Vladimir Annushkin

The History of Russian Rhetoric and Research on Foreign Rhetoric

Dear colleagues,

It is a great honour for me to speak to you personally for the first time on behalf of the Russian academic community. I wo uld like to thank you for your interest in Russia and assure you that we are also sincerely interested in theory and practice of different countries.

My talk will consist of four parts:

  1. What is rhetoric and how is it understood in Russia?

  2. What research on the history of Russian rhetoric is carried out at present?

  3. What modern schools of rhetoric exist in Russia? (I will tell you a few words about the Russian Association of Researchers and Teachers of Rhetoric.)

  4. What research on foreign rhetoric and speech communication has been done in Russia?


So, what is rhetoric?

Of course, all of us have the same roots, the ancient civilization which existed on the ancient soil that is hosting us today. We can cite Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Quintilian and other famous rhetoricians by heart. Rhetoric is the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion, Rhetorical est ars bene et ornate dicendi and so on.

Rhetoric is the theory of thought and speech. It offers rules and laws of speech production as well as practical recommendations on proper speaking and writing, organizing speech communication, generating ideas and expressing them verbally. Russian classical scholars wrote that the subject of rhetoric is speech (Konstantin Zelenetsky, 1851), rhetoric is the art of invention, arrangement and expression of ideas (Nikolai Koshansky, Pushkins teacher, 1829).

Rhetoric is the art of speech. The art develops skills, improves abilities and talents which each person has. When you study rhetoric it helps you to master the art of speech. Here is Mikhail Lomonosovs definition: Eloquence is the art of speaking well on any given matter thus persuading others to share your opinion on it.

Rhetoric is the theory of beautiful, effective and appropriate speech. These are the main qualities of perfect speech. Definitions of rhetoric usually include a combination of these attributes of good speech.

Practical tasks of rhetoric are the following:

  1. organizing speech communication in a community as a whole. Rhetoric studies not only oratory, but also all other kinds of speech. Speech is with us everywhere. Therefore modern philology and rhetoric should focus on all kinds of communication, from everyday conversations among family members to new types of speech technologies, including the mass media, the Internet and mobile communication;

  2. bringing up and educating a person by means of speech. Without speech it would be impossible to convey knowledge and communicate in a classroom. Speech is a tool of education and upbringing;

  3. Language development, its cultural completeness and richness is a source of social progress. Progress directions depend on language progress (Yury Rozhdestvensky). Philologists, and rhetoricians in particular, are interested in language and speech as an instrument of communication and organization of the whole human life. Therefore, the style of speech is the style of life.


On the history of Russian rhetoric

Research on the time when textbooks on rhetoric were written, as well as their content and style, has revealed a direct link with changes in the history of the Russian society, its ideological and economic transformations. As rhetoric reflects the societys style of life, provides a model of thought and speech, it is directly connected with politics, ideology, economics and social changes. New textbooks on rhetoric, stylistics and speech culture have always been written and new branches of knowledge describing social communication have always appeared at the time of active transformations in the life of the Russian state.

These periods of transformation occur at regular intervals or cycles. Each period lasts for about 60 years and includes the following parts of the cycle: (1) revolutionary changes in the style of life and speech; (2) the time of creation and reorganization; (3) the time of stability; (4) the time of criticism and doubts, which lays the basis for new revolutionary changes. Each part of the cycle lasts for about 15 to 20 years.

The history of Russian rhetoric in connection with the history of the Russian society includes the following periods:

  1. 1620-1690/95, the time before Peter the Great reforms, which is called pre-Peter period. The most popular textbook at that time was the first Russian Rhetoric written in 1620 and studied in combination with other liberal arts, Grammar and Dialectics;

  2. 1690-1745/50, the Peter period, when textbooks written at the beginning of Peter the Greats reign were widespread (Sofrony Likhud, Mikhail Usachov and other authors);

  3. 1745/50-1790/1800, the Lomonosov period dominated by textbooks written by the great scholar Mikhail Lomonosov and by the style of Russian classicism;

  4. 1800-1850/60, the golden age of the Russian academic rhetoric, when textbooks by Alexey Merzlyakov and Nikolai Koshansky were considered to be the main sources and rhetoric was understood as the study of thought and speech, of producing non-fictional texts.

