Our Language And Foreign Languages (On The Content Of The Magazine “Hardworking Bee”


A.P. Sumarokov had no official status of a scientist. However, he was an active participant in all philological scientific discussions of the mid-18th century. One of the main tasks of this period was to normalize the Russian language, to develop requirements for its stylistic system, to identify the place of the Russian language among other languages, to find out its roots and ways of development. The object of this study is four articles of the magazine "Hardworking Bee" ( 1759 ): "On the extermination of other people's words from the Russian language" (January), "On the native words of the Russian language" (February), "To the typographical typesetters" (May), "On the copyists" (December). Alexander Sumarokov, an outstanding Russian playwright, poet and public figure, was the publisher of the first Russian privately owned monthly magazine. The magazine provided an opportunity for artistic and journalistic reception of many pressing problems of the mid-18th century. The problem of this paper is the meaning and role of the Russian language in the history and culture of the Russian people, the need to learn Russian and foreign languages. Sumarokov's system of views on the Russian and foreign languages is presented using the descriptive method. The language material was collected by means of the continuous sampling method. Linguocultural analysis implied studying the language of the mid-18th century as a phenomenon of Russian culture. The result of the study was a representative material that reflected the linguistic aspects of the views of Sumarokov, writer and publisher of "The Hardworking Bee".

Keywords: “Hardworking Bee”linguoculturologyRussian languageSumarokov


The team of authors of the "Hardworking Bee" was a new generation of European-educated humanitarians. One of the tasks posed by the publisher of the magazine, Alexander Sumarokov, was related to the familiarization of the reading public of the mid-18th century with European culture and literature from ancient times to the latest works (Abramzon & Petrov, 2017, 2018; Ivinskiy, 2018). About 57% of the works published in the magazine (that is more than a half) were translated from other languages – Greek, Latin, French, German, and Danish. English works were also presented, but they were translated using French as an intermediary language.

The staff of the magazine made up the translation elite of the mid-18th century. Some of them, for example, Kiriyak Kondratovich and Sergey Glebov, targeted at theoretical comprehension of the translation practice. Certainly, a particular question of translation theory should be considered within the general linguistic concept of the publisher and the authors of the magazine (Dictionary of Russian writers of the 18th century, 1988; Hizhnyak, 1988).

Problem Statement

One can name four works by Sumarokov related to the problems of the Russian and foreign languages (Ivanova, 2018). In the January issue, he publishes the essay "About extermination of foreign words from the Russian language", due to the flood of Europeanisms and dandy foreign words (Slozhenikina & Rastyagaev, 2014). The lexeme “истребление” (‘extermination’) in the title of the article is of an Old Slavonic origin and goes back to the verb ‘истребити’ (“exterminate”) from the Greek καθαρίζειν (Old Slavonic Dictionary (on manuscripts of the X-XI centuries), 1999, p. 272). In the ancient Greek language, κάθαρσις is catharsis (‘exaltation’, ‘purification’, ‘healing’). Speaking about extermination of foreign words from the Russian language, Sumarokov cared primarily about the purification of the Russian spirit and enlightenment of the mind, because any language is the reflection of the spiritual essence of the nation. The publisher sees the depth of the "infection" of the Russian language, unmotivated borrowings into which penetrated into all layers of vocabulary - from household to art and science, starting from the restroom table (‘nahtish’, ‘toalet’), continuing with abstract vocabulary (‘jeni’ instead of остроумие, ‘bonsan’ instead of “рассуждение”, ‘educatia’ instead of “воспитание”) and ending with the expression of feelings and emotions (‘magnifique’ instead of “великолепно”) The reality of Russians, their life and customs get another nomination. Sumarokov is aware of this not only as a linguistic problem. In his opinion, the divine organization of life turns into the chaos of meaningless existence. According to the magazine publisher, the Russian has transformed into a foreigner. The author equates him with a German, who by the will of fate was abandoned in the German Sloboda of Moscow. Therefore, he, not knowing the Russian language, has to alternate in his speech Russian words with German words. That's why absurd borrowings have appeared. However, Sumarokov was not a purist regarding the norms of the Russian language (Guskov, 2019). He explains the borrowings that came into the language as the names of "such animals, fruits and other things that Russia does not have" (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 61). Examples given by Sumarokov are: carp, sterlet, sable, sardelli, capers, olives, olives, citron, orange, skuas ('carp, sterlet, sable, sardelli, capers, olives, citron, orange, Pomeranian). Sumarokov diagnoses the Russian language: it is so infected with this 'ulcer' that 'it is already difficult to purify; and if this imaginary enrichment lasts long (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 59). The cure for this disease is the return of national ambition.

Language is the cultural memory of a nation, the semioosphere. In Sumarokov's opinion, the antiquity of language, its closeness to the primordial, untouched, pure state is the criterion of correctness, strength and expressiveness. Language must preserve the best pages of history for posterity. It is necessary to clear the Russian language, to return it to its original state.

