Diachronic model of the word “official” in the Russian language: semantic features and vectors of development

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Abstract


The relevance of this article is determined by the demand for the stereotype of a civil servant in Russian public communication and the need for its regular research in order to form an objective public opinion and determine the dynamics of social processes. The purpose of the research was to identify and describe the changes in terms of the content of the language sign “official” in the Russian language in Pre-Soviet, Soviet and modern periods. The methods of synchronous, diachronic, component, lexicographic and contextual analysis are used in the paper. The study was carried out on the material of lexicographic sources and modern mass media discourse on government administration. For the first time, the main vectors for developing semantics of the key lexical unit of the administrative language in the modern period were identified and described. The changes were caused by the destruction of ideologized subject-conceptual semes of the Soviet era; by the expansion of paradigmatic and syntagmatic ties, reflecting the disappearance of geo-conditioned characteristics and consolidating the features of the hierarchy of the modern management, as well as by the actualization and unification of the verbal sign. It is concluded that, in terms of the semantics of the studied verbal signs, there is a traditionally stable pejorative-evaluative emotiveness due to the sociocultural context which is reflected in associative characteristics - stimuli indicating human weaknesses associated primarily with violated moral and ethical norms. The prospects of the research are seen in continuing the synchronous-diachronic study of the most important for the modern Russian language verbal signs “official”, “manager”, “bureaucrat”, “functionary” in the lexical-semantic field “bureaucracy”, which is actively developing, and in using the proposed methods of analysis to study other subsystems of the Russian language.


Full Text

Introduction

In the modern period with its active process of forming administrative institutions of Russia, the image of the civil servant as the embodiment of the power and, accordingly, the nominating lexeme acquire special significance. These circumstances determine the relevance of this study, which is devoted to the synchronous-diachronic description of the word “official”. Diachrony in the semantic description of verbal signs, undoubtedly, allows us to explain many linguistic phenomena at the synchronous level. The diachronic model of the word “official” presented in the paper reflects the influence of qualitative and quantitative development of language subsystems, aimed both at preserving the existing semantic components, and at their disappearance or, conversely, at expanding its composition, at the appearance of fundamentally new or relatively new semes, as well as at transformations and changes within the semantic structure of the word as a whole.

The study of the concept “official” is traditional for Russian sociological and historical literature. At the same time, separate linguistic works devoted to the problem under study or related to it have also been published to date. These works can be divided into groups according to different parametres:

1. According to the field of research (e.g., linguoculturological approach, cognitive approach, gender approach, political linguistics, etc.). For example, the scientific works of O.G. Nazarenko (2007), I.V. Shcheglova (2010) and O.I. Lytkina (2017) describe the features of the semantic structure of the concept “official” and forming archetypical images associated with this concept (Surikova, 2010; Tunztsin, 2015, etc.).

V.I. Karasik's research suggests a linguoculturological study of the “Russian civil servant” type, which is characterized as an evaluatively marked image of a civil servant (Karasik, 2008). I.V. Konovalenko studies the correlation of images of modern employees, officials, and deputies and describes their representation in the naive picture of the world of a Russian citizen (Konovalenko, 2011).

A number of linguists study gender stereotypical images of civil servants and identify their conceptual and figurative characteristics (Glushchenko, 2018). In such works, it is noted that the types of a male civil servant and just a civil servant coincide, and the verbalized ideas about a female civil servant and about a business woman intersect.

Some related issues are covered in the context of political linguistics as a special scientific field that studies the features of the political communication and the communicative impact on the political consciousness of society (Konovalenko, 2011).

2. According to the object of the study. For example, some scholars consider the mental unit “civil servant” as the unit of national concept sphere(see O.G. Nazarenko, O.I. Lytkina, etc.), other authors describe the lexeme “official” or its synonyms “public servant”, “bureaucrat” (Vepreva, Bush, 2008; Nikitina, 2014), others explore the features of modern corporate culture of public service (Panova, 2004; Chernets, 2011).

