Monday, 1 October 2012

Averbakh 16: Publishing pitfalls.

On page 138 of the English edition part of the text reads: … Comrade Stalin's work Marxism and Linguistics?

The book under discussion is more commonly translated as Marxism and the Problems of Linguistics. Note, however, that this is not obvious from a reading of the Russian title: Марксизм и языкознание.

In 1950 an article in Pravda by Stalin denounced the long dead Professor Marr (1865-1934) and his school of linguistics. The dictator, had he not been convinced of their honesty, would have said that these disciples of the late professor were guilty of wrecking. Even leaving aside the bizarre sight of a country's ruler devoting time to what, for him, was a peripheral matter, the incongruity of the timing has to be marvelled at: North Korea was on the verge of invading the South!

Several careers in linguistics were destroyed as a result of Stalin's words; however, dismissal was fairly minor compared to what could have happened, it does not appear that anyone ended up in the Gulag or suffered death as a consequence of the interest taken by the supreme genius of mankind. An irony is that Marr, when alive, had harried and persecuted fellow linguists. From what I have read, Marr's theories are dismissed today by academics specialising in this subject.

It should be borne in mind that failure to mention Stalin was a serious lapse in judgement. This was the hidden meaning of the challenge Yudovich endured. Note, too, that article 58 of the Soviet code of laws (not to be confused with Stalin's 1936 constitution) prohibited the spreading of anti-Soviet propaganda, a catch-all that could ensnare anyone whose name appeared in print.

The author's humour is brought into play in the Russian, but omitted from the English (page 139). Specifically when discussing Yudovich's watchfulness; При мне умудренный опытом Михаил Михайлович зорко следил, чтобы, не дай Бог, на страницы журнала не проникло ничего крамольного. This has been translated as: In my time, Mikhail Mikhailovich watched carefully to ensure that nothing subversive appeared in the magazine, … The translation of не дай Бог has been omitted. This clause means Heaven forfend or God forbid. Rather unsuitable language for a communist state!

1 comment:

Bernard Cafferty said...

I have always been fascinated by this issue. There is background in a rare book that I picked up long ago: Mikhail Koryakov Zhivaya Istoriya 1917-1975, 510pp, Munich, Echo Press, 1977.

The author was a defector who spent years researching the history of the USSR in the libraries of Western Europe. He diligently looked through the back numbers of Pravda and Izvestiya in order to study the cross currents of past times. Many of the official positions reflected there were now, of course, to be considered as subversive by the Party.

From this source I learn that Koryakov regards the Marr issue as the key one of 1950. He points out that the issue was dealt with not just in one article, but a by series of letters by Stalin issued under the polite fiction that he was replying to queries by ‘a group of comrades’.

Koryakov regards the topic as an indirect approach by the Great Leader to strengthening the position of Russian as a sort of State Language not just of the USSR but also of the newly-formed Soviet Empire of Eastern Europe. It was also meant to be a strengthening of the position of the ‘new class’ which ran this empire. An interesting thesis.