E.A. Zemskaja (ed.) Jazyk russkogo zarubež'ja [The Language of the Russian Diaspora]. Moscow/Vienna: Wiener slawistischer Almanach. 2001. (Wiener slawistischer Almanach. 53.), pp. 492. (Reviewed by Maria Polinsky, University of California, San Diego, and Asya Pereltsvaig, California State University, Long Beach)
This book, co-authored by Elena A. Zemskaja, Marina Y. Glovinskaja and Marina A. Bobrik, describes and analyzes the language of Russian émigrés in the West. One of the main contributions of this work is its unprecedented coverage: the monograph discusses the language of up to four generations of four waves of Russian émigrés living in five countries (USA, Germany, France, Italy and Finland). Many speakers interviewed in this study have lived in other countries, and the influence of other languages (Swedish, Arabic, Dutch, Bulgarian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Estonian, and Japanese) is also noted in the book.
As a newly emerging field, the study of heritage languages is very much in need of its own main notions and concepts. The book reviewed here helps define some of these crucial notions by examining the tension between culture-based and language-based conceptions of heritage language, by addressing the issues of language maintenance and language change, and by raising important research questions about heritage languages and Heritage Russian in particular.
Before embarking on a discussion of the book, we would like to introduce some relevant concepts that will play a role in this review.
The notion of a heritage language seems to be subject to two competing interpretations. An individual can have a special cultural, ethnic, religious, or social association with a given language without necessarily speaking it. This conception of a heritage language, advanced in a series of influential works by Joshua Fishman (Fishman 1966, 1997; Fishman et al. 1977), allows us to identify heritage languages as cultural constructs; as such, this notion is very useful to sociologists, cultural anthropologists, and psychologists, but may be deceptively broad and general for linguists and language teachers whose goal is to bring a heritage speaker to the level of native fluency in a given language. For these two types of researchers, the language-based definition proposed by Valdés (2000) seems more useful: a heritage speaker is someone who grew up in a home where a language other than the dominant language of a given society is spoken. As a result, this heritage speaker 'speaks or merely understands the heritage language, and … is to some degree bilingual in English and the heritage language' (Valdés 2000: 1). The monograph reviewed here does not make these two conceptions explicit; however, the authors seem to have them in mind as they discuss the tension between Russian cultural heritage and the linguistic knowledge of Russian.
The other, related notion is that of the discourse in which a heritage language develops. As with the understanding of a heritage language, one can approach heritage discourse from a cultural perspective or from a purely linguistic perspective. Understood broadly, such discourse includes material and idealized items that provide heritage speakers with associations with the ancestral culture; some of these associations are particularly stable (cuisine, religion), others may be much more fragile, and language seems to be among the latter. From a linguistic perspective, the heritage discourse includes the variety of the language that heritage speakers are exposed to in the home or community and the language that heritage speakers themselves help create. The language which constitutes the main input for heritage learners is the baseline. This baseline may be the same as the standard language promoted by the literature, media, or religion, but it can also be vastly different from the standard. Determining the baseline spoken by the original immigrants is crucial for our understanding of the lexicon and structure of a heritage language. Once the baseline is established, we are faced with the question of what factors in the history of a particular émigré community helped preserve the community's language and what factors moved them away from the original language.
The issue of the baseline is crucial for studies of Russian outside Russia because the Russian diaspora includes at least four vastly different waves of émigrés who left their homeland in the twentieth century. The First wave was the large scale-exodus of Russians from a country torn apart by the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the subsequent civil war. This wave comprised mostly educated, patriotic Russians, for whom emigration was the only way to preserve their identity and homeland. The Second wave, much smaller numerically, was comprised of Russian émigrés who were displaced during World War II, as well as some descendants of the First wave of émigrés. Both waves resettled in a number of European countries, China, and the USA. The sizeable Third wave, precipitated by the easing of emigration restriction in the 1970s, swept the USA and Israel. It comprised mostly Russian Jews who were much more ready to embrace the new world and its culture (Andrews 1999). Linguistically, the Third wave was almost exclusively Russian speaking, but, unlike the first two waves, did not have any special allegiance to the Russian language. For them, it was the language they happened to have grown up with. The more recent Fourth wave is more diverse ethnically, religiously, and socially, and differs from the first three waves in that its representatives are much more likely to return to Russia or maintain a binational lifestyle.
One of the most valuable contributions of the monograph is that it offers empirical evidence for the oft-cited differences between the four waves. The First and Second waves comprised highly educated speakers, who saw themselves as harbingers of a great culture destroyed by the communists. They were deeply committed to the cultural and religious heritage of the vanished Russia (a large part of these immigrants were Orthodox Christians) and tried to preserve its memories for themselves and their children. This worldview certainly leads to emphasis on the retention and maintenance of culture (and language as part of cultural identity). Given that most speakers were extremely well educated, they also maintained the higher registers of Russian, often with many archaic features in the lexicon, grammar, and even spelling (the Russian émigré press did not adopt the new orthography introduced in 1918). The Russian language had a symbolic value attached to it (Golubeva-Manatkina 1994; Granovskaja 1995), and linguistic preservation was simply part of the overall separation from the much-criticized Western world outside. In addition, the émigrés of the first two waves had little or no reason to follow cultural and linguistic change in the country they left behind-as far as they were concerned, that country did not exist. All these social and cultural circumstances led to the creation of a fairly isolated émigré group whose members were determined to resist pressures from the new society-not as isolationist as the Amish but definitely not open to the new world around them.
