LINGUIST List 28.257

Thu Jan 12 2017

Review: Historical Ling; Socioling: Offord, Ryazanova-Clarke, Rjeoutski, Argent (2015)

Editor for this issue: Michael Czerniakowski <>

Date: 17-Jan-2016
From: Anders Ahlqvist <>
Subject: French and Russian in Imperial Russia: Volume 1
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Derek Offord
EDITOR: Lara Ryazanova-Clarke
EDITOR: Vladislav Rjeoutski
EDITOR: Gesine Argent
TITLE: French and Russian in Imperial Russia: Volume 1
SUBTITLE: Language Use among the Russian Elite
SERIES TITLE: Russian Language and Society
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Anders Ahlqvist, University of Sydney

Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


“French and Russian in Imperial Russia” edited by Derek Offord, Lara Ryazanova-Clarke, Vladislav Rjéoutski, and Gesine Argent is composed of two volumes, “Language Use among the Russian Elite” and “Language Attitudes and Identity”, which provide a detailed account of how, when, and why French came to be adopted by many members of the Russian elite as a language for a number of different special purposes during a period spanning roughly from the seventeenth century until the end of the Russian Empire.


Volume 1: Language Use among the Russian Elite

In the “Preface” (pp. [vii]–xii), the editors explain the reasoning behind providing two separate volumes around their general topic. They also (p. ix) inform readers about the two international events that took place in 2012 and gave rise to this work, stressing that this publication has not been conceived as conference proceedings.

The following section contains (pp. [xi]–xiv) a “Note on Dates, Transliteration and Other Editorial Practices”. The Library of Congress system of transliteration is given as that used in references etc.; it may be noted that Russian words from the pre-Revolutionary period have been transliterated from their modern form. Further (p. xiii), quotations in English and French retain the spelling of the originals, whereas Russian ones have been modernized in accordance with the 1918 reform.

In the “Introduction” (pp. [1]–24), the editors provide a setting through information about the multilingual background of the Russian Empire. Among the languages listed, one notes the German of the Baltic nobility, Peter the Great’s enthusiasm for Dutch (p. 2), as well as Finnish, Tatar etc., as languages of numerous minorities throughout the Empire, and how French, particularly from Catherine the Great’s time and onwards, came to acquire a special position. Historians of linguistics will be interested by (pp. 6–7) the rise of scholarship on the use of French in Russia in the nineteenth century and, with more “serious scholarly attention”, during the Soviet period. Historical linguists will turn to “the linguistic influence of French on Russian, particularly lexical borrowings from French” (p. 7). The historical context of the use of “Russian Francophonie” is given (pp. 11–16) a helpful summary, as is (pp. 16–19) the story of the “Westernization” of Russia. “Notes” follow at p. 19, as do “References” at pp. 20–24.

In Chapter 1 (pp. [25]–44), Derek Offord, Gesine Argent and Vladislav Rjéoutski deal with “French and Russian in Catherine’s Russia”. This includes a section (pp. 27–32) on the “Spread of French” as well as another (pp. 32–40) about the “Promotion of Russian”. A concluding remark (p. 40) sums up as follows: “when a multi-ethnic empire was ruled by a francophone German sovereign who positioned Russia within the European community, a bilingual or multilingual identity was less discomfiting for Russian nobles, pace many of Russia’s early satirical journalists and comic dramatists, than has often been supposed.”

For his part, Georges Dulac, in Chapter 2 (pp. [45]–60), restricts himself to a detailed examination of “The Use of French by Catherine II in her Letters to Friedrich Melchior Grimm (1774–96)”. More or less at the outset, we are faced with the complex paradox of being (p. 46) “bound to wonder what made two Germans by birth choose a language other than their mother tongue to keep up the sort of intimacy that characterised this relationship”. That intimacy is highlighted in the discussion (p. 52) of the amusing “French expression ne pas se moucher du pied (roughly equivalent to the English expression ‘to put on airs and graces’; literally ‘not to wipe one’s nose with one’s foot’)”.

