Navigating competing identities through stance-taking: A case of Ukrainian teenagers

Volume 2(1): 2018

ELIZABETH PEACOCK, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse


Scholars of postsocialism have shown how nation and citizenship are shifting along with political and economic borders, and the movement of people across these borders. However, few have examined these transformations through the ways in which individuals take up stances in everyday interactions. Ukraine’s current economic and political difficulties reveal a disconnect between what western Ukrainians feel they deserve and the economic realities that drive them to seek work abroad, which is evident in competing views on migration. This article brings together ethnography and stance theory to examine how teenagers draw upon and engage with a variety of social views to evaluate migration, position themselves and others in relationship to migration, as well as to (dis)align themselves with others in these interactions. The data examined herein come from an informal group discussion held at one public school in a middle-class neighborhood in western Ukraine. The analysis suggests that the stances teenagers take towards Ukrainian migration potentially affect the social identities teenagers construct within their existing peer groups by unintentionally bringing forward socioeconomic class identities that threaten group boundaries based on friendship. In taking up these stances, western Ukrainian teenagers also convey the role migration has in who they are and who they want to be, and reflect the broader views on migration in Ukrainian society.


Les chercheurs s’intéressant au post-socialisme ont montré comment la nation et la citoyenneté évoluent avec les frontières politiques et économiques, et avec le mouvement des personnes à travers ces frontières. Cependant, peu ont examiné ces transformations en étudiant la façon dont les individus prennent position dans les interactions quotidiennes. Les difficultés économiques et politiques actuelles de l’Ukraine révèlent une déconnexion entre ce que les Ukrainiens de l’Ouest estiment mériter et les réalités économiques qui les poussent à chercher du travail à l’étranger, ce qui est évident dans les opinions divergentes sur les migrations. Dans cet article, je lie l’ethnographie et la théorie des attitudes pour examiner comment les adolescents s’inspirent d’une variété de visions sociales pour évaluer la migration, se positionner eux-mêmes et d’autres en relation avec la migration, et se dissocier des autres dans l’interaction. Les données examinées ici proviennent d’une discussion de groupe informelle tenue dans une école publique d’un quartier de classe moyenne dans l’ouest de l’Ukraine. L’analyse suggère que les attitudes des adolescents vis-à-vis de la migration ukrainienne affectent potentiellement les identités sociales que les adolescents construisent au sein de leurs groupes de pairs existants en introduisant involontairement des identités de classes socio-économiques qui menacent les frontières de groupe basées sur l’amitié. En adoptant ces positions, les adolescents de l’ouest de l’Ukraine expriment également le rôle que la migration joue sur la construction de leur identité et reflètent les perspectives plus larges sur la migration dans la société ukrainienne.

Keywords: identity, stance, youth, migration, Ukraine.


Since the early 1990s, migration from Ukraine has been the result of poor living conditions (Shamshur & Malinovska, 1994) that stem from larger economic troubles: the collapse of the USSR and changing relations with the former Soviet republics; hyperinflation following its 1991 independence; growing unemployment, as well as political instability and corruption (Sutela, 2012; Wilson, 2013). For example, the GDP per capita of Ukraine fell from $1,490 in 1991, to $636 in 1999, and was hit hard during the 2008-2009 global economic crisis (Wilson, 2013). Continuing political instability is evident in the 2004 Orange Revolution, the 2014 Euromaidan protests, the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, and the ongoing military conflict in the eastern Donbass regions. Though Ukrainians have historically migrated throughout Russia and other former Soviet Republics, and to Western Europe and North America to escape the Soviet regime, the persisting economic and social instability of post-1991 has pushed many more to seek work abroad (Hormel & Southworth, 2006; Solari, 2014; Tolstokorova, 2009; Vollmer & Malynovska, 2016). As a result, Ukraine has become one of the top emigration countries in the world, with approximately 12.3% of its population living abroad in 2013 (Ukraine, 2016). While Russia and the United States were the top receiving countries for Ukrainians in 2013 (Ukraine, 2016), for those living in western regions like L’viv, a major city near the European Union border, migration often means travelling to nearby Poland and other European Union countries, such as the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and Portugal (Fedyuk & Kindler, 2016).

Ukraine’s current economic and political difficulties reveal a disconnect between what western Ukrainians feel they deserve as “Europeans” and the economic realities that drive them to seek work abroad (Montefusco, 2008; Solari, 2010; Tolstokorova, 2009). This disconnect is evident in competing views of migration, which weigh the potential economic advantages against the social disadvantages. On the one hand, migration is viewed by many western Ukrainians as a way to reclaim their pre-Soviet European heritage, through living a “normal” life predicated on achieving a European middle-class lifestyle (Galbraith, 2004; Patico, 2008; Peacock, 2012; 2015; Schulze, 2010). It also gives migrants the opportunity to support their families financially, and to gain the cultural capital that comes with experiencing Europe first-hand (Zhurzhenko, 2010). Remittances, such as providing for a child’s education, help to support those back home and can be the primary support for relatives in rural villages (Dickinson, 2005). In addition, successful migrants can return home with the knowledge and resources to help make their home country “European again.” As Tolstokorova (2009) explains, “Young people with experience of foreign employment have more active positions, higher self-reliance and economic self-sufficiency, and stronger responsibility for their own lives. . . .Furthermore, international experience. . .increases linguistic competence and communication skills, expands cultural horizons and intercultural tolerance” (p.10).

Migration, however, has its downsides. Migrants may find themselves exploited by former co-nationals or locals due to their immigration status, their lack of a social support system, and their inability to speak the local language. While their pay may benefit their families, their status abroad is often that of the underclass, and their absence is often blamed for many of Ukraine’s social problems. This migration puts Ukraine in a bind as it reflects traditional Third World migration patterns (Solari, 2010). The perception that Ukrainian emigrants might come more from a Third World country, rather than a First World one, is evident in some of the risks Ukrainian migrants face, such as human trafficking (Solari, 2010).

There is also fear that migration dissolves the nation, since parents are separated from their children and fewer young adults remain to raise their own families. Though additional economic resources give the children of emigrants valuable social capital, it often comes with a lack of parental attention (Tolstokorova, 2009). Ukrainians who leave to work abroad are often seen as less committed to the nation, as they may never return, and linguistically and culturally assimilate to their host countries of northern and western Europe, Canada, and the United States (cf. Solari, 2014). Those who remain see themselves as having been abandoned, left to solve the country’s problems on their own or to emigrate themselves.

Even the youngest generation in L’viv, who has only known independent Ukraine and has seen the borders of Europe expand to within 60 miles of their home city, is aware of both the potential benefits and risks of migrating to Europe. This generation, even more so than their parents, sees itself as torn between two obligations: the duty to retain their Ukrainian-ness—their language, their culture, their love of the country, on the one hand; and, the expectation to help Ukraine rejoin the rest of the Western world, on the other.

In this article, I examine the stances taken by a group of western Ukrainian teenagers on migration, where a stance is viewed as a type of social action that potentially affects the social identities constructed within their existing peer groups and reflects the broader views on migration in the Ukrainian society. These teenagers draw upon and engage with a variety of social views to evaluate migration, position themselves and others in relationship to migration, and to (dis)align themselves with others in the interaction. They learn particular views about the value of migration from the media, their parents—stories that circulate within their peer and family social networks—and in the attitudes expressed at their schools, such as teachers’ attitudes towards the parents of students who work abroad or in stories that describe migration as the primary source of domestic problems and child neglect. In taking up these stances, western Ukrainian teenagers also convey which of their identities are most salient in the interaction, and the role migration has in who they are and who they want to be.


DuBois (2007) defined stance as “a linguistically articulated form of social action” that is “shaped by the complex interplay of collaborative acts by dialogic co-participants” (p. 139, 142). In order to interpret the meaning of any particular stance, what must be known or inferred from the interaction is the identity of the stance taker, the object of stance-taking, and to what prior stance the stance taker is responding (DuBois, 2007). Stance takers position themselves towards a shared object of the interaction and its context. Such context is important for understanding stance-taking because the positioning of the stance taker, and their alignment to the stances of others, often takes into account existing social relations, the relevant in-the-moment context, and stance taker’s current social identity among their peer groups (Jaffe, 2009; Wortham, 2006). DuBois’ (2007) “stance triangle” emphasizes the process through which speakers perform social acts through stance: as a subject evaluates a shared stance object, they simultaneously position themselves and others, and align themselves with other subjects (p.163). As such, stances can be viewed as “acts of identity” (Le Page & Tabouret-Keller, 1985) that are co-constructed by participants in response to the stances they take towards the shared stance object and the alignments they make toward each other. As the salient social identities of participants are often in-flux, these “identities-in-interaction” (Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998) can play a role in stance-taking and realignment with the stances of others.

More than any other social groups, youth actively engage with processes of identity construction as they distance themselves from their parents, connect to their peers, and otherwise respond to wider social phenomena (Bucholtz, 2002). One way in which they juggle various identities is through the stances they take and the alignments they make with the stances of their peers (Eckert, 1989; Goodwin, 2006). These stances can more clearly reveal the social views and values in wide circulation, as well as illustrate the effects of stance-taking on unfolding interactions. An individual’s stance-taking can be the result of particular social identities, such as class, but can also affect other salient identities, like membership in a particular friendship group.


