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Disputes over the Pronouns Sei and Onyi (Russian ‘This One’ and ‘That One’) in the History of Russian Culture and Standard Language in the 18th–19th Centuries

Lyubov G. Chapaeva


Under all circumstances, native speakers continue to evaluate the state of standard language during various stages of its existence. Reflection about written language composition, its rules, and its stylistic features can result in changes in at least some elements or links of the system. In the history of the standard Russian language, which had absorbed the Church Slavonic and Russian language environments, the Slavism issue has been causing disputes since the 1730s. Different attitudes toward Slavisms acquired ideological qualities; some of the most archaic linguistic units became symbols of the fight for freeing the language from the old, for its modernization, and for bringing it closer to the spoken word. The pronouns sei and onyi acted as such symbols for almost a century. The stylistic characteristics of demonstrative pronouns turn out to be inextricably intertwined with basic cultural oppositions: ours‒theirs, new‒old. The article utilizes well-known sources containing various kinds of speculations about the possibility and impossibility of using archaic pronouns, as well as sources that are less known or have not been used previously. This complex approach to analyzing one link of the language system is based on the close collaboration between the language and the culture during the evolution of the standard form of people’s language, and takes into account the influence of metalinguistic activity (expressed language reflection) on changes in the standard language.


Russian standard language; old and new; ours and theirs; Slavism; archaism


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