KROPOTKIN ON “PEASANTS’ TALK.”

As a follow-up to my earlier Kropotkin entry, I want to quote another section (Russian here) from the Corps of Pages chapter, this time on talking with peasants:

Later, when we were spreading socialist doctrines amongst the peasants, I could not but wonder why some of my friends, who had received a seemingly far more democratic education than myself, did not know how to talk to the peasants or to the factory workers from the country. They tried to imitate the “peasants’ talk” by introducing a profusion of so-called “popular phrases,” but they only rendered themselves the more incomprehensible.

Nothing of the sort is needed, either in talking to peasants or in writing for them. The Great Russian peasant perfectly well understands the educated man’s talk, provided it is not stuffed with words taken from foreign languages. What the peasant does not understand is abstract notions when they are not illustrated by concrete examples. But my experience is that when you speak to the Russian peasant plainly, and start from concrete facts,—and the same is true with regard to village folk of all nationalities,—there is no generalization from the whole world of science, social or natural, which cannot be conveyed to a man of average intelligence, if you yourself understand it concretely. The chief difference between the educated and the uneducated man is, I should say, that the latter is not able to follow a chain of conclusions. He grasps the first of them, and maybe the second, but he gets tired at the third, if he does not see what you are driving at. But how often do we meet the same difficulty in educated people.

How often indeed.

Comments

  1. there is no generalization from the whole world of science, social or natural, which cannot be conveyed to a man of average intelligence, if you yourself understand it concretely.
    Once I asked a regular fellow commuter on the morning bus about her thesis work. She said her thesis had a long technical description, but a simple explanation would be that she was studying the rhetorical differences between what scientists said when they spoke to one another versus when they explained their work to outsiders. And I said “oh, I see, you are studying different possible ways of saying the same thing”. And she said “no, that’s not it at all.”

  2. Lars Mathiesen says:

    * necromantic gesture *

    I would guess that Pierre’s fellow commuter wasn’t studying something as basic as the different word choices and (lack of) shortcuts employed in the two registers, but, as she said, the differences in application of rhetorical devices — between experts there is agreement and shared knowledge about basic facts and if rhetoric is needed, it’s to convince the other expert about new conclusions, while for outsiders things like analogies are needed much earlier.

  3. I just gave the Kropotkin book to my 15-year-old grandson for Christmas; I’ll make an anarchist of him yet! (It’s really one of the best autobiographies I know, full of adventure, science, and wisdom; I encourage everyone to read it.)

  4. Forgot the exact quote, but one late 19th century Russian publisher opposed special books for common people written in simplified language on the grounds that common man needs cheap books, not simple books, because he is poor, not stupid.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    between experts there is agreement and shared knowledge about basic facts and if rhetoric is needed, it’s to convince the other expert about new conclusions, while for outsiders things like analogies are needed much earlier.

    Well, yes. How I explain what I work on depends a lot on the audience, and what varies is how much background knowledge I need to explain before I can build on it.

  6. John Cowan says:

    There is a whole branch of publishing in the U.S. that creates books for adults who for one reason or another didn’t learn to read. Children’s books are boring to them, and ordinary books too full of difficult words.

  7. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Simple English Wikipedia exists, though I don’t know how useful it actually is if it just your reading level that is low. The few pages I looked at seem to avoid complex concepts as well.

Speak Your Mind

*