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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: March 2012

1 - Introduction

Summary

While there can be little doubt that the period between the October 1917 Russian Revolution and the outbreak of World War Two saw an extraordinary upsurge in innovative approaches to language in Russia and then the USSR, only isolated examples have reached an Anglophone audience beyond a relatively narrow circle of Slavists. This is especially regrettable since many of the questions that now occupy theorists of language and society were those with which early Soviet linguists grappled, and one can still learn a considerable amount, both positive and negative, from this experience. As the work of what have become known as the Bakhtin and Vygotskii Circles began to appear in translations in the late 1960s, structuralist and then poststructuralist approaches to language became dominant in Western scholarship in the humanities. This movement was led by scholars who often claimed to be giving language due consideration for the first time, and who, polemically, presented previous approaches in caricatured form, as outdated and naïve theorizing that either unwittingly or willingly made common cause with Stalinist totalitarianism. As a result of this, the newly translated Russian texts appeared as exceptions that proved the rule, covertly subverting the official Soviet position and so anticipating, in fragmentary form, the new French-led paradigm. Just as these approaches arose in Europe, so in the United States William Labov led a bold attempt to catalogue and theorise social variations within American English by synthesizing dialect geography, attempts to define language as a social rather than natural science, and US writings on language contact and conflicts of the 1950s into a new discipline that was to be known as sociolinguistics (Koerner 2002).

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Politics and the Theory of Language in the USSR 1917–1938
  • Online ISBN: 9780857289483
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.7135/UPO9780857289483
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