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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also zaumnyi iazyk, “trans-sense language”), a concept propounded by the theoreticians of Russian futurism in the early 1920’s. The term “zaum’” was introduced by the poet V. Khlebnikov, who sought to discover the general laws governing the direct interdependence of sound and sense. Proceeding from these laws he attempted to create a new poetic language unencumbered by the “everyday meaning of the word”—a language “beyond reason.”Zaum’ generally refers only to the poetic methods of the Russian futurists, notably V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, and V. Kamenskii. For the linguists and poets associated with the journal LEF, the problem of zaum’ was connected with a totally different task—the objective of “linguistic technology,” or the conscious alteration of the literary language. For the futurists zaum’ was a kind of laboratory work for revealing the expressive possibilities of a word. The problem posed by Khlebnikov is on the whole insoluble: a word free of the “burden” of “everyday meanings” does not exist; poetry deals with words in their name-giving and communicative functions. The idea of “linguistic technology,” closely associated with the functional trends in linguistics, has remained on the level of general statements.


Shklovskii, V. B. “O poezii i zaumnom iazyke.” In the collection Poetika. Petrograd, 1919.
Gofman, V. “lazykovoe novatorstvo Khlebnikova.” In his book Iazyk literatury. Leningrad, 1936.
Vinokur, G. “Futuristy-stroiteli iazyka.”LEF, 1923, no. 1.
Polivanov, E. D. “Obshchii foneticheskii printsip vsiakoi poeticheskoi tekhniki.”Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1963, no. 1.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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(Might Tolkien have been in direct correspondence with a leading exponent of Japhetic theory in the West?) In this new context, Tolkien's Black Speech can be seen to constitute part of a wider, and rather belated, Western response to a theory that embodied the linguistic energy of the Transcaucasus, an expression of the same revolutionary fervor that had inspired Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksei Kruchenykh to write their Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun (1913) in what they termed Zaum: "a universal poetic language, born organically, and not artificially, like Esperanto" (Kruchenykh 182).
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