Georgy Danilov

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Georgy Konstantinovich Danilov (Russian: Георгий Костантинович Данилов; 10 January 1897- 29 July 1937) was a Soviet linguist, africanist and polyglot.[1]


Georgy Konstantinovich Danilov was born on January 10, 1897 in Chyhyryn, a city located in the modern Cherkasy Oblast of central Ukraine (then still a part of the Russian Empire). He was of Russian ethnicity. [2] Danilov enrolled at Moscow University(ИФФ МУ,Faculty of engineering and physics) in 1916 but he was immediately drafted into the Imperial Army and sent to the front during the World War I for a period of two years . Although he was formally graduated, his education remained incomplete.[3] In 1922 he returned to Moscow where he was assigned instantly to the department of languages at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (or Коммунистический университет трудящихся Востока КУТВ). He worked at КомА (Коммунистическая академия, Communist Academy)then he worked as a teacher in high school and in February 1931, Danilov became the assistant director of the linguistic Institute linked to the Наркомпрос (Народный комиссариат просвещения, the People's Commissariat for Enlightenment). He lived in the Soviet capital in Pirogovskaya Street where he was arrested on May 14, 1937.Danilov was an active member of the communist party and for his progressive ideas became, unluckily, a victim of the regime . Found guilty of crimes against his country, being a member of a counterrevolutionary terrorist organization, he was executed on July 29, 1937 (like him several africanists perished due to Joseph Stalin's purges). Danilov's ashes were scattered in the Donskoy Cemetery .[4] He was rehabilitated on November 10, 1956.

Marxist linguistics and Jazikofront[edit]

Danilov used linguistics to solve day to day practical political problems and his works were intimately related to social class. His approach to Marxism was dogmatic, always asking what the real Marxism was in linguistics and who could be called a true Marxist linguist.The social purpose of his work emerged from a linguistic study, done in Ukraine, which is entitled: "Язык общественного класса (по данным говора мест. Белик Полтавского округа), The language of social class (according to the dialect of Beliki, in the region of Poltava) [5]”.4.The greatest achievement of this linguistic survey has been the modernity of his methods, using what he called mass observation that in a way reminding of modern sociolinguistics. The area where Danilov and his team worked was the village of Beliki in the region of Poltava, in the summer of 1927. In his work, dated 1928, the author wanted to focus his interest on the language of people, conducting a “linguistic survey” and studying data according to different linguistic axes. To do so, he interviewed several people. The study consisted of identifying citizen class types and of demonstrating their particular speech and how this contributes to the class struggle.[6] The main method to search for material and information consisted of a systematic investigation of many people of different ages, gender and social status. What emerged from this linguistic analysis was the strong role that language can have in the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. Also Danilov shared the common belief, which was widespread in the second half of the 1920s, namely: the socio-economic conditions of a social group or class are reflected by their psychology and their language used. The different uses of language in these classes introduce a new hierarchy in which poor peasants occupy the bottom of the ladder, as they use the archaic lexicon reduced to the terminology of agriculture. In this classification, skilled workers and local cadres occupy a high place - they are bilingual, they use the Russian language of the October Revolution but they also speak Ukrainian. Danilov's diversity of language is interpreted as the result of differences between the psychologies of classes. Danilov suggested to adopt a new language that can finally unite the classes and his proposal was Russian, since it relates to the Revolution (taken into consideration that it was a proposal and not a prerequisite).He later understood the limitations of this work affirming that he should have looked beyond the results and should not have considered these results as answers but as the key to get to the answers.

