MARRISM.

I happened on the OED entry for Marrism (revised December 2000), and I thought it was so well done, concisely presenting a fairly difficult concept, that I wanted to share it here (along with the first few, very well chosen, citations):

The body of Marxist linguistic theories put forward by Marr and his followers (esp. I. I. Meshchaninov), in which language was regarded as monogenetic (with all languages developing from four elements, sal, roš, jon, and ber) and as belonging to social class rather than nationality (being, in Marxist terms, part of the social and economic superstructure rather than the base); advocacy of such theories.

Marrism dominated Soviet linguistics after Marr’s death until it was denounced by Stalin in 1950.

1950 Archivum Linguisticum 2 116 The quintessence of Marrism, he [sc. B. Serebrennikov] tells us, resides in four fundamental theses, viz. the four elements as the source of the world’s vocabularies, linguistic growth by hybridisation, stadial evolution, and the semantic transformation of primitive totem-names.

1950 Archivum Linguisticum 2 118 It is he [sc. V. Vinogradov] who summarises the three existing attitudes to Marr among Soviet scholars, viz. (1) that Marrism is Marxism in linguistics, [etc.].

1963 V. Kiparsky in Current Trends in Linguistics 1 94 From 1925 to World War II, when the only officially accepted linguistic school in Soviet Russia was Nikolaj Marr’s ‘Japhetology’, later simply called ‘Marrism’, there was no interest..in Slavic languages.

1966 B. Collinder in H. Birnbaum & J. Puhvel Anc. Indo-European Dial. 199 Marrism, which was officially encouraged in Russia for political reasons, has raged as a kind of Asiatic flu in some European universities west of the Iron Curtain.

The etymology is excellent too:

< the name of Nikolaj Jakovlevič Marr (1865–1934), Georgian-born Russian linguist, archaeologist, and ethnographer + -ism suffix, probably after Russian marrizm (c1930).
Until the correspondence in Pravda that led to the discrediting of Marr, his theories were officially referred to in Russian as novoe učenie o jazyke the new teaching on language; Marr himself had called his approach jafet(id)ologija Japhet(id)ology or jafetičeskaja teoriija Japhetic theory. The term marrizm does not appear to have been used by Stalin in his contributions to the debate in 1950.

The one (mild) criticism I would make is that they don’t explain why the theory was called “Japhetic” (to quote Wikipedia, “Marr adopted the term ‘Japhetic’ from Japheth, the name of one of the sons of Noah, in order to characterise his theory that the Kartvelian languages of the Caucasus area were related to the Semitic languages of the Middle East (named after Shem, Japheth’s brother)”), but that’s more than made up for by their unparsimonious decision to include the four primordial syllables, one of my earliest memories from the study of linguistics (I remember them in the order “sal, ber, yon, rosh”) and a truly inspired piece of crackpottery. The sad thing is that Marr (whose father was a Scot and his mother a Georgian; according to Wikipedia, neither of them understood Russian) was a perfectly good Orientalist scholar before a newfound obsession with language cracked his pot, as it has done for so many.

Comments

  1. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Is it known where the le in Jakovlevič comes from? I would expect Jakov to yield the patronymic Jakovovič.

  2. a perfectly good Orientalist scholar before a newfound obsession with language cracked his pot, as it has done for so many
    So he kind of went in the opposite direction from Saussure in your previous entry…

  3. Jeffry House says:

    Marr Nostrum

  4. Marr (whose father was a Scot and his mother a Georgian; according to Wikipedia …)
    I wonder if he was any relation to Andrew of that ilk? The nose and ears look similar …

  5. Is it known where the le in Jakovlevič comes from?
    Good question; I’m afraid I don’t know, but perhaps someone who does will tell us.

  6. Jakovlevič
    It dates back to Old Slavonic which used the Genitive suffix -l’ for certain nouns, including the rare ones with a root of the noon already ending with -ov (making their nominatives look sort of like regular-variety genitives). As in Бог Авраамов и Бог Исааков vs. Бог Иаковль in Matthew 22:32 (The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)
    The repetition of -ov, both in the root and in the suffix, took place in some other Slavic languages, e.g. in Bulgarian last name Yakovov.
    BTW many other Russian surnames of note (Yashin, Yakunin, Yakushev) are derived from diminutive forms of Yakov / Jacob.

