Baltic accent

2020 Vol. 11 №3

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Sootechestvenniki (compatriots) in the 19th century: semantic profile based on the data of the National Corpus of the Russian language



The concept “sootechestvenniki” is one of the key tools for self-description of society; it is an instrument for drawing borderlines between “we” and “they”. The article describes the development of the meaning of this word since its coinage. The word appeared in the 18th cen­tury as a merger of the Old Slavic and Old Russian ‘otechestvo’ (fatherland, understood as one’s place of origin) and the French ‘compatriot’. This merger resulted in the formation of two new prototypical meanings: one is civic, collective and elevated, and the other gravitates to ethnicity since it is used to refer to Russians. With the strengthening of state institutions in Russia, the first meaning was bound to dominate and it did at the beginning of the 19th century. However, one should speak not about the synthesis, but rather about the discordance of the two meanings. In the 19th century, another meaning developed in the semantic struc­ture of the word: ethnic Russians living abroad. Gradually, the word acquired new evaluative meanings, while negative connotations still prevailed. The basic oppositions (we — they, here — there, ours — alien) interacted in an ambiguous way, substituting each other. A variety of hy­brid “compatriots” arose: we are there, they are here, etc. The heterogeneity of the seman­tics of the word reflects collisions within society, which faced a tragic internal split in the 20th century.


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