two languages in Orange Sky is not the result of a random choice. Rather, it is chosen deliberately, and the reasons for this choice are discussed below.

The Use of Multiple Languages in Film and Present Research Questions

The technique of using two or multiple languages in a film is hardly new. For instance, the plot of a recent Canadian action/comedy, Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006), is set on the border of English-speaking Ontario and Francophone Quebec. Two police officers, one from Ontario and the other from Quebec, after finding a body hanging on a sign marking the border between Ontario and Quebec, must overcome cultural and linguistic differences to solve the murder. Bon Cop, Bad Cop “explores the cultural differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada” (Wright 2006: 4), and the use of both French and English is an important technique utilized by the filmmakers. The two languages in this film are used for the purpose of creating a sense of authenticity and, to an extent, also for a comic effect.

In his recent article, Richard Popp (2006) focuses on two visual texts: the Nickelodeon TV show Dora the Explorer and Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ. In his analysis, Popp stresses the idea of how linguistic acts in the media are used to create distinction by addressing ideas about the functions of language in society. According to him, Dora the Explorer purposefully presents the notion of bilingualism to children through the usage of both English and Spanish, while the use of ancient languages, Aramaic and vulgar Latin, in The Passion of the Christ “acts as capital for notions of historical authenticity and mysticism” (2006: 5) in the director’s pursuit of historical reality.

An earlier study by Laura Martin (1984) focuses on the use of Mexican-American Spanish in two films, Zoot Suit and The Boarder. In it, she examines the ways in which a foreign language can be incorporated into a film, the accuracy of its reflection of linguistic reality and the apparent functions performed by the foreign language material. Her investigation “demonstrates that filmed representation of foreign language can be accurate linguistically and can be used in quite subtle ways to enhance a viewer’s understanding of character or social relations” (1984: 67).

Several other scholars have analyzed the use of language variants and dialects in films and in comedy, and how these language variants correspond to sociolinguistic reality of a particular community (Meinhof 1996, Woolard 1988). Meinhof (1996), for instance, demonstrates the implicit significance of language use in two Edgar Reitz’s Heimat films. Specifically, she states that “the portrayal of language in both films is an outstanding representation of the roles which language plays in the life of an individual and of a community” (1996: 47). She relates this portrayal of language variants to the symbolic significance of retention, change, desired or undesired language loss on the sociolinguistic map of the communities depicted in the films. Woolard (1988), in her study of code-switching in comedies produced in Catalonia, notes that the choice of Castilian or Catalan is neither random nor unimportant, stressing the significance of the social effect of language mixing and relating it to a larger social and political context in which communication occurs.

The present study develops around the following questions: Is it a goal of the makers of Orange Sky to develop a sense of authenticity and/or pursue a realistic portrayal of situation in present-day Ukraine?; Did they undertake an attempt to demonstrate the bilingualism operating in Ukraine, arguing that the co-existence of the two languages is a positive and peaceful phenomenon?; or Is the film’s language politics an attempt to idealize and symbolically represent the current language situation in the country? By focusing on the depiction of language use in Orange Sky and how this use correlates with the elements of visual communication, the present study also discusses the representation of social functions of the two languages used in the film.


In this study, I approach the question of multiple language use in a film from a different perspective than in the work of scholars mentioned above. My analysis dwells at length on the posters promoting the film that were released in Ukraine. From analyzing these images I move to a discussion of the relevance of this visual analysis to the linguistic choices made by characters in the film. The visual analysis is then extended to a discussion of the film’s portrayal of the linguistic situation in Ukraine.

Two posters for the film will be analyzed here. Consider the following images, A and B:

orange sky
orange sky

These two images are prominently featured when Orange Sky is advertised either in the press or on the Net (two other images were found, but those were single occurrences, and thus are not analyzed here). An attempt was made to establish which image, A or B, could be considered primary or initial. However, there are no indications in this respect that could be considered valid. In addition, there are no clear patterns of which image is favored by which web site or publication. Therefore, both images A and B are analyzed equally.[1]

Film posters are considered as texts with visually expressed meaning; that is, with a message that is articulated via visual mode. They are similar to front pages of newspapers or magazines, which are “(complex) signs, which invite and require an initial reading as one sign. This initial reading is then followed by a more detailed, specific reading, which draws its initial orientation from the first reading of the large sign” (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 187-88). Therefore, posters are considered as the first point of “address” for the viewers because they introduce the most significant events and issues of the film. As a rule, a poster is visually grasped before a film is watched.