  7. PS: the (more common) nouns ending in -av also received the -l’ suffix in Genitive, as in toponyms such as Yaroslavl’ or Pereyaslavl’.

  8. Fascinating—I never knew that!

  9. I think it pretty likely that Nicholas and Andrew related, at least at the clan if not the family level. Mar(r) is one of the seven original “kingdoms” of Scotland, and the Mars, Marrs, and Marres from there go back a looooong way: there are at least fifty notable people with those surnames.
    The current Countess of Mar (and Chief of the Clan) is the 31st, and although her title dates only (!) to 1404, her remote ancestor of that date was deemed to be the 12th Earl, since he had at least 11 ancestors or antecessors who claimed the title. (Another earl or mormaer of Mar died at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, though he may not have been a relative.) Arguably “Earl of Mar” is the oldest title of nobility in Europe; certainly in Great Britain.
    Due to a 19th-century dispute about whether the Earldom was inherited through both male and female lines (having regard to its date) or only through male ones (as is normal for peerages above the barony), there is another Earl of Mar, the 14th, who descends from the first Earl of the seventh (!) creation, who received the title in 1565.
    Lots more on the Earldom here in the stately language of 1887.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    I read a little more about N. Ya. Marr in a work by the French linguist Claude Hagège (I don’t remember the reference). Marr was born in an unusual family with a very old, domineering Scottish father and a very young Georgian mother. As the parents did not speak each other’s languages and did not speak Russian either (or perhaps just a smattering), the common language of the home must have been a pidgin-like mix of English and Georgian with perhaps a little Russian thrown in. Hagège surmised that the linguistic mix Marr grew up with must have been at the source of his idea that languages developed through “hybridisation” with other languages, just as the family pidgin probably evolved as the child grew up. His idea that language was linked with class may also derive from his family: it is unlikely that the May-December union was one of social equals or that the young woman had fallen in love with a man old enough to be her great-grandfather; even if she did not start as a servant in this household, she was probably of a much lower social status than her husband, so the child may have thought of English and Georgian as representing class extremes, not just different languages. (Not much seems to be known about her, except her name and approximate age, but he was the director of the city’s botanical garden, so she might have been the daughter of a gardener, for instance).

  11. So Lysenkoism wasn’t the only crazy officially-approved theory in Stalin’s USSR?

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Marrism was pre-Stalin: after Marr’s death, Stalin wrote (or had someone else write) a debunking of his theories.

  13. His son was a well-known Persianist. I think I’ve read some of his writing for some reason.

  14. A rather politically incorrect anecdote about academician Marr goes like this.
    Marr was giving a lecture, illustrating it with examples from Armenian language.
    Someone from audience interrupts: “I think your example is wrong, I am a native Armenian speaker, this word doesn’t mean what you say it means”
    Marr: “Fish wants to be an ichthyologist?”

  15. Fish wants to be an ichthyologist?
    We can add that to the annals of animalistic analogies (e.g., Jakobson on giving Nabokov a faculty position at Harvard: “I do respect very much the elephant, but would you give him the chair of Zoology?”).

  16. Here‘s a more recent LL post, including Garry Wills on not wanting to join Jimmy Carter’s campaign press corps: “One can be an entomologist without becoming a bug.”

  17. Oh, and Viktor Shklovsky is quoted as saying, “To be an ichthyologist, you do not have to be a fish. But I am a fish turned ichthyologist: a writer who analyzes the art of literature.” Hmm… Marr, Shklovsky, Jakobson — seems to be a Soviet trope.

  18. “Marrism was pre-Stalin: after Marr’s death, Stalin wrote (or had someone else write) a debunking of his theories.”
    And Stalin’s forays into linguistics inspired the opening lines “Товарищ Сталин, Вы большой ученый,
    В языкознаньи знаете Вы толк” of this famous song

  19. @ Marie-Lucie:
    I think Stalin used Arnold Chikobava, a well-known Georgian linguist, as his ghostwriter. It’s mentioned in the Wikipedia article on Chikobava, but I’ve seen it mentioned elsewhere too.