During the 1930s in the Soviet Union two main linguistic schools exist; Those who followed the idea of an ancient proto-language developed long time ago, namely, Protoindoeuropean language and those who followed the theory postulated by Nikolay Marr, the Japhetic Theory. The situation was more complicated though, the studies conducted by Marr and the new linguistic movement, Marrism, did not form the only social opposition to the Indoeuropean linguistics, the so-called Bourgeois linguistics. On September 15, 1930, Danilov formally founded "Jazikofront", a group of linguists, belonging to the communist academy, who rejected the Japhetic Theory. It seems the members of Jazykfront recognised the essential contradiction between Marrist one-sidedly genetic analysis and functional analysis (Marr's analysis was focused on the past period rather than recent events).For the first time in the USSR, Marrism was attacked by Marxist linguists and not by those who sided with the Indoeuropeanistic movement. The "Jazikofront", was an association of linguists, that survived until 1932. Apart from Danilov, it included other important young linguists, such as K. A. Alaverdov, Y.V. Loya, T. P. Lomtev and P.S.Kuznetsov. The struggle for those young linguists, like Danilov, was a battle fought on two different fronts: against the traditional approach to language and against other pretenders to the throne of new linguistics and other linguists claiming to be Marxists. Their criticism was not ideological, but technical. Ideologically, the positions of Marr coincided with those of the group, but it was necessary to revise the method of study proposed by him. The young linguists of Jazikofront, together with Danilov, shared the conviction with marrists that Indo-European linguistics was an obsolete approach to the study of the language, but their conclusions about what should replace it were different. They felt that linguistics had to deal with present-day reality and it should concentrate on the relation between language, class and the proletariat consciousness to create a socialist society. The Jazikofront criticised the Japhetic theory, because its approach to the study of the language was in a certain way old and therefore useless to solve the real problems of Soviet linguistics. Danilov was attacked from several sides by enemies and by those who did not share his ideas in linguistics. His work and that of his colleagues was severely attacked on multiple fronts, on one hand by indoeuropeanists, and on the other by marrists. Danilov, debated and answered to criticism made against him in numerous papers and articles. His bitter enemy was Yevgeny Polivanov whom he accused of adopting an anti-proletarian position because he defended the position of indoeuropean studies. Polivanov was defined by Danilov, as a Trotskyist and a defiant. However, the arguments provided by Danilov to disprove the thesis of Polivanov were unclear and confusing and sometimes even contradictory.[3] Danilov's influence on the new linguistic trends began to worry also the exponents of marrism. Fits into this trend, for example, the term "danilovščina" (даниловщина), coined by Jakubinskii, which defined Danilov's ideas as a dangerous tendency for the development of new linguistics.

African studies in Soviet Union[edit]

Georgy Danilov was an exponent of the movement of attention for Africa, and especially for South Africa, which resulted in the creation of НИАНКП(the Research Association for the Study of National and Colonial Problems).[7] Soviet African studies emerged from the late 1920s to the late 1930s. During that period none of Soviet Africanist scholars travelled to Africa.In the early 1930s a Department of Africa was created at one of Comintern’s universities, the Communist University of Eastern Toilers. There was also an African Department, or the African Laboratory (“Kabinet”) in the Academic Research Association for National and Colonial Problems. Its main task was collecting materials on Africa.The activities of both these centres were vibrant and diverse. Not only did they study Africa’s socio–economic problems and history but languages too. Not only Moscow academics were involved in these studies, but Leningrad linguists too. Émigrés from African countries and Africans who came to study at Comintern’s universities (Lenin School and KUTV) also participated.[8] The initiator of the study of African languages in Moscow was Danilov. His efforts gave birth to the first Soviet Congress for African languages in Moscow on January 1934, during which saw the light his two papers on the concerned topic, namely: «Perspectives, tasks and methods of studies on African languages» and «Phonetical system of Swahili».[9]


  1. ^ "Списки жертв". Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  2. ^ "Жертвы политического террора в СССР". Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  3. ^ a b Politics and the Theory of Language in the USSR 1917-1938: The Birth of Sociological Linguistics- chapter 6,Language as a Battlefield: the Rhetoric of Class Struggle in Linguistic Debates of the First Five-Year Plan Period. The Case of E.D. Polivanov vs. G.K. Danilov, Kapitolina Fedorova
  4. ^ "Данилов Георгий Константинович". Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  5. ^ "txt". Retrieved 2013-06-12. 
  6. ^ Mladen Uhlik,Simmering in the Soviet pot: language heterogeneity in early Soviet socio-linguistics,September 2008
  7. ^электр%20вариант).doc
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^

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