Cultural Discrepancy in Russian-Speaking Community of Israelis

Author: Irina Ovchinnikova (Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Moscow, Russia)
Speaker: Irina Ovchinnikova
Topic: Language, Community, Ethnicity
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2021 General Session


The objective of the research is to clarify the cultural varieties within the Russian speaking community of Israel as reflected in the mental semantic network. The word connections in the mental lexicon reveal the actual importance of the interconnections among objects and events. According to the results of free association experiments with Russian-Hebrew and Hebrew-Russian bilinguals, that have been held since 2014 (90 participants, more than 10,000 associations) the attitude to the Russian language and reflection of the culture changed under impact of narrowing of the language usage and transforming of the cultural preferences. The discrepancy in communication and culture between veteran immigrants and newcomers allows to discuss a case of intercultural communication.

Immigrants from the former Soviet Union who still consider Russian to be their mother tongue make more than 15% of the population of the State of Israel. The Russian-speaking immigrants of all five waves have always taken part in social and business activities changing the cultural landscape of the country. The immigrants’ waves reached the pick in 1991 (Lipshitz 1997: 471). The ‘1990s wave’ immigrants participated in social and cultural life establishing new political parties and mass media, organizing schools, creating theaters and orchestras. They acquired Hebrew and absorbed the Israeli culture that affects their mother tongue. The immigrants from the former USSR kept Russian active in their everyday communication; however, the language attrition is obvious in the speech of the veteran immigrants due to the narrow communication sphere and the influence of Hebrew. The most recent wave from 2014 called ‘Putin Exodus’ was triggered by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (Erofeev, Herbst 2019). The newcomers brought new cultural trends opening bookstores, coffee clubs and blogging platforms. Their Russian does not have the features of the attrition, their cultural and political preferences differ from those of the veteran immigrants. In our material, the difference is revealed in:
(1) The set of the syntagmatic associations
(2) Links to the ethnic and religious traditions
(3) Quotations of literature, folklore and phraseology
(4) Usage of rare words and terminology.


Erofeev, S., & Herbst, J. E. (2019) Putin Exodus: The New Russian Brain Drain. Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council. 45 p.

Lipshitz, G. (1997). Immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the Israeli housing market: spatial aspects of supply and demand. Urban Studies, 34(3), 471-488.

Keywords: Intercultural communication, Russian Israelis, Mental Lexicon