The data examined here comes from a larger 16-month research project conducted in L’viv, Ukraine in 2006-2007, which investigated what the first generation of independent Ukraine learned about “being Ukrainian”, and how they were developing a sense of national identity. To these ends, I conducted participant observations, semi-structured interviews, and informal group discussions with teachers, students, and parents at two neighborhood public secondary schools. The Taras Shevchenko school was located in a working-class neighborhood, comprised of several Soviet-era apartment blocks. Ivan Franko was located in a middle-class neighborhood with detached homes in an area historically associated with L’viv’s intellectual elite.i Between the two schools, I followed three cohorts during their 8th and 9th grade years, attended a variety of classes with them, spent time visiting their homes, and asked them about current events, their uses of language, and their views on what it meant to be Ukrainian. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the analysis of the data collected during one informal group discussion at Ivan Franko school, which focused on students’ future aspirations, attitudes and experiences with international travel, and what they had heard about Ukrainians living abroad. The audio recording of the discussion was transcribed and translated. Instances of stance-taking (IST) were selected from the session and were examined within the context of the emerging interaction by taking into consideration DuBois’ (2007) “stance triangle”, as well as the ethnographically-informed context of the backgrounds and relations between individual students.

During the project, migration emerged as an important point of discussion among teachers and parents. At Taras Shevchenko, parents’ work abroad was viewed as problematic, one that was often voiced by the students’ homeroom teacher during her public scolding of two boys whose mothers worked in Italy and, in her opinion, their poor grandmothers were hopeless in keeping the boys properly disciplined. According to her, without their mothers at home, the boys were destined to become delinquents. The issue of migration at the middle-class school, on the other hand, was more nuanced. Though some students at Ivan Franko had parents working in lower-income jobs abroad, and so were unable to visit their families on a regular basis, migration was not limited to the working class. Rather, working or being educated abroad had an appeal for those with more financial means; a middle-class teenager, for example, could envision gaining both a college degree and first-hand experience of living in a foreign country.

At both schools, two views of migration were apparent in the stances students took toward the issue of migration. The positive view focused on the financial and personal benefits of going abroad. The negative view centered on the dangers of being a migrant in a foreign land and the neglect of one’s family that it resulted in. This negative view was also found towards other students and their stances, including students who were close friends and those who were merely classmates. As such, not all uses of these two views on the value of migration resulted in disruptions of the existing group boundaries. Rather, participants’ stances at times reinforced these boundaries and at other times challenged them.


Friendship groups among teenagers in Ukraine often cross class boundaries, as the socialist value of equality among people continues to prevail. In typical interactions, different classroom statuses allow for the most vocal students to disagree with others with little risk to the existing social relationships, which are based on their status in a peer group, class, and shared interests. The instances of stance-taking that follow occurred during a group discussion among one cohort of 8th graders at Ivan Franko, which was attended by nine girls and two boys, and was held in a classroom after school. The most vocal participants were girls who belonged to two different friendship groups. Ksenya and Vika both come from middle-class families, and are part of the “popular” girls’ friendship group. Whereas, Vika comes from the long-standing middle-class intelligentsia in L’viv, Ksenya’s family is part of the emerging “new” middle class. Her father is an independent businessman and her mother is a housewife by choice, not because of any lack of employment opportunities. Her entire family has also traveled abroad, including a family trip to Egypt with the family of another girl at school. Marta and Sofiya are part of another friendship group in the class. Marta is working-class, the daughter of flower sellers who often send her to spend summers with her rural relatives. Sofiya, like Ksenya, is also part of the emerging middle class; her father migrated to the United States and was working there during that time.

In IST 1 below, class differences lead to competing perspectives on the need to migrate in order to obtain gainful employment.

IST 1: Employment opportunities in Ukraine

Marta ale v Ukrajini lihshi umoby but it’s ideal conditions in Ukraine
Ksenya ale v polovyny= but in the middle=
Nadiya =na naihirshykh robotakh= =in the worst work=
Ksenya =ne znaidesh sobi robota, jakshcho v tebe ne maje, napryklad, vyshchoji osvity, bez vyshchoji osvity nikuda ne berut’, rozumijut’ =you can’t find work for yourself, if you don’t have, for example, a higher education, without a higher education you can’t go anywhere, you know
Marta Mozhna! [mozhna znaity You can! [you can find
FSTii [mozhna znaity, Ksenja, robota shchob [you can find, Ksenya, work that
Marta Ksenya, v Ukrajini zara povno roboty, to ne, to shcho p”jat’ rokiv tomu, prosto ljudy vvyjizhdzhajut’ tuda z [Ukrajiny Ksenya, now in Ukraine there’s full-time work, it’s not like five years ago, it’s just that people migrate there from [Ukraine
Ksenya [ljudy vvyjizhajut’, tomu shcho vony khochut’ krashchoho [zhyttja [people migrate because they want a better [life
Vika [dumaju [I think


Though migrating abroad is unnecessary according to those like working-class Marta, middle-class Ksenya finds migration to be the best and only choice for those with limited education, as well as a way for the middle class to meet their own financial and education goals. In their attempts to take the floor—evidenced by their supporting peers’ latching and overlapping, and Ksenya’s overlap—Marta’s and Ksenya’s opposing stances reinforce their different class positions and friendship group identities.

When multiple identifications are at play, participants can also maneuver their positions in order to favor one identity over another, such as refining one’s stance to align with the morality of one’s peers rather than other non-peers. Though Ksenya and Sofiya usually occupy different positions in the classroom social order, in IST 2, they find themselves taking a similar stance on the value of living abroad, but give different reasons for doing so.

IST 2: I want to live in Ukraine, but. . .

Marta a khochu zhyty v Ukrajini ale maty majetok= I want to live in Ukraine but have an estate=
Sofiya =a ja tozhe khochu zhtyty v kvartyry ale v Londoni =and I also want to live in an apartment but in London
Nadiya v Londoni, duzhe dorohi kvartyry, So[fi in London, apartments are really expensive, So[fi
Sofiya [a nu j shi, ale vse odno meni duzhe Anhlija [podobavajet’sja [so what, it doesn’t matter to me, I really [like England
Nadiya [tam hodynnyky (rzhavijut’) [there’s a clock they ( )
Sofiya meni L’ondon duzhe syl’no podobajet’sja khot’ na p”jat’ khvylyn for me, London is really grand, I liked it after five minutes
((segment skipped))
Vika ja ne khochu…a meni podobaju’tsja v Ukrajini I don’t want to ((go abroad))…I like being in Ukraine
Nadiya a ja b khotila tak mozhe [na ne vse zhyttja I would like to, maybe [but not all my life
Ksenya [ja b khotila pojikhaty za kordon navchatysja, ale ne zhyty [I would like to go abroad to study, but not to live
Maryna Ta yeah
Ksenya a potim povernulasja and return after
Nadiya u v vas taka niby vy zaraz jak vchytesja ale, tak, nu, piznajete svit, nu, mozhete jizdyty tam po svitu for you now it’s as if you’re like studying but, yeah, well, you get to know the world, well, you can go there all over the world
Vika a my, sho ne mozhem? and what about us, we can’t?

While Sofiya favours living in a foreign country due to the more comfortable lifestyle and higher standard of living she could gain there, Ksenya finds the experience of living in another country as a way to improve her life back in Ukraine. Rather than seeking a more comfortable European life and contributing to the country’s growing “brain drain” problem (cf. Solari, 2010), Ksenya’s goal is to get a professional degree at a European university and then return to Ukraine. Though Ksenya agrees with Sofiya that not everything is bad about living abroad, she places more emphasis on her desire to return to Ukraine, framing her desire to emigrate as a particular, demarcated stage in her life, not as the lifetime goal that Sofiya holds. By emphasizing how her stance diverges from Sofiya’s, Ksenya is able to maintain her social distance from Sofiya. Ksenya elaborates in IST 3, where she navigates her similar stance to Sofiya while also managing her disalignment from her close friend, Vika.

IST 3: They want to see something else

Ksenya chomu za kordon? why go abroad?
Sofiya bo za kordonom lipshe, meni zdajet’sja= because it’s easier abroad it seems to me=
Vika =ni ni =no no
Sofiya tak yes
FST ja protestuju I’m against it
((dull thud, followed by laughter))
Natalya tam baksy , baksy zeleni there’s bucks, green bucks
Ksenya ni nje tomu shcho khochet’sja pobachyty shos’ inshe nizh v nas ne til’ky nashu Ukrajinu tobto za kordonom vse rivno jakis’ inshi ljudy spilkuvannja inshe no no because they want to see something different, not only what we have in Ukraine, that is, abroad everything is different, different people and other kinds of interactions

In this way, Ksenya is able to present an identity of a future moral Ukrainian emigrant, one who uses emigration for life improvements and then returns home. By spending time in another country, migrants can experience things that cannot be experienced at home, and can return to Ukraine with greater world experience. In taking this stance, however, Ksenya finds resistance from her friends Vika and Natalya. Vika’s “no” works to reject Sofiya’s claims that life abroad is “easier”, but also foretells her later stance against the value of migration (IST 4). Natalya’s emphasis on seeking money, specifically U.S. dollars (“bucks”), also indirectly resists Ksenya’s claim that migrating leads to deeper changes in the migrants themselves. Though Ksenya is able to negatively align from Sofiya’s position, her strong support of migration reveals possible disalignment from her own friends.

