The University of Wisconsin Press

Slavic Studies / Language and Linguistics


Soviet Prison Camp Speech
A Survivor's Glossary
Compiled by Meyer Galler and Harlan E. Marquess

Soviet prison camp speech is, of course, as old as the camps themselves. Examples of it began to appear in the writings of former prisoners as early as the 1920s. It was Solzenicyn’s novel, however, that emphasized the need for a glossary of a jargon which still flourishes today in Soviet prison camps, and which promises to take an ever-increasing role in Russian literature of the future.

Prison camp speech is a substandard variety of Russian, used by Russian speakers of every geographical origin and social background who have been unfortunate enough to learn its use at first-hand. The idiom comprises legal and administrative jargon, borrowings from non-Russian Soviet nationalities, criminal argot, proverbs, abbreviations, obscenities, and elements of uneducated peasant speech. It is jargon which expresses the unique and grim experience of its users, and one which is often difficult for the outsider to comprehend.


The glossary is limited to the terms that Galler remembers having heard during his years of prison camp association, supplemented by some additional terms from the works of Solzenicyn. Some words and expressions found in standard dictionaries are included when they are particularity relevant to prison life and are of especial value to the glossary user. All words and expressions are listed alphabetically, in Russian Cyrillic, and each is followed by an English translation and a sample sentence (in Russian Cyrillic and in English) in which the term is used. In addition to the more than one thousand entries, the book contains an explanation of the origin of the glossary and an introduction which places Soviet prison camp speech in historical and linguistic perspective.


Meyer Galler was, at the time of publication, librarian at the California State College at Hayward. Harlan E. Marquess was associate professor in Slavic languages at the University of Wisconsin.

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March 1972
LC: 91-026346 PG
216 pp.   5 1/2 x 8 1/2
ISBN-10: 0-299-06080-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-299-06080-0
Cloth $30.00 s

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