Part I of the monograph, written by Elena Zemskaja, lends ample empirical evidence for the linguistic conservatism of the First wave. Zemskaja focuses on the language of the First wave and four generations of their descendants. It provides a valuable addition to the existing description of the language of the First wave (Granovskaja 1995). Focusing on the language of the earliest wave allows her to create a longitudinal profile of a single, cohesive community over almost a century. This part of the monograph is based on a careful analysis of speech samples recorded by the author; additional samples are drawn from written sources such as diaries, memoirs, and letters. The language is analyzed in great detail, from phonetics to morphology and syntax; Zemskaja pays equal attention to purely grammatical phenomena and to the lexicon, register variation, and language etiquette. She maintains that most of the differences between the émigré language and standard Russian are found at the periphery of the grammatical system. For example, palatalization of paired consonants is unaffected, and it is only with unpaired consonants that the palatalization distinction is neutralized, e.g., speakers may alternate between palatalized and non-palatalized [č] and between palatalized and non-palatalized [x]. In morphology, the main change involves paradigm leveling: irregular or rare forms are replaced by ones formed by analogy with other, more frequent forms. Paradigm leveling of this sort is typical of language change (Haugen 1969) and language attrition (Dorian 1981), and, if anything, it is surprising how little change of this sort is observed in émigré Russian. The slow rate of change and the preservation of Russian over four generations are consistent with the First wave's commitment to the preservation of Russian culture and identity.
Part I of the book is supplemented by an Appendix "Family Language Portrait", written by Bobrik, herself a Russian émigré living in Berlin. The Appendix provides interesting information about the language of a family of First wave émigrés. This work is based on unique materials: tape recordings made by the head of the family in the late 1950s--early 1960s in Berlin, and two letters from the late 1990s written by a family member living in Australia. Given the nature of the recordings, the main emphasis is on phonetic properties. Again, as in Zemskaja's contribution, it is obvious that language maintenance has been more successful than in other émigré groups or in the language of the two subsequent waves. However, despite all the factors that are supposed to aid in the preservation of linguistic heritage, even these immigrants succumb to the influence of the dominant language (in Bobrik's study, German). The switch from a heritage language to the dominant language is simply slowed down but not averted.
Turning now to the Third and Fourth waves of Russian-speaking émigrés, they had a much more direct need to integrate in their new society and, given that most speakers had grown up in the Soviet Union and faced anti-Semitic persecution, their identity is much more mixed and complex, and their commitment to the preservation of things Russian less strong. This separates speakers of these waves from speakers of the first two waves and makes them more similar to other recent émigrés in the United States, most of whom undergo a very rapid shift from the heritage language to English, often within two generations (Fishman 1966; Fishman et al. 1977, among many others).
The reader can get a glimpse of the different pace of linguistic change across these groups in Part II of the monograph, written by Glovinskaja who compares the language of first generation émigrés from all the waves. Unlike Part I, this part focuses on written sources, such as memoirs, private letters, literary works and the émigré press; some recordings of spoken language are also discussed. The main focus of this part of the monograph is on the comparison of Contemporary Standard Russian and émigré Russian. Glovinskaja also discusses linguistic differences between the four waves. Much like the first part of the monograph, Part II examines a range of linguistic phenomena involving morphology, syntax and the lexicon. It is hard to do justice to all the rich material collected here in such a short review. At the risk of oversimplifying Glovinskaja's point, we would like to note that stylistic and register-related differences play a crucial role in her comparisons. Émigré language, the language of the later waves in particular, is characterized by a much more liberal conflation of registers than found in Contemporary Standard Russian.
Given the diverse backgrounds of émigrés in the different waves, the issue of the baseline is particularly important. For the First wave, the highly standardized, purified Russian of the early twentieth century, which until recently was at the base of standard Russian, is more or less appropriate. For the two later waves, this language or even Contemporary Standard Russian, promoted by the Soviet press and media in the second half of the twentieth century, are inappropriate because they would be completely outdated and obsolete. Instead of trying to compare the speech of these émigrés to some abstract, largely outdated standard, one should compare it to the colloquial Russian of the late twentieth century. This presents an additional problem because there are very few systematic studies of that particular baseline (Comrie et al. 1996), and therefore, research is needed to systematize it. In addition, one should include data on regional variation embedded in modern Russian-after all, many émigrés of the Third and Fourth waves came from the south of Russia, from Ukraine, and from Central Asia where regional variation was superimposed on the rapidly changing spoken language. Without an appropriate baseline, however, it is impossible to account for the speech of Third and Fourth waves. To illustrate some of the relevance of the appropriate baseline, we would like to examine three simple structural features across different varieties of Russian. These features are the contrast between the predicative instrumental and predicative nominative, the use of the so-called optional genitive of negation, and the postposition of adjectives.