Chapter 3 (pp. [61]–83), “Language Use Among the Russian Aristocracy: The Case of the Counts Stroganov”, by Vladislav Rjéoutski and Vladimir Somov, is a circumstantial case study of language choice in one important and well-known family. Russian and French were the most important ones, but (see p. 66) German and Italian figured as well, as did English, albeit as a “new language” (p. 71) occupying a “modest place” (p. 77). However, there is a salutary reminder (p. 74) that “the idea that the upper Russian nobility were ignorant of their native language should be recognized largely as a historiographical myth.” The role of Latin in education is noted (p. 75) as an antidote to French on the part of the authorities.

In Chapter 4 (pp. [84]–102) “The Francophone Press in Russia: A Cultural Bridge and an Instrument of Propaganda”, Vladislav Rjéoutski and Natalia Speranskaia start by explaining that the francophone press was a pan-European phenomenon in the era of the Enlightenment, listing (p. 86) some countries where it was even more important than in Russia. Also, in the Russian context, the use is mentioned (p. 87) of other languages, mainly German, but also Latin (for scholarly periodicals) and Italian (for a publication devoted to the theatre). It may be noted (p. 94) that the authorities supported the francophone press, for a number of interesting reasons.

Chapter 5 (pp. [103]–119), by Emilie Murphy, is entitled “Russian Noblewomen’s Francophone Travel Narratives (1777–1848): The Limits of the Use of French”. The author sets out (p. 104) to “comment on the women’s command of attitude towards the use of English, German, Italian and Russian. It is interesting to note that the use of French seems to require no comment from the women whereas they draw attention to their use of other languages.” She also asserts (p. 106) that women used French more commonly than men, basing this on men’s need to address themselves to officials and other matters that required attention through the medium of Russian.

In Chapter 6 (pp. [120]–131), Rodolphe Baudin turns to a very specific case study: “Russian or French? Bilingualism in Aleksandr Radishchev’s Letters from Exile (1790–1800)”. The statistics given (pp. 122–123) are that of the published letters: seventy-two are in French, twenty in Russian, and five in both. As the author points out (p. 123), Radishchev must have been reluctant to mix them, even if some code-switching can be observed and rules for it implied. This also applies to how Russian words in an otherwise French context might be in Latin characters. There is also an account of a specific case (p. 124) of “interference between languages”.

Code-switching is an even more prominent topic in Jessica Tipton’s Chapter 7 (pp. [132]–151): “Code-Switching in the Correspondence of the Vorontsov Family”. The author states (p. 133) that “frequent code-switching was not the rule but the exception”, adding that its “relative scarcity […] makes code-switching all the more interesting from the socio-linguist’s point of view”. She also refers (p. 135) to the difference between “intersentential” and “intrasentential” code-switching, asserting, rather boldly (with Romaine 1989: 4, 112–113) that the latter type “is a sure indication that the writer was subconsciously switching between languages”. The chapter contains detailed information, based on significant examples, which do (see p. 145) “provide some insight into the code-switching habits within a large and influential aristocratic family.”

Liubov Sapchenko is the author of Chapter 8 (pp. [152]–171): “French and Russian in Ego-Documents by Nikolai Karamzin”. As the author states at the end of her initial paragraph, it shows “how the writer proceeds from the laws of etiquette and genre to functionally differentiated authorial use of French and Russian.” One such pattern is (see p. 154) that Karamzin used Russian when writing to Emperor Alexander I. Also (p. 156), there is a reference to switching from the respectful second-person vous to the familiar tu in the process of getting married. The conclusion (pp. 166–167) gives a succinct and lucid overview of the complex relationship between the two languages.

“Pushkin’s Letters in French” are the subject-matter of Nina Dimitrieva’s Chapter 9 (pp. [172]–192). Pushkin’s choice of language depended to some extent on his relationship with correspondents. Thus, it appears (p. 174) that he chose Russian when writing to “kindred spirits”, and that his choice of French to his parents was due to the lack of “mutual understanding in the Pushkin household.” It is also made evident (p. 179) that he was quite strongly influenced by French literature. Like the preceding one, this chapter makes reference (p. 187) to the tu/vous distinction, including an example of switching from vous to tu, noting that such a change was not to be reversed.