Marta’s and Ksenya’s class identities in IST 1, and Sofiya’s and Ksenya’s class identities in IST 2-3, do not subsume their existing peer group identities. However, a person’s stance-taking can result in the domination of some of identities over others even if the person does not intentionally seek to highlight the dominating identities. Though both Ksenya and Vika belong to the same friendship group, they find themselves taking different stances on whether working abroad is beneficial for Ukrainians. From Ksenya’s perspective, as part of the new middle class, she claims that Ukrainians without a college degree can work as managers and earn more money in Europe than those with degrees in Ukraine. In contrast, Vika comes from a family who is part of city’s long-standing, urban middle class, which values education for itself and which retains social prestige but not necessarily the financial resources equal to that status. As such, Vika challenges Ksenya’s claim saying, “they aren’t managers”, which aligns with Marta’s earlier stance in the discussion (not shown here) that these migrants “abandon their families” when they move abroad to work.

In an effort to explain her view, Vika describes the precarious position of Ukrainian migrants by presenting a narrative about her grandmother’s friend, a woman who found herself in prison in IST 4.

IST 4: Where do you appeal, if you’re not a resident?

Vika I taka sama Italija, pojikhala mojeji babtsi podruzhka, i sho ty dumajesh? jij zrobyly nepravyl’ni dokumenty, vona v tjurmi cydila prosto tak, prosto tak, piv rokiv bo jiji zrobyla tam nepravyl’ni dokumenty, ne tut, jiji zrobyla nepravyl’ni, a tam, i tak povyna ljudej And it’s the same in Italy, my grandmother’s friend went, and what do you think? They made her illegal documents, she sat in prison, yeah only, only, yeah for half a year because she had illegal documents with her there, not here, illegal ones made for her there, and- and, yeah, people have to do it
Lana mozhna ljudy, nu i sho? people might, so what of it?
Vika a sho, nu i sho? Ljudyna prosto tak v tjurmi sydila? tomu shcho jiji hospodari zrobyly jij nepravyl’ni dokumenty and what, so what? people just have to go to jail? because her bosses made illegal documents for her
FST Vsjaki robljat’ dokumenty they make all kinds of documents
Vika a zvidky vona znala sho nepravyl’ni, a tak pobynni ljudej kuda ty zverneshsja, jaksho ty ne mistseva? and how did she know they were illegal? but people have to. where do you appeal, if you’re not a resident?
Ksenya dobre, Vika. davai good, Vika. give us the next one
((open palm hit on tabletop)) ((open palm hit on tabletop))
Nadiya ty musysh ity v jakes’ posol’stvo, zrobyjaty svoji dokumenty, tobi zh ne hospodari tuda idut’ vyrobljaty jikh? you have to go to some kind of embassy, to get your own documents, not have the boss there go and do them for you?
Vika tak, vizu to vsë tak, ale shob vona maje dokumenty [sho vona tam mozhe perebuvaty yeah, all visas are like that, but if she has documents [that she can look over there
Sofiya [ale vona mozhe pereviryty= [but she can verify them=
Nadiya =Vika, vona mozhna pereviryty, khto znaje ukrajins’ku movu, khto pratsjuje, i pereviryty documenty =Vika, she can verify them, someone knows Ukrainian, someone works there, and verify the documents
Ksenya davaite tak, skil’ky poluchaje nasha sidjelka? hryven’ p’jat sot, shist sot, ne bil’she. v misjats’. skil’ky polochaje tam zhe sama sidjelka z Ukrajiny? ja dumaju shcho= tell me, how much does our nurse get? five, six hundred hryven, not more. a month. how much does this nurse from Ukraine probably get there on her own? I think that=
Maryna =°tysjachu dolariv°= =°a thousand dollars°=
Ksenya =tysjachu dolariv, vona des’ tak i poluchaje- ljudy- Vika, tam vyshchyj riven’ zhyttja, rozumijesh? =a thousand dollars, she gets around that, peop- Vika, it’s a higher standard of living, you know?
Sofiya tam mozhe hirshe znannja, ale lipshyj riven’ zhyttja, °ja- ja prosto hovorju° maybe there’s worse information there, but it’s an ideal the standard of living, °I- I only say°
Vika dobre. vsë. good. and that’s all.
Ksenya [davaite dal’she= [give us another one=
FST [davaite dal’she= [give us another one=
Ksenya =bo zaraz posvarymsja =because now we’re fighting

In her narrative, Vika paints a bleak picture of the Ukrainian migrant as a person who has no choice but to migrate with false documents, and who is powerless at the hands of both the Ukrainian and the European states where they end up. In telling this story, the discussion shifts towards issues of immigrant labour rights, forcing the group to face the deeper ramifications of migration beyond employment opportunities and livable wages. After attempting to change the subject, Ksenya repeats her initial stance: the hopes of higher wages are enough to justify why Ukrainians would risk becoming undocumented workers in Europe. While the girls agree that migration will solve many of the economic hardships Ukrainians face at home, their peer group harmony is threatened over the reality that those of different socioeconomic classes may have very different migration experiences and opportunities.

These teenagers find themselves crossing the existing peer group boundaries in taking various stances on migration. Just as Ksenya unexpectedly finds herself positively aligning with non-friend Sofiya in their shared desire to live in Europe, Vika now finds herself in alignment with working-class, non-friends in her desire to remain living Ukraine and in her apprehension of working abroad. Furthermore, the experience of her grandmother’s friend has had an impact on Vika’s stance on migration. If someone like her grandmother’s friend could only migrate with falsified documents and potentially end up in jail because of them, then others like her might one day end up in a similar position. For Vika, undocumented migration is not only the fate of the poor or uneducated, it could happen to a middle-class person like herself.

The Ukraines and Europes that these teenagers describe contrast both economically and morally. The stances taken by these teenage girls support the idea that many Ukrainians migrate for good reasons. Ksenya’s stance in favor of migration highlights the superior European schooling system, and the benefits that higher European wages can bring to migrants, their families, and wider Ukraine in the long term. However, these teenagers hold divergent stances when it comes to the value of migration at a larger scale. For Vika and many of her working-class peers, living abroad can also lead to the rejection of Ukraine, an immoral greediness and focus on individual improvement over that of one’s community, and a life of ease that ignores and avoids the problems faced by their compatriots living in Ukraine. In addition, migration may take away their social support networks and leave them at the mercy of foreign powers, regardless of their social class. This latter stance suggests a traditionally moral Ukraine and a degraded Europe that threatens it; if all of Ukraine were to become like this Europe, it would no longer be Ukraine.


The stances taken and discussed in the ISTs towards migration are connected to the teenagers’ perceptions of Ukraine, and Ukrainians, at the multiple levels (Peacock, 2012; 2016). For example, their stances contrast Ukrainians who decide to migrate and those who do not, between Ukrainian emigrants and those living in their host countries, and between the typical life in Ukraine and in these host countries. Among their various stances, the teenagers seem to agree that western Ukrainians have found themselves on the losing side of the “have-nots,” while the countries abroad provide better opportunities for education and better financial gains, which makes it more difficult for them to become “normal” and “European”, as they deserve.

In their stance-taking, young people draw upon views and values of migration to position themselves both towards the topic of migration, and to align themselves towards their peers. When these views are situated within different logic worlds, however, stance-taking can become a complex process of multiple participants working together to manage (dis)alignments and maintain the pre-existing social order. Participants’ various competing social identities may also influence how they position themselves towards contentious issues and other participants’ stances. Emerging social class identities, such as those in places under transition, can affect which views and values young people are most familiar with, as well as which expectations they hold. In other words, stance-taking, and the worlds that create and are created in the process of stance-taking, highlight the various ways in which people may live in different worlds, worlds that delimit the kinds of experiences they have and what kind of people they may become.

In western Ukraine, teenagers’ stances on migration are shaped by their social positions and the particular worlds these positions create. In the examples discussed in this paper, the stances taken by the Ukrainian teenagers show how they try to make meaning of the conflicting views on migration that exist in the Ukrainian society. The stances they take reflect their values, their aspirations, and their fears. These stances also reflect teenagers’ attempts to try to make meaning of the conflicting views on migration and the life abroad that circulate in the mainstream society. At the same time, the stances the teenagers take bring up underlying social differences, such as social class and their status in a peer group, which unintentionally threaten to disrupt the existing friendship group identities and boundaries. As these teenagers work to manage their conflicting evaluations of Ukrainian migration, they simultaneously mitigate or highlight their (dis)alignments with their peers along friendship and class lines.