3. According to the sources of the research. The sources of study are artistic texts of the XIX century Russian writers (Nazarenko, 2007), proverbs and sayings (Anokhina, Artamonova, Tulina, 2019, etc.), journalistic texts (Kiseleva, Surtseva, 2013; Anokhina, 2016; Lytkina, 2017), lexicographic (including etymological) publications (Anokhina, 2014; Nikitina, 2014), business correspondence of civil servants and audio recordings of their speech (Panova, 2004; Chernets, 2011).

4. According to the applied research methodology, e. g., methods of testing and questioning (Konovalenko, 2011), methods of contextual analysis (Nazarenko, 2007), methods of semantic analysis (Karasik, 2008), methodology of comparative-historical analysis (Vepreva, Kupina, 2008), the method of “linguistic gestalts” (Nazarenko, 2007), associative experiment (Chernets, 2011), etc.

However, it is clear that there is no fundamental research on the semantics of the word “official” and on the main directions of its development in the early twenty-first century.

The aim of the research

The purpose of this study is to consider the dynamic processes in the semantics of the word “official” in the pre-Soviet (XVIII–XIX centuries), Soviet (1920–1990s) and post-Soviet, or modern (since 1990s), periods corresponding to the main stages of the Russian state development.

Methods and materials

The author describes the semantics of the word “official”, which refers to the key words (lexical markers) of Russian society and reflects the important concept of the Russian worldview with the use of synchronous-diachronic, component, lexicographic and contextual analysis. These methods allow to identify the most relevant features of the word in a particular historical era and to characterize the leading trends in its semantic development.

Etymological and historical-etymological lexicographic publications[1], explanatory dictionaries, on the Russian language of the XI–XXI centuries, were chosen as the research material[2], general and special encyclopedic dictionaries[3], as well as texts of government Internet sites (www.kremlin.ru, правительство.рф, большое правительство.рф, www.ar.gov.ru etc.).

Results

  1. The etymology of the word “official” in the Russian language is described.
  2. Three periods in the history of the word “official” in the Russian language are identified and characterized: pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet (modern), corresponding to the main stages of the Russian state development.
  3. The main vectors of the development of the semantics of the word “official” in the Russian language of the first quarter of the XXI century, associated with the preservation or disappearance of existing semantic components,with the appearance of fundamentally new or relatively new semes, as well as with transformations within the semantic structure of the word on the whole,are defined and described.
  4. The author determines and analyzes the way how the changes in the content of the lexical unit under study is conditioned by the transformations in the Russian society and the language consciousness of Russian native speakers.

Discussion

The conducted research allows to assert that the word “official” is a lexical unit borrowed from the Old Slavonic (Church Slavonic) language in the XI century, in the days of the Old Russian state, which was a federation of principalities – early feudal monarchical systems with the grand prince at the head. The grand prince concentrated in his hands legislative, executive and judicial power (Zavarzina, 2015: 84). The word “official” then denoted ‘a dignitary, ruler’ (the meanings ‘position’, ‘rank’ originated from the word “rank” from the Сommon Slavic meaning of čin – “degree, degree of succession”; compare also Old Slavonic “respect for rank” in the sense of ‘paying respect, decency to each rank’; ‘rank authority’ in the sense of ‘graduality of ranks’)[4].

During the period of Moscow state centralization, a system of chanceries was formed. A chancery was an important authority with independent structural divisions and a staff of officials, who were considered as “civil servants with authority, chiefs of princes”: “In the kingdom, there are one hundred and twenty princes, ...over them, there are three civil servants”[5].

