Congratulations to Lizok and Vodolazkin.

Lisa Hayden Espenschade’s latest post at her blog Lizok’s Bookshelf reports on Yevgeny Vodolazkin’s winning the 2019 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Literature Prize “for organically combining Russian traditions for spiritual and psychological prose with an outstanding knowledge and mind for language arts, as well as for his inspired writing style.” I haven’t read Vodolazkin yet, but thanks to Lisa’s raves for his writing he’s high on my list to investigate; she’s translated his The Aviator and Laurus (which won a Read Russia Prize in 2016), and her translation of Solovyov and Larionov has already been released in the UK and will be out in the US in May. It’s great to see a translator doing so much for contemporary literature! (And it’s via her blog that I mainly keep up with modern Russian literature.)


  1. I should mention that the Kindle version of Laurus is currently marked down to $2.34, so I grabbed it. Verbum sap!

  2. As Ms. Espenschade notes in her blog post, the award committee noticed author’s “high philological culture”, which sounds a bit weird in English, is not all that weird in Russian, but still is pretty cryptic. Ms. Espenschade translated it as “outstanding knowledge and mind for language arts”, but I suspect the committee meant that his books are hard to understand, in a nice and sophisticated way.

    But! The missed quirk here is that Mr. Vodolazkin is doctor of philological sciences. The tile “doctor of sciences” has no analogy in English (almost certainly it was borrowed from some German academic rank). By level of achievement and seniority it is a level of someone who attained tenure in a research university at a rank of Associate Professor in US (but in US, of course, it is place-bound and more of a job status) .

    All in all, not unlike Napoleon’s remark that Laplace carried the spirit of infinitesimals into administrative work (Napoleon at least explained more or less clearly what he meant).

  3. David Marjanović says

    almost certainly it was borrowed from some German academic rank

    Not that I know of.

  4. Lars (the original one) says

    Danish old-style doctorates in the sciences are mainly awarded to tenured researchers, but based on published work — in principle and origins the same as the Anglo-tradition Ph.D., but needing much weightier results. It’s not a salaried position, but it does entitle people to fancier hats.

    Until 1916, there were only doctores theologiae, juris, medicinae et philosophiae, the latter covering all humanities and natural sciences. From 1977, natural sciences got doctor scientiarum — maybe that didn’t happen in Germany.

  5. David Marjanović says

    I’m a doctor rerum naturalium, and I think that’s at least widespread in Germany, too. My mom’s doctorate in history in the early 80s made her a Dr. phil..

  6. Thank you for this very gracious post, Languagehat! I hope you enjoy Laurus.

    D.O., thank you for offering your take on the statement’s use of “высокая филологическая культура.” I couldn’t agree more with what you say: although it doesn’t sound particularly unusual in Russian, it is very difficult to unpack.

  7. I imagine at the heat of debate at Russian linguistics conferences, they would start throwing phrases like “you are philologically nekulturny!”

  8. Yes. Only the word of choice I imagine would be beskul’turnyj (like a person who thinks that a Romance language is a special idiom to write lyrics for romances).

  9. The doctor of sciences sounds to me like it is quite a bit like an old-fashioned English higher doctorate*. Traditionally, after a master’s and (three-year) doctor of philosophy at an English university, someone who was intending to continue on an academic career would then become a junior instructor at the same institution. After a few years, if they amassed a substantial enough body of work, they could petition for a higher doctorate. The higher doctorates, unlike the Ph.D., indicated something about the recipient’s field. They could be doctor of divinity, doctor of science, etc. After receiving the higher doctorate, the scholar might look for employment as a lecturer at another university. It was almost like getting another degree at the completion of a teaching post-doc position**.

    Nowadays, I don’t think things are done this way in English academia, at least not in the sciences. However, the higher doctorates are still sometimes awarded, even America. When I was in graduate school, in some of the departments (not in mine though), students could request to be awarded a Sc.D. instead of a Ph.D., although the requirements were identical. I knew at least one person, who was from formerly-British-controlled Hong Kong, who opted for the Sc.D.

    * Chrome, getting to know me only too well, suggested “multipoles” to come after “higher.”

    ** My grandfather did receive a certificate after he finished a two-year post-doc in 1951.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Ah, so the higher doctorates are just like what’s called habilitation in French and German: a further academic degree that allows you to become a professor and involves writing a hefty thesis.

    That said, I’ve read doctor of divinity, as in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is nothing but a polite address in American contexts, not unlike Esq..

  11. John Cowan says

    That’s a little strong. It’s true that it’s generally awarded honoris causa, as opposed to Th.D. which is the actual research degree in theology, but it is awarded, not just arrogated to oneself.

    Martin Luther King Jr. received many D.D.’s, as well as a research Ph.D. in systematic theology. On the other hand, it was discovered in 1991 that much of his dissertation was plagiarized, though his degree was not posthumously revoked.

    My father was a Harvard S.J.D. (scientiarum juris doctor), a research degree, in addition to holding an ordinary Ph.D. in philosophy.

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