The History of the French Language in Russia

School Modern Languages
Department Russian
Dates 01/08/2011 - 14/04/2015
Website History of the French Language in Russia
Funder AHRC: Standard Research Grant
Contact person Professor Derek Offord

More about this project

The aim of this project is to provide the first large-scale, multidisciplinary history of the French language in Russia. Within this framework the research team will provide an account of the development and persistence of the habit of speaking and writing French at the Russian court and among the upper Russian nobility. The account will span the period from around 1700 (before which France was a remote place in the Russian mental landscape) to the October Revolution of 1917 (after which remnants of the francophone Russian aristocracy emigrated, many of them to France). Its principal focus will be on the period from the mid-eighteenth century, when French was coming to be widely used by the Russian political and social elite, to the mid-nineteenth century, when the social and cultural contexts in which French had formerly flourished in Russia had greatly changed and its use was becoming more restricted there. The project will end with a brief examination of the status of French in Russia in the late tsarist period and in the USSR.

The phenomenon of francophonie in pre-revolutionary Russia has often been noted but never closely studied. The project team will fill this gap in knowledge by exploring the impact that French had not only on Russian linguistic usage, but also on Russians’ thinking about their own language and, more broadly, on Russian social and political attitudes and on the formation of a sense of Russian national identity. They will also maintain a comparative perspective, keeping in mind the role of francophonie in other speech communities. Their findings will have resonance in the fields of social, political, cultural, and intellectual history as well as sociolinguistics. Finally, the project will contribute to the field of historical scholarship on language, which is still in its infancy. Treating language as not merely a useful tool for historians but also a subject worthy of historians’ attention in its own right, the team will demonstrate that language is itself an aspect of culture, a social institution, a key factor in the conceptions that peoples or groups have of themselves, a political instrument, and a potent force in national life.

People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

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