The “Table of Ranks”, which appeared in the period of the Russian Empire, legally consolidated the processes of expanding the state apparatus and official hierarchy complicating and represented it in the form of a bureaucratic system of ranks and positions. This phenomenon was reflected in the language and caused the expansion of the semantic structure of the word “official”, which was represented in two lexical and semantic variants: 1) a person who has a rank or degree or order of service (for example, a civil servant of the 8th class); 2) ecclesial – an official person with authority[6]. In addition, in the denotative component of the meaning of the studied word, the semes “deserving of dignity”, “honored by merit” are fixed and show that belonging to the class of officials depends on personal achievements, and not by nobility (compare: “a civil servant is a person of honor, rank, dignity, respect”[7]. The interpretation of the word “official” as a person in the civil service[8], reflected in the XIX century lexicographic publications, was largely due to the consolidation of the status of the civil service as a special sphere of professional activity, where officials – representatives of the rich bourgeoisie and free-lance employees of state self-government bodies, including women (for example, among the accounting staff of the State Control) – appear.

During this period, the studied word developed derivations, first of all, new adjectives (official – ‘referring to civil servants’, etc.), including those created with the help of stem-composition: noble-official, etc.

The word “official” in the pre-Soviet period actively formed paradigmatic relations, first of all, expanded synonymous relations. These relations are reflected in synonymic rows (compare: officials – people of sovereign), including those with language elements, containing negative evaluative semes (compare: an official – hook-worker; bribe taker, briber). Pejorative synonyms appeared because of potential semes “capable of deceit and betrayal”, “undereducated”, “showing excessive self-confidence” in the word semantics. Russian artistic texts of the era and proverbs show that “Officials multiply like toadstools – by division” (A.P. Chekhov), “Officials reign... the government is deceived, betrayed, sold, and everything is done with the appearance of loyal servility and observing all bureaucratic norms...” (A.I. Herzen); “The tsar likes to punish, officials like to take bribes, and lords like to thrash the hide off” (proverb); “Do not say a word to an (official), only show him money” (proverb).

In addition, the studied language sign develops hypo-hyperonymic relations with loan words (usually borrowed from German): official – official of the Berg college, corresponding to the VI class of the “Table of Ranks”; councilor of mines-berg-rat (German); officialan official of the provincial administration, corresponding to the X class of the “Table of Ranks” – burgomaster (German); an official – an official servant of the post office – postmaster (German)[9]. Let us also consider synonymic rows with phraseological units: official – red tapist – paper-pusher (compare: a red tapist (literally – ‘an office rat’) – a minor official in the department, barrator; the word recalls different lost documents and frequent excuses that “rats had eaten the documents”) – writ string (figurative) – pen pusher (literally – ‘nettle seed’ (the idiom stems from the fact that “in Siberia, people make nets from nettle fibers”[10]). Special attention, in our opinion, should be paid to phraseological units with the reference component “rat” (for example, an office rat – a clerical rat). In them, the image of a civil servant is correlated with Russian language codes, where the image of this animal forms stable zoomorphic and colour associations with something unpleasant, disgusting, vile, wicked, grey in colour, traditionally symbolizing mediocrity and intellectual and spiritual squalor. Such stereotypical representations with the components “clerical” and “official” are associated with the concept of civil service, the standard of boredom and unjustified formalism[11], causing negative connotations of the phraseological units.

The development of syntagmatic connections of the word “official” is expressed in stable phrases such as “court official”, “official – briber”, “office civil servant”, “out-of-office civil servant”, “chamber civil servant”, etc.

The USSR socialist state in the 1920-s destructed the former system of public administration and, accordingly, bureaucracy as a class: “After the October Revolution, the ranks were abolished, officialdom as a special social group disappeared and was replaced by a system of Soviet employees under the strict control of the state and public organizations”[12], and the formation of a qualitatively new state apparatus, led to serious transformations in the meaning of the word “official”, represented in the semantic structure, which was expanded with new lexical-semantic variants (hereinafter LSV) (compare “official” – 1 LSV “civil servant in pre-revolutionary Russia and in bourgeois countries”, which because of passivization, went to the periphery of the Russian language; 2 LSV “fig.; a person who does his work with official indifference, without active interest, a bureaucrat (reproach)”: “This is not an administrator, but an official!”)[13], and in all components of the word meaning – denotative, emotive, proper-linguistic and empirical.

