Workshop I: Linguistic Voluntarism in Russia and Eurasia

In many countries of Europe, the rise and development of standard languages to match emerging nation states were relatively straightforward processes. The shaping of the Russian nation state, on the other hand, has triggered quite a few linguistic issues. This is due to various factors, which include the linguistic complexity of the territory, measured on sociolinguistic and functional as well as geographical dimensions.

Linguistic voluntarism

The past three centuries have witnessed various endeavours to manage and reduce this complexity, which have made the empire and the Soviet Union an important locus of what, at the risk of adding to the existing terminological confusion, may be called linguistic voluntarism: proposals and efforts on the part of private persons and policy makers to channel or change patterns of oral and written communication, linguistic usage, and language attitudes on a mass scale as well as the agenda of scholarly linguistic reflection. Peter the Great’s language reform, Lomonosov’s theory of styles, Slavophile grammar, early Soviet alphabet development, the auxiliary language drive, the investigation of genetic or Sprachbund relationships for the languages of the empire, Japhetidology and the New Teaching, and kultura rechi are but a few examples.


The voluntarist enterprises have yielded a sizeable and varied body of linguistic ideas, observations, theories, and practices that have affected usage, language attitudes, and linguistic inquiry in Eurasia – though not always in the way intended – but also have produced a profound impact on the development of linguistics as a global science.

After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, policy makers and linguists in the successor states, facing the task of redefining the roles of Russian and the national languages by forging workable frameworks for effective communication and aligning linguistic habits and language attitudes with the new political realities, revisited this rich legacy of available discourse on language. Recent decades have witnessed revivals of linguistic myths and paradigms that belonged to various eras of the past. Elements that had thus far been considered to be mutually incompatible were merged into novel configurations and endowed with new pertinence to language policies, language attitudes, and linguistic research.

The workshop aims to shed light on the trilateral interaction among (a) speakers’ language habits and attitudes, (b) research paradigms operated by professional linguists, and (c) linguistic voluntarism on the part of policy makers and individuals in Russia and Eurasia both in the present and the past, and to bring to light any continuities and discontinuities that have occurred over the past three centuries.

We welcome papers that focus on specific aspects of this interaction, i.e., deal with:

  • the way in which linguistic voluntarism has affected or failed to affect linguistic reality, linguistic research practice, or linguistic perceptions in the field;
  • the impact of linguistic paradigms, such as Slavic or Eurasian linguistics, on the self-perception of the population and policy makers; and
  • the way in which popular linguistic habits and perceptions affect policy makers’ and linguists’ priorities.


The following themes are indicative. Contributions on issues that have thus far remained unidentified will be welcome.

  • Debates and discourse on Latinization and Cyrillization (of Russian and other Eurasian languages).
  • Linguistic choices and attitudes of speakers of Russian outside the Russian Federation.
  • Slavic micro-languages: voluntarism vs. empiricism.
  • Marrism and the nationalisms in the Caucasus.
  • Linguistic Panslavism from Neo Church Slavonic and Križanić to Slovio.
  • Paradigmatic and programmatic aspects of Eurasian linguistics.
  • How Church Slavonic has Standard Russian become and why?
  • The orthoepics of Russian and kultura rechi after perestroika.
  • Purism in the East Slavic standard languages.
  • The ideological and cultural origins of auxiliary language development.

Keynote speaker

Prof. Lenore A. Grenoble (Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago)

More information

For more information on this workshop please contact Prof. Dr. J. Schaeken, email:

Last Modified: 03-07-2012