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Totalitarian Speech


Michal Glowinski

Totalitarian Speech brings together a range of texts on totalitarian manipulations of language. The author analyzes various phenomena, from the hateful rhetoric of Nazi Germany to the obfuscating newspeak of communist Poland, finding certain common characteristics. Above all, totalitarian speech in its diverse manifestations imposes an all-embracing worldview and an associated set of dichotomous divisions from an omniscient and authoritative perspective. This volume collects the work of over three decades, including essays written during the communist era and more recent pieces assessing the legacy of totalitarian ways of thinking in contemporary Poland.
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10. Russian, German, Jew


(Names of Nationalities in the Language of Communist Poland)

In ethnic languages, the names of nationalities are established by tradition, and therefore they are – so to speak – given in advance. Accordingly, it might appear that neither individual proposals nor the arbitrary determinations of authoritarian power could have much influence here. And to a certain extent this is precisely what we find, even when we examine the dominant practices in the communist People’s Republic of Poland. In many cases, nothing changed, since a Frenchman remained a Frenchman, an Englishman an Englishman, and a Senegalese a Senegalese.122 Clearly this was the natural shape of things, and nobody would have questioned these meanings. At the same time, we must ask whether a German remained simply a German, a Russian simply a Russian, or a Korean simply a Korean. When we attempt to answer these apparently uncomplicated questions, certain difficulties immediately present themselves. It soon becomes clear that things are not quite as simple and straightforward with the Russian and the German as they were with the Frenchman and the Englishman. This is no coincidence. Indeed, an examination of this question will hopefully allow us to reveal certain mechanisms that shaped the official molding of language in communist Poland.

In the use of national names, we find the expression of a fundamental tendency distinguishing linguistic practices within real socialism, and at the same time – in my view – one of the most characteristic aspirations of totalitarian power more generally....

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