Chuvash Word Formation in Gennadii Aigi’s Russian Poetry

Sarah Dunn, Princeton University

Gennadii Aigi is a poet from the Chuvash Republic who came to Moscow as a student in 1953, became acquainted with Boris Pasternak in 1956, and, with the latter’s encouragement, switched from writing poetry in Chuvash to writing in Russian, which has remained the language of Aigi’s poetry throughout his career. Although he could not publish in the Russia until the early nineties, Aigi’s work was widely known and translated abroad, mainly in the former Soviet countries (the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia), and in Western Europe (France and Germany). Over the years he has been the subject of major literary scholarship by such experts as Gerald Janacek and Peter France, has had conferences and museum exhibits devoted to his work, and has been awarded prizes for his contributions to world culture and letters. Nevertheless, scholars often find it difficult to place Aigi’s poetry squarely in the Russian literary canon. In a tradition based either in the classicism of Pushkin and Lermontov or the innovation of Mayakovsky and the Futurists, Aigi’s free-verse style and other seemingly idiosyncratic poetic techniques seem “non-Russian,” not fitting either of these poles or anywhere in between.

One fact that may account for the “originality” of Aigi’s Russian poetic language is his linguistic Chuvash roots. Chuvash is a Turkic language, the only surviving language of the Bolgar branch, and shares many structural features with other Turkic languages. Of interest to us is the formation of syntactic units by agglutinating endings. The premise of my paper is that this type of word formation may be the point of departure for Aigi’s own creative word formation in Russian.

In Aigi’s poetry, one senses a striving toward universal synthesis and connectivity: the corporeal is a gateway to the spiritual or cosmic, the external proves to be merely a different manifestation of the inner, and the poet’s self intermingles effortlessly with all of these. Aigi invents elaborate neologisms, compound words—sometimes entire clauses—combining the abstract and concrete, to express through language the connections the poet is experiencing on a spiritual or cosmic level.

I will approach this problem by identifying agglutinated Chuvash word forms that seem analogous to those Aigi creates in his Russian poems and discuss the concepts behind each. I will also utilize the poet’s own testimony from essays and interviews in which he talks about the role of Chuvash language and culture in his work. This paper is part of a larger project that aims to illuminate Aigi’s artistic philosophy through a discussion of his poetics, his contributions in other artistic fields (such as film, graphic arts, and music) and his influence across cultures (Chuvash, Russian, and European).