In Chapter 10 (pp. [193]–208), Xénia Borderioux deals with “Instruction in Eighteenth-Century Coquetry: Learning about Fashion and Speaking its Language”. There are many examples here, starting (p. 194) with a document that shows how much ceremonial dress terminology owed to French, also listing (p. 195) a number of French publications that became available in Russia during the latter part of the eighteenth century. However, it is also clear (pp. 198–200) that at least one Russian fashion publication was based on a German edition, rather than a French original, quite possibly for significant ideological reasons. Nevertheless, particularly during the second half of the eighteenth century, French was an important skill (p. 204), in spite of certain reservations.

Chapter 11 (pp. [209]–227), “The Role of French in the Formation of Professional Architectural Terminology in Eighteenth-Century Russia”, by Sergei Klimenko and Iuliia Klimenko, provides insights into how the Russian vocabulary of architecture came to be heavily influenced by French. Peter the Great laid the foundation for this; see p. 211 (also pp. 215 and 221–222, where some good examples of such terminology are mentioned). As in other cases mentioned in this review, Russians seeking to modernize their language had used German publications, but (p. 217) French remained the preferred language, in spite of some exceptions (p. 218). Finally, it may be noted that much present-day Russian architectural terminology remains French-derived (p. 224).

In Chapter 12 (pp. [228]–242), Nina Dimitrieva and Gesine Argent turn to discussing “The Coexistence of Russian and French in the First Third of the Nineteenth Century: Bilingualism with or without Diglossia?” After a short introduction, they provide a section (pp. 229–231) that deals with some theoretical consideration in respect of bilingualism and diglossia, turning (pp. 232–233) to code-switching in writing and (pp. 233–235) differences between men’s and women’s usages. There is an amusing example (p. 236) of the type of playful language bilinguals often indulge in. The chapter comes to an end (p. 239) on this note: “Thus from metadiscursive comments it becomes clear that speakers consider that the various languages available to them have different functions. This state of affairs suggests diglossia, but the system is not rigid and is open to negotiation.”

Gesine Argent and Vladislav Rjéoutski are the authors of the “Conclusion” (pp. [243]–249). This provides a handy analysis of the previous chapters, including (p. 246) a warning against “arguing that Imperial Russia was a quite exceptional case in the sphere of language use”, even if (p. 247) it is true “that there were distinctive features in the Russian case”. There being no “Notes”, the “References” are at pp. 248–249.

The “Notes on Contributors” (pp. [250]–253) supply useful and welcome information. The “Index” (pp. [254]–270) lists names, languages, authorities quoted, etc. It is a selective one; for instance, one may note the absence of Romaine 1989 (as quoted p. 135), whereas Blommaert (1999: as quoted p. 243) is listed.

Volume 2: Language Attitudes and Identity

In the “Preface” etc. (pp. [vii]–[xvii]), one finds much the same material as in the corresponding pages ([vii]–[xviii]) of Volume 1.

In the “Introduction” (pp. [1]–15), the editors begin by returning to details in respect of the difference between the two separate volumes. They also offer pertinent remarks (p. 4) about “national identity” and “social identity”, and (p. 5) the crucial importance of German Romanticism.

Chapter 1 (pp. [16]–30) “The Pan-European Justification of a Multilingual Russian Society in the Late Eighteenth Century”, by Stephen Bruce, starts with a mention of the fact that the very first words in Tolstoy’s War and Peace are in French. Other languages also played a role, notably (p. 18) German. Catherine the Great was herself German, but chose to use French in much of her correspondence with the world outside Russia, which is the main topic of the chapter.

The title of Michelle Lamarche Marrese’s contribution (pp. [31]–47) in Chapter 2 of the volume is “Princess Dashkova and the Politics of Language in Eighteenth-Century Russia”. French was Dashkova’s main language, but her command of other ones, including English (p. 36), is also given consideration. One piece of linguistic information may be noted (p. 41): when writing in French and English—but not in Russian—Dashkova could refer to herself in the masculine gender.

