French and Russian in Imperial Russia

Derek Offord, Lara Ryazanova-Clarke, Vladislav Rjéoutski and Gesine Argent (eds): French and Russian in Imperial Russia. Vol. 1: Language Use among the Russian Elite; Vol. 2: Language Attitudes and Identity, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2015

Set against the background of the rapid transformation of Russia into a major European power, the two volumes of French and Russian in Imperial Russia consider the functions of multilingualism and the use of French as a prestige language among the elite, as well as the benefits of Franco-Russian bilingualism and the anxieties to which it gave rise.

The first volume, Language Use among the Russian Elite, provides insight into the development of the practice of speaking and writing French at the Russian court and among the Russian nobility from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. It examines linguistic practice, the use of French in Russia in various spheres, domains and genres, as well as the interplay between the two languages. Including examples of French lexical influence on Russian, this volume takes a sociolinguistic interest in language choice, code-switching and the degree to which the language community being observed was bilingual or diglossic.

The second volume, Language Attitudes and Identity, explores the impact of French on Russian language attitudes, especially among the literary community. It examines the ways in which perceptions of Russian francophonie helped to shape social, political and cultural identity as Russia began to seek space of its own in the European cultural landscape. In the process, it investigates approaches to translation, journalistic debate about language, literary representation of devotees of French social practice and fashion, and manifestations of linguistic purism and patriotism.

A comprehensive and original contribution to the multidisciplinary study of language, the two volumes address, from a historical viewpoint, subjects of relevance to sociolinguists (especially bilingualism and multilingualism), social and cultural historians (social and national identity, linguistic and cultural borrowing), Slavists (the relationship of Russian and western culture) and students of the European Enlightenment, Neo-Classicism, Romanticism and cultural nationalism.

Reviews

„Making good use of the insights and theories of sociolinguists, and concerned to reconstruct both past usage and past attitudes to language, these collective volumes are a milestone in the development of the social history of language“. Peter Burke, Emmanuel College, Cambridge