ISSN 0032-9460, Problems of Information Transmission, 2011, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 378–397.
Pleiades Publishing, Inc., 2011.
Original Russian Text
A. Wierzbicka, 2011, published in Problemy Peredachi Informatsii, 2011, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 84–103.
THE INTERNATIONAL DOBRUSHIN PRIZE
Common Language of All People:
The Innate Language of Thought
The International Dobrushin Prize for 2010 was awarded to Anna Wierzbicka. Wierzbicka is aﬃl-
iated with the Australian National University, Canberra. The prize was presented on July 25, 2011,
at the International Mathematical Conference in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Kharkevich
Institute for Information Transmission Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Anna Wierzbicka’s Lecture
Esteemed Colleagues, Dear Friends!
I am so pleased to be able to meet with you that I want to take this opportunity to present to
you a talk about what is for me the most important thing: the common human language, the innate
semantic system shared by all people.
Russia is a country where semantics has traditionally been particularly strong (as has mathe-
matics), and where scholars have always devoted themselves to the study of meaning more than
Russia is also a country of obshchenie—an essential and uniquely Russian concept which has
no equivalents in other languages. (The anthropologist Dale Pesmen (2000) tried to explain it
for English readers with the word communion, and in translating Bakhtin’s frequent references to
obshchenie alternated dialogue with communion.)
Russia is a country of close and strong personal relationships which often last a lifetime even
when fate (sud’ba) disperses people to the furthest corners of the world.
And ﬁnally, Russia is a country of arguments, of intense arguments about abstract subjects.
Of this, you may remember, Turgenev had something to say. I myself have written an article
“Arguing in Russian,” which was published in the most recent number of The Russian Journal of
It is with great joy that I am now returning to the “obshchenie,” the discussions and arguments,
in which I was fortunate to be able to participate in Moscow more than forty years ago.
1. GENETIC CODE OF THE HUMAN MIND
The great advantage of mathematics lies in the fact that it is, in principle, the same for all people,
whereas there are ﬁve or six thousand languages, and they diﬀer profoundly from one another, not
only in form but also in meaning.
Despite the widespread practice of translation many bilingual people, especially bilingual writers,
are convinced that the diﬀerences between languages are so deep that true translation is impossible.
Nabokov, for example, regarded translation as fraud (obman). But the widespread conviction that
each language is a separate closed monad represents only one perspective. Another perspective,