Print Proposal: Speeches by Soviet Leaders: A Linguistic Analysis

For my print project, I will be analyzing the speeches from previous leaders of the Soviet Union to understand and develop a logical timeline of how language changed from Lenin in 1917 and the October Revolution, to what would become the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. This idea came to me in lieu of the recent 100th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution. With recent scholarship on the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the role of 1917, it would be advantageous to use a digital forum to analyze the language used in Soviet speeches to see any correlation between the historical context of the time and linguistic usage. The speeches I will be analyzing are from Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and finally Mikhail Gorbachev. Specifically, I will be looking at Vladimir Lenin’s speech on November 5, 1917 entitled “To the Public” where he addresses Soviets after the October Revolution has successfully overthrown the sitting leadership. Next, I will look at Stalin’s speech at a Red Army parade on November 7, 1941, only a few short months after Operation Barbarossa during the Great Patriotic War. The next speech is by Nikita Khrushchev, and is one of the most famous speeches in Soviet history. This is what was known in the West as the “Secret Speech” at the 20th Party Congress of the CPSU in February of 1953, and was an attempt by Khrushchev to call to light the crimes of Stalin in order to move the Soviet Union forward on an international scale. Although this is substantially longer than the other speeches analyzed, it is important to have the entire transcript for a thoughtful and accurate analysis. Lastly, I will analyze a speech given by Gorbachev Christmas Day, 1991, effectively tendering his resignation and officially dissolving the Soviet Union on Christmas Day.

            There are a variety of issues that may arise from taking on this project, but I have adequate plans to address the concerns. First, there is the language issue. Since I am not fluent in Russian, I will be relying on translated texts of the speeches. While this poses a risk with translations, I will be relying on only two sources that have their translations cited to address validity. The next issue is figuring out which speech from each leader to choose. However, through the course of my research I have found that each of these leaders has at least one very popular speech that is supposed to garner or rally support for the Soviet cause. By limiting my speeches to just four leaders and on speech per leader,I offer a small sample of the environment that surrounded the Soviet Union, from its birth to eventual death.

            In order to analyze these texts, I will be using Voyant Tools. Since this is not a perfect system, I will have to individually input the translated texts into separate boxes on Voyant’s website. I will also find speeches that are similar in length, in order to get the closest as possible comparison when I manually compare them. The goal of this comparison is to see how Soviet language and propaganda evolved as the Soviet Union became strong and then eventually failed. I fully expect that strong Soviet language, emphasizing comrades, workers, and communism, to fade especially around Khrushchev. By using Voyant Tools, a digital component, I will easily be able to track any linguistic change that could be useful for further study.

One Reply to “Print Proposal: Speeches by Soviet Leaders: A Linguistic Analysis”

  1. This is an interesting topic, and I think it’s one that could lend itself well to text analysis. As you noted, one of the biggest barriers in doing a project like this is that you’re going to be looking at translations of the works and as such it is going to be difficult to suss out what trends are trends in translation and which are results of the underlying source material.

    Looking at speeches from a number of different individuals is a good idea, that will give you some comparison and trending overtime. Focusing in on one speech from each individual may present some issues. It might be better to try and get a somewhat more representative sample of their speeches so that you get more of a sense of trends in them. Given that speeches are given for different reasons on different occasions in different contexts to different audiences it would be great if you could try and identify some standard sort of speech moment so that you could be sure that you are comparing similar kinds of speeches. For example, in the U.S. context, comparing inauguration speeches or state of the union addresses offers a frame to get each speaker engaged in a parallel kind of act so that looking at trends in them results in comparing apples to apples. If you don’t use some kind of standardized moment like that then you are just going to need to do more work to justify what it is about the set of speeches that you focus on that makes for a meaningful/relevant set of comparisons.

    In short, this is an interesting topic and focus. Happy to discuss further if you end up deciding to take this project forward.

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