Canonizing the Party-State Voice.

I’ve just gotten to Chapter 6, “Canonization of the Party-State Voice,” of Michael S. Gorham’s 2003 Speaking in Soviet Tongues (see this post), in which, after describing the competing ideals of Russian language use that appeared after 1917 (the make-everything-new revolutionary, the peasant-oriented popular, and the imitate-the-classics national), Gorham focuses on the turn to the “party-state voice” that triumphed under Stalin in the mid-1930s, which began with Gorky’s review of Fyodor Panfyorov’s novel of collectivization Bruski, of which three volumes had so far appeared to near-universal acclaim:

His comments, appearing in The Literary Gazette (Literaturnaya gazeta) in January 1934, admonished Panferov for his verbiage and carelessness, citing in particular his overuse (and misuse) of dialect and his graphic distortion of words in an attempt to capture nonstandard pronunciations. Gorky questioned the author’s apparent belief that “Dal′’s dictionary still hangs over the Russian literary language” […]

Gorky’s critique set off a yearlong debate in the writing community that quickly assumed an even more politically and socially charged tone. One of Panferov’s more prominent allies, the writer Aleksandr Serafimovich, countered Gorky’s remarks by defending Bruski for its authentic depiction of everyday life in the countryside and its raw portrait of muzhik strength. Gorky responded in kind, criticizing the book again for littering the Russian language with words that did not exist and chiding the reviewer for glorifying the “strength of the muzhik.” “Permit me to remind you,” he wrote, that the strength of the muzhik is a socially unhealthy force and that the consistent cultural and political work of the party of Lenin and Stalin is aimed precisely at exterminating from the consciousness of the muzhik that ‘strength’ that you are praising.” As in earlier writings on the topic, Gorky’s critical frame directly linked style and politics — authority in language with the authority of the state. […] Invoking the antirural discourse of Marx and Lenin to complement his own vocabulary of “extermination,” Gorky went on to wonder how it could be possible “to express the heroism and romanticism of the reality created in the Union of Socialist Soviets” using an “idiotic language”? […]

With the exception of some of Panferov’s allies from the disbanded Association of Proletarian Writers, participants in the debate generally sided with Gorky, including writers such as Mikhail Sholokhov and Lidiia Seifullina, renowned for their own heavy use of dialect and vulgarisms in fiction. Seifullina justified her earlier narratives by arguing that the “primitive” state of the village at that time left no other option […].

Less out of Gorky’s culturist concerns for a basic level of literacy than in an effort to solidify the stature of the party-state, lower-level critics writing on cultural policy eagerly latched on to the patriarch’s arguments and used his rhetoric about national authority and identity. In the process, all three of the models discussed earlier — the revolutionary, the popular, and the national — underwent considerable refinement, if not total transformation.

(This development was discussed a few years ago in this post.) Gorham goes on to describe the 1935 Interpretive Dictionary of the Russian Language as “the linguist Dmitrii Ushakov’s realization of Lenin’s wish to replace Dal′’s nineteenth-century lexicon with a ‘real’ dictionary of the Russian language”:

Echoing the discourse of party-state purism inspired by Gorky and his followers, Ushakov’s introduction dismissed Dal′’s work for its focus on “bourgeois vernacular and peasant language,” praised the new lexicon’s inclusion of postrevolutionary “innovations” to Russian, and finally invoked the authority of both Lenin and Gorky in staking its claim as “a weapon in the struggle ‘for the quality of the language spoken every day by literature, the press, and millions of laborers,’ ‘for the purification of a language that is good, clean, accessible to millions, [and] truly of the people [narodnyi].”

Such interpretations defused once and for all the hopes of those who advocated that the spoken language of the people be raised to the status of a language of power, advocating instead a return to the already established Russian literary language, newly refined with ideological grounding in Bolshevik authority.

Purification! When I hear talk of purity, I release the safety catch on my Browning.

