November 22, 2003

Stalinist Linguistics

Mark Liberman's mention of Stalinist linguistics might give rise to the inference that Stalin had a distinctive approach to linguistics associated with his "left-fascist" politics. Actually, the distinctive, indeed bizarre tendancy in Soviet linguistics was due to N. Ja. Marr, who was to Soviet linguistics what Lysenko was to Soviet biology. Among Marr's stranger claims is that all the words of all human languages are descended from the four proto-syllables sal, ber, yon, and rosh.

Stalin's paper Marksizm i Voprosy Jazykoznanija [Marxism and problems of linguistics] is a refutation of Marr. Although Stalin cannot be said to have made any new and profound contribution to linguistics, he actually did have some knowledge of linguistics and his views were quite mainstream.

For a detailed account of Marr and his role in Soviet linguistics, see Jan Ivar Bjornfløten's book Marr og Språkvitenskapen i Sovjetunionen (Oslo: Novus Forlag. 1982.)

Posted by Bill Poser at November 22, 2003 01:09 AM