Sots-Speak: Regimes of Language under Socialism

Sots-Speak: Regimes of Language under Socialism

20-22 mai 2011


The attempt to build communism in Eastern Europe was accompanied by the development of a distinctive language paradigm, first in the Soviet Union, then—by a process of cultural translation and local adaptation—in the satellite states of the Socialist Bloc. The official discourse possessed its own “speech genres” (tied to specific communicative contexts, social roles, and political tasks), easily recognizable rhetorical patterns and lexical peculiarities. It is intuitively obvious that this discourse, which we provisionally label sots-speak, was instrumental in legitimizing and perpetuating the political system, in shaping individual psychologies and cultural expressions. However, our knowledge of its exact nature and practical existence remains sketchy, as the topic still awaits systematic research. The aim of this conference is to bring together scholars whose work helps shed light on the politico-ideological idiom(s) of state socialism, so that we can begin to develop a sophisticated, multi-layered picture of this special universe of discourse. A deeper understanding of its constitutive linguistic features and the tendencies that define its evolution represents a major desideratum on its own; yet we see this understanding as prerequisite for engaging in questions of broader cultural significance and soliciting a range of (inter)disciplinary inquiries (sociolinguistics, social psychology, anthropology, philosophy, cultural and literary studies, political science, etc.).

20 May 2011

12.30 – Welcome Address

12.45-2.45 – Panel 1: Linguistic Anatomies

  • Konstantin Bogdanov (Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg) : “Soviet Language Culture in the Light of Ethnolinguistics”
  • Anastasia Smirnova (Ohio State U) : “Aligning Language to Ideology: A Socio-Semantic Analysis of Communist and Democratic Discourse in Bulgaria”
  • Calin Morar Vulcu (Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj) : “From Subject to Object of Description: Classes in Romanian State-Socialist Discourse”

Chair: Olga Hasty (Princeton U)
Discussant: Mirjam Fried (Czech Academy of Sciences)

3.00-5.15 – Panel 2: Making Things with Words

  • Choi Chatterjee (California State U, Los Angeles) : “Lady in Red: Bolshevik Feminism in the American Imagination, 1917-1939”
  • Samantha Sherry (U of Edinburgh) : “‘Bird Watchers of the World, Unite!’ The Language of Ideology in Soviet Translation”
  • Jessie Labov (Ohio State U) : “The Puzzle of the Yugoslav Nationalist/ Dissident from Helsinki to Dayton”
  • Alyssa DeBlasio (Dickinson College) : “Philosophical Rhetoric and Istoriia russkoi filosofii”

Chair: David Bellos (Princeton U)
Discussant: Irena Grudzinska Gross (Princeton U)
5.30-6.45 – Keynote address: Jochen Hellbeck (Rutgers U), “The Language of Soviet Experience and Its Meanings”

7.00 – Reception

21 May 2011

9.00-11.00 – Panel 3: Speaking Stalinese

  • Carol Any (Trinity College) : “Public and Private Speech Genres in the Soviet Writers’ Union under Stalin”
  • Ilya Venyavkin (Russian State University for the Humanities) : “Mystical Insight under Socialism: The Language of Political Confessions in the late 1930-s”
  • Anastasia Ryabchuk (National U of Kyiv Mohyla Academy) : “Parasites, Asocials, and Work-Shy: Discursive Construction of Homelessness and Vagrancy in the USSR”

Chair: Petre Petrov (Princeton U)
Discussant: Jochen Hellbeck (Rutgers U)

11.15-1.15 – Panel 4: Figures of Rhetoric

  • Elena Gapova (Western Michigan U / European Humanities U) : “The Party Solemnly Proclaims: the Present Generation of Soviet People Shall Live in Communism”: The Rhetoric of Utopia in Krushchev Era”
  • Karen Petrone (U of Kentucky) : “Afghanistan and the New Discourse of War in the Late Soviet Era”
  • Yulia Minkova (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State) : “Our Man in Chile, or Victor Jara’s Posthumous Life in Soviet Media and Popular Culture”

Chair: Ellen Chances (Princeton U)
Discussant: Eliot Borenstein (New York U)


2.30-4.45 – Panel 5: On the Literary Front

  • Maria Kisel (Lawrence U) : “Satirical and Philosophical Dimensions of Sots-speak in Andrei Platonov’s Fiction”
  • Natalia Skradol (Hebrew U / Ben Gurion University of the Negev) : “The Evolution of the Soviet Bestiary: Satirical Fables from Bednyi to Mikhalkov”
  • Eva Cermanova (U of Aberdeen) : “The Diktat of Language: Bureaucratic Paranoia in Havel’s Memorandum”
  • Baktyul Aliev (McGill U) : “Visuality in V. Narbikova’s Okolo ekolo”

Chair: Emily Van Buskirk (Rutgers U)
Discussant: Helena Goscilo (Ohio State U)

5.00-6.15 – Media Presentation: Vitaly Komar, “Word and Image: The Duality of Sots-Art”

6.30 – Dinner (Prospect House)

22 May 2011

9.00-11.15 – Panel 6: Practices of Language

  • Jonathan Larson (U of Iowa) : “Sentimental Kritika: Hazardous Dialectics and Deictics in Socialist Criticism”
  • James RobertsonNew York U) : “Speaking Titoism: Non-Alignment and the Language Regime of Yugoslav Socialism”
  • Suzanne Cohen (Temple U) : “In and Out of Frame: The Soviet Training as Sots-Speak”
  • Julia Lerner and Claudia Zbenovich (Ben Gurion University of the Negev / Hadassah College of Jerusalem) : “Talk and Dress: Adapting the Therapeutic Paradigm to Post-Soviet Speak”

Chair: Margaret Beissinger (Princeton U)
Discussant: Anna Katsnelson (Princeton U)

11.30-1.30 – Panel 7: Discursive Remnants

  • Maria Rives (Yale U) : “Authoritative Discourse in Post-Authoritarian Russia”
  • Lara Ryazanova-Clarke (U of Edinburgh) : “Stalinism as an Auteur Project: Meta Sots-Speak in Contemporary Russian Public Discourse”
  • Gasan Gusejnov (Moscow State U) : “On the Vitality of Artificial, or Stalin’s Rhetoric Revisited”

Chair: Rossen Djagalov (Yale U)

Discussant: Caryl Emerson (Princeton U)

Venue : Princeton University, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, 219 Aaron Burr Hall

Website :

Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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