The ways in which these youth view Ukrainian migrants can also have a larger impact on Ukrainian society. The debates over whether migrants are retaining or rejecting their Ukrainian identity reveal not just ambivalence towards the role of Ukraine in various perspectives of global migration, but also in how to define Ukrainian identity. While some leave little room for emigrants to remain authentically Ukrainian, others see emigrants as potentially creating a new kind of a hyphenated, dual identity, one that combines the best of Ukraine and Europe.


Antaki, C., & Widdicombe, S. (Eds.) (1998). Identities in talk. London: Sage.

Bucholtz, M. (2002). Youth and cultural practice. Annual Review of Anthropology, 31, 525-552.

Dickinson, J. A. (2005). Gender, work, and economic restructuring in a Transcarpathia (Ukraine) village. Nationalities Papers, 33(3), 387-401.

DuBois, J. W. (2007). The stance triangle. In R. Englebretson (Ed.), Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction (pp. 138-182). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Eckert, P. (1989). Jocks and burnouts: Social categories and identity in the high school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Fedyuk, O., & Kindler, M. (2016). Migration of Ukrainians to the European Union: Background and key issues. In O. Fedyuk & M. Kindler (Eds.), Ukrainian Migration to the European Union (pp. 1-14). IMISCOE Research Series. Springer International Publishing.

Galbraith, M. (2004). Between east and west: Geographic metaphors of identity in Poland. Ethos, 32(1), 51-81.

Goodwin, M. H. (2006). The hidden life of girls: Games of stance, status, and exclusion. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Hormel, L., & Southworth, C. (2006). Eastward bound: A case study of post-Soviet labour migration from a rural Ukrainian town. Europe-Asia Studies, 58(4), 603-623.

Jaffe, A. (Ed.). (2009). Stance: Sociolinguistic perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Le Page, R. & Tabouret-Keller, A. (1985). Acts of identity: Creole-based approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Montefusco, C. (2008). Ukrainian migration to Italy. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 6(3), 344-355.

Patico, J. (2008). Consumption and social change in a post-Soviet middle class. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Peacock, E. A. (2012). The authentic village and the modern city: The space-time of class identities in urban western Ukraine. Anthropology of Eastern Europe Review, 30(1), 213-236.

Peacock, E. A. (2015). Spatiotemporal ambivalences of youth identities: Striving to be authentic, yet worldly. In N. Worth & C. Dwyer (Eds.), Identities and subjectivities (pp. 493-510). Geographies of children and young people, vol. 4. Singapore: Springer.

Peacock, E. A. (2016). Spatiotemporal ambivalences of youth identities: Striving to be authentic, yet worldly. In N. Worth & C. Dwyer (Eds.), Identities and subjectivities (pp. 493-510). Geographies of children and young people, vol. 4. Singapore: Springer.

Schulze, J. L. (2010). Estonia caught between east and west: EU conditionality, Russia’s activism and minority integration. Nationalities Papers 38(3), 361-392.

Shamshur, O., & Malinovska, O. (1994). Ukrainian migration in transition. Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences, 7(2), 165-175.

Solari, C. (2010). Resource drain vs. constitutive circularity: Comparing the gendered effects of post-Soviet migration patterns in Ukraine. Anthropology of East Europe Review, 28(1), 215-238.

Solari, C. (2014). “Prostitutes” and “defectors”: How the Ukrainian state constructs women emigrants to Italy and the USA. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 40(11), 1817-1835.

Sutela, P. (2012). The underachiever: Ukraine’s economy since 1991. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Tolstokorova, A. (2009). Costs and benefits of labour migration for Ukrainian transnational families: Connection or consumption? Cahiers de l’Urmis, 12, 2-13.

Ukraine (2016). World Bank migration and remittances factbook (pp. 257). Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

Vollmer, B., & Maynovska, O. (2016). Ukrainian migration research before and since 1991. In O. Fedyuk & M. Kindler (Eds.), Ukrainian migration to the European Union (pp. 17-32). IMISCOE Research Series. Springer International Publishing.

Wilson, A. (2013). Ukraine: Political and economic lessons from democratic transitions. Civil society, markets, and democracy initiative. Council on Foreign Relations.

Wortham, S. (2006). Learning identity: The joint emergence of social identification and academic learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zhurzhenko, T. (2010). Borderlands into bordered lands: Geopolitics of identity in post-Soviet Ukraine. Stuttgart: Ibidem Verlag.

i The names of both schools and all participants are pseudonyms.
ii FST refers to a female student who could not be identified by name on the audio recording.

A distinctive Use of R as a marker of Santomean identity

Volume 2(1): 2018

MARIE-EVE BOUCHARD, Concordia University


This paper examines the ideologies that surround the use of rhotics (or r-sounds) in the Santomean variety of Portuguese. This emerging variety spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe diverges from the European and Brazilian Portuguese norms and shows great variability in its use of rhotics. More specifically, Santomeans often use a strong-R in positions that require a weak-r in other Portuguese varieties (Bouchard, 2017). I argue that this distinctive use of rhotics is becoming a marker of Santomean national identity.  Through the use of sociolinguistic interviews, I examine where this new variety of Portuguese is emerging from, and how Santomeans view their distinctive use of rhotics. Results demonstrated that the use of strong-R is associated with younger Santomeans who grew up after the independence of the country (in 1975), and who are starting to show pride in their national variety of Portuguese.


Cet article examine les idéologies entourant l’utilisation des sons R en portugais santoméen. La variété émergente de portugais parlée à São Tomé-et-Principe diverge de la norme brésilienne et européenne et fait preuve d’une grande variabilité quant à l’utilisation des sons R. Plus précisément, les Santoméens utilisent souvent le R-fort dans des positions qui exigent un r-faible dans d’autres variétés de portugais (Bouchard, 2017). Je considère que cette utilisation distincte des sons R est en train de devenir un trait caractéristique qui marque l’identité nationale santoméenne. Par l’entremise d’entrevues sociolinguistiques, j’examine l’origine de cette nouvelle variété de portugais et la vision des Santoméens vis-à-vis de leur utilisation des sons R. Les résultats montrent que l’utilisation du R-fort est associée aux jeunes santoméens nés après l’indépendance du pays (donc après 1975) et qui démontrent une plus grande fierté de leur variété nationale de portugais.

Keywords: Language ideologies, rhotics, Santomean Portuguese, national identity, youth.


São Tomé and Príncipe is characterized by its great linguistic diversity, and has been called a “labyrinth and laboratory of languages” (translated from Hagemeijer, forthcoming). During the sixteenth century, three native creoles formed on the islands: Forro, Angolar, and Lung’Ie.i According to Hagemeijer (in press), these creoles were the most widely spoken languages on the islands until the beginning of the twentieth century.  The Portuguese language had been restricted to a small group of Portuguese nationals. This sociolinguistic picture changed at the end of the nineteenth century due to the massive arrival of contract laborers coming from different regions of Africa, causing Portuguese to become a lingua franca. Consequently, a linguistic shift from creoles to Portuguese emerged in São Tomé and Príncipe. This shift intensified in the 1960s with the rise of the nationalist movement, the generalized access to education, and the spread of the parental practice of forbidding children to speak creole. When the country became independent in 1975, Portuguese became a symbol of national unity and was more widespread in use. Additionally, there were several other factors that contributed to disfavoring the use of the creoles on the islands: greater social mobility (related in part to Santomean immigration to Portugal), greater access to education and means of communication in Portuguese (e.g., television, Internet), and the absence of language politics in favor of the creoles. Currently, children are growing up with the local variety of Portuguese as their first (and often only) language. This emerging variety of Santomean Portuguese is central to the current study and provides an opportunity to investigate an emerging Portuguese variety in Africa, and the significance of language ideologies in the choice of language and in national identity.

One of the most salient variables that distinguishes Santomean Portuguese from other varieties of Portuguese is the use of rhotics (r-sounds). In European and Brazilian Portuguese, the distribution of rhotics is determined by syllable structure (Mateus & d’Andrade, 2000). The ‘weak-r’ [ɻ, ɾ, Ø] is required when the rhotic is the second element in an onset consonant cluster (e.g., branco “white”). The ‘strong-R’ [r, ʀ, x, ɣ, χ, ʁ, h, ɦ] is required word-initially (e.g., rato“rat”), and, word-medially in syllable-initial position, if the preceding syllable ends with a coda consonant (e.g., honrado“honored”). In coda and word-final positions, these varieties of Portuguese have variable or optional realizations of rhotic variants. Intervocalically, there is a phonemic contrast of rhotics, in words such as carro “car” and caro “expensive”. This means that the use of the strong-R (carro) or the weak-r (caro) affects how the word is perceived by listeners, as it can lead to multiple meanings.

In contrast to this standard distribution of rhotics, some Santomeans pronounce a strong-R in phonetic environments that require a weak-r in other varieties of Portuguese. The following example compares the pronunciation in Santomean Portuguese (STP) to European Portuguese (EP):

STP:     tu    és    brasileira (pronounced [bʁazileiʁɐ])?
EP:       tu    és    brasileira (pronounced [bɾɐzilɐjɾɐ])?
ENG:    you are Brazilian?
‘Are you Brazilian?’