Chapter 3 (pp. [48]–63), Svetlana Skomorokhova’s “Plating ‘Russian Gold’ with ‘French Copper’: Aleksandr Sumarokov and Eighteenth-Century Franco-Russian Translation” has a title that gives a clear insight into the contents of the chapter. The matter of “Russian self-validation […] within the context of European discourse about centre–periphery prestige positions” (p. 53) occupies a central place in the contribution.

For her part, Carole Chapin, in Chapter 4, deals (pp. [64]–78) with “Francophone Culture in Russia Seen through the Russian and French Periodical Press”. The central position of French comes out clearly, showing (see for instance pp. 72–73) how “the use of French in elite writing and social interaction was considered unexceptionable, even de rigueur in many situations”. Moreover, it is clear (p. 76) that French periodicals saw Russia as a “fashionable topic”.

However strong the position of French may have been, it was not without detractors, as Derek Offord shows (pp. [79]–99), in Chapter 5: “Linguistic Gallophobia in Russian Comedy”. The most important work of that kind was Denis Ivanovich Fonvizin’s 1769 “Brigadier”, which is given (pp. 87–91) extensive treatment, as are some other dramatists pertaining to the period of Catherine’s reign. The complexity of situation is demonstrated at the end (p. 95), which mentions how the “dilemma of Westernisation” reflects the opposition between using “French […] didactic poetry” and being “forerunners of an intelligentsia that in the nineteenth century would view language use, and in particular the bilingualism of the Russian nobility, in nationalistic terms”.

Gesine Argent is the author of Chapter 6: “The Linguistic Debate between Karamzin and Shishkov: Evaluating Russian–French Language Contact” (pp. [100]–117). These two influential debaters of linguistic matters provide many insights into contemporary attitudes. As Argent notes (p. 104), they held many views in common. Given their conservative political backgrounds, this is understandable. Also, a number of other commentators are introduced (p. 105). The most notable difference between Karamzin and Shishkov appears (p. 106) to have been that Shishkov saw “the connection between languages and nations as much stronger, linking a language inextricably to a particular nation.” The possibility of Herder having influenced these views is mentioned even it remains unclear how directly that may have happened. It follows (pp. 111–112) that they pursued different strategies to solve the problems they felt affected Russian: Karamzin looked at the spoken language for inspiration, whereas Shishkov preferred to concentrate on the Slavonic language.

G. M. Hamburg’s Chapter 7 (pp. [118]–138) deals with “Language and Conservative Politics in Alexandrine Russia”. Aleksandr Shishkov (1754–1841), Fedor Rostopchin (1763–1826) and Sergei Glinka (1776–1847) are the leading names being introduced at the outset of the chapter. The role of Mikhail Lomonosov is given special consideration (pp. 120–121), as is the awareness among Russian conservatives “of the general European discussion about language, culture and politics launched in the late 1760s by Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried Herder.” (p. 121) There is further mention (p. 123) of the lack of direct evidence for Shishkov and Rostopchin having read Hamann or Herder; on the other hand, indirect influence was likely. Hamburg concludes (p. 135) that the “differences among the three conservatives were real, but [that] they were largely matters of emphasis.”

Chapter 8 (pp. [139]–155): “Seduction, Subterfuge, Subversion: Ivan Krylov’s Rewriting of Molière”, is by D. Brian Kim. It tells (see p. 140) of how Krylov’s one-act play “Lessons for Daughters”, although a critique of Gallomania, relied on Molière’s 1659 play “Les précieuses ridicules”. It is worth noting the treatment (p. 145) of “the etymological relationship of the words ‘educate’ and ‘seduce’—both stem from the Latin dūcere, (to lead), but whereas to educate is to lead out of ignorance, to seduce is to lead astray.” Likewise, the etymological connotations (p. 147) of the name (Glagol’) of the play’s false French marquis are of interest, as is the discussion (p. 148) of his fake accent. Kim concludes (p. 152) by describing Krylov’s play “as an example of what can be achieved by a culture at war that imports ideas in the land of the enemy”.