Theoretical Framework

In this study, I consider film as part of the broader realm of media. I adopt Bell and Garrett’s (1998) premise that “media usage influences and represents people’s use of and attitude towards language in a speech community . . . [M]edia use can tell us a great deal about social meanings and stereotypes projected through language and communication” (3). Additionally, “media reflects and influences the formation and expression of culture, politics and social life” (4). Language use featured in media texts acts symbolically, creating prevalent ideas about what language can and should do in a particular society (Woolard and Schieffelin 1994, cited in Popp 2006: 5). Moreover, “media institutions can utilize language in texts to tap into audiences’ implicit ideas about the social functions of language” (Popp 2006: 5) and “[m]edia language choice is an institutionalized means of framing reality” (Popp 2006: 6).

In this study language use will be viewed through the model of discourse analysis proposed by Cook (1992: 1), where discourse examines not only language, but also the context of communication: specifically, who is communicating with whom and why, in what kind of society or situation, and through what medium (cited in Bell and Garrett 1998: 3). This definition leads to the understanding of text as not only “words printed in ink on pieces of paper” but to a “broader definition to include speech, music and sound effects, image, and so on” (Bell and Garrett 1998: 3).

Kress and van Leeuwen (1996 and 1998) developed a theoretical model for the analysis of visual elements of printed texts. They view texts from a multimodal perspective and, in their framework, include semiotic modes that accompany language or through which language is realized. The two scholars point out that “with the increase in the use of the visual mode with texts, it is essential that scholars now focus on and clarify the interplay between the verbal and the visual” (Bell and Garrett 1998: 14-15). The present study will utilize Kress and van Leeuwen’s framework to analyze visual dimensions related to the film Orange Sky. The focus is on the three signifying systems: information value, salience, and framing, which serve to structure the text and to bring various elements of the visual text together into a coherent and meaningful whole (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 188). Information value “assumes that the placement of elements in a layout endows these elements with the specific information values that are attached to the various zones of the visual space” (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 188). Concepts relevant for the information value of text are identified as follows: “Given-New,” “Real-Ideal,” and “Center-Margin.”

“Given-New”: According to Kress and van Leeuwen (1998: 189), “when a layout opposes left and right, placing one kind of element on the left, and another, perhaps contrasting element, on the right, the elements on the left are presented as Given, and the elements on the right as New”. Essentially, the Given is something that is known and familiar to the reader/viewer, and is presented as common-sense or self-evident. The New is something that is unknown, which is therefore presented as problematic and contestable (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 189).

“Real-Ideal”: In Kress and van Leeuwen’s model (1998: 193), “when a layout polarizes top and bottom, placing different, perhaps contrasting elements in the upper and lower sections of the page, the elements placed at the top are presented as the Ideal and those placed at the bottom as the Real”. Therefore, the Ideal consists of information that is idealized, presented as generalized essence of the information and as having ideologically one kind of salience. The Real includes a more specific, detailed, and “down to earth” information (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 193).

“Center-Margin”: As noted by Kress and van Leeuwen (1998: 196), visual composition of a text may be ordered along the dimensions of Center and Margin. “When a layout makes significant use of the Centre, placing one element in the middle and the other elements around it, … [they] refer to the central element as the Centre and the elements that flank it as Margins.” The Center is thus the nucleus of information and the Margins are the ancillary and dependent elements of the information structure (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 196). Kress and van Leeuwen (1998: 196) reserve term Margin for situations in which the Margins are identical or similar to each other, that is, in symmetrical structures. In other cases, the concepts of Given-New and Real-Ideal are more relevant.

Let us now move to the next two signifying systems of this model, salience and framing.
“Salience”: Kress and van Leeuwen (1998: 200) point out that in addition to various meanings created by the layout of the visual elements, layout also entails an assignment of a degree of salience to elements of the page. The degree of salience is not objectively measurable. It rather results from a multipart relationship between several factors such as size, sharpness of focus, the amount of detail and texture shown in an image, tonal contrast, color contrast, placement in the visual field, perspective (foreground objects are more salient than background objects, and elements that overlap other elements are more salient than the elements they overlap). Kress and van Leeuwen note that there are also some specific cultural factors (for instance, the appearance of a human figure or a potent cultural symbol) that contribute to the degree of salience in a visual text (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 200).