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    Jakobson relocated from Moscow to Prague circa 1920, so to the extent Soviet writers and Russian-emigre writers had different inventories of tropes, I’m not sure if he’s evidence for the content of the first set.

  21. Jakobson relocated from Moscow to Prague circa 1920, so to the extent Soviet writers and Russian-emigre writers had different inventories of tropes, I’m not sure if he’s evidence for the content of the first set.
    Soviet and emigré writers mingled pretty freely until the late ’20s; Gorky, Pasternak, Mayakovsky, Ehrenburg, Shklovsky, everybody who was anybody was meeting everybody else at the same Berlin cafes and literary evenings and discussing the same books and ideas. I don’t think tropes got separated until the Stalin era, so this could well have survived and flourished on both sides.

  22. So Lysenkoism wasn’t the only crazy officially-approved theory in Stalin’s USSR?
    Of course not, and there are numerous examples in the Western world too (like Cold Fusion in the 80s, or treating psychological disorders with colon resections in mid XXth c.). But just like in West, most outlandish theories proved impotent and lost official support too fast to leave a widespread, lasting imprint.
    One well-known example is the “Kurchatnik”, the principal nuclear energy R&D compound in Western Moscow, which emerged in what was then the “ghost campus” of “the Institute of Experimental Medicine”. The “crazy medical theories” won just enough approval to commission a vast research campus, but it didn’t last as long as the construction itself :) so the buildings remained unoccupied until Kurchatov.
    It closely parallels the story of the Cold Fusion Research Park in the US. The crazy discovery has won enough govt. support to spur a massive construction effort, but by the time the construction was over, the spell was over too, the buildings ended up occupied by life and computer sciences researchers instead.

  23. MOCKBA,
    Apparently Mitt Romney actually does believe in Cold Fusion, so it may be too early to write the obituary for that crazy idea.

  24. marie-lucie says:

    Is Shlovsky a common name? When I was a student (in Paris) I knew a girl called Elisabeth Schlovsky. She had spent a year in the US during high school, so she probably had relatives there.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    I think Stalin used Arnold Chikobava, a well-known Georgian linguist, as his ghostwriter
    Thanks Fred. I had read something to that effect but did not remember the name of the ghostwriter.

  26. most outlandish theories proved impotent and lost official support too fast to leave a widespread, lasting imprint.
    This was not true, of course, of Lysenkoism, which left a deep imprint for decades.

  27. Apparently Mitt Romney actually does believe in Cold Fusion, so it may be too early to write the obituary for that crazy idea
    It may generally be feasible IMVHO, just not in the form “discovered” by those Utah chemists? That crazy idea has been w/o govt. support for about 20 years…
    Lysenkoism, which left a deep imprint for decades
    and generally Lamarckism and various theories of purposeful design persist even in the West, and keep leaving a stark foorptint. Even practicians such as AKC breeders are still beholden to Lamarckism. One has to wonder why, and my guess is that the mankind has an intuitive feeling of breeding omnipotency, and doesn’t perceive its breeding provess as checked by powerful constraints of Nature.
    But of course such is the specific of the totalitarism, that it completely discards many useless concepts, and some usful ones too; in pluralistic society, the outlandish continues to survive, but rarely expands beyond its niche.

  28. John Emerson says:

    I’ve known a dog breeder, and he followed traditions that had nothing to do with anything scientific.

  29. —Is Shlovsky a common name?
    I think Shlovsky is a common mispronunciation of surname Shklovsky which comes from yet another Belarussian town of Shklov.
    Usually (but not necessarily!) such surnames deriving from town name are indications of Jewish origin. Belarussian towns before the Holocaust usually tended to be populated mostly by Jews.
    Shklov is famous for being a hometown of Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
    More on that town here
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shklo%C5%AD

  30. Etymology of town name Shklov comes from neighbouring river Shklovka.
    Shklo means “glass” in Belarussian language. It is thought that river is named so because of its transparent clear waters.
    Word for glass in Slavic languages (Russian steklo, Belarussian shklo, Ukrainian sklo; old Slavic and Bulgarian stьklo, Macedonian and Serbocroatian staklo, Slovenian steklo; Czech and Slovak sklo, Polish — szkło) apparently is a borrowing from Gothic “stikls”- beaker, chalice, goblet,

