After Newspeak

After Newspeak: Language Culture and Politics in Russia from Gorbachev to Putin

Michael S. Gorham
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt5hh0vm
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  • Book Info
    After Newspeak
    Book Description:

    In After Newspeak, Michael S. Gorham presents a cultural history of the politics of Russian language from Gorbachev and glasnost to Putin and the emergence of new generations of Web technologies. Gorham begins from the premise that periods of rapid and radical change both shape and are shaped by language. He documents the role and fate of the Russian language in the collapse of the USSR and the decades of reform and national reconstruction that have followed. Gorham demonstrates the inextricable linkage of language and politics in everything from dictionaries of profanity to the flood of publications on linguistic self-help, the speech patterns of the country's leaders, the blogs of its bureaucrats, and the official programs promoting the use of Russian in the so-called "near abroad."

    Gorham explains why glasnost figured as such a critical rhetorical battleground in the political strife that led to the Soviet Union's collapse and shows why Russians came to deride the newfound freedom of speech of the 1990s as little more than the right to swear in public. He assesses the impact of Medvedev's role as Blogger-in-Chief and the role Putin's vulgar speech practices played in the restoration of national pride. And he investigates whether Internet communication and new media technologies have helped to consolidate a more vibrant democracy and civil society or if they serve as an additional resource for the political technologies manipulated by the Kremlin.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7057-8
    Subjects: History, Linguistics, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Note on Transliteration and Translations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Introduction: Ideologies, Economies, and Technologies of Language
    (pp. 1-24)

    Along withkreativ(creative [n.]), it was the curious termpolitkonkretnostʹ (“polit-concreteness”) that received the dubious award of “antiword of the year” (antislovo goda) from a panel of linguists and literary critics appointed to name both the word and antiword of the year for 2007 (Epshtein 2008). (The honor of “word of the year” went toglamur[glamour].) Although a close structural cousin topolitkorrektnostʹ, a derivative of the English “political correctness,” the term carries a subtly different meaning (and can be translated literally as “political concreteness”), more akin to what some believe to have been the very first manifestations...

  7. 1 The Soviet Legacy: From Political to Cultural Correctness
    (pp. 25-47)

    One obvious reason for post-Soviet reticence toward Western notions of political correctness is that the Soviet era featured a state-sponsored form of PC that was both ubiquitous and hypertrophied. The well-documented clichéd, wooden language of official speeches, documents, and newspapers assumed such a degree of dominance that it came to symbolize, in the Gorbachev-era revolts against that system, all that was wrong with it. Stale passive constructions veiled authority while deflecting responsibility, convoluted deverbal noun constructions symbolized official inertia, and superlatives meant to spark pride and elation simply stupefied like a worn cant.

    Less obvious was an additional source of...

  8. 2 Glasnost Unleashed: Language Ideologies in the Gorbachev Revolution
    (pp. 48-74)

    One of the chief architects of glasnost, Aleksandr Iakovlev, opens his memoir chapter on the Gorbachev years with a curious metalinguistic rumination, triggered by a single word,pustoslovie, which in English can be loosely translated as “empty rhetoric.” Recalling how in the spring of 1985 he had penciled the word into the margin of a draft of a eulogy Gorbachev was to deliver to the recently deceased Communist Party General Secretary, Iakovlev contemplates the symbolic significance that the word and the speech practices it represented held at that critical juncture in late-Soviet history:

    My disgust for empty rhetoric had been...

  9. 3 Economies of Profanity: Free Speech and Varieties of Language Degradation
    (pp. 75-97)

    In the aftermath of the failed coup of August 1991, it became clear that it was the democrats who had won the rhetorical battle over glasnost. For a variety of reasons, their broader interpretation of the term as a close cousin to “free speech” eclipsed the narrower notion of glasnost as “greater public access to information” espoused by the party apparatchiks. But by winning the battle over words, they also helped trigger the devaluation of the term itself. Gorbachev escaped captivity but suffered an irreparable blow in legitimacy, leading to the deflation of his own political authority and that of...

  10. 4 In Defense of the National Tongue: Guardians, Legislators, and Monitors of the Norm
    (pp. 98-130)

    The dynamics examined in chapters 2 and 3—first the battle over glasnost then the reframing of “freedom of speech”—tend to feature instrumental attitudes toward language, views of language as a tool for bringing about either reform or revolution in a positive light, or anarchy or lawlessness in a negative one. When the debates tend in the direction of excess and lawlessness, they likewise places greater focus on language’s “organic” or essential bond with the individual, society, and nation, and the threats to this bond from “impure,” “contaminating,” and “perverse” forces—both external and internal alike.¹ Metaphors of unruliness,...

  11. 5 Taking the Offensive: Language Culture and Policy under Putin
    (pp. 131-165)

    It may at first seem a contradiction to associate Vladimir Putin with the notion of linguistic norms and proper usage. This, after all, is the man who has been notorious for his colorful and at times crass turns of phrase. And yet he was selective about his use of such turns and the contexts in which he used them and, for the most part, distinguished himself—particularly apart from his predecessor—as a master of bureaucratic competence.We Speak Russianhost Larina joked about Putin laying down the law on the pronunciation ofobespechEnie, but there is no question that...

  12. 6 “Cyber Curtain” or Glasnost 2.0? Strategies for Web-based Communication in the New Media Age
    (pp. 166-191)

    On 15 December 2011, then–Prime Minister Putin staged his tenth annual meeting with the Russian nation, newly dubbed “Conversation with Vladimir Putin.” His first three meetings since assuming the premier-ship had largely followed the script of the earlier “Direct Lines”: they too were marathon, multimedia displays of competence and supreme authority afforded by friendly journalists, prepared questions, and links to live audiences across the nation.¹ Viewers who tuned into the 2011 edition, however, witnessed something notably different. Superficially, the format looked similar, with a live audience in a Moscow studio, the “call center” logging questions by phone, texting, and...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 192-198)

    Linguistic innovation tends to accelerate during less stable periods of history, and the degree of success of any term, speech style, or discourse depends on the degree to which it resonates with the general population, which in turn depends on its ability to tap into underlying ideologies, economies, and technologies of language. Discussion in this book has shifted between the language of politics and the politics of language deliberately and naturally, as the two are often bundled together either in debates over national identity or the right to speak freely. Be they linguistic tussles for cultural authority or election-time battles...

  14. Appendix: Sayings and Proverbs about Language
    (pp. 199-202)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-226)
  16. Index
    (pp. 227-234)