“Framing”: In Kress and van Leeuwen’s model (1998), Framing relates to connecting and disconnecting of visual elements with the potential for elements to be strongly or weakly framed. In cases of strong framing, the elements in different frames are presented as separate units of information. Additionally, elements may also be strongly or weakly connected. In cases of a strong connection, the elements are presented as one unit of information or as belonging together. (Kress and van Leeuwen 1998: 2003).

The theoretical premises outlined above serve as the basis for the analysis that follows.


Language Use. In Orange Sky, as noted earlier, two languages are used: Ukrainian and Russian. Throughout the film, Ukrainian is used by the following characters: Ivanna (main character), her sister, Ivanna’s parents, and most people representing the “orange” camp.

Russian is the language of communication used by Mark (main character), his father (governor of Kyiv), Mark’s mother, his girlfriend/fiancée Asia, Asia’s father (Kyiv chief of police), her mother, their friends (from wealthy families), Fedia (Ivanna’s sister’s husband) and his friends, Innokentii Valerianovich (a Russian-speaking member of the Maidan), and his girlfriend.

A few characters stand out with respect to their language usage, in particular Fedia, a Russian-speaking husband of Ivanna’s sister. The filmmakers, by creating a bilingual couple comprised by Ivanna’s sister (who is from Ukrainian-speaking Lviv) and Fedia (from the predominantly Russian-speaking Kyiv), attempts to show that a union between the Ukrainian-speaking Western Ukraine and the Russian-speaking parts of the country is possible and does work. The depiction of this bilingual union also presents grounds for Ivanna’s romance with Mark and suggests that it too could end in success. Thus, a possible scenario—two Ukrainian-speaking sisters from Lviv unite with two Russian-speaking fellows from Central Ukraine, each side preserving their linguistic and cultural backgrounds. This picture, specifically with a clear separation of language use by the characters without any forms of code-switching, appears to be very idealistic and, to a certain extent, removed from reality.

Another interesting Russian-speaking character is Innokentii Valerianovich, who is a member of the Maidan. In the film, this character speaks about himself and his reasons for joining the Maidan. From his monologue it is clear that he does not have a clear agenda for his life: he used to be a mechanic, a taxi driver, he trained dogs and worked as a cook on a ship. He is at the Maidan because according to him, “Zdes' nachinaetsia chto-to nastoiashchee” (“Something real begins here [at the Maidan]”). This statement signals the message that the Maidan is just the beginning of something that is not real yet (an idea that will be supported by the analysis below).

An interesting fact about language usage in the film is that there are practically no instances of code-switching; that is, characters use a single language, either Ukrainian or Russian, consistently. There are only a few exceptions. One is when Mark and Ivanna are in a tent at the Maidan and Mark begins to read Romeo and Juliet in Russian. Ivanna picks up on this reading and utters a few lines in Russian. This example may not even be considered as code-switching per se, but rather an example of reading in a different language. Another instance of code-switching is by Innokentii Valerianovich, when at the Maidan, he once says “Diakuiu vam” (“Thank you” in Ukrainian), probably showing his solidarity with the Maidan participants. There is another instance of code-switching from Russian to Ukrainian by Mark’s father. Towards the end of the film, when his father visits Mark at the Maidan, seeing Ivanna he says in Russian “Ona?” (“Is it she?”) and then in Ukrainian he states “Harna divchyna!” (“Pretty girl!”). In this instance of code-switching, when making a positive remark about Ivanna, Mark’s father does not use his native Russian, but rather switches to Ukrainian (please note that he criticized Ivanna throughout the film using Russian). This particular use of Ukrainian by Mark’s father actually underlines his distancing from Ivanna, and this singular use of “her” language stresses the fact that he considers her to be a representative of a different “camp.”

This brief outline of language use in the film presents a general picture that depicts polarization in society with respect to language. In particular, people in power, the economically advanced strata of the society, tend to use Russian. Ukrainian is reserved for the more ordinary, represented by the participants of the Maidan.

Visual analysis. The focal point of the present research is the study of visual elements. The visual analysis zooms in on the visual dimensions presented in the cover images of Orange Sky and demonstrates the interplay between the verbal and the visual, with the focus is on the three signifying systems: information value, salience, and framing, which create a structure for the visual text and connect its various elements into a coherent and meaningful whole.