The current paper focuses on the distinctive use of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese, the significance of the language change underway in São Tomé, and the ideologies that surround this change. The main objectives of this paper are to discuss linguistic differentiation (Irvine & Gal, 2000) in São Tomé, in a bid to show how the Santomean Portuguese variety has been erased from public discourse, and to examine how the use of the strong-R has become, and continues to be, a marker of belonging and national identity for young Santomeans.


São Tomé and Príncipe stands out among other Portuguese-speaking African countries, as Portuguese is the first language of the great majority of the population. It is spoken by 98.4% of citizens (INE, 2012). It is the official language of the country, of the government, media, and school, and of everyday life.

Lorenzino (1996) was one the first linguists to note that the Portuguese variety spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe varied from its target language, European Portuguese. Since then, few studies have looked at Santomean Portuguese. Most research on Santomean Portuguese is related to morphosyntactic and syntactic features (Figuereido, 2010; Gonçalves, 2012, 2015); whereas, research on the linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, phonetics, and phonology of the language variety are scarce (Brandão, 2016; Bouchard, 2017; Christofoletti, 2011).

Santomean Portuguese varies from Brazilian, European, and other African varieties of Portuguese, especially because of the influence of creoles (Afonso, 2009; d’Apresentação, 2013) and their distinctive use of rhotics. Previous studies from Bouchard (2016, 2017) indicate that this distinctive use of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese (i.e., the use of a strong-R in weak-r positions) is part of a linguistic change underway in São Tomé. Based on the apparent-time construct (Bailey et al., 1991; Bailey, 2004), Bouchard (2017) showed that younger Santomeans use strong-R the most (54.8%), and older Santomeans the least (5.9%) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The use of strong-R according to age and speaker, based on percentage
(Adapted from Bouchard, 2017, p. 262)

To my knowledge, no previous studies have investigated language shift (from creoles to Portuguese) and language change (regarding the use of rhotics) in São Tomé from the perspective of language ideologies. Language ideology is the link between forms of talk and social structures; it is “the cultural system of ideas about social and linguistic relationships, together with their loading of moral and political interests” (Irvine, 1989, p. 255). In a linguistic community, that is a group of people who use the same linguistic code and signs, language practices are measured against those of the dominant group (Bourdieu, 1982). In the case of São Tomé and Príncipe, the linguistic practices have been measured against and compared to speakers of European Portuguese during the five centuries of colonial rule. European Portuguese was, and may still be, considered to be the standard variety. It is viewed as the “good” way of speaking Portuguese and the linguistic objective to attain; whereas, in contrast, creoles were believed to be “bad.” This encounter between European Portuguese, Santomean Portuguese, and the creoles of São Tomé will now be examined in terms of a language ideology of differentiation (Irvine & Gal, 2000).


In this study, I examine the emerging variety of Portuguese spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe. I discuss how the distinctive use of rhotic in Santomean Portuguese is being associated with national identity, and to santomensidade “Santomean-ness.” The main questions addressed herein are: What is the role of language ideologies in language change in São Tomé? How are language ideologies interrelated with national identity and rhotic use in Santomean Portuguese? The answers to these questions are important given that studies about language use and practices in São Tomé and Príncipe are scarce, and that the Santomean distinctive use of rhotics is a linguistic innovation currently emerging. This paper demonstrates how the use of rhotics is becoming a marker of the young, post-independence, Santomeans, and it contributes to the existing literature regarding the use of certain linguistic features vis-à-vis identity formation and nation building. This is achieved by focusing on the Santomeans’ language ideologies in terms of their use of rhotics in relation to their speakers and identity. Moreover, the semiotic processes of Irvine and Gal (2000) are utilized to shed light on the Santomean sociolinguistic reality and show how the Santomean Portuguese variety spoken by the middle class has been erased from public discourse. Irvine and Gal (2000) suggest that people construct their ideological representations of social and linguistic difference through the use of three semiotic processes: iconization, recursivity, and erasure.

First, Irvine and Gal (2000) describe the process of iconization as being a transformation of the relationship between linguistic varieties or features and the social images they map onto: “Linguistic features that index social groups or activities appear to be iconic representations of them, as if a linguistic feature somehow depicted or displayed a social group’s inherent nature or essence” (p. 37). The second semiotic process in the construction of ideologies and differentiation is called fractal recursivity, and it “involves the projection of an opposition, salient at some level of relationship, onto some other level” (Irvine & Gal, 2000, p. 38). In other words, the contrast that exists in some opposition between groups or linguistic varieties reappears (or persists) at some other levels. Finally, erasure is the process by which ideology renders a group or a sociolinguistic phenomenon invisible (Hachimi, 2012; Hollington, 2016; Irvine & Gal, 2000). It is a form of “forgetting, denying, ignoring, or forcibly eliminating those distinctions or social facts that fail to fit the picture of the world presented in ideology” (Gal, 2005, p. 27). This tripartite framework will be used to access and understand the emerging variety of Portuguese, which I suggest is being created by a growing number among the younger generations who take pride in their Santomean and African identity.


The methodology chosen for studying locally embedded language use, the role of language use in the construction of social and national identity in a multilingual society, and the language ideologies that surround language use included: observation, field notes, and individual sociolinguistic interviews. The fieldwork for the data was conducted mainly in the city of São Tomé, the capital of São Tomé and Príncipe, and its surroundings between June 2015 and March 2017. The 56 participants included in this study were Santomeans, born and raised on São Tomé Island, and who are still residing in the capital or its surroundings. This study is based on roughly 46 hours of tape-recorded sociolinguistic interviews (Becker, 2013; Labov, 1984; Tagliamonte, 2006) from 48 adults (20-73 years old) and eight teenagers (12-18 years old) (Table 1).


Education Level

Age group




High school













































Table 1: Participants in this study

Interviews with adults lasted between 33 and 82 minutes, and interviews with teenagers lasted between 24 and 30 minutes (with the exception of one interview that lasted an hour). Interviews were recorded after I had spent a period of time (starting during the third month, more precisely) in São Tomé and getting to know more about the culture, in terms of their ethnic groups, religious practices, traditional dances, etc. This cultural immersion allowed me to ensure that the questions were relevant to Santomeans. During the interview, I elicited comments on language, ethnicity, identity, and localness to arrive at a clearer picture of the ideologies underlying linguistic choices and perceptions within the speech community. Interviews were conducted in Portuguese, but only the translation of excerpts are provided in this paper.

I also present a concrete example, a narrative description of a Santomean named Célia with whom I discussed the used of rhotics. By examining more deeply the case of Célia, I aim to understand in a more holistic way the experience of one speaker. This includes information about the complexities regarding one’s social network, background, and education, among other things. Although generalizations from one observed case to all other cases is not possible or necessarily desired, this brief case study is an opportunity to derive broader principles and observations of relevance regarding ideologies about pronunciation of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese (cf. Duff, 2008).

Language Ideologies and Linguistic Differentiation in São Tomé

As indicated earlier, I applied Irvine and Gal’s (2000) tripartite semiotic processes to discuss how language ideologies might contribute to language change. Specifically, these three processes made it possible to examine how Santomeans map their understanding of linguistic varieties to people, how language ideologies are constructed among the speakers of the island of São Tomé, and what are some of the consequences of this mapping.

Iconization: European Portuguese, Creole Languages, and their Social Images

Iconization served as a means to examine the mapping of language use onto its speakers.  During colonial times in São Tomé, although the Portuguese were in the minority, they held the position of power. They formed the highest social class on the island, had a higher level of education, and had greater economic means. Over time, their variety of Portuguese came to index their social identity; European Portuguese became a marker of powerful, educated, and elegant people. Santomeans were aware that their native languages, the creoles, were considered to be inferior to European Portuguese. This ideology of inferiority was in part transmitted to Santomeans by the Portuguese colonizers who did not even consider the creoles to be “real” languages, but rather mere dialects of Portuguese. As one participant commented:

They didn’t call it creole, but rather dialect, because Portuguese made sure to minimize creole, they would say that it was only a dialect of Portuguese – which is not true. (Tomás, 50 years old)

In this excerpt, dialect does not refer to a variety of Portuguese, but rather to a language variety that is considered to be inferior to the Portuguese language. In fact, the creoles were spoken by enslaved Africans and their descendants, whom the Portuguese considered inferior. These ideas of inferiority about the languages were then transferred to the speakers of those languages. The creoles became associated with backwardness, savagery, stupidity, and inferiorityii, and these ideologies surrounding creoles were not only transmitted by the Portuguese, but also between Santomeans themselves. If Santomean parents wanted their children to “become someone”, they forbade their children to speak creole:

They were forbidden [to speak creole] because there was a feeling that one who speaks creole is poor, backward, and that creole spoils Portuguese [han han], that’s what they used to say. (Tomás, 50 years old)

Our children have to learn to speak well, to speak well Portuguese, like if fine people, good people, educated people had to speak Portuguese, that it is the language of what. . .the right language, right, the correct language, the creole is seen as a person who is backward, who doesn’t know Portuguese and only speaks creole, I think they thought or think that by speaking creole, a child won’t be able to learn Portuguese well, [Hum. . .like if. . .] yeah, one would interfere with the other, and they wanted their children, well. . .hey, my son has to speak Portuguese well, he has to be someone, he has to be a fine person, he has to express himself well, I think that’s what it is. (Natália, 33 years old)

Thus, European Portuguese became an icon of people with a higher socioeconomic status, and the creoles became an icon of the people from with a lower socioeconomic status. The ideologies surrounding those languages help us understand the ongoing loss of the creoles in São Tomé, as Santomeans gave more value to Portuguese and favored the learning of Portuguese over creoles.

