By the late 1920s the idea that language is a social phenomenon and various linguistic phenomena can be given a sociological explanation had become a commonplace in Soviet linguistics. Several reasons for the ‘sociological turn’ can be found. Firstly, the dramatic social and economic changes caused by the Revolution were reflected in the Russian language, thus making it evident that language and society are intimately connected. Secondly, many Soviet linguists – like scholars in other academic disciplines too – felt the urge to develop a new Marxist approach to the study of language as opposed to earlier ‘bourgeois’ theories of language (for discussion, see Alpatov 2000, Brandist 2005). In most cases the growing interest in ‘the questions of language and society’ meant the study of social dialects and linguistic changes that took place in the Russian language after the Revolution. Thirdly, linguistics became a socially significant discipline in the construction of the new Soviet state, because many linguists were engaged in the creation of alphabets for different languages which did not hitherto have a written form. Fourthly, one certainly should not underestimate the role of the ‘climate of opinion’ (see Koerner 1987) – the special emphasis on language as a social fact at the beginning of the 20th century – in the formation of the early Soviet sociology of language.
The early sociological approach to the study of language is frequently – albeit mistakenly – equated with the idea of the class character (klassovost') of language only (see Desnitskaia 1974).
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