Russia Learns to Write: Slavistics, Politics, and the Struggle to Redefine Empire in the Early 20th Century

By Cadiot, Juliette | Kritika, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Russia Learns to Write: Slavistics, Politics, and the Struggle to Redefine Empire in the Early 20th Century


Cadiot, Juliette, Kritika


At the end of the 19th century, a group of language specialists--philologists, Slavists, Orientalists--participated in the birth of modern linguistics. In retrospect, as Roman Jakobson has shown, these changes occurred not just in Geneva (where Ferdinand de Saussure was working) but also in Kazan and Moscow, where the concept of the phoneme was being elaborated at the same time. (1) The debate about developing national "literary" languages had been transformed by new studies and new projects. The idea of simplifying written languages also was part of the movement for democratization and nationalization in the countries of Eastern Europe. Moreover, the spread of education had become a major issue, for the abolition of serfdom in Russia was expected to produce peasants who were self-aware, moral, and cultured. The study of speech and dialects was expected not only to identify linguistic borders but also to unify peoples through the creation of an accessible literary language. The impulse to modernization that emerged from the Great Reforms thus took shape as a series of measures affecting the schools. It was hoped that literacy across the empire would create peasants, subjects of the tsar--Russian citizens, even--who were capable of modernizing the economy and making the country more governable. The conclusion that literacy was necessary on a vast scale was expressed in a series of resolutions in the 1870s, but it was during the Duma period and within the Duma itself that the idea of universal education was discussed and then decided in 1911. (2)

In this article, I study how Russian linguists positioned themselves on the question of linguistic standardization at the beginning of the 20th century by using two examples: the simplification of Russian spelling and the official recognition of a norm for the Ukrainian literary language. I propose to show how "language specialists" interfered in the question of recasting the empire, notably by encouraging the project of a transition to literacy for the population and defending either Russification or the right to speak, publish, and teach in the vernacular languages. In political expectations as well as technical matters, the supporters of language simplification chose their positions based on experiments conducted outside Russia. Nevertheless, in this article I do not study just the importation of the slogan "write as you speak." Certainly, the linguists studied here thought comparatively, situating themselves in an imaginary community (particularly with the other Slavic countries) and thereby sharing in the history of cultural transfers. But what interests me most is to show how much the history of Russia is necessarily part of a transnational history. (3) The issues of simplifying Russian and standardizing Ukrainian had characteristics specific to the administration of an empire and to anxieties linked to its future. For instance, some of the linguists discussed here had no specific nationality but instead navigated between empires. The disputes about the definition of written Ukrainian can be understood only in their connection to the question of Russian identity and in an international context of geopolitical tensions that made speakers of Ukrainian, who lived between empires, into key figures on essential national and political matters--especially when they acknowledged that Ukrainian had the qualities of a literary language, linguists were actively helping to reconfigure the empire. Questions about the future of the empire--as a nationstate or a federation, and with what place for Russians and non-Russians in its imperial structure--are essential to understanding scholarly conflicts that seem a priori technical. (4) It is this politicization of scholarship, so characteristic of troubled political times, that I want to study by examining one particular form of transfer--the transference of scientific questions into the political sphere and political questions into the scholarly. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Russia Learns to Write: Slavistics, Politics, and the Struggle to Redefine Empire in the Early 20th Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.