  31. glass is shil in Mongolian, is it somehow related? a too long way from gothic though
    my two Russian lit teachers in the secondary school both were Belorussians, seemed they treated Russian as their own language, back in the SSSR of course, just their g would sound a little softer like h, but very rarely, usually they would speak without any accent

  32. —glass is shil in Mongolian, is it somehow related?
    Etymology of glass in Mongolia is somewhat a mystery. There are dozens of similar words, so from which one “shil, shilen” is derived is not clear.
    In any case, “shil” is likely to be a native Mongolian word and unrelated to Germanic or Indo-European

  33. —were Belorussians, seemed they treated Russian as their own language
    Belarussian is unfortunately dying out. It is spoken only by rapidly declining rural population of Belarus and in the cities by a small nationalistic opposition.
    By some estimates, Russian is a first language for some 90% of Belarussian population.
    –their g would sound a little softer like h, but very rarely, usually they would speak without any accent
    Soviet actor Anatoly Papanov often spoke with Belarussian accent in his movies (in some movies he even speaks Belarussian – like his line “Сядзем усе!” in comedy “Бриллиантовая рука”).
    Wolf in Soviet animation series “Nu pogodi” was voiced by Papanov and also speaks with noticeable Belarussian accent.

  34. Belarussian towns before the Holocaust usually tended to be populated mostly by Jews.
    Can you say more about this, please?

  35. The Jews in Belarus were the third largest ethnic group in the country in the first half of the 20th century. Before World War II, Jews were the third among the ethnic groups in Belarus, and in cities and towns comprised more than 40% of the population. The population of cities such as Minsk, Pinsk, Mahiliou, Babrujsk, Viciebsk, and Homiel was more than 50% Jewish. In 1897 there were 724,548 Jews in Belarus, i.e. 13.6% of the total population.Some 800,000 Jews—90% of the Jewish population—were killed in Belarus during the Holocaust.[1] According to the 2009 census, there were 12,926 Jews in Belarus (0.1% of the population).[2]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Belarus

  36. Just to make things easier on anyone who wants to look them up, Mahiliou, Babrujsk, Viciebsk, and Homiel are better known under their Russian names of Mogilev, Bobruisk, Vitebsk, and Gomel.

  37. Thanks. All very interesting. I think I was
    mixing up Belarus with the northwestern Ukrainian Jewish farmers in Jonathan Safran Foer’s film of Everything Is Illuminated (fiction).

  38. AJP, the Czarist restrictions on Jews changed over time, but typically prohibited Jewish landownership, and didn’t allow any officially designated Jewish farming. For these reasons, even though the smaller Jewish communities look exactly like farming villages to our eyes, they were officially classified as towns, and their residents, as townsfolk / burgess class (мещане) rather than peasantry.
    Surnames were assigned to Jewish residents of the Pale in 1860s, during the reforms of Alexander II (originally, the surnames were strictly a privilledge of Russia’s noble class), and so modern Ashkenazi Jewish family names heavily reflect the geography and the conomy of the Pale of the 1860s.

  39. JewishGen lists 2,183 communities where Jews lived in the Russian Empire prior to WWI. The site lists 6,129 communities with a Jewish population, almost all in Europe. Other countries with many communities: Austrian Empire, 736; Germany, 1,466; and Hungary, 1,136. (Poland was not an independent country at the time.)

  40. Is Shlovsky a common name?
    Seeing the name Shlovsky made me recall Avraham Shlonsky Авраам Шлёнский אברהם שלונסקי‎, “a significant and dynamic Israeli poet and editor born in Russian Empire.”

  41. Thanks, Dmitry. That’s all very interesting. I see I’m going to have to start reading about 19c. Jewish history in eastern Europe.