Comments

  1. yvy tyvy says:

    You’d think Communists would be more sympathetic to working-class non-standard speech, but apparently not. On the other hand, I wonder what the linguistic policy (if any) during the French Revolution was that led to the aristocratic /we/ pronunciation of “oi” being replaced by the (bourgeois or working-class? not sure) /wa/ in Standard French.

  2. You’d think Communists would be more sympathetic to working-class non-standard speech, but apparently not

    Oh, lots of them were! Just not the ones who wound up running things.

  3. That wasn’t language policy (which came later), it was natural selection. Those who said /wɛ/ found themselves hanging from lampposts, those who said /wa/ did not (at least not for that). There is a story about an old woman who was lynched because she said something about her roue ‘(spinning) wheel’ in a context that the mob mistook for roi, both of which were /rwɛ/ in aristo-speak. Across the Water, natural selection did not apply, and /wɛ/ is preserved to this day.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    JC: spinning wheel: le rouet (plain wheel: la roue).

    Québec French /wɛ/ is now going out of style as people strive to speak “International French”.

  5. How sad!

  6. yvy tyvy says:

    Growing up, I kept hearing the pronunciation toé being mocked and criticized as degenerate by Standard French speakers, and I always wondered why it was that American English was fine, while American French was supposedly barbaric idiocy. But then I discovered books about linguistics.

    By the way: when I hear Canadian French, the word often seems to be pronounced something like /two/. Is there any reason why this would be preferable to /twe/?

  7. marie-lucie says:

    yvy tyvy : … the pronunciation toé being mocked and criticized as degenerate by Standard French speakers

    The “degenerate” pronunciation should have been the modern one, since toé etc is a survival not an innovation. But few French people are or were aware of the history of the language.

    When I was young, growing up in Normandy, most rural people used that old pronunciation. My mother was teaching pre-kindergarten in our smallish town. One day she told us about a new child who objected to how she pronounced the word boîte ‘box’: “Maîtresse, on dit pas une bouâte, on dit une bouête !”

  8. Children can be great prescriptivists. The four-year-old daughter of a friend of ours once addressed my wife in tones dripping with disdain and contempt: “It’s not [ɪdənt ɪt], it’s [ɪzənt ɪt]!” This must be connected with children’s desire to hear the same stories over and over in exactly the same words.

  9. yvy tyvy says:

    @John Cowan: I’m assuming that’s “isn’t it”. If so, what accent is it? I’m not familiar with that pronunciation.

  10. It is indeed, and it’s (one flavor of) a Southern U.S. accent. My wife is from North Carolina, and while she left there 45 years ago, she still has a robust pin-pen merger, an extra /i/ in mischievous, initial stress accent on words like umbrella at least some of the time, and of course y’all as the 2pl pronoun. In allegro speech the first /t/ of isn’t it is likely to vanish, but that’s not especially a Southern feature.

  11. John, do you know what the distribution is of [ɪzəntɪt] vs. [ɪzn̩tɪt] vs. [ɪzənɪt] vs. [ɪznɪt] vs. [ɪnɪt]?

  12. As John indicates, elision of the /t/ is widespread throughout North America – and I might go a little further and say that it’s rare to hear the [t] outside of formal speech. I think the only difference that could reliably be mapped is that between [d] forms and [z] forms, with the former roughly corresponding to some notion of the South. I’m not familiar with [ɪnɪt] occurring in North America; I know it’s associated with the London area, showing some innovative uses that go beyond the traditional domain of isn’t it.

  13. Eli Nelson says:

    I’m also familiar with /zn/ > /dn/ in “business,” although I don’t know which accents this pronunciation is associated with.

  14. English words “leisure” and “fair” (market) show their Anglo-Norman character with the é vowel retained (ish) compared to French “loisir” and “foire”.

  15. I don’t think there’s a contrast between syllabic [m, n, l, r] and the versions with [ə] preceding them anywhere in English, though I am willing to be proved wrong.

