Styling identities in post-Soviet cinema: the use of slang, argot and obscenities in contemporary Russian films
Christie, Varvara Alexandrovna
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Traditional Soviet conceptualisation of slang, argot and obscenities as ‘substandard’ is argued to have strong ideological underpinnings. Despite such lexis gaining increased visibility in public speech starting from Perestroika times, sociolinguistic research into their use is still scarce and often tainted by the same judgemental approach. Rejecting the association of slang, argot and obscenities with speakers’ insufficient linguistic competency, this study shifts attention to their identity construction values. Drawing largely on constructionist sociolinguistics, this thesis examines the use of slang, argot and obscenities in the scripts of six post-Soviet Russian films released in the period 1993-2005. It investigates how indexical connections between language and society were exploited, negotiated and, at times, reinterpreted in the films. Lexical variation is conceived here as a stylistic resource, and its functions in cinematic discourse are analysed in terms of statics (engagement with stereotypes) and dynamics (identity work) of characterisation. With regards to the former, the focused and economic conditions of film production determine that stereotypes are often drawn on to provide quick identification, especially in construction of minor characters. Stereotypes of criminals, youth and uneducated male adults were analysed, revealing that cinema does not only exploit direct associations between lexical varieties and social groups, but also engages with such stereotypes agentively, bringing to viewers’ attention their arbitrary nature and rigidity of boundaries, established by social categories. Language variation can also represent dynamics of characters’ identity work, which was analysed on two levels – interpersonal and ideational. The analysis revealed a multitude of functions, which on the interpersonal level drew on associations with familiarity, power and catharsis, yet defying stable connections between lexical varieties and structural elements. On the ideational level slang, argot and obscenities were shown to render characters’ orientation towards social structure and discourses, prevalent in the contemporary Russian society. This thesis thus shows that slang, argot and obscenities are a versatile meaning-making resource, employed in cinematic discourse for a variety of purposes. Focusing on the way character identities are styled through the use of lexical variation enabled this project to account for both the local instances of identity construction and the macro-level attempts of the filmmakers to critically engage with the social structures, exploring, questioning and reinterpreting them.