Complexity theory argues that large causes (i.e. political agitation) can have limited effects (weak mass nationalist response), while small causes (such as a local incident) may result in dramatic effects. In the case of Cluj, the repeated provocations of the Romanian nationalist mayor failed to inspire mass fervour. In other cases, however, initially small movements set feedback loops in train that produce large effects. David Laitin observes that the direction of assimilation in the newly independent ex‐Soviet republics differs widely, with the dynamics of change resembling a ‘tipping game’. Change may begin slowly, then suddenly accelerate into a cascade as titular languages such as Estonian breach a threshold level of penetration. People pay attention not only to nationalist exhortation or incentives but to what they believe their peers are up to. As the use of Estonian rises beyond a tipping point, this increases the practical advantages of learning Estonian but, more importantly, the perception others will switch to it, driving a self‐fulfilling feedback (Laitin : 21–30).


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