Image A. This image constitutes a vertically organized triptych, with a large photo of Mark and Ivanna in the Center. The top portion of the image presents the Ideal future, represented by the orange color (the color of the Ukrainian revolution of 2004) and the rising sun. The bottom of the image portrays the Real, the revolution, which symbolizes oppositions present in Ukrainian society. Specifically, on the left, armed militia, controlled by the government and on the right, the opposition to the government, the Maidan (protestors and tents erected by the “orange” pro-democratic forces). With respect to the Given and the New, the left of the image represents the Given. In this image, the Given is militia and a corrupt government, which all relate to the main character of the film Mark, the child of the corrupted system. The Given image forms a contrast to the New image on the right, which is dramatized by the depiction of the event of the Maidan (protestors and tents). Additionally, the character of Ivanna is depicted on the right, that is, as new. This image of Ivanna bears salience as it is presented in the foreground, it becomes “heavier” as it is moved towards the top and “crowned” by the sun, almost elevating the character of Ivanna to the idealized divine. Although the main characters Mark and Ivanna are shown in the image as connected, the horizontal portrayal below them presents a very contrasting reality. Specifically, the militia on the left, the tents on the right, divided by Mark’s car, a fancy Jaguar, a cultural symbol of corruption in the society (salient element in this image), present a case of strong framing. With respect to language, the left, or the Given (Mark, militia, government) is associated with Russian. The right or the New (Ivanna, the Maidan, opposition) and in this image, the Ideal (salient portrayal of Ivanna) correlate with Ukrainian. A message above the title of the film, “Revoliutsia—tse kokhannia” (“Revolution is love”) attempts to reconnect the two opposite camps; however, the message presented by the visual elements is much stronger. The visual analysis shows that although the union between Mark and Ivanna could potentially be real (as also suggested by the events in the movie), the situation is idealized. The oppositions in the society are very pronounced, with everything associated with Russian being presented as real, down-to-earth and accepted, while elements associated with Ukrainian are presented as unreal or even fictional.

Image B. This image also presents an example of a vertical triptych. The main difference between image B and image A discussed above is the presence of overt Center in the image. The character Mark is clearly centered. In addition, the image of Mark is salient as it is foregrounded, elevated towards the top and partially overlaps the images of two other characters: Asia (Mark’s fiancée, Russian speaking) on the left and Ivanna on the right. The central space in this image is significant as Mark is portrayed as a mediator between the Given on the left (past, corruption, old fiancée) and New on the right (pro-democratic future and new love Ivanna). Mark’s posture is directed towards the New. In addition, the New conveyed by the image of Ivanna and is presented as “bright” (the sun is above Ivanna) and “happy” (Ivanna is the only one smiling in this image). The image of Ivanna is also more salient in comparison to the image of Asia. In particular, Ivanna’s white hat and her smile foreground the image. Ivanna’s gaze here is not directed towards Mark, but rather to some ideal and happy future. With respect to framing, the image of Mark and also the image of his Jaguar serve as the framing breaks between the past (the Given) and the future (the New) horizontally and between the Real (revolution, opposition of corruption and pro-democratic forces) and the Ideal (orange sky, democracy) vertically. In this image, the Real is sharply disconnected from the Ideal: the top is a bright orange colour, while the bottom is predominantly dark. With respect to language, associations with Russian are placed as Given, and associations with Ukrainian are presented as New. However, the centeredness and salience of Mark’s image brings associations with Russian to the foreground, providing more space to associations with Russian in this image than in image A, in which the symmetrical polarization is overt.

The main differences between images A and B lie in the salience, which plays a vital role in structuring the message. In image A, the image of Ivanna, that is the New and the Ideal, are salient. In image B, the portrayal of Mark is salient, which associates with both the Given and the New (he is the Centre) and the Real (he is placed closer to the image of militia and his car than to the image of the Maidan). In other words, image A presents a more idealistic, symbolic view of the situation, whereas image B is closer to reality. Similarities between these images lie in the presence of framing in both, which signifies differentiation and a lack of group identity.

Discussion and Conclusions

The analysis above demonstrates how the positioning of the visual elements in an image endows them with specific information values in relation to each other and in relation to language use in the film. The layout places the various meaningful elements in the whole and provides ordering and coherence among them. In addition, the analysis above shows that visual communication, or visual elements, and language use can express similar kinds of relations.

