“Social engineering of the future”: Evgeniy Polivanov on the principles of early Soviet language building

Publication Type:


Evgeny Blinov
Université Toulouse - Jean Jaurès
Issue number: 
No.4 (Vol.50)

The article analyzes the project of scientific justification of language Reforms, realized by the Soviet regime in 20s and 30s, elaborated by Russian and Soviet linguist Evgenij Polivanov (1891-1938). Polivanov claims that a Soviet linguist should not limit his interests to the “general linguistics” and become an active “language builder” and “language politician”. The reforms should be carefully planned by the experts in language sciences who master as well the methodology of dialectical materialism. In the polemics against Nikolai Marr’s Japhetidology Polivanov argued that linguistics is a strict science and its deductions are not contradictory to Marxism, as the latter is primarily a materialist philosophy. His minimal program consisted in explaining his views on the evolution of language in the Marxist terms. The evolution of language is explained by the influence of internal and external factors. The socio-economical factors are not influencing the language in a direct manner, but their analysis allows to change the channel of language evolution. According to Polivanov, the introduction of Marxism into linguistics will make possible to explain the relationship between intralinguistic and extralinguistic factors and will transform the sciences of language into “social engineering of the future”.

Evgeniy Polivanov, language policy, marxism in linguistics, Soviet language building, japhetidology

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