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Overview of East-European Linguistics


Admission requirements

A reading knowledge of Russian is expedient; reading other Slavic languages is an asset. Those who do not read Russian must be prepared to compensate by doing special assignments.


Scholarly reflection on language often interacts with developments in society. In Russia, starting with the first normative grammars of Church Slavonic, such interaction has produced five agendas for linguistic inquiry: the Orthodox emancipation agenda (1700-1800), the nation building agenda (1800-present), the scientific agenda (1860-present), the Marxist agenda (1917-1989) and the cybernetic agenda (1953-1975).
The implications of each of these agendas for the type of reflection on language to be practiced and linguistic research to be conducted will be discussed. Whenever possible, original sources will be examined. Some of the linguistic problems encountered will be studied in depth, enabling comparison of the various approaches to them that have been suggested throughout the period under review. Selected topics to be dealt with are likely to include:
– the treatment of Russian syntax and the case system starting with Lomonosov;
– the rise of historical and comparative linguistics;
– the origins of structuralist phonology and morphology in the Kazan’ School (Baudouin de Courtenay) and their development in the Prague School;
– the fate and fortunes of Marr’s “New Teaching on Language” and Stalin’s interference with linguistics;
– some of the formal (i.e. mathematically oriented) approaches to language that proliferated in Eastern Europe after 1953.

Course objectives

After completing the course, the student should have gained:
– an overall understanding of the development of reflection on language in Russia and possibly other East European countries between 1700 and 1990;
– an overall insight into the chronology of linguistic discovery;
– a more detailed insight into the origins and development of a few classic topics of Russian, Slavic and general linguistics.


Rooster MA Slavic Languages

Mode of instruction

The course may include formal lectures and tutorial components, the specific mix depending on the number of students taking the course. Students are expected to prepare for each session by reading articles and book excerpts and to form an opinion on them, usually on the basis of set questions. They are also expected to give some oral presentations and to produce a term paper (about 10 pages) on a subject that is related to any of the topics discussed.

Assessment method

For pass, the assignments, the presentations as well as the term paper must be satisfactory. The quality of the term paper determines the final mark.


Reading list


Through uSis.

Contact information

Dr. W.A. van Helden, see stafleden