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The Non-Native Speakers of International Law: The Case of Russia

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This article presents a metaphor that might explain Russia’s approach to international law. Drawing on linguistics, the article proposes that Russia has been a non-native speaker of international law. A non-native speaker’s experiences range from estrangement and disengagement from the foreign language and its speech community to that of empowerment and inspiration nurtured by the acquisition of a new language and a new multilingual identity. Thus, as a non-native speaker, Russia has approached international law with two rhetorical moves: as a disaffected foreigner and as an empowered multilingual subject who aspires to uphold and interpret the rules of the language recently acquired. As a multilingual speaker fluent in the language of international law, Russia has asserted control over judgments of grammaticality and has disagreed with previously determined linguistic rules established by the native-speaking community.The notion of a non-native speaker of international law can apply to states other than Russia. Policymakers and intellectual leaders of other countries, including China, might perceive themselves as non-native speakers in their encounters with the western European foundations of the language of international law. Finally, the article explores the future of international law by asking whether non-native speakers who have been gaining fluency in the parlance of international law will continue to develop their own linguistic repertoire, build their own vocabularies, and advance their own assertions regarding rules of grammar. The future of international law might be diglossic, as two varieties of its language, shared by different speech communities and practiced in different contexts, may be established.


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