Chapter 9 (pp. [156]–178), “The French Language of Fashion in Early Nineteenth-Century Russia”, is by Olga Vassilieva-Codognet. It starts out by referring to the debates initiated by Karamzin and Shishkov and how (p. 156, see also p. 160) “these language polemics frequently had recourse to clothing metaphors which also contrasted Russian and French practices.” The chapter gives details (p. 164) about French words in Russian journals: “the French word would appear in one of three different forms: in brackets after the Russian term that translated it; in its French form with no translation; or in transliteration in Cyrillic.” Examples follow (pp. 164–166), as do (pp. 168–173) pictures that serve to add clarity. Towards the end of the chapter, there is (p. 174) an entertaining account of the consequences of a bad transliteration of French gris-poussière.

Sara Dickinson is the author of Chapter 10 (pp. [179]–196): “[Otechestvo, otchizna, rodina]: Russian ‘Translations’ of Patrie in the Napoleonic Period”. [In the volume, the three Russian words in the title are printed in Cyrillic.] The texts examined are mostly by Aleksandr Radishchev, Nikolai Karamzin, Vasilii Zhukovskii and Fedor Glinka. Apart from the different nuances conveyed by the Russian words, the French term patrie also underwent changes of meaning. (See p. 180 and cp. p. 184) The chapter looks at this in some detail. It may be noted that, during most of the eighteenth-century, otechestvo was unproblematically (p. 181) the equivalent of patrie, whereas the (later) evolution of rodina was characterized (p. 192) by an increasing emotional component.

In Chapter 11 (pp. [197]–213), Derek Offord looks at the “Treatment of Francophonie in Pushkin’s Prose Fiction”. He starts from the premise that “multilingualism has often served not only as a stimulus for a nation’s cultural development but also for the formation of its national identity.” Whereas Germans and their language figure strongly in Pushkin’s work, French is clearly the foreign language that features most prominently. (See pp. 199–200.) This is illustrated through a range of quotations, leading to the conclusion (p. 210) that “assimilation of foreign languages and the foreign cultures they bore had been a crucial step in the creation of a culture that would eventually be conceived as authentically Russian.”

Victor Zhivov has contributed Chapter 11 (pp. [214]–241): “Love à la mode: Russian Words and French Sources”. The story begins with Paul Tallement’s 1663 novel “Voyage de l’île d’amour” and Vasilii Trediakovskii’s 1730 Russian translation. It contains a number of interesting inventions, to render French terms that had not had Russian equivalents before. (See pp. 216–220.) It continues with an account (pp. 221–225) of Aleksandr Khrapovitskii’s reworking of Jean-François Dreux du Radier’s 1741 “Dictionnaire d’amour”. Then there follows (pp. 225–228 a comparison between Trediatovskii and Khrapovitskii and some critical remarks (pp. 228–232), concerning how incomplete and fragmentary the “Russian vocabulary of love” had remained, compared to that of French.

Gesine Argent and Derek Offord are the authors of the “Conclusion” (pp. [242]–247). Among other things, they examine the tension between French and Russian, stating (p. 243, cp. also p. 246) that, “[c]rucially, it was infatuation with the French language that came under attack, rather than the language itself.”

There are (pp. [248]–250) some “Notes on Contributors” and (pp. [251]–266) an “Index”, which, like the one in the first volume, is a selective one; note the absence of Milroy and Milroy (1999, as quoted p. 101) as against the inclusion of Aaltonen (2000, as quoted p. 150).