  42. –the Czarist restrictions on Jews changed over time, but typically prohibited Jewish landownership, and didn’t allow any officially designated Jewish farming.
    Jewish agricultural colonies in the Russian Empire were first established in Kherson Governorate in 1806. The Ukase of December 9, 1804 allowed Jews for the first time in Russia to purchase land for farming settlements (Koloniya). Jews were provided exemption from military service, tax abatements, and reduced land prices as incentives. It was initially an attempt to demote Jews from their mechshanin or kupets (“urban commoner” or “merchant”) sosloviye (social group) inherited from the Polish Partitions to the lower-ranking Krestyane (peasant-agricultural) class.
    By 1900 there were about 100,000 Jewish colonists throughout Russia.[3]
    Jewish agricultural colonies became more successful than the Russian government initially expected. Some Jewish agricultural colonies turned into full-fledged Jewish shtetls with thriving merchant businesses not related to the agricultural activities originally chartered. Other Koloniya became the centers for new cash crops such as sugar beets, winter wheat, sunflowers, which particularly made Ukraine the breadbasket for all of Europe. The sugar beet industry produced more sugar for Europe’s insatiable sweet tooth than any other source, until tropical sugar cane crops took over in the 20th century. The Russian sugar beet industry was controlled by Jewish families associated with the Jewish agricultural colonies, such as the wealthy Brodsky family, financial magnates based in Kiev.
    Jewish agricultural colonies became models for communal agricultural efforts worldwide. Karl Marx cited the Koloniya as examples of workers taking control and lifting themselves up through hard work. Jewish Zionists in the early 20th century used Koloniya as models for Kibbutzim in Israel, particularly in the Second Aliyah after 1904.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_agricultural_colonies_in_the_Russian_Empire

  43. great rebutting of that, demoting
    it’s like so nice example to win using the opponent’s stick

  44. “An exception which only confirms the rule”, SFReader ;) ? The Koloniya’s were the Empire’s instrument for settling what was then called New Russia, a depopulated Steppe belt in the South of today’s Ukraine, and various groups of non-ethnic Russians have been incentivized, at different times, to settle in Koloniya’s. New Russia lands belonged to the Crown, and it granted lands as its border security considerations dictated. In traditional Jewish homelands, no such policies existed, and the Shtettle Jews weren’t allowed to become farmers or to get land from the estates of landed gentry.
    BTW I checked JewishGen’s extensive databases of vital records (which unfortunately exist only for ex-Polish Western Belarus, and it isn’t where Shklov is located). The name Szklowski appears to be very uncommon among the Jews of old Poland, and it is rarely found outside of Grodno Gubernia. But Szlowski / Szlonski don’t exist at all.

  45. Shlonsky is probably a Jewish surname of Polish origin.
    It would have been written in Polish as Śląski (Silesian) and must have referred to Jews who had origins in Polish Silesia

  46. Another Jewish surname of geographical origin is Litwak.
    Litwak meant Jews who lived in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and even Russia proper.
    I suppose genealogists would go crazy trying to investigate family with such surname…

  47. Carl Sagan co-wrote a book with a Russian astronomer named I.S. Shklovskii called Intelligent Life in the Universe. It began as a Russian book by Shklovskii; Sagan then expanded it a great deal, using a small turned delta and a small delta to delimit his part of the text. Shklovskii then added his own annotations to Sagan, marking them in the opposite way.

  48. Can’t you see? Glass/shklo is, obviously, from Marr’s sal.

  49. Carl Sagan co-wrote a book with a Russian astronomer named I.S. Shklovskii called Intelligent Life in the Universe.
    I’ve still got my beat-up copy of that somewhere; it was one of my favorites growing up.

  50. It’s funny: the name Shklovsky would have meant only the astronomer to me in my youth; now it means only Viktor.

  51. It would have been written in Polish as Śląski
    Slaski is very rare in JewishGen’s Poland Archive, and only found around Lomza, South of Belostok. Szlaski is considerably more common and also clusters exclusively to Lomza, so the form Slaski appears to be a derived form there. Not sure how to explain the differences in spelling; perhaps some records were back-transliterated from Russian?
    Of course it goes w/o saying that my own name is also geographic in origin :)

  52. the name Shklovsky
    I am just finishing War and Peace and am going to reread Shklovsky’s biography of Tolstoy, after about 30 years.

  53. I am just finishing War and Peace
    Has your opinion changed at all? Noticing anything new? And are you reading the dreaded Second Appendix?

