Filatova Olga

J. E. Purkyne University (Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic)

Lingua Sovetica: then and now

Discourse studies have become the point of discussion in Russia and Belarus quite recently, though foreign researchers have been trying to describe such a communication phenomenon for years. Discourse itself as a complex communication activity which develops in specific socio–pragmatic context revealed a new domain for various researchers.

The fundamental principle of discourse studies is that discourse is not limited to the account of «text» or «conversation» alone, but it can be analyzed and described together with cognitive, societal, cultural, political and historical contexts, since the interaction of text and context produces discourse as historically, socially and ideologically determined speech (Laclau&Mouffe, 1985; van Dijk 2001). Of course, these «contexts» raise interest for the broader study of the broader dimensions of communication. With the introduction of critical discourse analysis language research has been focused on the expression of various ideologies in various structures of text and talk, on the role the language plays in social relations of power and ideology, and how language is used in the processes of social change (van Dijk, 1995).

The recent studies of soviet discourse (or lingua sovetica) regard it as a sociocultural phenomenon of rhetorical and cognitive nature; it was the discourse where words dominated over things, where language was used not for understanding but for simulation (Medvedev, 1995). And soviet ideology itself was the result of well–organized language politics which stimulated discursive practices when language lost relations with reality. (Medvedev, 1995; Gussejnov, 2003).

The research findings and hypotheses have been formulated on the basis of theoretical frameworks analysis (Bakhtin, 1986; Klemperer, 1990; van Dijk, 1995, 2001, Laclau&Mouffe, 1985; Medvedev, 1995; Gussejnov, 2003, Maslova, 2004), qualitatively oriented content analysis, phono–semantic analysis and critical discourse analysis of extensive corpora of data compiled from contemporary newspaper texts, ads, slogans, official documents and Internet newspapers produced between 2005 — the beginning of 2008 in comparison with regional Belarusian/Soviet newspapers of 1917—1940 because a considerable ideological change took place during these periods.

Lingua sovetica or abolishing reality

The question which still demands the answer is how it had been possible for masses of people from different nationalities to be conquered by lingua sovetica. Researchers pointed at various prerequisites for development of a special discourse, which would not be rational or referential, but would be getting more and more symbolic and codified (Klemperer, 1990; Medvedev, 1995; Gussejnov, 2003). Such a crisis of representation might influence the whole national discourse. Moreover, the greater concentration of power produces the higher level of abstraction and simulation (Medvedev, 1995). The power and ideology are registered in language and having some will and instruments it is possible to change national discourse.

The first of the sources which made lingua sovetica powerful is not yet well analyzed and described feature of Russian mentality, which is represented in a national cognitive map, such as «total oververbalization», that means a special «language vision» when language doesn’t register objects, but slides over objects producing abstraction without real subsistence (Ryklin, 1992, p. 17). It can be summarized in a notion that for Russian people objects are not so important as feelings and ideas about objects. It is evident that such a mental feature might stimulate a dictatorship of words. For example, in Vitebsk newspaper «Zvyazda» (1925) there was an article about agriculture containing such news: «during the past year Belarusian agriculture had made a gigantic step forward», or «the activity of trade union members had increased tremendously».

At the same time «oververbalization» may be presented in the form of «overnumbering» (Altunyan, 2000) and that also means that numbers are not connected with reality: «planned program has been fulfilled with 16, 6% exceeding; gross output has been increased by 48, 9%», and the article is finished with the following sentence «the end of poverty is near» «Zvyazda» (1925), these numbers don’t refer to reality, but refer to the idea about the reality or discursive rules set by a soviet discourse.

Russian predisposition for «oververbalization» also resulted in «overexaggeration», when any event or fact from everyday life is described as history–making breakthrough:

«there isn’t any part of workers’ life where October hasn’t made Revolution, there isn’t any place of labour front where haven’t been any victories and achievements recently», «foreign market is conquered, «the houses of resort is a new achievement of the Great October Revolution» («Zvyazda», 1925).

«Overexaggeration» as a special feature of soviet discourse stimulated the rise of texts which were similar to ads, Klemperer noticed that most ideological texts were made using advertising formulas and clichй «superlative», «unique», «mighty» (Klemperer, 1990).

The next source is Russian frame of «future» which reveals national attitudes to time. In Russian cognitive map «future» (or «way», «tomorrow», «permanent improvement», «permanent expectation», etc. ) as a period of time is considered to be organized, and it is possible to create «future» or to cancel it, but «future» itself is imagination and the result of somebody’s imagination, so the expression «to have the debt for future» is alogism, and even having the certain date for the future to come, for example in 1917, 1937, 1980s, Russian frame of «future» also implies «utopia» (Maslova, 2004, p. 77—78), for example, «Belarusian agriculture is on the way to its prosperity» («Zvyazda», 1925), or the title of the article «We are unconquerable and our October is near» («Zvyazda», 1931).

