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Language & Society (2) – Linguistic Visions on Language & Society


Admission requirements

A reading knowledge of Russian is expedient; reading Franch, German or another Slavic languages is an asset. Those who do not read Russian must be prepared to compensate by doing special assignments.


Linguistics is often said to deal with language as a universal human faculty. Nonetheless, scholarly reflection on language and linguistic inquiry strongly interact with society: on the one hand, societal developments determine the linguistic agenda to a greater extent than linguists are prepared to admit; on the other hand, linguistic reflection sometimes sets the agenda for changes in a society, especially through educational systems.
This is particularly true in the Eurasian area, where a classic Russian national language has been constructed out of a diglossia situation as a top-down process in a partly multi-lingual environment. Over the last four centuries, the development of society and its political upshots have produced a series of agendas for linguistic inquiry and discourse, some of which have had an impact on the development of Russian and contingent languages and their social functions, as well as on the development of linguistics as a global discipline. More particularly, six such agendas can be pinpointed: (1) the Orthodox emancipation agenda (1600-1700), (2) the Russian nation building agenda (1700-present), (3) the scientific agenda (1860-present), (4) the Marxist agenda (1917-1989), (5) the Eurasian agenda (1920-1935), (6) the cybernetic agenda (1953-1975).
While it is impossible to deal with all these agendas in depth within one semester, the implications of some of them for the development of language and linguistic inquiry will be discussed, wherever possible by examining original sources. Some of the linguistic problems encountered will be studied in detail, enabling comparison of the various approaches to them that have been suggested throughout the period under review.

Course objectives

After completing the course, the student should have acquired: an overall understanding of the development of reflection on language in Russia and possibly other East European countries between 1700 and 2000; an overall insight into the chronology of linguistic ideas; awareness of prevailing attitudes toward language and linguistic diversity in the Eurasian area; a detailed insight into the origins and development of a few classic topics of Russian, Slavic and general linguistics.



Mode of instruction

The course may include formal lectures and tutorial components, the specific mix depending on the number of students taking the course. Students are expected to prepare for each session by reading articles and book excerpts and to form an opinion on them, usually on the basis of set questions. They are also expected to give some oral presentations and to produce a term paper (about 10 pages) on a subject that is related to any of the topics discussed.

Assessment method

  • Participation in class by reading articles and book excerpts and forming an opinion, usually on the basis of a set of questions

  • Oral presentations

  • Term paper (app. 5000 words)


Reading list


Through uSis

Contact information

Dr. W.A. van Helden