Research article
Issue: № 2 (2), 2015


Soviet verbal culture, i.e. general principles and patterns of “linguistic life” of the Soviet society, is analyzed in the article. Various aspects of the Soviet verbal culture are studied from the time of its rise, much was done in post-Soviet era but despite a great number of research papers dedicated to it, including fundamental ones, it has been studied insufficiently and rather one-sidedly.

By verbal culture is understood a combination of social linguistic practice and language theory characterized by general principles of organization and functioning. Verbal culture implies those general principles underlying the organization of the language, speech, linguistic identity, philology and philological descriptions – all the linguistic life of society. These general principles are specified by the culture of the society. The notion of verbal culture enables to trace more accurately the interrelation between a language and a culture, their unity [Romanenko 2000].

N.I. Tolstoi in his paper “Language and national culture. Sketch of the Slavic mythology and ethnolinguistics" distinguishes three historical and linguistic types of culture: national, elite and mass culture. In his opinion national culture is embodied linguistically in dialects, elite culture – in literary language, mass culture – in colloquial language. This scheme corresponded to the cultural linguistic situation in pre-revolutionary Russia. The dominant part of this triad is “elite culture – literary language”. This culture is represented by the intellectuals, national culture – by peasants, mass culture – by medium class, city dwellers. In the same way linguistic embodiment of the cultures were formed: national philology (folklore), literary philology (booklore), democratic philology (common talk, pulp fiction). Folklore and booklore had a more national and cultural importance which became apparent in regular reproduction of their works. Mass philology was located on the periphery of national and cultural space and in its essence being unoriginal was reproduced on the irregular basis and had a minimum cultural value [Tolstoi 1995].

The situation changes due to the social revolution of the XXth century, the prerequisites of which were formed before. The social structure of society is changing, the intellectuals are losing their leading role in cultural development, the peasants together with a part of the intellectuals are either democratizing, becoming “the masses”, or together with another part of the intellectuals are appearing to be out of the borders of the new socialistic culture, becoming its enemies. A new literary language is developing, a new literary standard, based not so much on the old standard as on its negation. The best part of traditional and literary, bookish, “intellectual” language means are becoming no longer actual or demanded. The bearers of the new standard are general public. To extend the circle of bearers to the maximum the authorities take measures of teaching literacy and cultural and linguistic formation which satisfies the desires of the masses to master not only a political primer but the cultural minimum as well. In this situation the church is becoming objectively a competitor of the authorities and withdrawing from the official culture field. In this connection the religious and philosophical lexis and phraseology are out of the literary standard. The vocal embodiment of mass culture is changing as well, it includes a thriving philology – mass media texts: mass printing, radio, cinema, television, which do not break off with the old colloquial philology. The Soviet period of the literary language history is a period of development of the literary language of mass culture, the period of struggle between the norms of the elite and mass cultures. The history of the literary language of the Soviet time represents an alternation of two linguistic standards. Thus, the Soviet culture is a mass culture which began to dominate in the whole system of culture, pushing aside the national and elite types. Mass culture is secondary in relation to the national and elite ones and represents a certain combination of national and elite cultural models.      

Soviet verbal culture (further mentioned as SVC) is in the center of our observation. SVC represents “general principles and patterns of “linguistic life” of the Soviet society. Various aspects of SVC have been studied since its emergence, in particular much has been done in the post Soviet times but despite a great number of papers dedicated to it including fundamental ones, SVC has been studied insufficiently and rather one-sidedly.

In the 1920’s-30’s G.O. Vinokur, S.I. Kartsevsky, E.D. Polivanov, A.M. Selishchev, P.Y. Chernykh, R.O. Jakobson studied transformations taking place in the Russian literary language after 1917. Significant changes in lexical and stylistic system were found (first of all occurrence of a multitude of abbreviations, rise in barbarisms and dialecticisms, considerable influence of colloquial language and formal speech, shifts in semantics and emotional colouring of many words).

In his book “The language of the revolutionary epoch. From the observations of the Russian language of the latest years (1917-1926)” A.M. Selishchev conveyed an analysis of the changes taking place in the Russian language connected to the revolution and establishment of the new system.  Emphasizing a communication, expressive and nominative functions of the language, the scientist traces not only the process of formation of the basic political notions typical for the Soviet system, but he distinguishes how the “backward” world of social and political institutes and phenomena attempts to comply with the new images reflected in the language: “I have come to love new words. But I can not use them appropriately in ordinary situations. Whenever I use them, it’s off the topic.” [Selishchev 1928]. The author not only gives a list of the new vocabulary, but he also shows the reasons of their occurrence in the Russian language, establishes social and stylistic boundaries of their distribution, gives an assessment from the point of view of the literary norm.

The book by G.O. Vinokur “Language culture. Sketches of linguistic technology” represents interesting observations of abbreviated words, stock phrases, language and style of periodical press [Vinokur 2000].

M.A. Rybnikova in her paper “Introduction to stylistics” emphasizes “a huge role” of the new Soviet formations and neologisms in the modern language vocabulary. New words are generated due to the novel nature of life, their strength lies in the fact that they are current and have an ideological weight. According to M.A. Rybnikova, the growth of the language vocabulary of the post October revolution time results not only from the creation of the new words but from the new interpretation of the old vocabulary [Rybnikova 1937].