  5. 1850/60-1917/20, the period of the study of fiction, when rhetoric was criticized and excluded from the list of disciplines taught at schools and universities. It was in the middle of the 19th century when the idea was proclaimed that rhetoric was irrelevant and the main creative person was the poet, the speech artist. There developed great Russian fiction which had strong influence on the public opinion. But it negatively affected other types of speech. Since then the school subject has been the Russian language and literature understood as fiction;

  6. 1917/20-1985/90, the Soviet period dominated by the communist ideology, agitation and propaganda. Communism won in Russia due to the bright rhetoric of the Bolshevik Party and lost 70 years later because rhetoric did not exist in the Soviet times and, as a consequence, the regime could not defend and explain itself by means of speech. In the 1920s there was a strong interest in the theory and practice of oratory in Russia, but it ended in the 1930s at the time of Stalins repression. Our Perestroika revived rhetorical struggle and produced bright personalities of new speakers. Unfortunately, it lacked clear philosophic and ethical basis. Each modern political speaker climbs to the top of their political career by means of persuasive and influential speech;

  7. Since 1990 the new style of life has been formed, which is connected with the new information society (radio, television, computer, the Internet). Starting from 2000 this style of thought, speech and life has been established. This process is accompanied by educational reforms and a host of new speech disciplines (information science, image studies, etc). Rhetoric is also developing and becoming a universal fundamental theory of thought and speech, of all kinds of speech existing in a developed information society.

The development of the modern rhetoric will be determined by philosophic, moral, and aesthetic content it will acquire. Societal and personal well-being will depend on the level of mastery that a modern Russian person will achieve in all types of social speech communication.

We have a lot of problems here, and they can be solved only on the optimal rhetorical basis.


Therefore, the third part of my talk deals with the modern Russian rhetoric.

Rhetorical education is one of the most promising and important directions of modern linguodidactics aimed at shaping and developing proper and grammatically correct, persuasive and effective speech. In 1997 the Russian Association of Researchers and Teachers of Rhetoric was founded. At present it unites 17 regional branches and has over 450 members. The Association holds annual international conferences at the end of January. They usually take place in Moscow, but last years conference was in Astrakhan, the next one will be in Moscow Pedagogical State University, and in 2012 the conference will be hosted by St Petersburg Mining University. We publish annual volumes of conference proceedings.

Let me try to give an outline of the main Russian academic rhetorical schools. Each of them has its ideas and methodological approaches. I believe you might be interested to learn the geography of Russian rhetoric.

(1) Moscow philological school (Lomonosov Moscow State University). It was founded by Yury Rozhdestvensky (1926-1999), who taught rhetoric at university and secondary school levels and at various training courses from the early 1970s. Within the framework of this school about 50 dissertations have been written, including those devoted to the history of Russian, American, French, German rhetoric, and experience of teaching rhetoric has been analyzed.

Yury Rozhdestvenskys ideas are most fully expressed in his last books Theory of Rhetoric and Principles of Modern Rhetoric. Yury Rozhdestvensky postulated the following ideas: Speech is a tool of public management. The style of speech shapes the style of public life. To build a happy society it is necessary to bring up an active citizen speaker who should master various types of speech in the new information society.

Yury Rozhdestvensky considered rhetorical education as a highly complicated problem connected with general understanding of the subject of rhetoric and its teaching methodology. According to Yury Rozhdestvensky, the complexity of teaching non-fictional speech lies in the fact that unless it is accompanied by the study of life it can turn into stump oratory One becomes an orator and a writer in the social life. Teaching non-fictional speech we teach to use arms, and arms are used both by a knight and a robber Therefore, teaching rhetoric is at the same time teaching ethics.

