Дата публикации: 31 августа 2021
Автор(ы): Svetlana TOLSTAYA
Публикатор: Научная библиотека Порталус
Источник: (c) Science in Russia, №3, 2010, C.68-70
Номер публикации: №1630399512

Svetlana TOLSTAYA, (c)



by Svetlana TOLSTAYA, Dr. Sc. (Philol.), head of the Ethnolinguistics and Folklore Department of the RAS Institute of Slavic Studies (Moscow)


Moscow school of ethnolinguistics established by Academician Nikita llyich Tolstoy (1923-1996) in the early 1970s carries out research of the spiritual culture of the Slavs on the basis of linguistic data, folklore, believes and ceremonies. It has prepared dozens of monographs and hundreds of articles and reviews, along with a bibliography of its works.




Ethnolinguistics is a relatively new research line in Slavic studies. Its subject-matter, methods and relations with other humanities were determined by Acad. Tolstoy, the founder of the school. He also gave two definitions of ethnolinguistics. One is as follows: "Ethnolinguistics is a branch of linguistics or-in a broader sense-a direction in linguistics that orients a researcher toward studying interrelations and links between language and intellectual culture, language and folk mentality, language and crafts, their interdependence and different types of cor-respondence." In this sense, this discipline is perceived as part of linguistics involved with language and culture. The other definition is a broader one: it deals with the "plane of content" of culture, folk psychology and mythology irrespective of the means and methods of their formal embodiment (a word, object, ceremony, image, etc.). It is this very direction of ethnolinguistics

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that has been mostly studied by Acad. Tolstoy and his pupils: its object is not only language (even though it is a recognized presenter and a depository of cultural infor-mation in time), but also other forms and substances that embody collective consciousness and folk mentality, a "world view" formed in this or that ethnos (or society), i.e. perception of the environment by man, its catego-rization and interpretation, and folk culture in general, all its types, genres and forms-verbal (vocabulary, phraseology, paremiology, proverbs, sayings, aphorisms, folklore texts, etc.), actional (ceremonies) and mental (believes).*


Acad. Nikita Tolstoy described his approach as eth-nolinguistical and attached a definite meaning to each part of this word. Its first part (ethno-) means that the traditional folk culture is studied in its ethnic, regional and "dialectal" forms: they are used as a basis for reconstruction of the pre-Slavic environment. The second part (linguistics) is interpreted in three different aspects: first, it shows that traditional culture is mainly studied through language; second, culture, similar to natural language, is perceived as a system of symbols (just as we speak about pictorial art, music, gestures, etc.). Finally, it shows that ethnolinguistics uses a con-cept-based mechanism and linguistic methods, starting from methods of language reconstruction, semantics and syntax, and ending with notions and methods of linguistic pragmatics, theory of speech acts, conceptu-al analysis, etc.


The obvious isomorphism between verbal language and culture is explained by the likeliness of their func-tions-cognitive, communicative, social, and others. But there is also a deeper two-way interrelation. On the one hand, in addition to the general linguistic mean-ing linguistic units (words) in the context of culture carry a very rich cultural semantics that is poorly reflected in dictionaries, and, on the other hand, lan-guage and culture (a ceremony) often complement or duplicate each other. One and the same meaning is expressed verbally, ceremonially, through this or that object, etc.


At the same time, there are fundamental differences between language and culture too. First of all, this applies to the different nature of signs they use. In nat-ural languages (words, morphemes, grammatical forms, etc.), these signs operate as special linguistic units that have no other application. In culture, howev-er, other signs are used having no special meaning. "Texts" of the culture are heterogeneous, i.e. consist of signs of different nature and substance: these may be words, ceremonial accessories, actions. The main thing here is that cultural semantics is of symbolic nature. It is formed on the basis of specific (selected) properties of the object: its external features (form, size, substance and material, color, etc.), "origin" (production method), relation to other real objects, though cultural semantics is functionally dependant, as a rule.