V.V. Vinogradov in his paper “Study of the literary Russian language over the last ten years in USSR”, summarizing the results of the research done by the linguists in the field of vocabulary of the modern Russian language, distinguishes the major aspects of its research: characteristics of changes in the Russian literary language over the Soviet period; study of the industrial and professional vocabulary; systematization and summary of the papers about the  Russian scientific terminology; intensification of the tendencies of introducing foreign borrowings into the lexical system of the language etc. Thus, as the author emphasizes, in the 1940’s-50’s there was a continuous rise in the material for generalization related to the laws and rules of changes of the modern Russian literary vocabulary due to the collapse of the old social relations and to the formation of the new ones [Vinogradov 1995].

The papers written by S.I. Ozhegov “Lexicology. Lexicography. Speech culture”, by I.F. Protchenko “Vocabulary and word formation in the Russian language of the Soviet epoch” are dedicated to the language of the Soviet time. In I.F. Prothcenko’s monograph special attention is drawn to the social and political vocabulary and sport terminology as well as to the description of the most productive types of word formation [Protchenko 1975].

Special attention should be given to the paper by N.A. Kupina “Totalitarian language: vocabulary and speech reactions” where the author considers the vocabulary of Soviet ideologemes related to the political, philosophical, religious, ethical and artistic fields as well as language resistance and language opposition of the communist ideology in Russia. The author believes that the main function of the totalitarian language is that of the ideological direction, realized in ideologeme by which a world-view directive (direction) is understood, put in the linguistic shape. Following the “Explanatory dictionary of the Russian language” edited by D.N. Ushakov the author distinguishes and describes the major ideologemes of the totalitarian language such as policy, party, general policy of the party, Leninism etc. [Kupina 1995]

The research papers on the Soviet culture in general belong to this time as well. The most significant paper in this regard is written by V.Z.Paperny “Culture “Two” where for the first time  ever the author started the discussion about the opposition of the two cultural models of the Soviet epoch at the lexical level as well.

In the monograph by A.P. Romanenko “Soviet verbal culture: image of rhetorician” the author researches the general patterns of the SVC through the linguistic identity called the image of a rhetorician in the monograph. On the basis of the teaching of Y.V. Rozhdestvensky about ethos, pathos and logos, A.P. Romanenko considers the conditions of speech activity of the Soviet rhetorician (ethos), orientation of the content of his speeches depending on the type of speech (pathos) and the means of linguistic expression in respect to the conditions and orientation of the content (logos). A.P. Romanenko takes two cultural models to describe SVC: C1 and C2. They are opposed to each other, C2 tries to destroy its predecessor. The relations between the languages of these two cultures are ambiguous. A.P. Romanenko distinguishes them as the old language and the new one and describes them not as different languages but as two linguistic standards: language 1 can not be called the old one (only the old “modernized” language) because culture 1 “processed” it. Language 2 is a proper new one. “The sense of the novelty of the language and of all the speech activity was sustained by the developed hostile attitude to everything old and to culture 1 as well”. It is language 2 that is called a newspeak (by Orwell) or officialese (by K.I. Chukovsky) [Romanenko 2000].

The papers by N.A. Kozhevnikova, S. Kordonsky, E. Lassan, Y.I. Levin, V.M. Mokienko and T.G. Nikitina, B.Y. Norman, P. Seriot, A.P. Chudinov and a number of other authors hold an idea that the language of SVC had a “diglossy”, or to be more precise several “dialects” were used (official, dissident, philistine, “secret”). As M.A. Krongauz truly observes, it is wrong to believe that “the Russian language in the Soviet epoch was awkward, bureaucratic and hard to understand. Only one of its forms was like that, notably the “newspeak”, but there was no other way for the “newspeak” to be different. Its structure was predetermined by its purpose” [Krongauz 1999].  It is noteworthy that the Soviet “newspeak” is not the language of the whole Soviet nation but the official language of the totalitarian society.

V.Z. Paperny in his paper “Culture “Two” describes the history of the architecture of the Soviet period by means of two cultural models: C1 and C2. C1 represents the model by means of which the material of the 1920’s is interpreted, and C2 – the processes of the 1930’s-50’s. The opposition of “C1 – C2” is considered quite comfortable to describe the events taking place in the same space but at other points of time, and in this paper the author assumes that some part of the Russian history can be described in terms of alternate predominance of C1 and C2.  

V. Paperny’s general hypothesis has two statements. The first statement: all the processes taking place in the Soviet architecture in the 1920’s -30’s  can be considered as the expression of the more general cultural processes, and the victory of C2 over C1 should be viewed  as the most important of them. The second statement: some processes of the Russian history have a cyclic nature, they can be described in terms of alternate C1 and C2.

Cultural processes are interpreted through three aspects stated by the author in the form of the main oppositions spreading/hardening, mechanism/person, lyrics/epos. C1 is characterized by spreading, mechanic nature and represents lyrics. As for C2, it hardens, oriented to a person and inclined to epos.

While C1 has a mechanic nature, C2 connects itself with a living organism. C1 leans on abstract notions while C2 – on the names. C1 readily applies figures, from the point of view of the following epoch, it is dumb. C2 is the verbal culture. C1 is oriented to reasonability. C2 is oriented to artistry. C1 excludes individuality and C2 is oriented to a person, who is ideal, who is not connected in any way with real people, living in the USSR. C2 does not notice the discrepancy between the ideal image and the real life [Paperny 1999].

In Paperny’s interpretation C1 and C2, besides obvious differences, have a common nature too, which first of all consists in excluding a person at the level of creation and at the level of culture “consumption”.

Thus, the specific character of SVC consists in its heterogeneity: “unity and struggle” of the two cultural and historical standards, two cultural models.


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