  54. re. W&P – overall not changed, I’m actually enjoying it tremendously and looking forward to tackling the second epilogue. But yes, a few new impressions.
    - Humour, I think, is often overlooked. The scenes of Pierre’s entrapment by Hélène, and her predicament later with the two lovers; Prince Vassily’s reading a manifesto; Lavrushka’s meeting with Napoleon; Napoleon’s waiting for the keys to Moscow, and Kutuzov (after Moscow) going alone to the battle that his troops are not aware is about to start, – all these are hilarious.
    - Mysogyny. There isn’t one single female character who T. doesn’t look down on, even when admiring their spiritual force.
    - Snobbishness. This is in striking contrast with, for example, Dostoyevsky. His only serious characters are intellectual aristocrats. ‘Simple people’ are treated as supporting aristocrats’ quest for the big truth, eg. Captain Tushin, Dokhturov and the cossack Lavrushka.
    - Boyish argumentativeness. Now I know where I got mine: he has an innate desire to contradict every accepted ‘truth’ and challenge every authority. This is what drives T. and makes W&P such a pulsating read.
    - Karatayev still puzzles me. He is supposed to have opened the harmony of the world to Pierre, but Pierre practically discards him, feels detachment and even revulsion towards the end, when Karatayev is shot by the French. I loved Karatayev’s dog, wonder if he should be treated as the remaining natural connection between Pierre and Karatayev. But the dog disappears after Pierre is freed.
    Having reread the sequence where kovernaya appears (remember a previous discussion on LH?) I’m almost sure it’s a kind of gentleman’s ‘den’, a room with walls, floor and sofa covered with rugs, where you retire for a drink and a smoke, and perhaps a bit of hanky-panky.

  55. It’s funny: the name Shklovsky would have meant only the astronomer to me in my youth; now it means only Viktor.
    And for me Robert Hughes (pbuh) will always be the author of The Fatal Shore, though in this case it is the same person. See our earlier discussion of scientists famous for other things.

  56. Snobbishness. This is in striking contrast with, for example, Dostoyevsky.
    Yes, that struck me the last time I read W&P.

  57. I rate Hughes the author of The Fatal Shore much higher than Hughes the art critic, and when it came to contemporary art he was hopeless.

  58. John Cowan says:

    Sagan and Shklovskii (the astronomer), it seems, were both of Ukrainian Jewish origin.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    The name of the girl I knew might have been Schklovsky rather than Schlovsky. It was a long time ago.

  60. Marrism was pre-Stalin: after Marr’s death, Stalin wrote (or had someone else write) a debunking of his theories.

    Rereading this thread, I see I neglected to correct this: Stalin imposed Marrism as official doctrine before changing his mind and debunking it.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, I guess I was off by a few years. As I remember reading it, the debunking paper displays a knowledge of linguistics which is hard to attribute to Stalin. It is also refreshingly free of communistic jargon.

    Among other things, Marr had declared that the languages of workers in Russia and in other countries were now merging into each other, away from the national languages of the upper classes. Stalin knew very well that this was nonsense.

  62. It’s not easy to be sure what Stalin knew to be nonsense. I mean, the entire intellectual edifice of Leninism, in which the infallible Party knew better what the workers needed than the workers themselves and “democracy” involved the central committee making all important decisions, was nonsense in and of itself. Politicians in general are very good at making their beliefs fit what’s convenient for keeping and concentrating power. Did Stalin believe in the guilt of the Old Bolsheviks he executed for patently absurd conspiracies? It’s impossible to say. I think it’s entirely possible he “believed” (whatever that means in the case of Stalin) in Marrism as long as it served his purposes, and then stopped “believing” in it without ever feeling he had changed his mind (something dictators are very rarely conscious of).

  63. marie-lucie says:

    I am not familiar enough with the political context to know whether or to what extent Marrism served Stalin’s purposes. Perhaps it did originally as a “socialist” doctrine as opposed to the “bourgeois” Indo-European theory.* In the linguistic context, monolingual Russians might have believed that a universal worker’s language was developing, but Stalin was bilingual, he knew whether he was speaking Russian or Georgian, and the various languages of the Soviet Union were not merging, let alone with the languages of the workers in industrial Europe.

    (* GeoCurrents has started a series on the history of the Indo-European idea and its ramifications, the draft of a book).

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