Society for the Study of Poetic Language

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Society for the Study of Poetic Language


(OPOIAZ), a learned society established between 1916 and 1918 by a group of linguists (E. D. Polivanov and L. P. Iakubinskii), prosodists (S. I. Bernshtein and O. M. Brik), and theoreticians and historians of literature (V. B. Shklovskii, B. M. Eikhen-baum, and Iu. N. Tynianov). The groundwork of the society’s doctrine (a variant of the formal method in literary study) had been prepared by such works of Shklovskii as Resurrection of the Word (1914). OPOIAZ published Sborniki po teorii poetiches-kogo iazyka (Collections on the Theory of Poetic Language, fascs. 1–6, 1916–23). In the late teens and early 1920’s, B. V. Tomashevskii and V. V. Vinogradov, and such members of the Moscow Linguistic Circle as G. O. Vinokur and R. O. Iakobson, were methodologically close to OPOIAZ.

OPOIAZ, which took issue with the eclecticism of prerevolu-tionary academic scholarship, was at the same time influenced by acmeism and futurism. The society’s members sought to divest poetry of the exalted mystical aura with which the symbolists saw it surrounded. They regarded literature as a “craft,” a formal technique based on the use of literary devices and other means that could be studied “precisely.” The task of literature was to give the reader an impression of something unusual (the technical term was “making strange”). To this end, writers or literary schools employed literary devices. But, according to the OPOIAZ theorists, when the reader is accustomed to some devices which have become commonplaces (the perception of which is “automatized”), the devices are less effective, a demand for new ones arises, and one literary system is replaced by another.

The members of OPOIAZ had a number of interests: the theory of poetic language and verse, treated in works by Polivanov, Iakubinskii, and Brik, and in Eikhenbaum’s The Musical Structure of Russian Lyrical Verse (1922) and Tynianov’s The Problem of Poetic Language (1924; 2nd ed., 1965); the plotting and structure of the novel (as in Shklovskii’s On the Theory of Prose, 1925); and the succession and evolution of genres and literary schools. By applying the comparative-typological method, new linguistic ideas, and statistical means of study, the members of OPOIAZ made a number of observations and individual hypotheses valuable to philology. The route they traveled was complex: they evolved from the mechanistic concept of a literary work as the “sum” of its formal devices to a dynamic understanding of the functional interrelation of all of its components. They progressed from the doctrine of an independent literary “order” to a recognition of its interdependence with other cultural “orders”; this question was discussed in Tynianov’s The Problem of Literary Evolution (1927). The situation in the years immediately after the October Revolution and association with such figures as V. V. Mayakovsky and S. M. Eisenstein were factors enabling the group to evolve and to take an active part in discussing the problems of Soviet literary and cinematographic poetics.

Despite the subjective enthusiasm of the OPOIAZ scholars for the idea of building a new culture, their stress on effecting “intensified” perception in the reader linked their doctrine to the ideas of the modernist schools in art of the period between 1910 and 1920. Such a view, emphasizing formal literary innovation as something “valuable in itself,” led to a dehumanization and de-ideologization of art both in theory and in practice. Recognizing this in the course of debates, the OPOIAZ group gradually abandoned its formalistic tenets; in the late 1920’s, the society dissolved.

In the West, largely because of Iakobson’s work, many of the principles of OPOIAZ were adopted by the Prague Linguistic Circle. Later, in the mid–1950’s, these principles again became a focus of interest. The group’s ideas and hypotheses are often cited in support of such neoformalistic literary trends as the new criticism and some types of structuralism.


Zhirmunskii, V. “Zadachi poetiki: K voprosu o “formal’nom” metode.” In his Voprosy teorii literatury. Leningrad, 1928.
Engel’gardt, B. M. Formal’nyi metod v istorii literatury. Leningrad, 1927.
Medvedev, P. N. Formal’nyi metod v literaturovedenii. Leningrad, 1928.
Shklovskii, V. Zhili-byli. Moscow, 1966.
Kiseleva, L. F., and V. V. Kozhinov. “Problemy teorii literatury i poetiki.” In Sovetskoe literaturovedenie za 50 let. Leningrad, 1968.
Leont’ev, A. A. “Issledovaniia poeticheskoi rechi.” In Teoretich. problemy sovetskogo iazykoznaniia. Moscow, 1968.
Bakhtin, M. “K estetike slova.” In Kontekst, 1973. Moscow, 1974.
Erlich, V. Russian Formalism: History—Doctrine. The Hague, 1955.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Thus from the alliance of criticism, science, and poetry was born the first fasicules of the Collected Articles on the Theory of Poetic Language, and shortly thereafter a group was formed, the first members of which were Viktor Shklovskii, Osip Brik, Lev Iakubinskii, Boris Kushner, and Evgenii Polivanov; this group organized itself, around 1918, into the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (or, conforming to the fashion for military, revolutionary abbreviations, OPOIAZ).
In 1914-16 he was one of the founders of the Society for the Study of Poetic Language (Opoiaz), the group which developed the enormously influential formalist methods of literary analysis.
It began in two groups: OPOYAZ (an acronym for Russian words meaning "Society for the Study of Poetic Language"), founded in 1914 at St.
Petersburg, Tynyanov joined the Petrograd Society for the Study of Poetic Language, or OPOYAZ.

Encyclopedia browser ?
Full browser ?