Vana ja uus kvantitatiivne formalism: kõrvutused ja väljavaated (Moskva Lingvistiline Ring ning Stanfordi Kirjanduslabor) / “Old” and “New” Quantitative Formalism: Comparisons and Perspectives (The Moscow Linguistic Circle and the Stanford Literary Lab)


  • Igor Pilshchikov California Ülikool Los Angeleses, Tallinna Ülikool / UCLA, Tallinn University



vene vormikoolkond, kauglugemine, kvantitatiivne formalism, Boriss Tomaševski, Boriss Jarho, Franco Moretti, Russian Formalism, distant reading, quantitative formalism


Kümme aastat tagasi leidsid Franco Moretti ja tema kolleegid oma uurimismeetodile mahuka määratluse – kvantitatiivne formalism, vastandades seda vene formalismile, mis nende arvates oli kvalitatiivne. Formalistliku teadusprogrammi tuumaks on kunstilise teksti struktuurilis-funktsionaalne analüüs, mida formalistid ise nimetasid morfoloogiliseks, ja seda võib pidada kvalitatiivseks. Kuid väide kvantitatiivse formalismi uudsuse kohta vastab tõele vaid osaliselt. Selle tõestamiseks keskendub autor kahe Moskva Lingvistilise Ringi liikme – Boriss Tomaševski ja Boriss Jarho – kvantitatiivse poeetika käsitlustele ning pöörab erilist tähelepanu Jarho leiutisele, mida hiljem nimetati kauglugemiseks. Kahe kvantitatiivse formalismi võrdlusel pole mitte ainult ajaloolis-teaduslik tähtsus, vaid ka metodoloogiline väärtus, kuna see tutvustab palju lähenemisviise, mis osutuvad tänapäeva digihumanitaariale kasulikuks.


Ten years ago, Franco Moretti and his co-authors described their research method as “quantitative formalism”, in contrast to Russian Formalism of the 1910s and 1920s. The structural and functional analysis of poetic texts is the nucleus of the formalist agenda, and it can indeed be considered “qualitative”. However, quantitative formalism’s novelty depends upon narrowly construing “formalism” as it was understood by the Petrograd association Obshchestvo izucheniya poeticheskogo yazyka (Society for the Study of Poetic Language) or Opoyaz. Other formalist groups had previously approached the question of quantitative formalism, but this fact is not known to many scholars for whom the canon is limited to the Opoyaz variant of formalism presented in Tzvetan Todorov’s anthology (1965) and the later collections of formalist essays, from the “standard” published by Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska in English in 1971 to the recent collection of Russian Formalists in Estonian translations edited by Märt Väljataga in 2014.

To demonstrate the historical development of quantitative analysis within Russian formalism, this essay focuses on the approaches to quantitative poetics developed by Boris Tomashevsky (1890–1957) and Boris Yarkho (1889–1942). Both Tomashevsky and Yarkho were members of the Moscow Linguistic Circle (MLC), co-founded by Roman Jakobson in 1915; the two scholars were recommended for membership in the MLC by Jakobson himself and elected unanimously at the same meeting on 21 June 1919. In 1960, Jakobson called Tomashevsky’s approach to verse “an example of the longest and, until recently, perhaps the most spectacular ties between linguistics, in particular the study of poetic language, on the one hand, and the mathematical analysis of stochastic processes on the other”. This approach “gave surprising clues for descriptive, historical, comparative, and general metrics on a scientific basis”. For example, Tomashevsky pioneered a statistical method of -his own invention that compares empirical indicators of verse rhythm with a theoretical model. James Bailey aptly called this approach “the Russian linguistic-statistical method for studying poetic rhythm” (1979).

His colleagues in the MLC recognized the importance of Tomashevsky’s quantitative verse studies at MLC meetings in 1919–1921. A collection of his essays was published with the title On Verse (O stikhe, 1929). However, later anthologies have included only those sections of his essays that do not contain statistics, charts, diagrams, or tables. There are no book-length monograph studies devoted to Tomashevsky in any language, and his name is less frequently mentioned than other formalists’. To a certain extent, Tomashevsky remains “le formaliste oublié”, as Catherine Depretto has recently put it (2018).

In his groundbreaking article on Yarkho published in Tartu in 1969, Mikhail Gasparov pointed out how Yarkho applied statistical methods with broader applicability than the study of versification alone. He used statistics for researching almost all aspects of the language of poetry and belles-lettres, motivated by a total quantification of poetics. In the paper, special attention is given to Yarkho’s then-novel approach of comparing many texts using a limited number of indicators. Specifically, he conducted a diachronic analysis of 153 five-act tragedies from 23 authors, using only four formal features: the number of scenes in the play as the measure of mobility of its action, the total number of characters in the play, the number of scenes with a particular number of speaking characters, and the standard deviation from the mean number of speaking characters in a scene. This is nothing else but an early example of “distant reading”, a term coined by Moretti many decades later.

The birth of new quantitative formalism outside Russia invites us to re-evaluate the history of Russian Formalism in toto. Yarkho, Tomashevsky, and their followers offered a plethora of ideas for quantifying literary evolution and individual literary works, defining specific aspects of literature that justify this approach, as well as meaningful conclusions which can be drawn from the resulting calculations. On the one hand, this re-evaluation is critical for understanding the historical development of Russian Formalism. On the other hand, a comparison of the historical and modern versions of quantitative formalism offers methodological insights that are relevant for researchers in contemporary digital humanities.


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Author Biography

Igor Pilshchikov, California Ülikool Los Angeleses, Tallinna Ülikool / UCLA, Tallinn University

Euroopa ja Euraasia keelte ja kultuuride osakonna vene kirjanduse korraline professor ja Tallinna Ülikooli Humanitaarteaduste instituudi kultuurisemiootika ja vene kirjanduse sihtrahastusega professor. Tema teadushuvide hulka kuulub 19. sajandi vene kirjandus, võrdlev kirjandusteadus, kirjandusteooria, värsiõpetus ja digihumanitaaria. Ta on Fundamentaalse Digitaalse Raamatukogu „Vene kirjandus ja folkloor“ (, infosüsteemi „CPCL: Võrdlev poeetika ja võrdlev kirjandusteadus“ ( ja Vene virtuaalne raamatukogu ( peatoimetaja ning rahvusvahelisi ajakirju Studia Metrica et Poetica (Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus) ja Pushkin Review (Slavica Publishers) toimetaja.


Igor Pilshchikov – PhD, Dr hab., Professor of Russian Literature at the Department of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Languages and Cultures, UCLA, and Research Professor of Semiotics of Culture and Russian Literature, School of Humanities, Tallinn University. His research interests include 19th-century Russian literature, comparative literature, literary theory, verse theory and digital humanities. He is the editor-in-chief of the Fundamental Digital Library „Russian Literature and Folklore“ (, the information system „CPCL: Comparative Poetics and Comparative Literature“ ( and the Russian Virtual Library (; as well as editor of the international research journals Studia Metrica et Poetica (University of Tartu Press) and Pushkin Review (Slavica Publishers).