Abecedarian Ideologies: The Old Orthography in the New Russia

Brian P. Bennett

Niagara University, United States of America


This paper considers the social symbolic significance of the so-called old orthography in post-Soviet Russia. Russian Cyrillic orthography has been reformed several times over the past three centuries (Grigor’eva 2004). The last major reform occurred in 1918 in conjunction with the start of Bolshevik culture. Being associated with the ancien régime, the old or pre-revolutionary orthography was meanwhile maintained by different émigré (monarchist, Orthodox) groups. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it made a symbolic comeback. Several leading intellectuals, including Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Dmitrii Likhachev, had spoken in favor of the old orthography, and their views received renewed attention in the early 1990s. The old orthography also started to make an appearance in various right-wing publications. It was endorsed by the National-Patriotic Front “Pamyat” (“Memory”), the most visible ultra-nationalist group of the post-Soviet period. The first edition of Pamyat’s eponymous broadsheet (1991) contains a clerical manifesto promoting the old orthography. The group’s “Black Hundred” ideology (Lacquer 1993) is further spelled out, as it were, in a series of articles constructed along the lines of Az buki vedi glagol’ dobro (the traditional abecedarian mnemonic), the spiritual and political resurgence of Russia being linked to the rectification of letters. This study attempts to situate these orthographic ideologies in relation to each other, to the broader sociolinguistic context of post-communist Russia, and to comparable cases elsewhere (Sebba 2007).

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 5 (Standardization, Codification)
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 14