риторика in Soviet Russia, according to Google’s Ngram Viewer

(File this post under “Low Hanging Fruit” or “Things That Are Really Obvious, so Why Haven’t I Seen Anyone Mention It?”)

It’s well known in rhetorical theory that rhetoric, after a centuries-long hiatus, was finally reclaimed as a legitimate topic of inquiry in the middle parts of the 20th century. Using Google’s multilingual N-gram corpora, we can watch this interest in rhetoric rekindle and rise not only in America but across the Western world . . .

One corpus, however, displays a much more interesting trend and suggests that its country was about, oh, 20 years late to the rhetorical party:

In the 1850s, there was an early spark in printed Russian materials discussing риторика (rhetoric). A quick scan of Russian history shows that those years correspond to the rule of Alexander II and the lead-up to the emancipation of the serfs. However, there’s a sharp drop off around 1922. I wonder what happened in Russia circa 1922 . . .

To be fair, any term in the Russian N-grams corpus would drop off around 1922. Nevertheless, while Europe and America rediscovered the rhetorical tradition in the 1960s and 70s, the rhetorical rekindling didn’t spread to Russia until the late 80s and 90s. I wonder what happened in Russia circa 1991 . . .

I guess Communism isn’t the most fertile soil for a discussion of language, persuasion, and the ways in which words, as George Campbell put it, “enlighten the understanding, please the imagination, move the passion, and influence the will.” Otherwise, why the delay?

Of course, I know very little about the rhetorical tradition in Russia. This is just a trend I noticed while twiddling drunkenly with the N-gram tool. Am I missing something? Did Soviet-era Russians print books about rhetorical issues without using the precise term? What about Russian scholars in the 60s and 70s, when the rest of the Western world was rediscovering rhetoric? I do know that one of the greatest rhetoricians and semioticians of the 20th century, Mikhail Bakhtin, wrote during the early Soviet era.

Then again, he was also exiled to Kazakhstan. His works remained generally unknown or simply unprinted until after his death in 1975.

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