Fractal Recursivity: Settings and Varieties

In the case of São Tomé, the framework for understanding linguistic difference at one level, for example the difference between Portuguese and creole languages in terms of linguistic value and recognition within the society, served to construct differences at other levels, such as linguistic varieties between the city and the plantations. This was achieved through Irvine and Gal’s second semiotic process: fractal recursivity. As Gal (2005) wrote, “fractal recursions are repetitions of the same contrast but at different scales” (p. 27), meaning that the contrast can be reproduced by projecting it onto broader or more narrow comparisons.

According to the 2014-2015 Instituto Nacional de Estatísticas (National Statistical Office) survey results, 66.6% of Santomeans live in urban areas, while 33.4% live in rural areas (MICS, 2014). When talking about language during my fieldwork and interviews, Santomeans often highlighted the difference between the variety of Portuguese spoken in the city and the one spoken in what they called the roças “plantations” (i.e., rural setting). All participants (urban and rural) commented that the variety of Portuguese spoken in the city is “better” than the variety spoken in the plantations:

The first difference I see is the way they speak. [Yeah?] Yes, people in the city speak better than people here in the plantation because, as you know, the environment here is closed. (Carlos, 28 years old, external informant living in rural areaiii)
M-E:    So, on the island, where do you think that people speak better Portuguese?  Where is Portuguese better spoken?
Zé:       In the center of the capital.
M-E:    Why?
Zé:       Because, well, all this, Portuguese, was centralized there and it’s the peak of the country, the head of the country, the president, the prime minister, I don’t know, I don’t know, the best quality stayed there, so it means Portuguese was mainly centralized in the center of the capital then in the other parts of the country, that’s why the most adequate Portuguese is there. (Zé, 52 years old, external informant living in rural area)

There is a higher number of creole speakers living outside the center of the capital, especially in the district of Caué (the southern part of the island, where Zé lives), who speak creole more frequently than those in the center of the capital. For this reason, the influence of the creole languages on the rural variety of Portuguese is believed to be greater than on the city variety. Moreover, people from the city are not only seen as speaking better Portuguese, but also as being more educated, more economically comfortable, better dressed, etc. People from the plantations, on the other hand, are seen as speaking “bad” Portuguese, as having a lower level of education, as being bad-tempered, etc. In this example of fractal recursivity, it is possible to see the reproduction of the contrast (Portuguese/creoles) onto another level (urban/rural).

Erasure of the Speech of a Growing Middle Socioeconomic Class: The Emerging Variety of Santomean Portuguese

Finally, the process of fractal recursion allows for erasure. This process makes it possible to examine elements that do not fit into the ideology of contrast that was constructed. In the case of São Tomé, what is being erased, or rather, ignored, is the speech of the middle-class Santomeans. The middle-class Santomeans are those who have a certain level of schooling (at least high school), a certain economic comfort (a job, a house, perhaps a car, etc.), but who do not necessarily turn towards Europe to find their social and linguistic models. They differ from the higher-class Santomeans in that they are not at the apex of the social pyramid; for example, they are not necessarily members of traditionally important families in the country, nor have they lived abroad (although some may have studied abroad and come back), and they earn money locally (i.e., in dobras, not in euros). Thus, Santomeans, and their speech, do not fit the old stereotypes which consist of dichotomies of European Portuguese/creoles, urban/rural, and rich/poor. The Santomeans that I spoke to only discussed their variety when I asked specific questions, such as “Is Santomean Portuguese different from European Portuguese?” or “Which variety do you prefer: Santomean, European, or Brazilian Portuguese?”. Otherwise, they always preferred talking about creoles, or about what they consider to be “bad” Portuguese (with creole features) and “good” Portuguese (that corresponds to Portuguese grammar and the European standard). I believe that it is in this space, this process of erasure, that Santomean Portuguese is emerging. As mentioned earlier, one linguistic feature that is characteristic of the Santomean emerging class is the use of the strong-R instead of the weak-r in some positions of the word. Most Santomeans are not aware of the use of rhotics, as being typical of their variety of Portuguese, but several informants cite it as a local feature. Furthermore, the social facts show that this particular use of the rhotics indexes the youth and the post-independence period.

In São Tomé, some of the consequences of language ideologies are the deprecation of the creole languages, the growing loss of the creoles, and the prejudices attached to creole speakers; although, this latter part seems to be slowly changing. Moreover, examining the rhotics as used and pronounced in Santomean Portuguese and the ideologies that surround their pronunciation reinforce these consequences.


More than any other feature, for non-Santomeans, the pronunciation of rhotics iconically indexes Santomean Portuguese. On the one hand, most, if not all, lower socioeconomic status Santomeans I interviewed and questioned about pronunciation of rhotics in their variety of Portuguese were not aware of this linguistic difference. On the other hand, higher socioeconomic status Santomeans who studied or worked abroad and who had come into contact with Portuguese or Brazilians had a greater metalinguistic awareness of this feature (Silverstein 1979, 1981). Here is an excerpt from my interview with Pilar who discusses rhotics in Santomean Portuguese.

But I think, I think that we have a particularity, we don’t differentiate the R when it’s one or two. [Hum. . .] Yeah, I think there is only one pronunciation. [Yeah. . .] Yeah. . . .Just like we say “car” (carro) the same way we say “cheap” (barato), for example. (Pilar, 44 years old)

Pilar refers to the phonemic contrast of rhotics. She suggests that there might be only one way to pronounce rhotics in Santomean Portuguese. To her, the word carro “car” (underlying strong-R, spelled with two <r>’s) and barato “cheap” (underlying weak-r, spelled with one <r>) can both be pronounced with the same type of rhotic, i.e., a strong-R. In this excerpt, Pilar pronounced both words with a strong-R, although barato “cheap” is usually pronounced [bɐɾatu] in European and Brazilian Portuguese. This suggests that there is a merger between strong-R and weak-r and that the phonemic contrast in intervocalic position might not exist anymore.  Interestingly, Pilar is one of the participants in this study that uses strong-R in weak-r positions more frequently. In order to understand why her use of strong-R is so distinctive, I questioned her about the Santomean accent (referring here to the rhotics) and identity:

M-E:    And the adults, you think they keep their accent unintentionally, or because they want to, as a form of identity?
Pilar:    The adults? That. . .there I think it’s like this. . .I think. . .that. . .when. . .if maybe they want to show that they’re in Portugal, things like that, they adopt the accent from there, but when not. . .at least in my case, nothing influenced me.

In Pilar’s opinion, some Santomeans adopt the European Portuguese accent in order to show that they are in or have been to Portugal. This certainly reflects the higher status attributed to European Portuguese. However, more subtly, Pilar’s explanation of the adaptation to European Portuguese also implies a certain lack of authenticity, when she proudly says that nothing influenced her speech.

In fact, speaking Santomean Portuguese is about being African rather than Portuguese or creole. It is important to note that Santomeans from the middle and lower socioeconomic class identify as African first, and not as Portuguese:

M-E:    Do Santomeans feel African?
Elzo:    Yes! We feel African, we identify with Africa, we feel, we feel African, we feel African. . . . And it’s a pride, right, to be African, right.  (Elzo, 50 years old)

As seen above, Pilar did not consider the distinctive use of rhotics to be problematic; however, it was distinct for most of the other participants who were aware that the Santomean distribution of rhotics was not identical to that of European Portuguese. In an interview with Marcelo, a 45-year-old Santomean who has also spent time abroad, other perspectives on rhotics can be seen:

M-E: One thing I noticed the first day I was here is the way that. . .that you pronounce
your R, but not everyone does it.
Marcelo: (Laughs!) Carregam nos R!
M-E: Yeah, you noticed?
Marcelo: (Laughs!) It’s possible, I have I think I have this problem of carregar nos R too. . . . I think it’s a bit of a defect of language.

Santomeans usually refer to the distinctive use of strong-R as carregar nos R. Carregar in this sense means “to turn stronger or more intense.” Marcelo considers this distinctive pronunciation of rhotics to be a “problem” and a “defect of language.” This represents the most common opinion expressed regarding the distribution of rhotic variants in the Portuguese spoken by Santomeans. However, it is important to point out how this idea that Santomean Portuguese is different in pronunciation comes from contact with speakers of other varieties of Portuguese. During my stay in São Tomé, I never heard a Santomean discussing, mocking, or criticizing another Santomean’s pronunciation of rhotics, except for a few who had lived abroad.