Soviet discourse added new meanings to the frame of «future», at first, future might be wonderful, but people have to struggle for it, that is why verbs to struggle/fight/strive/compete/win/defend and derived nouns are frequent, for example, «the struggle against samogonka, (coldness and etc. ) is announced», «the struggle for literacy» («Izvestiya», 1920), or «Literacy is the foundation for workers in their struggle for better life, for communism. Being armed with knowledge we will overcome poverty» (Goncharov, 1989). It is also important to note that phono–semantic analysis by the means of computer program VAAL show that ideological archival texts produce and stimulate fear and aggression.

In such a situation when symbols begin to suppress reality and discourse is getting more and more non–referential a new kind of discourse might appear — a psychotic discourse where social side of communication is lost or even communication itself is lost, when there are not connections between a word and a thing, a new psychotic world (depersonalized and unreal) is being constructed by the language (Rudnev, 1999).

New discourse, new values

One of the most interesting facts presented by the texts is the evaluation of «individuality». The evaluation of «self» as a cognitive frame was significantly changed: from «I» into «we» or «everybody». Soviet discourse was the discourse where individuality was lost, that also meant that personal opinion was not required. For example, people who wrote newspaper articles didn’t use names or even pseudonyms but letters: A. P., Em. M., B–p, D., rabkor.

So during the first years of revolution in soviet discourse a new subjectivity had been generated as «collective subjectivity», that can be illustrated by such a formula: «I know/understand/agree/etc. because he/she knows/understands/agrees/etc., and he/she knows/understands/agrees/etc. because they know/understand/agree/etc. », or by the slogan from subscription campaign «Follow the example, follow the others» («Zvyazda», 1931); it is another phenomenon of soviet discourse which results in «depersonalization» and «non–reflectivity», and later in «anonymous letters»; it was the communication (if we even may call it «communication») which never accepted interpretations or questions (Medvedev, 1995).

Because of abolishing «self» the value of a private life was very low, and this idea had been successfully used during the war (1940–1945), for example, the exclamation from the character from Svetlana Aleksievich’s book: «The most wonderful dream was to die! To give your own life for Motherland» (Aleksievich, 1998, p. 280).

Such depersonalization influenced another changes in national cognitive map. The ideas about «privacy», «ownership», «entrepreneurship» were represented in a new light and with full–blown negative evaluations: «Comrades, stay away as far as possible from Saturday and entrepreneurs» («Izvestiya», 1917), or in «Vitebsky Proletary» (1929) there was an article where «entrepreneurs» were called as «fat rats» that caused damage to soviet life, and along the whole Soviet period such negative attitude had been kept. It is resulted in new Russian words which can’t be translated into other languages: «spekulyant», «fartsovshchik», «poganky».

Gussejnov G. explains the importance and irreversible action of these cognitive and discursive changes pointing that when the Soviet Union collapsed and the conditions supporting communistic ideology were abolished, people were so embarrassed because they were not ready for another newly reevaluated cognitive map and another discourse (Gussejnov, 2003).

The hostages of lingua sovetica

Comparative analysis of contemporary Belarusian newspaper, Internet newspapers and official texts discloses discourse which is similar to lingua sovetica in its «oververbalization», «overnumbering», «overexaggeration» and optimistic «salvation mythology» based on the frame of «future». The examples below will demonstrate analogies between lingua sovetica and modern Belarusian official discourse:


«a unique investment to future, «a unique complex building», «the sense and meaning of this project is extremely high», «we are united and ready for any grandiose deeds» («Sovetskaya Belorussiya», the report about Belarusian National Library, 2006).


the title of economic report from the newspaper is «today is better than yesterday, but tomorrow will be better than today» «Vitbichy» (2006), or the line from the editorial «the citizens of Belarus are confident in future and have all reasons to think that tomorrow will be better than today» («Vitbichy», 2006), and «our future is in huge production areas» or «to see and to watch the perspective» («Respublika», 2006).

Sometimes all these discursive features («oververbalization», «overnumbering», «overexaggeration» and «future») which represent soviet discourse patterns (and any political discourse patterns) are combined together producing a well–rounded political advertising or propaganda.

Analysis show that soviet discursive patterns and strategies are permeating through the whole system of various official discourses: economic, cultural, business, educational, large corpora of texts from different areas prove it and reveal the stability and hegemony of lingua sovetica.


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14. «Izvestiya», 1917. Vitebsky archiv, fond 2289, opis 2, delo 17, list 3/ob.

15. «Izvestiya», 1920. Vitebsky archiv, fond 2289, opis 2, delo 57, list 6.

16. «Respublika», 08. 08. 2006. s. 2

17. «Sovetskaya Belorussiya», 17. 06. 2006. s2.

18. «Vitebsky Proletariy», 1929. Vitebsky archiv, fond 2289, opis 2, delo 125, list 6.

19. «Zvyazda», 1925. Vitebsky archiv, fond 2289, opis 2, delo 100, list 4, 5.

20. «Zvyazda», 1931. Vitebsky archiv, fond 2289, opis 2, delo 100, list 2/ob.



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