From Dialect to Literary Language: Lexical Transition

Olena V. Chernishenko, Princeton University

The question of how, why, and how rapidly Russian dialects are subject to change has been widely discussed in Slavic literature, but it has yet to be exhausted. This paper focuses on the contact between dialect and literary language and the role it plays in their mutual development. Within the general topic of language change, I explore lexical transition from dialect into literary language.

I provide a detailed description of ethnographic, phonetic, semantic, morphological, and lexical dialectal features, paying considerable attention to how they differ and to their relevance to dialect transition into literary language. I look at the use of the dialectal features in the literary works of L.Tolstoy, S.Esenin, N. V. Gogol′ and N.A. Nekrasov. Although all of these writers make use of dialectal elements for stylistic purposes, the manner in which and the degree to which the elements are used differ noticeably from author to author. Such factors as individual writing style, different literary tastes, literary genre, and sociolinguistic factors (e.g., covert and overt prestige, the characters’ urban/rural environment, etc.) are shown to be crucial.

I also demonstrate the active role of mass media (newspapers in particular) in the transition. Data from Russian newspapers are examined for evidence of any trends in language development with respect to accepting deviations from the literary standard.

For instance, certain dialectal elements help to name particular objects, phenomena, and procedures in a manner more comprehensible for local readers than what literary language would allow. The use of the dialectal words in newspaper language is viewed as one of the ways the dialectal elements become part of literary language.

I discuss dialect stability vis-a-vis the contact between dialect and standard language. I show that  certain semantic processes take place in the development of dialectal vocabulary as an attempt of its self-preservation. This is caused by the tendency towards the expansion of the functionality of the literary lexicon. One such process is greater semantic differentiation in the dialectal vocabulary. For example, “kurčata” (Volgograd dialect) refers to “any type of baby chickens”. With the spread of its literary synonym “cypljata”, it acquires new more specific meaning - “fully fledged chicks”.

I conclude that at the present time there are two ways in which dialectal elements become successfully internalized in literary language: a) if a particular object that was earlier known in one particular region is introduced in the domestic life of all people (ethnological dialectal feature); b) if a dialectal lexical element is a good expressive synonym of its literary equivalent.

Sample data:

1. S.Esenin “V Xate”:

Paxnet ryxlymi dračënami;
The smell of spongy wheat pancakes is in the air
 U poroga v dëžke kvas...
 ‘There is kvass in the tub by the porch’.

Here “dračëny” are pancakes made from wheat flour. “Dëžka” is a tub used for making and kneading dough.

2. letučaja myš΄- kožanka, letjaga, aškud, netopyr΄, poletaška;
    “batzool. - dialectal equivalents;

    djatel -  tikač, dolbilka, želna, djatel, degtjar;
     “woodpecker” - dialectal equivalents.