“Please”, “Thank you”, “Excuse me” – “Why can’t you behave naturally?”. Linguistic politeness in post-revolutionary Soviet Russia


Abstract – The aim of this work is to outline the main tendencies in linguistic politeness in post-revolutionary Soviet Russia during the 1920s, when the transformation of social classes and gender politics had a great impact on the definition of linguistic etiquette and formulaic expressions. In particular, the expressions encoding social deixis were largely affected by semantic shifts. For instance, the address terms “tovarisch” ‘comrade’, “gospodin” ‘sir’, “papasha” ‘daddy’ are claimed to be ideologically biased. The study is based on the analysis of fictional dialogues from Michail Bulgakov’s satirical novel the Heart of a Dog (2004 [1925]). It is seen as the story of a failed attempt to create a new man, with the absurd name Poligraf Sharikov, undertaken by a prominent Russian professor of medicine, Filipp Preobrazhenskiy. Professor Preobrazhenskiy and an artificially created Sharikov represent the two different archetypes of an old tsarist era and an emerging Bolshevik regime, respectively, in a constant clash at the verbal and nonverbal level. The analysis considers the micro level of conversation dynamics in its pragmalinguistic aspects (address terms, speech act formulas and hypocoristics) and sociopragmatic aspects (distance and power dimensions) and shows the features of the interactional behavioural norms of the chosen period of investigation. During this transition period, politeness formulas and address forms undergo constant negotiation.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v31p171

Keywords: post-revolutionary Russia; politeness; address terms; speech acts; hypocoristics


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