Patrick McGuire

[Universal Language in Soviet Science Fiction]

In the Strugatsky future history, set closer to the present, nation-states survive well into the twenty-first century, and separate nationalities, much longer. Spaceship crews tend to be manned by inhabitants of a single national region, with perhaps a few representatives of other groups. [29] Everyone is fluent in several languages, some of which (Russian, English, German, Japanese, and—in early works—Chinese) [30] survive for centuries. Several cases of transnational marriages are shown, including interracial ones.

Kir Bulvchev’s The Last War [31] seems to take place in the next century. [32] Spaceships are crewed by nationality, but a Soviet ship has representatives of various Soviet national minorities and also some Bulgarian trainees aboard. A starship crew in “Infra Draconis,” also set in the twenty-first century, is exclusively Soviet. In Martynov’s A Visitor from the Abyss, the crew of the twenty-first century starship Lenin is Soviet except for a token Englishman, but nationalities have disappeared by the time of the bulk of the story, in the thirty-eighth century.

Soviet science fiction usually assumes that by the twenty-second century or so, there will be some sort of worldwide language, either an artificial one or an organically evolved lingua franca. [33] In Andromeda, national languages are known only by scholars. Everyone speaks an artificially designed language based on Sanskrit (Efremov is something of an Indophile). In E. Voisunsky and I. Lukod’ianov’s The Splash of Starry Seas [34] in the twenty-second century, the younger generation speaks the world language “Interling” fluently, but their parents are more comfortable in older tongues. In Olga Larionova’s Leopard on the Peak of Kilimanjaro, [35] in the twenty-eighth century, mankind not only speaks a single language, but has even abolished time zones.

In the Strugatsky future history, exceptionally, there seems to be no new world language at least for the next several hundred years. However, as mentioned above, everyone is fluent in several national languages. In Martynov’s A Visitor from the Abyss, there are in the thirty-eighth century two world languages: one based on Russian, but with simplified grammar and infusions of vocabulary from other European languages, and one with features from Chinese, Japanese, and Indian dialects. This approach to the question reflects Stalin-era Russian chauvinism, [36] and probably results from the fact, mentioned above, that Martynov began the book while Stalin was still alive. (Martynov, however, is in general more nationalistic than most post-Stalin sf writers.) In Martynov's later Gianėia, set in the mid-twenty-first century in a different future history, countries are called “"localities” and nationalism is ending. A new world language exists (a single one this time) but most people still speak the old languages.

33.   This is never an existing language, although it is often assumed that English and Russian (less frequently, other languages) will play an international role for many years. Nor, in contrast to a number of American stories, is the world language ever Esperanto. In the twenties, the Esperanto movement had been widespread in the USSR, but later its international connections made it suspect in Stalin’s eyes. Solzhenitsyn mentions Esperantist slave-laborers working on the White Sea Canal already in 1933 (The Gulag Archipelago 1918‑1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, trans. Thomas P. Whitney, pts. 3-4. [New York: Harper and Row, 1975, p. 88]. The movement was not totally extirpated until about 1938. An article in the second edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia says that the movement for artificial international languages is “utopian” and “cosmopolitan” (“Iskusstvennye iaziki,” 18 [1953], pp. 504‑05). However, after Stalin's death, Soviet attitudes softened. The article “Esperanto” in vol. 44 (1957) of the same second edition already notes that there are various opinions about the usefulness of an artificial language (p. 185). More recently, just as in the twenties and thirties, attempts have been made to capture the international Esperanto movement for Communism. Even so, the failure to mention Esperanto in science fiction suggests that present Soviet support for the movement is less than wholehearted. (Most Esperantists even in the West see the language as a tool for international communication rather than as a replacement for national languages, but Soviet science fiction never shows it even in this function.) Parallels also suggest themselves between Soviet efforts in international Esperanto organizations and the increased Soviet involvement in the 1980s in the world sf community.

36.    “Stalin thought that the development of a world language would require two stages: (1) zonal languages would be formed through the merger of the local languages, and (2) those zonal languages would be fused into the international language of world Communism. The Russian language is considered to be the first of the new ‘zonal languages,’ or, as the Soviet publicist David Zaslavsky put it, ‘the first world language of internationalism’” (Walter Kolarz, “The Soviet Empire,” Handbook on Communism, ed. Joseph M. Bochenski and Gehart Niemeyer [New York: Praeger, 1972], p. 262).

SOURCE: McGuire, Patrick. Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1985), pp. 31, 121, 122.


Re Strugatsky, note 30: Chinese later disappears or turns into Japanese, probably editorially enforced due to the Sino-Soviet conflict.

This book was written in 1976 and first published in 1977. The research covers up to the year 1975. The author did not survey science fiction in non-Russian languages of the USSR.

Red Stars: Political Aspects of Soviet Science Fiction by Patrick McGuire

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