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

6 - Language as a Battlefield – the Rhetoric of Class Struggle in Linguistic Debates of the First Five-Year Plan Period: The Case of E.D. Polivanov vs. G.K. Danilov



For Soviet linguistics, the period often referred to as the ‘Cultural Revolution’ (1929–32) was the time of heated debates around social issues stimulated both by practical needs and by theoretical questions that were emerging in the new social reality. It is typical when speaking about this period to distinguish two extreme positions – the ‘old’, ‘pure’ Indo-European linguistics and ‘new’, ‘social’, supposedly ‘Marxian’ linguistics of Nikolai Marr and his disciples. It was this binary opposition that determined the scientific paradigm of the time in the minds of its contemporaries. As V. Karpiuk put it in his 1931 article ‘Linguistic Theory and Language Practice’: ‘There are two main schools in modern linguistics: the so called Indo-European linguistics and traditional oriental studies which is almost the same thing, and the Japhetic theory of N. Ia. Marr’ (Karpiuk 1931, p. 204).

The actual situation was much more complicated, however. Marrism was not the only ‘social’ opposition to ‘bourgeois’ linguistics – the label stuck to the traditional comparative linguistics of the period. It is true that Marr's ‘New theory of language’ was in a strong position to win the battle and become ‘the only true language theory’ for the next two decades. But at the turn of the decade the situation in the ‘new’ linguistics was far from homogeneous. Different scientific groups and associations, and outstanding individuals fought against each other. For most of the contending parties this struggle was a battle fought on two (or more) fronts – against the traditional approach to language and against other pretenders to the throne of the ‘new linguistics’.

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Politics and the Theory of Language in the USSR 1917–1938
  • Online ISBN: 9780857289483
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