Spring 2021

What is Language? Russian and Soviet Views in Comparative Context

Listed in: Russian, as RUSS-315


Michael M. Kunichika (Section 01)


(Offered as RUSS 315 and EUST 315) “We die. That may be the meaning of life,” writes Toni Morrison. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Russian thinkers, writers, philosophers, and politicians have likewise sought to take measure of their lives and of culture by thinking about the nature of language, and its role in culture, society, and politics. In examining how Russian writers and thinkers have sought to answer the question what is language? — how they did and do language—we will consider a range of sources from intellectual history, linguistics, literary and critical theory, mythology, theology, and philosophy. We will examine the distinctive contributions of Russian thinking about language, while also seeking to situate Russian views on this question within a comparative context. To that end, we will also read intellectual sources that proved seminal for articulating an answer to this question (Vico, Herder, Rousseau, Saussure, and Benveniste, among others). As we consider this broad question, and how it has animated Russian thought and culture, we will also focus upon a range of other questions: What are the origins of language? How does language evolve? What is the relationship of language to national culture? What is the relationship of language to politics? Throughout the course, we will see how views on the nature of language served as an arena in which vying conceptions of culture, politics, and the human have all been contested. All readings in English. No previous knowledge of Russian culture or history expected.

Fall semester. Professor Kunichika.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2021