With respect to the first feature, overt auxiliaries in the past or future tense can take a nominal/adjectival complement either in the instrumental or in the nominative case. The contrast between predicative instrumental and predicative nominative can be illustrated by the following examples:
|'Pushkin was a poet.'|
The majority of Russian grammar descriptions state that the difference between the instrumental and the nominative is that between a temporary or restricted property (hence instrumental) and a permanent, unrestricted property expressed by the nominative (Ueda 1992; Comrie et al. 1996: 169). However, the contrast between these cases seems to be undergoing significant attrition in modern spoken Russian, as is attested by the statistics in Table 1. This table shows the distribution of the predicative instrumental in the highly prescriptive Contemporary Standard Russian (Leonid Leonov's prose of the mid-1900 s), the writings of a modern author (late 1990s), and a 1999 Moscow-based newspaper (Kommersant). Only the latter seems to provide a more or less adequate baseline for comparison with RTN, an émigré TV channel based in New York and broadcast throughout the US. The difference between the two in the use of the predicative instrumental is not significant.
|Leonid Leonov. Russkij les ('The Russian Forest', 1953)||Victor Pelevin. Generation P (1996)||Kommersant, August 1999||Émigré Russian, USA (RTN channel, August 1999)|
If the literary language were assumed as the baseline, we would be forced to conclude that émigré language has undergone significant change with respect to the case of the predicative nominal. However, this conclusion is not supported by more comparable data; instead, the data from a Moscow-based Russian newspaper suggests that changes in émigré Russian reflect the ongoing change in the spoken language of the 'metropoly'.
Similarly, the use of the genitive of negation is significantly different across the highly standardized literary language and spoken Russian of the late twentieth century. In the prescriptive use, the genitive is strongly preferred over the accusative for the direct object of a negated transitive verb ( Ickovič 1968; Pesetsky 1982; Comrie et al. 1996: 146-7), for example:(1)
|I||noticed old lady-ACC|
|'I noticed an/the old lady.'|
|I||not||noticed old lady-GEN/old lady-ACC|
|'I did not notice an/the old lady.'|
The choice between the genitive and the accusative is determined by the interplay of several semantic and pragmatic factors (Mustajoki and Heino 1991; Ueda 1992). In the spoken language, however, the genitive of negation has long been undergoing a serious decline, commented on by several researchers ( Prokopovič et al. 1981: 64ff.; Zemskaja 1981). Table 2 presents statistics on the distribution of the genitive of negation in the literary prose, in a Moscow-based newspaper, and in an émigré newspaper based in Los Angeles. As the table shows, the real breakdown is between the highly standardized, literary language, and all the other varieties. If we approach the literary language as an abstract, Platonic construction, then again there is little difference between the language of the 'metropoly' and émigré varieties.
|Leonid Leonov. Russkij les ('The Russian Forest', 1953)||Victor Pelevin. Generation P (1996)||Kommersant, August 1999||Émigré Russian, USA (RTN channel, August 1999)|
Finally, Table 3 presents the statistics on the number of postposed adjectives in adjectival noun phrases in Russian: while the normative language requires that the adjective precede the noun (staryj gorod/*gorod staryj 'old city'), the number of postposed adjectives in colloquial speech seems on the rise (Comrie et al. 1996: 313). Émigré Russian spoken in the USA in the late 1990s confirms this tendency:
|Leonid Leonov. Russkij les||Victor Pelevin. Generation P||Kommersant, August 1999||Émigré Russian, USA (RTN channel, August 1999)|
Turning to the issue of retention versus loss in the study of heritage languages, the monograph under review follows some other studies of Russian in the diaspora, for example, Granovskaja 1995, in its emphasis on the retention and maintenance of Russian. Such an emphasis on preservation is typical of studies of the First wave, which is better known for its language preservation. However, the Third and Fourth waves are notorious for massive language change and loss; these aspects of Russian in the diaspora receive much less attention in the monograph. We found it strange that there was no data on Israeli Russian, highly representative of the Third and Fourth waves. This is especially regrettable given the sheer number of Russian speakers in Israel (750,000 according to the SIL website, easily outnumbering Russian speakers in the five countries studied in this book combined). Future studies of Russian in the diaspora may benefit from turning the tables with respect to retention and attrition, by focusing on attrition in the First wave and retention in the Third.
These critical remarks should not take away from our overall assessment of the monograph as a much-needed contribution to sociolinguistics and general linguistics. It provides interesting answers as to which elements of language yield more easily to the influence of other languages and according to what principles, and which elements are more stable. It is also an invaluable resource for scholars interested in cultural, historical, and psychological aspects of Russian emigration. Although it is written in Russian, the monograph contains a table of contents and a summary in English. The book raises many interesting issues, leaving the door wide open for the further study of émigré Russian and language attrition more generally.
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1. The picture presented here is largely simplified. In particular, we do not discuss the so-called required genitive of negation, the lexically governed genitive of negation, and we ignore the contrast between the nominative and genitive for the subject of unaccusatives.(BACK)
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Published: Monday, April 28, 2003