Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Young Alfred Korzybski

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Young Alfred Korzybski

Article excerpt

School was done. Vacation time had come. Fourteen-year-old Alfred Korzybski took the train from Warsaw. He was traveling from his family's home there to spend the summer at Rudnik, their country estate located in the gubernia (government district) of Piotrkow about 100 miles to the southwest. The rail line ran south from Warsaw--the main city of the Russian Empire's Vistula land, formerly known as Poland--through Mazovia toward the homeland of the ancient Polish Kings. After a while, one line split off west to the city of Lodz, which, at the end of the 19th Century, had become a major textile-manufacturing center. Alfred's train would continue further to his stop at the village of Bedkow. A horse and cart would come to take him to Rudnik.

Looking out at the landscape from the train window, Alfred would have seen plains and rolling hills abundant with "wide expanses of heath and scrubland." (1) Alfred felt deeply connected to this poor land and to his beloved Poland, even if no one could find "Poland" on any current map. In 1894 (the year of this journey), the Republic of Poland had not existed for nearly 100 years. Alfred had studied the history thoroughly--though not at school.

In 1795, the autocratic empires that surrounded Poland--Austria, Prussian Germany, and Tsarist Russia--completed the partition process by which they had begun gobbling up the country twenty-two years before. These imperial powers "solemnly swore to banish the very name of 'Poland' from the record." (2) The rest of the 'civilized' world looked on but provided no rescue. For them, Poland had seemed, as Edmund Burke ruefully noted, as if it was "situated on the Moon." (3) The Poles, with nearly 1000 years of national life behind them, were squeezed in a vise of political and cultural oppression. The armies of Napoleon, various shifts in jurisdiction, and a few periods of reform by the imperial powers occasionally raised the hopes of those who sought to keep their culture alive and to raise a new Polish state--to no avail. Over the years the vise had tightened. There had been uprisings--one in 1832 and one in 1863--centered in the Russian section. These had resulted in further repression. While Austria allowed a measure of freedom for its Poles to express themselves as Poles, the situation had definitely worsened in the German and Russian parts. In 1874, five years before Alfred's birth, the Tsarist Empire had fully incorporated its share of Poland--where Warsaw, Lodz, and Rudnik were located--into the Russian fatherland. As far as it was concerned, young Alfred, a descendent of the old szlachta (Polish nobility), (4) was simply a Russian citizen, a subject of the Tsar.

As part of this incorporation, "russification"--the plan to supress Polish culture--had taken off with a vengeance. Tsarist authorities designated Polish a 'foreign language' with the use of Russian obligatory in the courts and schools. Polish literature and history were banned from publication in Poland. Only some leeway was given in labeling street signs, where Polish (written in Latin script) was allowed to accompany the Russian Cyrillic names. (5) At schools such as the realschule in Warsaw that Alfred attended for something like eight years, Polish students received their lessons--even Polish language instruction--in Russian. But at home, alone with his family, or when speaking with the servants or with the peasant workers at the farm, Alfred could use his native language.

With servants and peasants working for them, Alfred's parents, if not enormously wealthy, surely qualified as "well-to-do." Despite the oppressive atmosphere of the Russian regime, they had managed to retain both the emblems of status and the means for comfortable living. Unlike many of the pre-partition Polish szlachta, the noble status of Alfred's family continued to be recognized. His ancestors were among the ancient Polish Counts (or landlords of counties) allowed to use a title in pre-partition Poland. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.