(2) Moscow pedagogical school. The so-called secondary school pedagogical direction is represented by a number of scholars working at the Department of Rhetoric and Teachers Speech Culture at Moscow Pedagogical State University headed by Professor Taisia Ladyzhenskaya. These scholars have developed rhetoric as a secondary school subject and published a series of textbooks on rhetoric for all grades, from age 7 to age 18.

(3) We have a lot of individual textbooks on rhetoric published since the 1990s. The most successful one is Anna Mikhalskayas textbook Fundamentals of Rhetoric. Thought and Speech, which is effectively used not only at secondary schools but also at universities. This textbook has become popular because of the original concept based on classical knowledge and developed in accordance with contemporary student needs. I should also mention Sofia Ivanovas textbooks Introduction to the Temple of Word and Speak up!.. Lessons of Rhetoric, which reveal reflections on the spiritual and moral nature of Word, show utmost care and taste in selection of texts, and summarize rich experience of teaching rhetoric.

(4) Perm school of rhetoric of dialogue. It was founded by the head of West Urals Education and Research Center, Associate Professor Svetlana Mineeva. This center was devised as an education and research institution bringing together innovative teachers to promote rhetoric in our country in the early years of Perestroika. This center has developed its own concept of rhetoric of dialogue. It hosts annual summer schools aimed at training teachers of rhetoric, and over a thousand teachers have already been trained there.

(5) Krasnoyarsk school of speech culture, which has long-standing traditions of teaching speech at university and secondary school levels. It was founded by the Head of General Linguistics and Rhetoric Department, Professor Skovorodnikov. This school of thought deals with rhetoric as a normative study of speech style, its representatives have published dictionaries Russian Speech Culture and Expressive Stylistic Means of Speech.

(6) Voronezh school of speech impact. According to the founder of this school, Professor Iosif Sternin, the study of speech impact is an integral branch bringing together a whole complex of knowledge from adjacent disciplines: traditional linguistics, psycholinguistics, communicative linguistics, rhetoric, psychology, theory of mass communication, public relations, conflict studies, and so on.

I will only list other schools of rhetoric:

(7) Saratov school of speech stylistics.

(8) St Petersburg theatrical rhetorical school.

(9) Ekaterinburg school of speechology.

(10) Astrakhan school of political rhetoric. (Several dissertations on political rhetoric have been written in Astrakhan, but research in this area is also carried out at the School of Public Administration of Lomonosov Moscow State University and at our Pushkin Institute of the Russian Language.)

Russian research on rhetoric is not limited to the above mentioned directions and we can talk about multiplicity of rhetorical concepts in Russia.

Practical teaching of rhetoric in Russia is quite a separate issue. We have now many rhetorical schools, firms and other organizations that provide training in public speaking. They organize courses which do not always prove to be of high quality and charge high prices. University teachers also provide training. For example, we have Rhetorical Center Zlatoust, organize summer and winter schools of teaching rhetoric and the Russian language on the rhetorical basis.


Russian researches in foreign rhetoric

Finally, the main topic I would like to cover in my talk to our competent audience is our research on foreign experience. And its up to you to decide whether to praise or to criticize me.

First of all, I would like to say a few words about the Russian mentality (our national character), which is to a certain extent paradoxical, controversial. We consider ourselves as a great nation (Great Russia), but at the same time we are eager to copy and borrow, we like everything foreign. When we borrow the best practice, as it was in the 18-19th centuries and actively devise our own ideas, we achieve a positive result. It was so, for example, in the case of textbooks on rhetoric translated from Latin, German, French. When we indiscriminately copy everything (as it was during Perestroika and sometimes happens now in our mass media), the result is negative.

Thus, studying foreign experience has contributed a lot to the Russian culture and science, and it is not only European, but also Oriental experience (Chinese and Indian).

I will try to be specific.

I remember 1976, when Olga Brynskaya defended her dissertation on Basic Characteristics of Modern American Rhetoric at Lomonosov Moscow State University. It was interesting to learn that the life of American society is organized in accordance with a rhetorical model, that the reason for American prosperity and influence of American style of thought and behavior on the rest of the world is that Americans are rhetorically active.