The foregoing analysis of images A and B reveals that on the one hand, both Ukrainian and Russian can “live” together in the Ukrainian society. On the other hand, the analysis of visual elements and meaning expressed through them suggests polarized differences. In particular, the analysis shows that associations with Russian are depicted as realistic, common, familiar and well-grounded. The associations with Ukrainian are unreal, idealized, and in a sense, remote and fantasy-like.

The present analysis echoes the ideas put forward by Woolard (1988) in the study about code-switching in Catalan comedy, that the juxtaposition of two languages (Castilian and Catalan in that study) conveys a social message, symbolic in its essence. Woolard stresses that “a fictional world is modeled where the two languages have found a peaceful coexistence” (71).

Therefore, the present study argues that the symbolic “straight cut” bilingualism portrayed in the film is far from reality. The polarization of Ukrainian and Russian displayed in the film is vividly supported by the analysis of elements of visual communication of the cover images of the film. In the images analyzed, information value, salience and framing, literally and figuratively separate the main characters of the film expressing the communicative and societal gap between the characters.

It could be added here that the analysis may be supplemented by the more detailed study of other visual cues in the film. For instance, in Orange Sky, Russian language is connected to ‘cool’ clothing, modern accessories, expensive cars. On the contrary, Ukrainian is associated with bleak, ordinary clothing and elements of traditionality. Even the characters’ names are polarized: when Mark is a Western-sounding name (the Ukrainian equivalent would be Marko), Ivanna is a traditional Ukrainian name. In addition, Mark plans to travel to London in order to receive a prestigious education, which stresses again the associations of Russian with internationalization, mobility and dynamism. Ivanna stays in Ukraine, thus positing the associations of Ukrainian with immobility and stasis. Interestingly, throughout the film, there are no remarks by the “orange” camp with respect to characters representing Mark’s circle. Contrariwise, there are frequent comments by representatives of Mark’s circle about Ivanna. For instance, Mark’s friend Garik, upon first seeing Ivanna describes her as “prostovata” (“a bit simple”), and when Asia sees Ivanna in a bar, she states to Mark “Nu ved' ona sovsem prostushka. Ved' u tebia zhe est' vkus” (“But she is such a simpleton. You do have some taste, don’t you”) (consider also remarks presented earlier that stress differences between Mark and the “orange” camp). In addition, some linguistic cues, although not analyzed in detail, also point to the depiction of Russian as contemporary and “cool,” and Ukrainian as traditional and stigmatized. For instance, when Mark’s language could be described as relaxed, including the use of slang and contemporary expressions, Ivanna’s language at times sounds very stiff and artificial. For instance, when Mark and Ivanna are visiting Ivanna’s parents in Lviv, Ivanna states “Vse mynulosia, numo chai pyty” (“Everything has past and is OK, let us drink some tea”). In this remark, Ukrainian “numo chai pyty” (“let us drink some tea”) sounds very unnatural and bookish to the extent that in everyday speech such an expression would not be used. Therefore, language use in the film also points to different portrayals of the two camps.[2]

To a certain extent the findings of the present analysis echo the observations made by Serbens'ka (2002: 4) in her study of linguistic ecology in contemporary Ukraine. According to Serbens'ka, in Ukrainian television, and specifically, in television commercials, from time to time bilingual partners are introduced. In most of these cases, Ukrainian speaking participants are drawn though negative images (drunk, provincial, unintelligent), whereas the Russian-speaking characters are presented as intelligent, diligent, and with good manners. From Serbens'ka’s perspective, such portrayal of speakers of different languages in Ukraine creates an image of everything Ukrainian as old and unimportant and Russian as more contemporary and elevated (Serbens'ka 2002, 3-6).

With respect to the language situation in Ukraine, the present study supports ideas put forward by Marshall (2002), Janmaat (1999), and Krouglov (2002), who show that in reality either Ukrainian or Russian dominate depending on various factors such as geographic location, age, education, family background. As Marshall points out, “a dynamic tension exists between the two languages, the final outcome of which remains unknown” (2002: 256).

In general, the analysis presented above shows that visual analysis could play an important role in the study of the language situation in a particular community. Visual elements paralleled with linguistic acts and practices portrayed in the media, and in film in particular, serve as symbols that outline a linguistic map of a particular community.


1] If one “googles” Pomarancheve nebo, image A tends to occur more frequently. Additionally, image A is featured on a poster at the official portal “”. Nevertheless, this evidence is insufficient to consider image A as primary.

2] The analysis of linguistic elements would be interesting to pursue further and is reserved for future investigation.

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Updated: 09 Jan 10