Some participants have tried different techniques to “remove” this pronunciation, as Alberto, a 32-year-old Santomean who studied in Brazil, did:

Alberto: I notice that I make my R stronger. . . . I tried, I did some exercises with friends who know about diction to try to remove this R, but then I stopped (laughs) and I gave up. . .
M-E: You thought it was something that needed to be corrected?
Alberto: I think so. . .I think so because. . .
M-E: Still today, you think this?
Alberto: I think that if it was easier to correct, I would have corrected it, but. . .because it’s something that I tried once, and twice, and it needed a bit more work, I didn’t insist on changing, if it was easy to change yes, but it’s not something that for me. . .it doesn’t bother me that much, it’s something that, you know, is kinda different.

Alberto knows there is something “different” about his pronunciation. He tried to change it but quit because it demanded too much effort. He now seems to accept the way he speaks.  However, this was not the case for all Santomeans interviewed. In the next section, I turn to the case of a young Santomean who felt discriminated against because of her use of rhotics.


Célia, a 27-year-old Santomean journalist, shared her views and experiences regarding her pronunciation of rhotics. Célia grew up in Riboque, a lower- to middle-class neighborhood that is centrally located in the city of São Tomé. Many people of lower socioeconomic status live there. In this area, the houses, which are made of wood and covered with a simple corrugated iron sheet, are very close one to another. The streets are busy, loud, full of kids running around, and people sit by their door to look at people walking by. Célia grew up in this area with her mother and her siblings. She has spent her entire life in São Tomé City, where she attended primary school, high school, and university. She has never travelled outside the island of São Tomé. According to Célia, her social environment and origin explain her pronunciation of rhotics:

I come from a very poor social circle and I didn’t have any contact with people who speak Portuguese from Portugal [yeah] so my mom speaks like this, my sisters speak like this, people close to me, my family speaks like this, my partner does not though because he lived in Cuba for a long time [ok] so his pronunciation changed and everything, so I think that Santomeans who are Santomeans, especially the ones from a low social circle, a lower social class, that. . .who never traveled outside São Tomé, who never had any other kind of interaction and all, direct interaction [yes] they talk like me.

Interestingly, Célia links this distinctive pronunciation of rhotics to Santomean identity (“Santomeans who are Santomeans”), more specifically to Santomeans from a lower socioeconomic status who have not interacted with speakers of Portuguese who are not Santomean. For the purposes of clarity, there is a need to nuance Célia’s words. In my opinion, Célia is part of the growing Santomean middle class. Her mother used to be a palaiê (seller at the market). Eventually, her mother became a small business owner and she now earns a better living. Célia has a high level of education, even though she did not study abroad – an opportunity which is deemed more prestigious. She has a good job working as a journalist. She acknowledges in the interview that her life now is better than when she was a child. I consider her to be part of the emerging middle-class of São Tomé and Príncipe, and yet, regardless of her qualification and status, Célia is still questioned about her identity based on her pronunciation.

When Célia and I met, she said she was a bit nervous because she thought I wanted to talk to her about her “pronunciation”. I was a bit surprised, so I asked why. She answered that she had been criticized on the Facebook page of the web-journal she works for because of her pronunciation:

It was a Brazilian man, he commented that the journalist had a French accent. After, other people who are Santomeans said no, that she doesn’t have a French accent, she is Santomean. . . . Another said that I speak like this because of our creole Forro [yeah] but another came and answered that I speak like this simply because I speak badly (laughs).

After this interview with her, I found on Facebook the discussions she referred to during the interview (Figure 2).

Figure 2. First excerpt from a Facebook page discussing Célia’s speech

M: The reporter needs to go back to school, she speaks very badly.
H: Why does the reporter have a French accent? Very weird.
J: We Santomeans have this “half”-French accent because of our “dialect.”
H: I haven’t seen other interviewees with an accent like the one of the reporter. Well. . . . If you’re from there and say that’s how it is, who am I to think it’s not.
A: French accent? Since when does our creole remind people of a French accent?  I’ve been living in France for 8 years, and sorry but I know the two accents very well and they are totally different.

It is unclear where the first person (M) is from, but the second one (H) is Brazilian, and the two answering (J and A) are Santomeans. In this Facebook interaction, the different people discussed the quality of Célia’s language (“she speaks very badly”, “why does the reporter have a French accent? Very weird”), and the origin of her accent. One person asks why she has a French accent. One Santomean suggests that it is because of the influence of Forro on Portuguese, and another Santomean who lives in France disagrees and comments that Forro and French accents are totally different. This was the first time that Célia was criticized because of her speech. However, a few days later, people commented on Célia’s accent again on Facebook (Figure 3), and this time she felt very offended:

What really offended me is something from two weeks ago, I did an interview with a lady and then I did a story about the STP Music Award, you know, the contest?  [Yes, yes.]  I did an interview about that and a video, and the Facebook page of the STP Music Award shared the news and somebody saw it, a lady even a young lady, she commented “this journalist, gee, for heaven’s sake, she didn’t do justice to this story, she has phonetic deviation, she urgently needs speech therapy”, I saw that and I was so so hurt, I was really hurt, I was even going to write something to send the person but because I also show my colleague first, he said “Ah [Célia], don’t do that you’ll start an argument, so don’t do it”, I breathed deeply and I let it go but since then I’m so worried I spend my time on the Internet looking for exercises for phonetic deviation, I saw something about putting a pen in your mouth, saying “ma ma mi mi mi” (laughs) for real I saw that (laughs).

Figure 3. Second excerpt from a Facebook page discussing Célia’s speech

G: This journalist, for heaven’s sake, she does not have what is needed for this news report, good public speaker skills, on the contrary, she suffers from an important phonetic deviation, she urgently needs good intensive speech therapy.
N: I loved this a lot.

The person who wrote this comment is a Santomean living abroad. She criticized Célia for her “bad public speaking skills” and her “phonetic deviation,” and because of this pronunciation, G. does not consider her qualified to be a journalist. This comment highlights how negative the ideologies surrounding this pronunciation of the rhotics can be.

These comments were hurtful to Célia, as they criticized her speech, her sense of personhood, but also herself as a journalist; they made her insecure about her accent. She now feels ashamed of her pronunciation, and would prefer to speak as the Portuguese do, as illustrated in the following three excerpts:

I didn’t know I admit that I didn’t know that I spoke like this [ok] I really didn’t have any idea that I spoke like this, I only realized it when I started to work at STP News.iv I’m ashamed of the way I speak right now, I’m ashamed. I think I prefer to speak the way the Portuguese speak just to see if people will leave me alone, but I can’t keep it up.

Célia’s position as a public figure makes her more exposed to criticism. It is this criticism that made her self-conscious of her “accent,” of which she is now “ashamed.” She would prefer to speak European Portuguese not because she likes it better but rather to stop criticisms about her accent. Célia also reports that Santomeans who are abroad suffer from criticisms as well when in Portugal:

My colleague, we were talking about pronunciation again the day before yesterday, he went to Portugal at the end of last year to study, to do his bachelor, and he said that his Portuguese teacher said that we Santomeans speak in a very weird way, but the tone that she used to say that, he didn’t like it [yeah]. He felt that she was belittling the way we speak [yeah]. The teacher made him so mad, but not as much as another friend who has been living in Portugal for a while did and who speaks like Portuguese do [hum. . .]. He was surprised by how my friend speaks, in a way that made my friend really angry because on top of telling him that he speaks differently, he also told him that he makes his R much stronger in a weird way [ok]. My friend got more upset with this colleague who is Santomean exactly because he is Santomean.  He used to speak like this before getting out of here, and only because he’s there now he speaks like the Portuguese do (laughs). He’s acting like that [yeah].  I don’t know, people tend to do that, right.

Célia’s friend disliked the teacher’s comments regarding his speech, but he disliked it even more when the same comment came from a Santomean colleague. Why would a comment from another Santomean be more frustrating than from someone who is Portuguese? It is as if this pronunciation was a marker of santomensidade, of being Santomean. In that case, the friend’s comment was an act of inauthenticity. Rejecting Santomean pronunciation is akin to denying his roots, a part of his culture, a part of his santomensidade.

In the excerpts from this case study, we have seen that Célia links the use of strong-R to a shared sense of national identity and socioeconomic status. However, it is not so straightforward, as some Santomeans from a higher socioeconomic status who have lived abroad (Pilar and Marcelo presented above, for instance) do “draw out” the R, while other Santomeans who have never travelled outside the island do not. Even so, Santomeans, like Célia, and non-Santomeans, such as Célia’s friend’s teacher in Portugal, associate this feature with being Santomeans. I suggest that this emerging feature in the speech of Santomean is becoming a marker of Santomean Portuguese, and at the same time, of santomensidade.


The information obtained from the interviews make it possible to draw several conclusions in relation to the questions posed in this study. The first question is concerned with the perspective of Santomeans toward language use and change. Irvine and Gal’s (2000) semiotic processes were used to look at the Santomean reality and showed how Portuguese became associated with being the “good language” and creoles, with being the “bad languages.” With such beliefs, parents prefer to socialize their children in Portuguese, hoping to offer their children a better future. This may explain in part why the majority of Santomeans speak Portuguese today and why the use of creole languages is receding. This iconization process is reproduced within the Santomean variety of Portuguese, with people considering the speech of urban Santomeans (which is less influenced by its contact with creole) to be “better” than the speech of rural Santomeans. In the narratives of the interviewees, little attention has been given to their own variety of Portuguese, which I suggest emerged covertly between the creoles and European Portuguese. The speech of the Santomean middle-class does not fit into the well-known dichotomies from the past, but it is this variety of Portuguese that is unconsciously being attached to national identity.