My friend Vadim Radchenko wrote at that time The History of American Oratory. When I encouraged my American student and friend Bob Maierson to study rhetoric, he ordered from his home country the textbook Communication and Leadership Program and organized in Moscow three Toastmaster International clubs. My students at the School of Foreign Languages at Lomonosov Moscow State University have translated this textbook into Russian and we are successfully learning from American experience.

Dale Carnegies textbook is especially popular in Russia, which has both advantages and disadvantages.

Russian scholars have a strong interest in the Japanese language process theory (language-as-a-process theory), which shows how the societys life may be rationally built through perfectly organized communicative links among all members of society. The essence of this theory consists in evaluation of actions of each member of society in terms of speech effectiveness and workload. The Japanese culture has created a special type of linguistic identity, which implies effective and correct communication in all kinds of speech contacts.

We carefully study French rhetoric, which has tremendous historical traditions. In 1985 Natalia Bezmenova defended her PhD thesis on the history of French rhetoric. Her dissertation provides chronological description (and in some cases translation) of books by French authors, starting from the French Middle Ages. Two years ago Pierre Lamys Rhetoric was translated. Our interest in the 20th century French experience was manifested by a dissertation on Le Pen and de Gaulles public addresses recently defended at Lomonosov Moscow State University.

There are also strong cultural and academic links between Germany and Russia. We are very much interested in the development of modern German language and culture. I believe that the best Russian specialist in this field is Lidia Lobanova, the head of the Foreign Languages Department at the School of History of the International University, the author of several critical books on theories of tolerance and political correctness. Several practical guides to rhetoric have been translated into Russian, for instance, Lehrmans Rhetoric.

There are several classical topics that require further research. As for me, I am deeply interested in Rhetoric of Mikhail Lomonosov, who translated some chapters from Wolf and French Jesuits. Peculiarities of this translation and Lomonosovs additions have not been revealed yet. Within Yury Rozhdestvenskys school, research on Gottscheds rhetoric has been done.

I should also say a few words about China. As we know, rhetoric couldnt exist in China, because it is a totally different civilization, but many ideas are universal and typical both of Western and Eastern cultures. A good example is the theory of logos origin of language, that is creation of the world by some divine power (in Christianity, it is Word as God, in Taoism, it is tao as a path). It is then revealed in the ability to create culture and education by means of Word (in Europe, it is Word as Logos, in China it is wen). Our mutual interest has a long history, but it is also clear how difficult it is to understand peculiarities of another civilization. We study various papers on strategies of speech behavior which existed in Ancient China. At present our contacts are quite intensive. In June, my Chinese student Van Tsi from Sian University defended in our institute his dissertation on the history of Russian words language-speech-word on the basis of Russian rhetoric. In China, the multi-author book Russian Rhetoric: History and Modernity has been written.

Finally, I would like to talk about Italy. Italy, like France, is perceived by Russians as mecca, the promised land. Italians, like Germans, have done a lot for the history of Russian education. Unfortunately, we know more about Italian classics than about the state of the art in the Italian rhetorical theory. My friend Alexander Lobodanov, the dean of the School of Arts at Lomonosov Moscow State University, told me that he knew Italian rhetoric of 15-16th centuries. By the way, Alexander Lobodanov founded the first Italian Language Department in Russia. To show you our interest in the Italian culture, I would like to give you as a gift Lobodanovs book, which contains articles about Russian translation of Italian poets Dante and Petrarch (Petrarca), as well as articles in Italian about Italian literature.

In conclusion I would like to say that we live in the world of intensive speech contacts with new forms of speech interaction: mass communication, the Internet, mobile connection, new speech technologies are radically changing the modern world. We tread, however, the same ground, breathe the same air, we are the same as our ancestors, we need love, mutual attention and understanding. It is possible only if people of the third millennium know their history, culture, arts and sciences, both their national and foreign ones.

I am sure that the International Society for the History of Rhetoric has ample opportunity to fulfill these hopes, and it will put them into practice.

Thank you.


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