Zhirmunsky Viktor Maksimovich

    фото В. М. Жирмунского
    02.08.1891 – 31.01.1971
    Dr. of Linguistics

    Viktor Maksimovich Zhirmunsky (21.07/02.08 1891, Saint-Petersburg - 31.01. 1971, Leningrad) – an outstanding Soviet philologist, linguist, literature theorist, folklorist, the founder of the Russian School of Germanic Studies. Zh. was born into the family of a doctor. On graduation from the Saint-Petersburg University (1912), Zh. was employed there as a teacher at the Chair of Romanic and Germanic Philology; in 1917, he was elected a professor of the Saratov University and in 1919, of the Petrograd University. In the 1920s, appointed as a chair head at the Petrograd University, he also directed the Department of Literary Arts, the Western Department of the Research Institute for Comparative Study of Literatures and Languages of the West and Orient (ILYaZV), and the Chair of West-European Languages at the Herzen Pedagogical Institute. In the 1930s-40s, he headed the Department of Western Literatures at the Institute of Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences (Pushkinsky Dom) and took an active part in the proceedings of the N. Marr Institute of Language and Thought. Evacuated during the Second World War to Tashkent, he headed the Institute of History and Philology of the Central Asia State University, a chair of the Tashkent State Pedagogical Institute, and the Folklore Department of the Institute of Language and Literature of the Uzbek Academy of Sciences. On his return to Leningrad, Zh. headed the Western Department of the Institute of Literature of the USSR Academy of Sciences and, after its reorganization, joined the Institute of Linguistics where he headed the Sector of Indo-European Languages since 1957 till his demise.

    In 1939, Zh. was elected a Corresponding Member, and in 1966, a Full Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences. His scientific activities enjoyed wide international recognition. He was awarded the titles of a Corresponding Member of the German (GDR) Academy of Sciences, an Honorary Member of the Saxon (GDR) Academy of Sciences, a Corresponding Member of the Bavarian (FRG) Academy of Sciences, a Corresponding Member of the British Academy of Sciences (London),  a Corresponding Member of the Danish  Royal Academy of Sciences (Copenhagen), a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Berlin Humboldt University (GDR), of the Krakow Jagiellonian University, of the Oxford University, and of many scientific societies.

    The issues he addressed in his linguistic works included comparative grammar of the Germanic languages, evolution of the grammatical system, regularities in the phonetic and grammatical processes in languages of various types, social and territorial differentiation of languages, the history of German and its dialects. Underlying Zh.’s understanding of linguistics was his history-based approach to language phenomena in general and a conviction that the history of a language is inseparable from that of its speakers. Zh. believed the main goal of comparative and historic studies to be elucidation of the internal evolvement regularities in languages of a given group rather than reconstruction of a hypothetical “proto-language” model. His fundamental German Dialectology, translated into German in 1962, actually proposes a comparative and historical grammar of German dialects revealing their common evolutionary trends. The combination of historical, comparative and typological approaches he proposed led to a totally new type of a comparative grammar as exemplified in his chapter on adjectives in the collective volume Sravnitelnaya grammatika germanskikh yazykov [A Comparative Grammar of the Germanic Languages] where Zh. recapitulates his investigations into the origins of the Adjective Category in variously structured languages. A hallmark of Zh.’s linguistic works is focused attention to the social aspect of speech. A founder of the Russian linguistic sociology, Zh. firmly linked the social differentiation of a language to its territorial variability, this idea especially evident in his publications of the 1920-30s on the living dialects of Russia’s German populations. Viewing the German settlements (“language islands”) as a linguistic laboratory to immediately observe the mechanism of language “blending”/ “leveling”, Zh. laid down theoretical foundations for the migration (“island”) dialectology.

    Folklore studies make up a significant proportion of Zh.’s heritage. The unique folklore material (folk songs and ballads of German colonists in Russia) he collected in the 1920s) served as a starting point for a comparison between oral song traditions and the German epic literature that later led to a folklore theory also drawing on the epics of the numerous nations of the Soviet Union. Zh. focused on the Turkic epos as a basis for broad comparative and historic research and for developing a comparative-historic typology of epos creation.  By combining historical-genetic and historical-typological comparison with deep penetration into the factual ethnographic, ethnic, and political history materials, Zh. managed to raise the theory of epos to its highest point, becoming the world’s greatest authority in epos studies.  

    A central point in Zh.’s work as a literature theorist and historian was that he viewed a work of fiction as an integral system underpinned by a form-content unity. He proposed a history-based method to analyze works of fiction where the events/characters they describe should be viewed as conditioned by their social environment, and the environment itself treated as a social (and, therefore, historical) fact. It is from this viewpoint that he treats works by Goethe, Herder and Byron when considering the problem of literature’s influence on society (e.g., works by Byron, Pushkin, Goethe and the Russian literature in general) as a fact of ideological and socially important influence. He believed the main prerequisite for a comparative history of literature to be the harmony between the processes of the social and historic development of humanity which predetermines the complex interaction among specific national literatures where the national uniqueness is closely linked to the universal, “panhuman” component which alone can lend any literature a substance and justification.