Thus, changes in the denotative component of word “official” reoriented the lexical unit. The word, which previously denoted a Russian phenomenon, now nominates the concept of a foreign society (Zavarzina, 2014). This process is reflected in ideologized semes “abroad”, “in bourgeois countries”, “in tsarist Russia”, so the concept refers to the bourgeois/foreign or pre-revolutionary society.

Changes in the emotive component are manifested by the ideologized negative evaluation semes according to the above-mentioned denotative semes. The processes are reflected in the illustrative parts of Russian explanatory dictionaries of the Soviet era: “Landlords, district captains, and all sorts of officials have had enough of commanding the peasants!” (V.I. Lenin)[14].

Changes in the proper linguistic component are clearly represented at the level of paradigmatic and stylistic micro-components of lexical semantics (Zavarzina, 2017). In the Soviet period, the former synonymic relations were destroyed (compare: official (neuter) – civil servant (neuter), etc.) and new synonymic relations were formed (compare: official (foreign) – corrupt official (foreign) – for 1 LSV; official – bureaucrat – counter-revolutionary: “Who is the most dangerous counter-revolutionary now? – The bribe taker” (from Soviet posters); official – staffer (colloquial, disapproval) – the cabinet clerk (colloquial) – the clerk (colloquial) – the formalist – the letter-eater (disrespectful) – the chinusha (disrespectful) – desk jockey (colloquial, disrespectful) – the paper soul (colloquial) – the ink soul (colloquial) – the ink rat (slangy) – the clerical rat (slangy) – the nettle seed (obsolete, disrespectful) – pettifogger (obsolete, disrespectful) – paper hook (obsolete, ironical) – for LSV 2; compare also: officials – party government establishment (colloquial) – people who implement directives (cf.: “...people who are able to execute orders, who can understand orders, who can accept orders as their own, and who are able to implement them”[15] (I. Stalin) and others). Antonymic relations also destroyed (compare, for example, official (disapproval) – Soviet employee: “There should be no officials in Soviet offices!”[16]). The components of the rows are distinguished by colloquial and slangy stylistic connotation.

The stylistic micro-component of the semantics of the word “official” in the Soviet era reflected the decline in its usage and the change in the sphere of its use: it has dropped out of the official business language and has retained its function only in colloquial speech to refer to a party-government employee who has various privileges in all spheres of life (for example, access to scarce goods, housing, vouchers to departmental sanatoriums, etc.). However, the “literature-centricity” of the Russian culture preserved this word and cognate words in language and cultural memory of native speakers (Vepreva, Kupina, 2008).

The empirical component of the word “official” contained specifically-sensitive image representation, which is associated with unpleasant in appearance (as a rule, bald with glasses), often a beefy man with a briefcase in hand (compare: portfolio was a feature of man with a position)[17].

In the modern period of the Russian society and the Russian language development, the word “official” is an updated word in the management subsystem, the semantic structure of this word is as follows: “official” – 1) a civil servant engaged in the field of management and administration; 2) a civil servant who performs his work formally, without interest, following the instructions (colloquial, disapproval)[18]. According to the Federal Law of the Russian Federation “On the System of Public Service in the Russian Federation” (2003)[19], at present, employees of various government and management structures have again begun to be assigned ranks, titles and classes, which indicates a tendency to unify the lexical unit “official”, which, however, is not yet fixed in the legislative documents of the Russian Federation.

In the denotative component of the word “official” at the turn of the XX – early XXI centuries, the semes “party”, “belonging to the party elite”, “belonging to the CPSU” disappear, due to the dominant role of the Communist Party in state administration, and the semes “position in the civil service of Russia or its entity”, “having a professional character” appear.

The results of the survey conducted by the researchers (Chernets, 2010) suggest that when representatives of different social groups use the word “official”, it has a stable pejorative meaning due to the socio-cultural context, as in previous eras. Negative evaluativity is found in associative characteristics – stimuli that indicate certain traits: a low level of intellectual development (incompetent, without brains), an irresponsible attitude to work (unscrupulous, irresponsible), not observing moral and ethical norms (indifferent, scandalous, corrupt, arrogant, unfair, unfriendly, harmful), emotional unbalanse (irritated, distrustful). These meanings the word acquires in the speech of Russian native speakers.

