Landslide of the Norm: Language Culture in Post-Soviet Russia

By Sasková-Pierce, Míla | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March-June 2008 | Go to article overview

Landslide of the Norm: Language Culture in Post-Soviet Russia


Sasková-Pierce, Míla, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Ingunn Lunde and Tine Roesen, eds. Landslide of the Norm: Language Culture in Post-Soviet Russia. Slavica Bergensia, 6. Bergen: John Grieg, 2006.303 pp. Bibliography. List of contributors. Index of names. $24.00, cloth.

This volume is a collection of articles that deal with the concept of language norm as it has been established by the Russian Language Academy of the Russian Academy of Sciences and traditionally defined by Russia's "language culture." The collection retraces the history of language norm(s) and the role of this concept in Russian language planning. It subsequently considers the language of several 20th-century Russian writers.

Language planning has been an important part of European language academies. The concepts of language culture and language norm were adduced by Russian linguists in the 1920s and elaborated by the Prague Linguistic Circle, whereby it became a part of the Structuralist theoretical construct used for the study of natural languages. The resulting scheme of language innovation included the following components: native speakers use new lexical and grammatical forms; when these become part of general use, they appear in public and journalistic discourse. When, finally, writers use these innovations in their literary work, linguists codify them as a legitimate part of the official lexicon and grammar-provided that they do not conflict with the existing grammatical structure of the already codified language. A spontaneous norm thus becomes a codified one. Language users' observance of such a codified norm and the related logicality of the language system are then termed "language culture." The kul'tura iazyka referred to in this collection is that defined by Grigorii Vinokur in his book Kul'tura iazyka (second edition, Moscow, 1929).

The present collection of articles was published in response to rapid social and cultural changes in post-Soviet Russia that during the last two decades have greatly influenced the Russian language. It contributes to a public discussion of the direction in which the Russian language has been evolving, incorporating massive amounts of foreign vocabulary in technological fields as well as the Anglicisms and neologisms that commercial advertisers introduce on an almost daily basis. Landslide of the Norm is the sixth volume in the "Slavica Bergensia" series produced by the Department of Russian Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway, under the general editorship of Ingunn Lunde. Earlier volumes investigated language as a tool of prose and rhetorics, particularly in Polish and Russian literatures, as, for example, in the narratives of Lev Tolstoi and the hymns of Kirill of Turov. This latest volume, co-edited by Ingunn Lunde and Tine Roesen, contains articles that explore Russian language policy from Stalin's time to the end of the 20th century.

In her article "lazyk-Stalin: Marksizm i voprosy iazykoznaniia kak lingvisticheskii povorot vo vselennoi SSSR" (pp. 263-291), Irina Sandomirskaja presents Stalin's views of language as an eerie parallel to Christianity. Like Christ-the-Word, Stalin-the Georgian seminarist and politician-embodied a norm for the Russian language, "becoming" in a sense Russia's linguistics. In his article "Performing 'Bolshevism' or the Diverse Minority Idiom of Isaac Babel" (pp. 235-262), Knut Andreas Grimstad examines Babel" s Russianlanguage style and attributes its descriptive power to Babel"s multilingualism, including his use of Polish, Yiddish, Soviet, Cossack and other registers, which are often veiled in their Russian translations. Martin Paulsen ("Criticizing Pelevin's Language: The Language Question in the Reception of Viktor Pelevin's Novel Generation P" pp. 143-158) examines the language of contemporary Russian prose through the prism of Pelevin's work, while Annika B. Myhr ("Trends in the Russian Language Debate: The Response of Contemporary Poetry," pp.

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