The far too sparse “notes de lecture” provided above cannot give an adequate impression of the sheer wonderful richness of all that is contained within the covers of the two volumes here reviewed. This work is a major milestone in historical sociolinguistics: it demonstrates very clearly how a true and complete understanding of the many functions of human language, throughout its long history, must be based on much more than what is provided by most manifestations of theoretical linguistics. These books provide a circumstantial and objective account of the interaction, over at least two centuries, of two important European languages, in a social setting that most fortunately happens to be well documented. The complexity of this particular situation is given the prominence it deserves, and there are cogent and logical arguments against some simplistic notions. It is also good to note that all contributions are written in a lucid and easily accessed style, free of unnecessary jargon. This means that this work can be read not only by professional linguists, but also by historians, literary critics and sociologists, all of whom will find much of great value.

Some of the contributions have been translated from French or Russian; this appears to have been done quite flawlessly. Most of the numerous quotations are aptly chosen and serve to develop the arguments presented in a logical fashion. This work will doubtlessly serve as a model for future research into similar linguistic situations to be located elsewhere, in respect of both place and time. I am thinking of the place of French in other European countries, such as for instance Sweden, during the period in question, but also of that of English in India, to name but one potentially very interesting case. I have no doubt but that “French and Russian in Imperial Russia” will be a choice item on reading lists for sociolinguistics classes in good universities all over the world. Students taking such classes will take note of the fact that quite a few of the contributors are early-career scholars, whose work is of the same high standard as that of their more experienced colleagues.

Naturally, no work is totally perfect; this is no exception. However, it must be clearly understood the remarks that follow are not directed at the contents of the work, but rather at certain not very user-friendly aspects of book production that have come to my notice. The most glaring one concerns the choice of endnotes instead of either footnotes or no notes at all. This feature is particularly irritating when one reads a quotation in Russian or French and finds that the English translation is in a note several pages away. A better policy would have been to print the translation either immediately after the quotation or in a footnote on the same page. After all, the choice of publishing this particular work in English implies a desire to reach readers that are not necessarily proficient in French or Russian; they are not helped by being forced, for no good reason, to keep flicking from one page to another.

The transliteration and translation policy is reasonably consistent: titles and references are transliterated, but not quotations. On the other hand, quotations are translated (albeit in inconvenient endnotes) but references are not. Another possible procedure might have been to keep Russian titles and references in Cyrillic, but provide translations of the references, so as to help readers who do not have Russian to find out what the references are about. To be sure, problems are bound to remain, particularly in respect of Russian personal names; I note one case in point (vol. 1, p. 101): the surname of one of the editors is given both as Rjéoutski and Rzheutskii, but not in Cyrillic. Finally, I may mention one further query. It concerns the decision to publish the work as two separate volumes. The arguments provided by the editors here and there are cogent ones. Nevertheless, I wonder whether collecting everything in one single volume might not have been a better choice, given how well some of the chapters mesh in together. I am for instance thinking of Chapter 10 in Volume 1 and Chapter 9 in Volume 2: reading one without the other would have caused one to miss out on much that is of great interest. This is also very true of many other chapters in the entire work.

In conclusion, then, I commend both these two volumes, which together make up “French and Russian in Imperial Russia”, very warmly indeed to all kinds of possible readers, adding a particular plea for them to make sure that they read both books; I have no doubt but that they will find them as instructive, interesting, readable and scholarly as I have.


Aaltonen, Sirkku. 2000. Time-Sharing on Stage: Drama Translation in Theatre and Society. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Blommaert, Jan (ed.). 1999. Language Ideological Debates. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Cohen, Michèle. 2016. Review. Language & History 59,2:131–134.

Milroy, James & Lesley Milroy. 1999. Authority in Language: Investigating Standard English. London: Routledge.

Romaine, Suzanne. 1989. Bilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell.


Anders Ahlqvist holds a 1974 Edinburgh PhD. From 1977 to 2005, he was, successively, Statutory Lecturer, Associate Professor and Personal Professor of early Irish and Celtic philology at Galway, Ireland. From 2008 to 2013 he was the Foundation Sir Warwick Fairfax Professor of Celtic at Sydney. He has been Chairman of the Governing Board of the School of Celtic Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies since 2005 and an editor of the Australian Celtic Journal since 2008. He is a past President of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas and the Societas Linguistica Europaea.

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