Back in June I discovered a book I immediately lusted after, The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century by Bernard Comrie, Gerald Stone, and Maria Polinsky. Alas, list price was $260.00, and used copies started at over $100, so I sighed and tried to forget it. But recently I revisited the Amazon page and found that a seller was offering it for a little over $20, and I jumped at the chance. It arrived and I plunged in; so far I’ve just read the first chapter, on pronunciation, and I’m sure I’ll have more to report later, but I wanted to share some striking bits I’ve run across so far. Just about every page has something that makes me revise my ideas; these are a couple of passages I think might be of more general interest. From page 44:
However, for a significant period in the history of the Soviet Union, the palatalized pronunciation of -изм served as a sign of solidarity among the party élite, which led to an unusual case of intertwining of politics and pronunciation. The trend was probably started by Stalin, hardly a bearer of standard Russian, of whom F. Burlackij writes: ‘I fail to understand why he so stubbornly pronounced коммунизьм with a soft з … I am a hundred per cent sure that he did this on purpose, creating a certain standard, to be followed by all the initiated . . . One after another, all the members of his inner circle, including those with university education, leaned towards that pronunciation. This jargon was a sort of key to the room at the top, into the narrow circle of people closely knit to one another both by shared activities and also by shared cultural background.’…
[footnote:] Stalin’s accent, a research question in its own right, was most likely a combination of spontaneous Georgian accent and some deliberate mannerisms, possibly including the pronunciation -зьм. The soft pronunciation of з was expectably apparent in the speech of NS Xruščev, who was a speaker of southern Russian and Ukrainian. A popular joke of the 1960s was that Xruščev’s contribution to Marxism consisted of the soft sign (мaркcизьм).
And from page 60, in a discussion of loan words:
Polivanov (1974 : 211-19) noted that in the following loan-words, the retention of the non-Russian nasalized and front-rounded vowels was obligatory in the speech of the pre-Revolutionary intelligentsia: [õ] in бомонд ‘beau monde’, лонгшез ‘lawn chair’; [ã] in шансонетка ‘frivolous song; female music-hall singer’, рандеву ‘rendezvous’; [œ] in бретёр ‘swash-buckler’, блеф ‘bluff’; [y] in ревю ‘revue’, парвеню ‘upstart’, and меню ‘menu’; to this list may be added портфель [port'fœj] ‘briefcase’, [ẽ]нтерьер ‘interior decoration’ (Panov 1990: 51].
[footnote:] Panov (1990: 53 n. 40) quotes the following exchange between two famous Russian philologists, B.V. Gornung (b. 1899) and A.A. Reformatskij (b. 1900): while Gornung pronounces [blœf], following the French pronunciation, Reformatskij replies using the English pronunciation [blʌf]. Since they belong to one generation, the difference in pronunciation reflects the speakers’ personal preferences. Both pronunciations contrast with Vladimir Majakovskij’s (b. 1893) nativized бл[е]ф.