  16. You might find a few marginal cases in non-rhotic speech; for example, Cambridge gives pattern as /ˈpætn̩/ and Saturn as /ˈsætən/ (although the sound files on their site use [tən] for both).

    @Geraint Jennings: I love how AmEng has /iː/ in leisure and /ɛ/ in lever, while BrEng has the reverse. And I can honestly never remember which side prefers which for cretin.

  17. I have said /lɛʒər/ for decades now, though I think as a teen I had /i/. I’ve done a similar switch for amateur from /tʃur/ to /tər/.

  18. @JC for amateur there’s a poncey pronunciation putting the stress on the last syllable, and trying to make it sound French. Meaning to distinguish from the dilettante/inexperienced sense to a ‘genuine’ and well-informed/competent enthusiast (and likely in a way such that everyone knows it).

  19. David Marjanović says:

    I’m not familiar with [ɪnɪt] occurring in North America; I know it’s associated with the London area, showing some innovative uses that go beyond the traditional domain of isn’t it.

    Obligatory mention of the story of that young woman who got delivered a cabinet to an airport because she said, on the phone, “I need a cab, innit.”

    You might find a few marginal cases in non-rhotic speech;

    I thought so, because the German distinction between [n̩] and [ɐn] is robust; but now I have it on good authority that seven and the river Severn are homophones, as are pattern and Patton.

  20. @David M, seven and Severn are not homophones for me [BrE/London/Yorkshire, not West Country]. At least probably they are in fast speech, but in regular-paced speech I don’t think I’m applying a spelling pronunciation.

    I would check West Country speech, with their famous rolled ‘r’s.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    David: seven and the river Severn are homophones, as are pattern and Patton.

    They are not for me. Of course I am not an example of native English, but I try to imitate what is said around me (Eastern Canada for over twenty years). I use a syllabic n in Patton, as in button (with weakened t), but an approximation of r in Severn and pattern, rhyming with Eastern, Western and also auburn.

  22. The near (but not perfect) homophony of “seven” and “Severn” is a plot point in the second Three Investigators novel, The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot. And that’s a lead pipe cinch!

  23. (Eastern Canada for over twenty years)

    Canada is rhotic, with small geographical exceptions (isolated areas in N.B., parts of Newfoundland, Lunenberg and Shelburne Counties in N.S.) So you are not going to have seven/Severn homonymy any more than you are going to have laud/lord, panda/pander, father/farther merger.

  24. yvy tyvy says:

    Did the Russian Revolution affect Standard Russian at all in the way the French Revolution affected French?

  25. I don’t know what you mean by “in the way the French Revolution affected French”; it affected it hugely, in a wide variety of ways.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    They are not for me. Of course I am not an example of native English, but I try to imitate what is said around me (Eastern Canada for over twenty years).

    I meant RP or something very close, in any case non-rhotic.

    Speaking of which, I noticed today that Sanders’s before sounds like Schwarzenegger’s or nearly so.

  27. No, there was no shift toward proletarian pronunciation in Russia; in fact, the Russian Revolution is hard to detect linguistically except of course in the lexicon.

  28. We discussed the matter to some extent back in 2009.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    in the way the French Revolution affected French

    Henriette Walter, a French linguist who has written several books for the general public which are both solidly grounded and quite entertaining, wrote a small book about this topic (especially the vocabulary).

    Victor Hugo highlighted the fact that his literary vocabulary was enlarged as the result of the Revolution, as in the alexandrine* J’ai mis un bonnet rouge au vieux dictionnaire (le bonnet rouge, a soft red cap called “le bonnet phrygien”, was worn by the proletarians and became a revolutionary emblem, worn for instance by the female figure which became the representation of the Republic in art).

    *alexandrine: in normal modern speech this line would have 11 syllables, but pronouncing “dictionnaire” as “diksiyonnaire” instead of “diksyonnaire” gives it the classical 12 syllables.

  30. le bonnet rouge
    Makes me think of the red cap for the King and and his sympathizers in Pale Fire. Surely no coincidence?