Research Questions

To analyze four articles by A.P. Sumarokov, in which the writer expressed his opinion on the national Russian language of the mid-18th century and to show that the scientific discourse of that time was largely formed as a result of journal polemics:

To identify the specifics of the writer's language concept;

To present articles from different issues of the journal (January, February, May, December) as a single metatex, the continuation and development of the writer's views, and to show that the scientific discourse of that time was largely formed as a result of journal polemics.

Purpose of the Study

To formulate A.P. Sumarokov's position on Russian and foreign languages; to determine the place of the writer's language concept in the general culturological views of the author.

Research Methods

The system of views of the writer and publisher of "The Hardworking Bee" A.P. Sumarokov on Russian and foreign languages is presented by means of descriptive and comparative methods. These linguistic methods make it possible to reveal the specificity of the scientist's and writer's language concept. An integral part of the methodology were observations of the word usage in Sumarokov's texts. Linguocultural analysis implied studying the language of the mid-18th century as a phenomenon of Russian culture. Linguocultural analysis reflects the perception of cultural information in the language sign and text. The extra-linguistic method and the method of reconstruction based on historical sources were used to establish the phenomena of extra-linguistic reality, which influenced the problems of the article. Discussions about the journal's authors' team were based on the biographical method.


In the February issue, Sumarokov publishes an article "About root words of the Russian language". The article continues to develop the author's language views. The writer insists on the antiquity of the Russian language and says that the root words indicate the duration of the history of the Russian language. Ancient words, Sumarokov believes, give the Russian language natural beauty and splendor (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 91).

Russian scientists, writers, and poets should take care of the development and preservation of the Russian language - they play a major role in the formation of the language standard. They should form the public taste, language norm and language preferences. The writer must extinguish the sparks that can "destroy all our language" (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 96). Sumarokov considers a large number of neologisms unnecessary and useless for descendants: they are doublets, variants, and all other words that are foreign to Russian word formation and semantics.

In the article, Sumarokov offers the author's etymology. Sumarokov considers word-forming families of related words. Its examples indicate the names of speech, words, and voices. The first example of Sumarokov is a word-forming family with the main word "News". Sumarokov cites analogies from other languages, mainly from German, because he studied it in the Cadet corps and knew it very well. Sumarokov concluded that the Russian language is derived from Scythian language (Rastyagaev & Slozhenikina, 2015). He writes that the Russian language is"...son of the Scythian language" (Hardworking Bee, 1759, pp. 94-95). Sumarokov was the forerunner of the American linguist M. Svodesh, the founder of glottochronology. M. Svodesh proposed thematic groups to establish the relationship of languages, but Sumarokov did it much earlier. Sumarokov identified the groups of the most stable basic vocabulary. Sumarokov considered the most important terms of kinship, names of natural phenomena, animals and plants (as cited in Sitsyna-Kudryavtseva, 2014). Russian and German languages belong to the same genetic family, and Sumarokov believed that they have a common ancestor: "the Russian and German languages without any doubt come from the Scythian language" (Hardworking Bee, 1759, pp. 99-100). The article has a large number of examples. Sumarokov thus proved the high derivational capabilities of the Russian language: "Why introduce foreign words if by nature and by the example of our ancestors we are able to produce our original words," Sumarokov writes. For Sumarokov, his philological articles had not only linguistic, but also ideological and Patriotic significance. Russian people and the Russian language had the task of proving their claims to antiquity, greatness, and equality with modern and ancient sacred languages. Sumarokov proved the antiquity of the Russian language in order to prove the antiquity of Russian history and the Russian people. Russian language will be replenished with new barbaric words, and then Russian civilization may perish. If the Russian language uses national distinctive mechanisms for its development, it will lead to the strengthening of national identity.

Sumarokov’s article “To Typographic Typesetters” was released in the May issue. There he formulated the main theses concerning the Russian language in general and Russian spelling in particular.

Sumarokov declared the national character of the language: “it is impossible to deny its national use”, because grammar obeys the language, not the language obeys to the grammar (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 266). At the beginning of the article, in continuation of the theme of beauty, antiquity, the richness of the Russian language and its purification from unnecessary borrowings, Sumarokov suggests remembering that a manuscript is addressed to a Russian reader, not a foreigner, and foreign readers could learn Russian as Russians learn a foreign language. Sumarokov saw the transforming power of the Russian language, which processed foreign words according to its own rules. The idea of the necessity to transform foreign words according to the laws of the Russian language encircles the ideological core of the article. At the end of the discussion, Sumarokov again speaks about the corruption of the language, about the preference of German or French to the beautiful natural one. Sumarokov is convinced that only knowledge of the native language will reveal the beauty of foreign languages. He regrets about the sheer number of poor translations, calling them craps, and advises reading more ancient translations of Greek books. One should also avoid clerical expressions, which the writer considered a sign of arrogance of people in this position.

He called Russian graphics beautiful and was indignant against the typing of stress signs by typesetters - signs that added unnecessary diversity. Accents, according to his ironic remark, are needed only in alien words that are difficult to clean from the Russian language, because they were driven there by force (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 265). Sumarokov argued: in a pair of “сéрдца / сердцá” (‘hearts / hearts’), not every Russian person would make a mistake even without prior notice, but “put no sign anywhere, in any word” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 264).