This brings me to the second research question, how are language ideologies interrelated with national identity and use of rhotics in Santomean Portuguese? Results from this study show that the rhotics are a feature that can be mapped onto socioeconomic status and national distinctiveness, and that using a strong-R in weak-r positions is a marker of santomensidade. The older generations, the ones born before the independence of the country, use strong-R the least and tend to consider Santomean Portuguese to be errado “wrong”. Conversely, the younger generations use strong-R the most and show pride in their variety of Portuguese as illustrated in the following two excerpts:

Well, many people say that the right Portuguese is the one spoken in Portugal. . . . [Hum hum. . .Do you agree with that?]  No, I don’t agree.  [Why?]  Because I even noticed that they don’t speak that well there. . . .[Ok.]  I think people believe that the best Portuguese is spok. . .is the one spoken there [Hum hum. . .] because it comes from there. . .we speak Portuguese, but it doesn’t mean that the best Portuguese comes from there. (Michel, 22 years old)

I find São Tomé Portuguese, Santomeans, very clear, [more] than the Portuguese from. . .from. . .from Portugal, yeah. Yeah. . .the Santomean person expresses himself/herself well. . .words like, clear, with no difficulty, with no difficulty at all because who can’t understand them is someone who is not used with Portuguese, you know?  I think that it’s a very clear Portuguese, and. . .it’s my land, I can only answer with my Portuguese, because of course, I’m not gonna say that Portuguese from Brazil is a good Portuguese! (Maria, 31 years old)

These two young Santomeans hold their variety of Portuguese in high regard in comparison to other varieties of Portuguese. Thus, what does it mean today to be Santomean? What is the link between languages and identity in São Tomé and Príncipe? Very little has been written about Santomean identity by Santomeans, and the little information that does exist appears quite pessimistic. The literature refers to the national creoles as being an intrinsic element of Santomean culture and identity. However, it also criticizes both the preference that Santomeans have for what comes from outside their nation rather than inside it, as well as the undefined nature of their identity (Bragança, 2012; Costa, 2016). I agree with these authors in the sense that the Santomean identity is still under construction, but I also believe that Santomean Portuguese is the language that is slowly becoming attached to Santomean identity. There is still nostalgia for the past and the creole languages, as if they embodied the Santomean identity as opposed to the Portuguese of the colonizers. Now that the colonizers are gone and have left their language as a trace of their long stay on the islands, Santomeans are becoming a nation, a Portuguese-speaking nation, with its own variety of Portuguese.


Afonso, H. (2009). Interferências linguísticas: Um contributo para o ensino da língua portuguesa em São Tomé e Príncipe (Unpublished master’s thesis). Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

Bailey, G. (2004). Real and apparent time. In P. Trudgill, J.K. Chambers, & N. Schilling-Estes (Eds.), The handbook of language variation and change (pp. 312-332). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Bailey, G., Wikle, T., Tillery, J., & Sand, L. (1991). The apparent time construct. Language Variation and Change, 3, 241-264.

Becker, K. (2014). The social motivations of reversal: Raised BOUGHT in New York City English. Language in Society, 43, 395-420.

Bouchard, M. (2016, June). The vitality of Angolar and Forro: Language, ethnic and power ideologies in São Tomé. Paper presented at the Encontro anual da Associação de Crioulos de Base Lexical Portuguesa e Espanhola,Stockholm, Sweden.

Bouchard, M. (2017). Linguistic variation and change in the Portuguese of São Tomé (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). New York University, New York.

Bourdieu, P. (1982). Language and symbolic power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bragança, A. (2012, January 20). Identidade cultural e santomensidade. Téla Nón. Retrieved from“identidade-cultural-e-santomensidade”/.

Brandão, S. (2016, June). A instabilidade dos róticos no português de São Tomé. Paper presented at the Encontro anual da Associação de Crioulos de Base Lexical Portuguesa e Espanhola, Praia, Cape Verde.

Christofoletti, A. (2011). O sistema vocálico do português vernacular de São Tomé e Príncipe (Unpublished honors thesis). Universidade de São Paulo.

Costa, G. (2016, July 29). A nação e a identidade santomense. Téla Nón. Retrieved from

D’Apresentação, P. (2013). Influência do crioulo Forro na escrita do Português na crianças em idade escolar em São Tomé (Unpublished master’s thesis). Universidade de Bragança.

Duff, P. (2008). Case study research in applied linguistics. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Figueiredo, C. F. G. (2010). A concordância plural variável no sintagma nominal do português reestruturado da comunidade de Almoxarife, São Tomé. (Doctoral dissertation). Universidade de Macau.

Gal, S. (2005). Language ideologies compared: Metaphors of public/private. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 15(1), 23-37.

Gonçalves, R. (2012). Mudança linguística e variação no português de São Tomé. In A. C. Roque, G. Seibert, & V. R. Marques (Orgs.), Actas do Colóquio International São Tomé e Príncipe numa perspectiva interdisciplinar, diacrónica e sincrónica. Paper presented at Colóquio International São Tomé e Príncipe numa perspectiva interdisciplinar, diacrónica e sincrónica, Lisbon (413-430). Lisbon: ISCTE – IUL/CEA-IUL/IICT.

Gonçalves, R. (2016). Construções ditransitivas no Português de São Tomé (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Universidade de Lisboa.

Hachimi, A. (2012). The urban and the urbane: Identities, language ideologies, and Arabic dialects in Morocco. Language in Society, 41(3),321-341.

Hagemeijer, T. (Forthcoming). São Tomé e Príncipe: Labirinto e laboratório de línguas. In G. Seibert (Ed.), Arquipélagos crioulos: Cabo Verde e São Tomé e Príncipe numa perspectiva comparada. Lisbon: Vega.

Hagemeijer, T. (In press). From creoles to Portuguese: Language shift in São Tomé and Príncipe. In L. Álvarez López, P. Gonçalves, & J. Avela (Eds.), The Portuguese language continuum in Africa and Brazil. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Hollington, A. (2016). Reflections on Ethiopian youths and Yarada K’wank’wa: Language practices and ideologies. Sociolinguistic Studies, 10(1-2),135-152.

Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE). (2012). IV Recenseamento geral da população e habitação. Características educacionais da população. Retrieved from the Instituto Nacional de Estatísticas da República Democrática de São Tomé e Príncipe website:

Irvine, J. (1989). When talk isn’t cheap: Language and political economy. American Ethnologist, 16(2), 248-267.

Irvine, J., & Gal, S. (2000). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In P. V. Kroskrity (Ed.), Regimes of language: Ideologies, polities, and identities (pp.35-84). Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Kouwenberg, S., & J. Singler. (2011). Pidgins and creoles. In R. Mesthrie (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolinguistics (pp. 283-300). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Labov, W. (1984). Field methods of the project on linguistic change and variation. In J. Baugh, & J. Sherzer (Eds.), Language in Use: Readings in Sociolinguistics (pp. 28-53). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Lorenzino, G. (1996). Uma avaliação sociolinguística sobre São Tomé e Príncipe. In I. Duarte, & I. Leiria (Eds.), Actas do Congresso Internacional sobre o Português (pp. 435-449). Lisbon: APL e Edições Colibri.

Mateus, M., & d’Andrade, E. (2000). The phonology of Portuguese. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MICS-STP. (2014). Inquérito de indicadores múltiplos, São Tomé e Príncipe. Retrieved from the Instituto Nacional de Estatísticas da República Democrática de São Tomé e Príncipe website:

Silverstein, M. (1979). Language structure and linguistic ideology. In P. Cline, W. Hanks, & C. Hofbauer (Eds.), The Elements: A parasession on linguistic units and levels (pp. 193-247). Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

Silverstein, M. (1981). The limits of awareness (Sociolinguistic Working Paper No. 84). Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Smedley, A, & Smedley, B. (2011). Race in North American. Origin and evolution of a worldview. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

Tagliamonte, S. (2006). Analysing sociolinguistic variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thomason, S. (2001). Language contact: An introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.



1 The term “creole” is still problematic to creolists (Kouwenberg & Singler 2011). But most creolists recognize that creole languages develop in contact situations that involve more than two languages, and that they are native languages (Thomason 2001). The creoles of São Tomé and Príncipe are Portuguese-based creoles, which means that their lexicons were mainly drawn from Portuguese.



2 Refer to Smedley and Smedley (2011) who examined the evolution of the concept of race and how we came to believe that our societies were composed of unequal human groups.



3 I also include in this paper a few excerpts of interviews I did with Santomeans who live outside the capital. I call them “external informants”, and two of them are included in this paper. Their inclusion in my analysis is helpful to understand the contrast between urban and rural Santomeans.



4 STP News is a fictitious name for the journal where Célia works.