In the modern era, there are changes in paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations of the word “official”. Compare examples of new synonymic rows: the perestroika era (an official – Soviet director – young reformer – strong economic manager); the beginning of the XXI century (an official – civil servant – effective manager; officials – office lemming (slangy) – office lawlessness (slangy) – new noblemen), as well as in antonymic rows: top-level official – lower-level official.

The genus-species relationships that expand information about the “world” of the analyzed lexical unit are represented in the following correlates: an official – a federal official (with synonyms “a federal”, “an employee of the government, the White House or the Federation Council”) – a regional official (with the synonym “a regional”)a municipal official (with the synonym “a municipal”); compare: officials – officials of generation XY (officials of “Putin's generation”) – officials of generation X (officials born in the 1970s) – officials of generation Y (officials born in the 1980s).

The new syntagmatic semes resulted in a new lexical and phraseological compatibility of the word: a civil servant in education, a civil servant of the new generation, a patrimonial civil servant, Moscow-centricity of civil servants, recruitment of civil servants, transaction costs in civil servants’ communication, civil servants’ corporate culture, a new wave of civil servants, civil servants’ wasting officials, civil servants’ code of ethics, dress-code of civil servants, etc.; compare: a federal civil servant, a regional civil servant, a municipal civil servant. According to the researchers, the expansion of the compatibility of the word “official” indicates “universalization and deideologization of its meaning” (Vepreva, Kupina, 2008).

The analysis of the empirical component of the word “official” characterizes its image in the minds of modern Russian native speakers: it is associated with the idea of a person in an expensive suit and shirt with a tie, wearing an expensive watch of famous brands and the latest model of iPhone, sitting in an office in a leather chair or driving a luxury car.

Conclusion

So, the semantics of the word “official” in the Russian language of the first quarter of the XXI century is developing in the following main directions:

1) destruction of ideologized denotative semes, conditioned by Marxist-Leninist ideology. However, the hidden potential seme “politicized” is preserved in the subject-conceptual component of the meaning. It is presented in the illustrative materials of dictionaries and journalistic articles (compare: “...classical... bureaucracy should be politically neutral... for the domestic new bureaucracy... the idea that political engagement... does not harm the public service, moreover, political involvement is associated with an important motive for admitting new civil service – yarnovosti.com);

2) maintaining the negative emotive component due to the socio-cultural context;

3) expansion of paradigmatic and syntagmatic connections and relations because of the removal of geo-conditioned connotation of the word and fixing the features of the modern official hierarchy;

4) stylistic changes reflecting the multidirectional trends of updating and unification of the word;

5) the formation of a new empirical component, embodying the results of a concrete-sensory reflection of reality and associated in the minds of modern Russian native speakers with a person in an expensive suit with a watch of famous brands and an iPhone in his hand.

The perspectives of the study are not only in continuing the synchronous-diachronic study of the words “civil servant”, “manager”, “functionary”, but also in researching the broad possibilities of using the proposed method of synchronous-diachronic analysis for the study of other subsystems of the Russian language.

 

[1] Preobrazhenskii, A.G. (1949). Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 2). Moscow, Leningrad: Izdanie Akademii nauk Publ. (In Russ.); Chernykh, P.Ya. (1999). Historical and etymological dictionary of modern Russian language (vol. 2). Moscow: Russkii yazyk Publ. (In Russ.)

[2] The dictionary of derived words published by the Russian Academy (part VI). (1794). Saint Petersburg: Imperatorskaya Akademiya nauk Publ. (In Russ.); Second Department of Imperial Academy of Sciences. (1847). Dictionary of church Slavonic and Russian languages. (In Russ.); Sreznevskii, I.I. (1912). Materials for the dictionary of Old Russian language (vol. 3). Saint Petersburg: Publishing House of Imperial Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.); Ushakov, D.N. (Ed.). (1940). Explanatory dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 4). Moscow: Sovetskaya entsiklopediya Publ., OGIZ Publ. (In Russ.); Efremova, T.F. (2006). The most complete modern explanatory dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 3). Moscow: AST Publ. (In Russ.); Teliya, V.N. (Ed.). (2006). The phraseological dictionary of the Russian language. Semantics. Usage. Culturological commentaries. Moscow: AST-Press kniga Publ. (In Russ.)