  31. @yvy tyvy: “You’d think Communists would be more sympathetic to working-class non-standard speech, but apparently not.”

    In those debates, “muzhik” probably meant “peasant,” and the peasantry was not part of the the working class in the Bolshevik taxonomy. The working class was urban and industrial. The Bolsheviks only recognized the poorest peasants as coming close in progressiveness and revolutionary capacity to the urban proletariat. The rest of the peasantry was under constant suspicious for petty-bourgeois instincts. Potentially, however, most of the peasantry along with most of the petty bourgeoisie were good enough to be distilled into the working class.

    Seyfullina, her husband Valerian Pravdukhin, Serafimovich, and the early Soviet classic Alexander Neverov came from a Narodnik, rather than Bolshevik, backgrounds. They did not despise the peasantry as a suspicious, sometimes treacherous, class, so they may have thought that peasant speech deserved to be rendered faithfully and preserved for posterity on paper. But the Narodniks of the 20th century were animated by a spirit of enlightenment and believed that the peasantry could and should be educated out of its half-savage condition. (Seyfullina had been a rural schoolteacher and librarian, and there was something of a rural schoolteacher in them all.) Learning to speak “proper” Russian was definitely part of that education. I’m certain that millions of young peasants were likewise willing to lose their village dialect and switch to “cultured” Russian.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Y: le bonnet rouge : I have no idea: I only know the name of Pale Fire, and Nabokov as its author, otherwise I am not familiar with it.

  33. In those debates, “muzhik” probably meant “peasant,” and the peasantry was not part of the the working class in the Bolshevik taxonomy. The working class was urban and industrial. The Bolsheviks only recognized the poorest peasants as coming close in progressiveness and revolutionary capacity to the urban proletariat.

    Forgot to respond to this: while that’s true, in terms of prose/voice/narrative the Bolshevik leaders had no more patience with workers than with peasants — pieces that sounded too much like the actual working-class voice were criticized for цеховая ограниченность (shop-floor narrow-mindedness). The leadership worshiped the theoretical proletariat, in whose name they ruled, but had contempt for actual workers; it may not be irrelevant that none of them had been actual workers. (I mentioned “Makhaevism,” the heresy that workers should pursue their own interests and not trust anyone else to do it for them, in this 2006 post.)

  34. Lazar:
    It’s easy for me to remember that it’s Americans who pronounce ‘cretin’ the same as ‘Cretan’. Many years ago, in the language column of the TLS or Spectator, I read that a British author wrote a romance novel featuring the traditional tall, dark, handsome hero. It was called The Cretan Lover, but the publisher changed the name entirely for the American edition, so no one would think the lover was mentally handicapped or, to put it crudely, a ‘pinhead’. I’m too fond of this memory to check if for accuracy by (e.g.) searching ABE for the book.

    By the way, for over 100 years there was a Cretin High School in Minnesota, named after Joseph Crétin, first Catholic bishop of St. Paul. A boys’ school, it has since merged with the adjoining girls’ school to become Cretin-Derham Hall High School. Checking Wikipedia was a bit of a disappointment in this case, as it so often is. After all the cruel jokes, Cretin High School no longer exists as such.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    Joseph Crétin, first Catholic bishop of St. PaulJoseph Crétin, first Catholic bishop of St. Paul

    The French word le crétin, meaning a feeble-minded person, is supposed to come from “Vulgar” Latin christianus, feeble-minded people being once considered ‘innocent’ like children and therefore closer to Christ. In some areas where people had little access to sea salt, salt fish or other products containing iode, some form of congenital feeble-mindedness, joined with typical physical features associated with the condition, was quite common. As a teenager I saw some of those people in a town in the Alps. I think that they lived in a local religious institution but were left to wander outside during the day.