While earlier Trediakovsky in his work “Talking about spelling ...” proposed the phonetic principle of “writing by phone”, Sumarokov was a follower of the morphological principle. Basing on the example of the preposition “при” (‘at’) that turned into prefix in the words, he wrote: “The preposition ‘при’ in the words made with it should be put down as it is, without changing the letters ‘И’ into ‘I’; for every word, wherever it is put, remains the same as it was, therefore it should keep its letters” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 267).

According to Sumarokov, language is a natural system capable of self-regulation: “the nature that falls into rudeness, softens it” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 272). The writer notes several cases of “severity” of the Russian language: a combination of three consonants, a joint of consonants at the end of the previous and the beginning of the following words. Sumarokov writes that he tries to avoid combinations of consonants that are unpleasant to the ear – not only in poetry, but also in simple speech, “however, you can’t always do this, but you don’t have to break the tongue, it’s better to have a harsh pronunciation than a weird compilation of words”, or unnatural improbability (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 272). Sumarokov believes that it is human nature to soften everything rough, and this need has given rise to music and versification.

Sumarokov writes about the need for a graphic sign to correspond to the nature of pronunciation: if spelling like ‘Марïа, Наталïа, элегïа’ does not correspond to the nature of Russian pronunciation, then it is necessary to write these words with the letter ‘Я’. Words that graphically look like ‘iунь, iуль’ also do not coincide with the Russian language nature, hence letters ‘A’ and ‘У’ should be changed to 'Я’ and ‘Ю’.

Can a language be easy? Does a language need exceptions? Or can forms be unified? Sumarokov states ironically: if nouns ending in ‘-ь’ refer to the feminine, maybe the words “камень”, “пламень” (‘stone’, ‘flame’) should also be feminine? After all, the fewer there are the rules, the easier it is to learn a language, “and some people think that the main dignity of a language is its ease” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 268). Sumarokov’s position is as follows: “I think one can find more dignity in the moderate difficulty of the language, because there is more variety, and where there is more variety, there is more pleasantness and beauty, in case the variety does not lose agreement ... The difficulty of studying the language takes more time, but will bring more pleasure”, Sumarokov writes in the May issue of the magazine (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 268) continuing the discussion.

In the December issue, another language problem arises - the clerical style and bureaucratic language (Alpatova, 2019; Rudnev, 2017). Sumarokov announces a high self-esteem in the article “About Copyists”, considering his versification to be at the very top of his power. The author credits himself with quickly bridging the gap between Russian readers / viewers, Greek and French literature and theater, made possible by the efforts of the publisher of the “Hardworking Bee”: “…Many German poets have not reached it yet, while I am alone, and especially at the time when our verbal sciences are barely born, and our language barely begins to be cleaned, managed to reach with my only pen” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 758). Due the affairs of the theater, which was led by Sumarokov, he was forced to communicate with the embittered sort of scribes, who spewed upon him “the most ignorant scribe of himself and the most stingy paper-pusher” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, p. 759).

Sumarokov parodies the scribes’ verses in one sentence, occupying 2 pages of the magazine. From the point of view of the court martial-in-chief Sievers, assigned to look after the theater, which was led by Sumarokov, everything in the theater must follow the rules and orders, and if verses are not written according to the laws, the prosecutor should draw up reports and register them. The overseer, whom Sumarokov calls a bedbug, has sucked to Melpomene’s body, scares her that he will “make verses, by Order and Stationery style, just for spite of you, other Muses and Apollo” and will infect Parnassus with a stingy spirit (Hardworking Bee, 1759, pp. 759-761). Sumarokov uses the word “подъячий” (‘scribe’) for those who cannot write correctly and can only take bribes. Sumarokov complains that there are still few people in Russia who can correctly copy texts [we are talking about Sumarokov dramatical plays], and he himself spends a lot of effort to teach Russian copyists. A scribe, without proper encouragement, “would want to be an illiterate registrar and rob rather than to learn spelling” (Hardworking Bee, 1759, pp. 761-762).


Thus, the problem of the Russian language has become one of the most important topics in the editorial policy of the “Hardworking Bee” magazine (Rastyagaev & Slozhenikina, 2019). This problem had not only a linguistic, but also a cosmogonic component for Sumarokov. According to Sumarokov, the pure and correct Russian language is the basement for the well-regularized, prosperous world and order. Sumarokov did not see the weakness of the Russian language compared to the ancient languages, he put it on the equal footing with Greek, praised its richness, beauty, versatility to express any concept, any thought, and feeling. The writer outlined the factors that were ruining the Russian language: unnecessary borrowings, official bureaucratic style, and damage of spelling with unnecessary signs. Sumarokov saw the important function of the writer in creating the language standard, and he himself taught literacy and style to young noblemen (Buharkin, 2015). We can conclude that Sumarokov was 250 years ahead of cultural research, saying that it is necessary to study foreign languages and cultures, because it is the comparison of languages and cultures that reveals the true beauty, richness, and identity of the native language and culture.


The reported study was funded by RFBR, Project No. 18-012-00356 А.


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