Literary Language

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Literary Language


the developed form of a national language, with norms fixed in writing to varying extents; the language of all manifestations of culture that are expressed in words.

The concept of a “developed form” is historically variable (in different ages and with different peoples). In the age of feudalism many peoples of the world used foreign languages as their written literary languages. The Iranian and Turkish peoples used classical Arabic, the Japanese and Koreans used classical Chinese, the Germanic and West Slavic peoples used Latin, and the people in the Baltic region and the Czechs used German. The popular languages supplanted the foreign language in many functional spheres of communication during the 14th and 15th centuries in some states and in the 16th and 17th centuries in others.

The literary language is always the result of collective creative activity. The notion that the norms of a literary language are “fixed” is somewhat relative (despite all the importance and stability of the norm, it changes in time). It is not possible to imagine a national culture that is rich and developed without a rich and developed literary language. This is why the problem of the literary language is very important for society. Linguists do not agree about the complex and multifaceted concept of the literary language. Some researchers prefer to talk not about the literary language as a whole but about its variations—the written literary language, the spoken literary language, the language of literature, and so on.

The literary language is not the same thing as the language of literature. These are different, but related, concepts. The literary language is the property of all who have mastered its rules. It functions in both written and spoken form. The language of literature (the language of writers) usually orients itself to the same norms, but it contains a great deal that is individual and not generally accepted. The closeness of the literary language and the language of literature has varied in different historical ages and with different peoples. There is a difference between the literary language and the national language. The national language operates as a literary language, but not every literary language immediately becomes the national language.

National languages are usually formed during the age of capitalism. One may speak of the Russian literary language as early as the beginning of the 17th century, but it became the national language in the first half of the 19th century, in the age of A. S. Pushkin. Examples of the French literary language are extant from the 11th century, but only in the 17th and 18th centuries was the process of formation of the French national language observed. In Italy the literary language was already seen in the work of Dante, but only in the second half of the 19th century, in the age of Italy’s national unification, did its national language form. The interrelations and interaction of the literary language and dialects represent a special problem. The more stable the historical foundations of dialects are, the more difficult it will be for the literary language to unite all members of the particular nation linguistically. Even today dialects continue to compete successfully with the literary language in many countries, for example in Italy and Indonesia.

The concept of the literary language usually interacts with the concept of linguistic styles existing within the limits of each literary language. A linguistic style is a variation of the literary language that has taken shape historically and is characterized by a definite set of features, some of which may be repeated in other styles but in their combination and unique functions distinguish one style from another. The Leninist nationalities policy of the Communist Party and the Soviet state brought about the flourishing of the literary languages of the peoples who populate the USSR. Formerly unwritten languages received writing systems. The theory of the literary language, which relies on experience in the development of the languages of different peoples in the world, is being successfully worked out.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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