  36. I wonder if that’s a continuation of the supposed original, derogatory meaning of christianus (often put forth as an early example of a reclaimed slur), or something that originated later on. Etymonline has “Vulgar Latin *christianus ‘a Christian’, a generic term for ‘anyone’, but often with a sense of ‘poor fellow'”.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    It’s said to have been introduced by a priest who wanted to remind everyone that “these are people like you or me”. (See also: Luther’s Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen, ~ “about the freedom you have as a perfectly normal Christian human being”.) It sort of backfired…

  38. I always assumed that christian –> cretin was the same development as Greek agathos (ancient) good–>(modern) feebleminded, or when someone says in English “you good person you”

  39. It’s called the euphemism treadmill.

  40. Also idiot of course.

  41. And (sort of) back on-topic, Russian крестьянин (krest’yanin) “peasant” originally also meant “Christian”, with probably a similar development via “everyman”. The current word for “Christian” is христианин (khristianin).

  42. Trond Engen says:

    In Norwegian folktales, when the hero has come to the troll’s den to release the king’s daughter, and the troll suddenly returns so the hero has to hide in the den, the troll canonically says ‘Her lukter kristenmanns blod!’ “I can sense the blood of a christian”. I’m pretty sure this is ‘christian’ in a meaning “regular human being” as opposed to troll.

  43. That’s reminiscent of “Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.”

    Spanish also has hablar en cristiano, meaning to speak plainly, or to speak Spanish as opposed to some other language.

  44. The leadership worshiped the theoretical proletariat, in whose name they ruled, but had contempt for actual workers; it may not be irrelevant that none of them had been actual workers…

    Almost none – I can only think of Voroshilov as a counterexample. No contradiction with Bolshevik doctrine, which was always clear that the proletariat was nothing unless led by the Party. Whatever the Party said was right.

    But why did the Party mandate a “classical” vocabulary? Perhaps “demand for culture from below” had something to do with it? The leadership may have decided that the rising generation of working-class readers would not be interested in characters expressing themselves in what was substandard Russian to the newly educated.

  45. But why did the Party mandate a “classical” vocabulary?

    Because that was how they’d been brought up, to respect classic literature as the pinnacle of cultural achievement. They weren’t going to throw away Pushkin and replace him with some babbling shock-worker. They were revolutionaries, but still peevers.

  46. As an addition to what LH said – it also had something to do with the role of the “social conscience” that many 19th century writers had taken on. While many early 20th century poets and writers may have found the language of their predecessors stagnant and were looking for new ways of expression, the Communist leaders saw the classical 19th century writers as their brothers in spirit and used their works to legitmize Bolshevist rule as the state of things their literary heroes had striven for, even if those writers lacked the correct (i.e. Marxist-Leninist) theoretical framework and viewpoint.

  47. At the risk of repeating myself, I would not underestimate the people’s will to enlightenment, as it were: young workers and peasants sought to master the language of Tolstoy and forget the dialect of their parents.

  48. @Hans: In other words, they were virtuous pagans.

  49. That’s a way to put it, yes.

  50. I would not underestimate the people’s will to enlightenment, as it were

    That’s as may be, but it’s fairly irrelevant; you’re surely not implying the “people’s will” was able to trump the Bolshevik leadership’s will.

  51. SFReader says:

    Typical Communist view of peasant life which Soviet rulers fully shared can be found in “The Communist Manifesto” by Marx and Engels which talks about “Idiotismus des Landlebens ” (‘idiocy of rural life’).

    Accordingly, the Russian peasantry was to be forcibly civilized and cultured with culture and civilization being understood to mean the culture of European educated classes of the 19th century.

  52. Exactly.

  53. @Trond Engen: Unsurprisingly, that something like that usage shows up in Peer Gynt as well.

  54. …you’re surely not implying the “people’s will” was able to trump the Bolshevik leadership’s will.

    Rather, the Bolsheviks were attuned to the needs and expectations of the masses. They realized that the working-class young would be unable to admire and imitate characters talking in dialect.

  55. I’m quite sure they gave a very small damn indeed about that.

  56. As so beautifully demonstrated by the inability of white American youth to admire and imitate people who speak AAVE over the past half-century.