Such perception of ethnolinguistics is fundamental for the majority of works developed or being developed at the RAS Institute of Slavic Studies (Moscow), and, first of all, is characteristic of the main collective work-the five-volume dictionary "Slavic Antiquities" that embod-ies an attempt to identify and interpret the main seman-tic units of the "language of culture", i.e. significant meanings irrespective of their form or substance-be it a word or act, meaning of an object, its property, etc.



See: N. Tolstoy, "Interpretation of Dreams: Brief Survey of Philological and Ethnographic Aspects", Science in Russia, No. 3, 1994.-Ed.

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Ethnolinguistics may be assigned to a new field of humanities-related knowledge as a specific scientific area that has defined its subject and object, limits and interrelations with other disciplines (philological and culturological) but recently. Analyzing the overall prob-lem of interrelation between language and culture, we should name such ethnolinguistics pioneers as the great German scholar Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835); the Russian philologist, corresponding member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Alexander Potebnya (1835-1891); the American linguists and ethnographers Edward Sapir (1884-1939), Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897-1941), and many others.


Ethnolinguistics as a scientific school was anteceded by expeditions to Polesye headed by Nikita Tolstoy that took place in a period from 1962 to 1986 (the year of Chernobyl disaster). Contacts with a living language enabled him and his students to get a sense of the integrity and mutual complementarity of language and culture, their substantial unity; to feel, on the one hand, the high cultural potential of the language (vocabulary above all) and, on the other hand, the insufficiency and tenuity of the linguistic material taken out of the cultural context.


Field works in Polesye inspired scholars to compile the aforesaid Pan-Slavic ethnolinguistic dictionary "Slavic Antiquities". Its material laid a groundwork for the whole compendium; its value became obvious in the common Slavic perspective, when the material col-lected in the dictionary was compared with other Slavic (and, in some cases, Indo-European) customs. Data collected in Polesye became a significant link in the chain of common Slavic reconstructions and even a key to interpretation of non-Slavic ceremonies, mental and verbal forms of traditional culture.


Concurrently with the work on the dictionary, its authors and other scholars of the RAS Institute of Slavic Studies address a number of major topics and problems of traditional Slavic culture: animal symbolism (Alexan-der Gura, Dr. Sc. (Philol.)), folk demonology* (Lyud-mila Vinogradova, Dr. Sc. (Philol.)), folk calendar (Tatya-na Agapkina, Dr. Sc. (Philol.)), and Svetlana Tolstaya; arealogy of culture (Anna Plotnikova, Dr. Sc. (Philol.)), interaction of oral and written book culture (Olga Belova, Dr. Sc. (Philol.)) and many other topics bearing on language, mythology, beliefs, rites and Slavic folk-lore. The Moscow ethnographic school has been in for three grants awarded by the RF President in support of the nation's leading scientific schools.


Ethnolinguistics scholars confront the inevitable the-oretical questions of ethnolinguistics and folkloristics. These problems are discussed in the ongoing Pan-Slavic series "Slavic and Balkan Folklore" (nine vol-umes published) and theme collections on key prob-lems bearing on the symbolic language of culture. Annual Tolstoyan readings take up such categories as its attribute, number and quantity, the text and geography of culture, among other subjects.


The Moscow school of ethnolinguistics is maintain-ing long-standing and beneficial cooperation (joint publications, joint conferences, mutual research visits, participation in editorial boards of scholarly periodic-als and collections, expeditions) with M. Curie-Sklo-dowska University (Lublin, Poland), Institute of Ethnography, Institute of Folklore and Institute of the Bulgarian Language of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (Sofia), where research works of the similar profile are conducted, with the Institute of the Slavic Studies of Sorbonne-4 (France), and other centers.



* Studying folk perceptions of characters belonging to the lower level of mythology.-Ed.

Опубликовано на Порталусе 31 августа 2021 года

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