    An important place in Zh.’s literature studies occupy his poetry analyses structured as intercomparison of various national systems with a focus on their interdependence and mutual influence.

    Major works by V. M. Zhirmunsky:
    • Rifma, yeyo istoriya i teoriya [Rhyme, its History and Theory]. Pgr., 1923.
    • Bayron i Pushkin. Iz istorii romanticheskoy poēmy [Byron and Pushkin. Glimpses of the history of the romantic poem]. L., 1924.
    • Voprosy teorii literatury. Statii 1916-1926 [Literature: Theoretical Issues. Articles of 1916-1926]. L., 1928.
    • Die deutschen Kolonien in der Ukraine. Geschichte. Mundarten. Volkslied. Volkskunde. Charkow, 1928.
    • Natsionalnyy yazyk i sotsialnyye dialekty [National Language and Social Dialects]. L., 1936.
    • Gete v russkoy literature [Goethe in the Russian Literature]. L., 1937.
    • Uzbekskiy narodnyy geroicheskiy ēpos (v soavtorstve s Kh.T. Zarifovym) [Uzbek National Heroic Epos (co-authored with Kh.T. Zarifov)] M., 1947.
    • Nemetskaya dialektologiya [German Dialectology]. M.-L., 1956.
    • Ēpicheskoye tvorchestvo slavyanskikh narodov i problemy sravnitelnogo izucheniya ēposa [Epic Legacy of Slavic Peoples and Issues of Comparative Epos Study]. М., 1958.
    • Skazaniye ob Alpamyshe i bogatyrskaya skazka [The Legend of Alpamysh and the Heroic Tale]. M., 1960.
    • Narodnyy geroicheskiy ēpos. Sravnitelno-istoricheskiye ocherki [Traditional Heroic Epos. Comparative-Historical Essays] M.-L., 1962.
    • Vvedeniye v sravnitelnoye izucheniye germanskikh yazykov [Introduction into a Comparative Study of the Germanic Languages]. M.-L., 1964.
    • Istoriya nemetskogo yazyka. Izd. 5-oye [A History of the German Language. The 5th Edition]. M., 1965.
    Literature about V. M. Zhirmunsky:
    • Akademik V.M. Zhirmunskiy kak yazykoved [Academician Zhirmunsky as Linguist]/VYa, 1971, 4. p. 3-14.
    • Berkov P.N. V.M. Zhirmunskiy kak literaturoved [V. M. Zhirmunsky as a Theorist of Literature]/ Rus. lit. 1961, 3. p. 233-238.
    • Desnitskaya A.V. Ob istoriko-tipologicheskoy teorii ēposa. K 90-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya V.M. Zhirmunskogo [On the Historical-Typological Theory of Epos. To the 90th Birthday of V. M. Zhirmunsky]//Vestn. AN SSSR, 1981, No 9. p. 113-122.
    • Zinder L.R. Stroyeva T.V. V.M. Zhirmunskiy kak polevoy dialektolog [V. M. Zhirmunsky as a Field Dialectologist]//Problemy arealnykh kontaktov i sotsiolingvistiki. L., 1978. p. 152-162.
    • Gukhman M.M., Meletinskiy E.M., Yetkind E.G. Viktor Maksimovich Zhirmunskiy (1891-1971)// Philologica. Issledovaniya po yazyku i literature: Pamyati akad. V.M. Zhirmunskogo. L., 1973. p. 3-35.
    • Domashnev A.I. Problemy sotsialnoy dialektologii v trudakh V.M. Zhirmunskogo [Problems of Social Dialectology in V.M. Zhirmunsky’s Works] // VYa, 1987, No 6. p. 3-9.
    • Kononov A.N. V.M. Zhirmunskiy kak tyurkolog [V. M. Zhirmunsky as Turcologist]//Sov. tyurkologiya. 1971, No 2. p. 102-107;
    • Mironov S.A. V.M. Zhirmunskiy i istoriya izucheniya nemetskikh dialektov v SSSR [V. M. Zhirmunsky and the History of the Study of German Dialects in the USSR]// Izv. AN SSSR. Ser. lit. i yaz. 1971, 1.30, vyp. 4. p. 298-305;
    • Putilov B.N. V.M. Zhirmunskiy kak folklorist (k 70-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya) [V. M. Zhirmunsky as a Folklorist (to the 70th Birthday)]//Sov. ētnografiya. 1962. No 1. p. 107-110.