    (sheesh … “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”)

  57. Trond Engen says:

    Yes, the Fee fi fo fum bloody Englishman must be the same concept.

    I should add that the troll’s behaviour is a mirror image of how a “christian” would act in the suspected presence of trolldom.

  58. Rodger C says:

    I always assumed that christian –> cretin was the same development as Greek agathos (ancient) good–>(modern) feebleminded, or when someone says in English “you good person you”

    “Well, bless your heart.”

  59. David Marjanović says:

    “Idiotismus des Landlebens ” (‘idiocy of rural life’)

    Interesting; I only know Idiotie and haven’t encountered -ismus, so I’m wondering if Marx & Engels were trying to say something more specific/philosophical or if that’s just the usual amount of language change (Standard German has changed very noticeably in the last 150 years).

  60. The WP.de page is a disambiguator between “in der Psychiatrie ein veraltetes Synonym für das ebenso veraltete Fachwort „Idiotie“ bzw. eine Auswirkung der „Idiotie“, siehe Geistige Behinderung” and “in der Sprachwissenschaft eine Spracheigentümlichkeit, siehe Idiom”. So yeah, looks like it’s just older German, not a subtlety.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    David: Idiotie, Idiotismus

    In French there are two similar words. Une idiotie means ‘something stupid said or done, demonstrating that the speaker or actor is an idiot’: this is a more fancy word than une bêtise which is more likely to be used about a child’s mistake or silly behaviour, but it is usually known at least to educated speakers). But un idiotisme is a technical grammatical or philological term, with a meaning closer to that of un idiome, a word or phrase which is difficult to justify logically or analytically. It might even mean nonce word (I have not checked the TLFI). I remember one teacher sometimes using this word, but it does not seem to be widely known outside of some academic circles.

    The German Idiotismus does not seem to fit closely with either meaning.

  62. David Marjanović says:

    But un idiotisme is a technical grammatical or philological term, with a meaning closer to that of un idiome, a word or phrase which is difficult to justify logically or analytically. It might even mean nonce word (I have not checked the TLFI).

    These would fit the second German meaning: “in linguistics: a speech/language peculiarity, see Idiom“.

    Anyway: a Swiss German dialect dictionary founded in the mid-19th century is named Schweizer Idiotikon.

  63. Schweizer Idiotikon
    Forgive me my lack of maturity, but I always chuckle inside when I see that name. 🙂

  64. @marie-lucie:

    The “degenerate” pronunciation should have been the modern one, since toé etc is a survival not an innovation. But few French people are or were aware of the history of the language.

    I figure this is a general phenomenon, since peripheral variants have low prestige but often preserve old forms (though they also have their own innovations). My great-grandfather, an illiterate farmer, was mocked for Portuguese words like preguntar, alumiar or frecha in his dialect (standard: perguntar, iluminar, flecha). You can find his version of the words in 16th-century texts – including poems by the greatest poet, Camões.

    @Cowan: “Children can be great prescriptivists”: My own son has chastised me for my use of ponhar – a rural reanalysis of the anomalous verb pôr. And I’ve been drilling him on the value of linguistic diversity since forever…

  65. David Marjanović says:

    I always chuckle inside when I see that name. 🙂

    So do I 🙂

  66. Me too! (Not that I’ve seen it before, but it makes me chuckle now.)

  67. marie-lucie says:

    JC, leoboiko: “Children can be great prescriptivists”:

    Around the age of 7 or 8 children have mastered a number of rules of behaviour, including linguistic behaviour, and they expect them to be strictly enforced. Later they start understanding that these rules are not “written in stone” or identical for everyone, and they can (at least try to) play with them.

  68. The girl I was describing was maybe half that age, and pretty much a snob from birth. Nobody knows why: her parents were not at all snobs, but Gale swears she was already turning up her nose at things in the cradle.

  69. marie-lucie says:

    JC: That girl was an early developer!

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