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Contemporary Russian provides evidence of how changes in the political and socio-economic structures of a country influence or sometimes even determine linguistic structure and language behaviour. A new period in the development of the language began with the political programme known as perestroika, when a relative suspension of the state control of expression ignited a process of linguistic innovation. In Sovremennyj Russkij Jazyk: Social’naja i funkcional’naja differenciacija
(Contemporary Russian: Social and Functional Differentiation), Leonid Krysin and seven other contributors account for the changes that have occurred in the language over the last two decades in their detailed analysis of present-day Russian in its sociolinguistic dimension.
The book opens with an introduction by the editor, in which Krysin affirms that changes in both social and political life have given a public voice to representatives of new social strata who are speakers of non-standard varieties of Russian often lacking an adequate command of the standard language. As a consequence the conversational speech of particular social groups is exerting a direct and enormous influence on the normalized literary language: colloquialisms and jargon words, promoted through the media, are entering all linguistic registers. After convincingly arguing the importance and usefulness of studying the social factors relating to the speakers (regional or social origin, age, sex), their attitudes and their use of language to convey meaning and to effect social functions, Krysin gives some historical background of sociological approaches to language differentiation in the works of Russian/Soviet and Western linguists. This introduction serves as a kind of “prelude” for the following four major sections of the book.
Section 1 “Social’naja differenciacija sistemy sovremennogo russkogo nacional’nogo jazyka” (Social differentiation of the system of contemporary Russian national language) consists of two chapters, both by the editor. Chapter 1 presents along with standard Russian, traditionally termed in Russian scholarship the “literary language”, the forms of the language that vary from the standard: regional dialects, prostorečie, professional and social jargons. The significance of phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexical differences between these forms is shown in chapter 2.
Section 2 “Sootnošenie social’noj differenciacii jazyka i funkcional’no-žanrovogo členenija reči” (Relationship between social differentiation of language and functional/genre speech subdivision) opens with a chapter by Kitajgorodskaja and Rozanova which focuses on the variety of the conversational discourse of the urban collective. An investigation into the new names of Russian private businesses – symbols of the changes in Russian society (Kitajgorodskaja) – follows in chapter 2.
In Chapter 3 “Sovremennaja političeskaja kommunikacija” (Contemporary Political Communication) Kitajgorodskaja and Rozanova conduct a valuable analysis of contemporary Russian political discourse, enriched by close investigation into the speech of such party leaders as Grigorij Javlinskij, Aleksandr Lebed', and Vladimir Žirinovskij. In Soviet times the style of politicians and public figures was usually characterised by stilted unanimity and the strict adherence to bland clichés and stock phrases. In the new Russia everybody speaks as openly and freely in public as they would do in informal contexts. The language of the mass media is the object of inquiry of Kakorina (chapter 4), while Zanadvorova (chapter 5) studies the conversational speech of families belonging to the intelligencija. A study of Orthodox Church sermons as key forms of Russian religious language (Rozanova) closes this section.
Section 3 “Social’nye različija govorjaščich i ich rečevoe povedenie” (Social differences and speech behaviour) opens with two chapters “Rečevoe obščenie v social’no neodnorodnoj srede” (Communication in a socialy non-homogeneous environment) and “Kodovye pereključenija v rečevom povedenii govorjaščego” (Code-switching speech behaviour), both by the editor, that refine the theoretical perspectives of the volume. Krysin stresses how every social group (or respectively individual) has several linguistic systems at disposal because this group (or individual) belongs simultaneously to several collectives that are different in scope. The reasons why people switch their codes are extremely varied and raise many sociological and psychological questions. Three chapters follow, with analyses of communication and code-switching in two different settings (the family (Zanadvorova) and the marketplace (Kitajgorodskaja and Rozanova)) and a research on the relationships between loanwords, registers, social and age groups in Russia (Kakorina).
Section 4 “Social’no-rečevye portrety nositelej sovremennogo russkogo jazyka” (Socio-linguistic portraits of speakers of contemporary Russian) concludes this survey of contemporary Russian with accurate and often entertaining linguistic portraits of members of the intelligencija (Krysin), a speaker of prostorečie (Černjak), businessmen (Milechina), and "New Russians" (Šmeleva).
In his conclusion Krysin sums up the results of the book's sociolinguistic analysis of Russian at the beginning of the XXI century. A process of erosion of the boundaries between the different internal systems of the language characterises contemporary Russian. Democratic developments in Russian society have resulted in a wave of linguistic liberalisation, bringing informal words, grammar, and pronunciation from non-standard areas into standard speech and written discourse. These processes are reflected in the communicative practice of Russian speakers, which is characterized by polyglossia, in Krysin's terms “ispol’zovanie sredstv raznych jazykovych podsistem i raznych funkcional’nych stilej v zavisimosti ot situacii rečevogo obščenija, ot ego celej, adresata i rjada drugich faktorov” [the use of means from different subsystems and functional styles of the language according to the communicative situation, the purpose, the interlocutor and a series of other factors] (p. 536).
The book is clearly structured, the editor’s and contributors’ style easy to read, and the linguistic phenomena presented and discussed are extremely well illustrated with abundant examples from contemporary spoken Russian. One of the many strengths of the book is indeed the number and variety of transcripts of spoken Russian texts presented to document everyday conversational intercourse in different institutional and community settings (the Duma, churches, the marketplace, pharmacies and other shops etc.). The volume has been handsomely produced, with careful attention to details of presentation and to typography. Its extensive bibliography refers to much recent work as well as to enduring standards.
This is a book that one can enjoy, appreciate, and learn from at several different levels. As well as being a scholarly sociolinguistic study of Russian it is also in many respects a study of contemporary Russian life. It will be of great interest to students who seek an introduction to the nature of Russian in its sociolinguistic aspects, to specialists who wish to delve further into any of these aspects, and simply to anyone interested in present-day Russia.