[3] Atsyukovskii, V.A., & Ermilov, B.L. (1998). Concise explanatory dictionary of political economy. Moscow: URSS Publ. (In Russ.); Liventsev, D.V. (2005). The concise dictionary of ranks and titles of civil service in Moscow state and Russian Empire in XV – early XX centuries. Voronezh: VF RAGS Publ. (In Russ.); Belovinskii, L.V. (2015). Encyclopaedical dictionary of Soviet everyday life. (In Russ.) Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://coollib.com/b/314885/read

[4] Sreznevskii, I.I. (1912). Materials for the dictionary of Old Russian language (vol. 3, p. 1519) (In Russ.); Preobrazhenskii, A.G. (1949). Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 2, p. 73) (In Russ.); Chernykh, P.Ya. (1999). Historical and etymological dictionary of modern Russian language (vol. 2, p. 390) (In Russ.).

[5] Preobrazhenskii, A.G. (1949). Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 2, p. 73) (In Russ.).

[6] Second Department of Imperial Academy of Sciences. (1847). Dictionary of church Slavonic and Russian languages (vol. 4, pp. 439–440) (In Russ.).

[7] The dictionary of derived words published by the Russian Academy (part VI, p. 756). (1794). (In Russ.)

[8] Preobrazhenskii, A.G. (1949). Etymological dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 2, p. 72). (In Russ.)

[9] Liventsev, D.V. (2005). The concise dictionary of ranks and titles of civil service in Moscow state and Russian Empire in XV – early XX centuries (p. 33). (In Russ.)

[10] Mikhelson, M.I. (1912). Russian cognition and speech. Own and alien. Research in Russian phraseology. Collection of figurative words and allusions. Vol. 2. Felicitous words. Collection of Russian and foreign citations, proverbs, sayings, set expressions and separate words (p. 612). Saint Petersburg: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences. (In Russ.)

[11] Teliya, V.N. (Ed.). (2006). The phraseological dictionary of the Russian language. Semantics. Usage. Culturological commentaries (p. 678). (In Russ.)

[12] Atsyukovskii, V.A., & Ermilov, B.L. (1998). Concise explanatory dictionary of political economy (p. 39). (In Russ.)

[13] Ushakov, D.N. (Ed.). (1940). Explanatory dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 4, p. 1277). (In Russ.)

[14] Quoted after: Atsyukovskii, V.A., & Ermilov, B.L. (1998). Concise explanatory dictionnary of political economy (p. 39).

[15] Quoted after: Atsyukovskii, V.A., & Ermilov, B.L. (1998). Concise explanatory dictionnary of political economy (p. 39).

[16] Ushakov, D.N. (Ed.). (1940). Explanatory dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 4, p. 1277). (In Russ.)

[17] Belovinskii, L.V. (2015). Encyclopaedical dictionary of Soviet everyday life. (In Russ.) Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://coollib.com/b/314885/read

[18] Efremova, T.F. (2006). The most complete modern explanatory dictionary of the Russian language (vol. 3, p. 90). Moscow: AST Publ. (In Russ.)

[19] Federal Law No. 58-FZ of May 23, 2003 “About the system of public service in the Russian Federation”. (In Russ.) Retrieved January 15, 2021, from https://rg.ru/2003/05/30/sluzhba-dok

About the authors

Galina A. Zavarzina

Voronezh State Pedagogical University

Author for correspondence.
Email: zga1311@mail.ru
86А Lenina St, Voronezh, 394024, Russian Federation

Doctor of Philological Sciences, Associate Professor, Head of the Department of the Russian Language, Contemporary Russian and Foreign Literature

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