Using a study of the historical phenomenon of Franco-Russian bilingualism in imperial Russia as its point of departure, this article has three interlocking aims. First, it reflects on the common interest that historical sociolinguists and certain types of historian have in language use and language choice. Secondly, building on recent work by historical sociolinguists, it considers the ways in which historians’ and historical sociolinguists’ investigation of such matters as the social, political, cultural and literary functions of the French language in lands where French was not the mother tongue can be broadened and deepened by familiarity with each others’ findings. Thirdly, it seeks to illuminate the role of linguistic meta-discourse in the sort of grand narratives about the history and culture of national communities in which historians may be interested. In the specific case I examine, the narratives concern the relationship of Russia to the West, the wholeness or fragmentation of the Russian nation, the effects of cultural borrowing, the nature of Russian national identity and culture and the degree to which Russia is historically and culturally exceptional. In pursuit of these aims, I hope to illustrate the importance of linguistic matters in the history of societies, polities, and cultures and the potential that an interdisciplinary approach has to lend scholarship on these matters richer context and finer nuance than work which falls purely within either the historical or the historical-sociolinguistic domain tends to yield.
- Historical sociolinguistics, interdisciplinarity, Franco-Russian bilingualism, transnational cultural relationships, Russia and the West, Russian exceptionalism