Nikolai Marr

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Marr, Nikolai Iakovlevich


Born Dec. 25, 1864 (Jan 6, 1865), in Kutaisi; died Dec. 20, 1934, in Leningrad. Soviet Orientalist and linguist; academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1912).

Marr graduated from the University of St. Petersburg in 1890. He made fundamental contributions to Armenian and Georgian philology. He studied and published a number of old Armenian and Georgian literary texts and initiated the series Teksty i razyskaniia po armiano-gruzinskoi filologii (Texts and Researches in Armenian and Georgian Philology; issues 1-13, 1900-13). He was also successful in his study of Caucasian languages (Kartvelian, Abkhaz, etc.) and the history, archaeology, and ethnology of the Caucasus.

Pursuing research into the comparative grammar of the Kartvelian languages, Marr examined their relationship with other languages of the world, proposing a number of hypotheses, insufficiently supported by concrete linguistic material, on the kinship of the Kartvelian languages with Semitic, Basque, and other languages. When Marr’s hypothesis on linguistic kinship led to a contradiction of the facts of linguistic scholarship, he attempted to eliminate this contradiction by declaring all “traditional” and “Indo-European” linguistics antiquated and incompatible with Marxism and by constructing a completely new linguistic theory (“Japhetic theory” and “new studies of language”). Marr’s formulations of this period do not yield themselves to objective verification by strict scientific method, and in a number of instances they are disproved by the linguistic material. From a general linguistic point of view Marr’s ideas have much in common with the views of the Austrian linguist H. Schuchardt and certain ideas of the French school of sociology.

Marr correctly pointed out the prospects for linguistics in the treatment of such problems as language and society and language and thought. His works contain many assumptions, especially relating to linguistic typology, that were later successfully borne out by Soviet linguists. Marr played an important role in the history of Soviet linguistics as an organizer and educator of several generations of Orientalists and linguists; he did much for the study of the languages of the peoples of the USSR and for the creation of writing systems for unwritten languages. He was awarded the Order of Lenin.


Izbr. raboty, 5 vols. Moscow-Leningrad, 1933-37. (Bibliography.)


Mikhankova, V. A. Nikolai lakovlevich Marr: Ocherk ego zhizni i nauchnoi deiatel’nosti, 3rd ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Abaev, V. I. “N. Ia. Marr (1864-1934): K 25-letiiu so dnia smerti.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1960, no. 1.
Tronskii, I. M. “Sravnitel’no-istoricheskie issledovaniia.” In Teoreticheskie problemy sovetskogo iazykoznaniia. Moscow, 1968.
Gukhman, M. M. ’Tipologicheskie issledovaniia.” Ibid.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The issues covered range from the Eurasian movement (of which Nikolai Trubetzkoy was the acknowledged leader), through the critique of Eurocentrism, the idea of cultural mixture and its offshoot the Sprachbund, to a discussion of the theories and methods of the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr, contextualized and compared to the views on linguistic convergence of two of the most prominent members of the Prague Linguistic Circle, Nikolai Trubetzkoy and Roman Jakobson.
In the 1930s Hegelian influences began to appear in Bakhtin's work, either directly or by way of Nikolai Marr's theory of language, whose impact on Bakhtin and Voloshinov, as Brandist asserts, was much stronger and more lasting than is usually recognized.
In dealing with the ideas of Timofei Lysenko and Nikolai Marr, Stalin's temporary "chief of biology" and "chief of linguistics" respectively, he makes no attempt to restore their credibility as scientists.