Welcome to our new edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. This week our author Elena will tell you about communication in Russia which reveals yet another layer of contradictions. We are going to start with the language and then continue with the conversation.
Loshad is just a horse, while loshadyonka is an exhausted working horse
Every Russian would agree that the Russian language has all the good characteristics of other languages and none of their deficiencies. It is as melodious as Italian, as domineering as German, and as precise as English. One of Russians’ best qualities is the possibility of expressing minute nuances of meaning with the help of an infinite number of suffixes. For example, Loshad is just a horse, while loshadyonka is an exhausted working horse, well on in years and bent under its load.
If you want to use an affectionate pet name for your horse, you may call it your loshadushka or loshadka, but if you mean a big and clumsy animal, it will be loshara, and so on. There is not much an English lover can do with the name of his beloved Mary, but his Russian rival can use any one of a host of pet names for the same girl, such as Marya, Marusya, Manya, Marijka, Marisha, Marja, Mulya, Musya, Masya, Masha, Mashunya, Munya, Mashura, and so on, all of them terms of endearment. (If he is angry with her, he may add to her name the derogatory suffix ‘k’, as in Mashka, Man’ka, Nyus’ka, etc.) Clearly, a Russian guy stands a much better chance of winning a girl’s heart than his West European or American rival. Nor does he ever get confused as to who is who in Russian novels.
- A few Russian words like balalaika, steppe, tundra, intelligentsia, vodka and bolshevik are used by English speakers. One word, ‘sputnik’ (the first Russian earth satellite), became so famous that the suffix ‘-nik’ was added to form new English words, like ‘beatnik’ and ‘refusenik’; or Yiddish — ‘nudnik’ (an extremely trying person).
- Russian has a few drawbacks. It is said that English is an easy language to learn to speak badly, and one of the most difficult to learn to speak well. Russian is difficult in both ways. Nobody, including the Russians themselves, speaks it correctly.
- Writing it is even more of a trial. In Russian there are more ‘buts’ than rules, and every ‘but’ has to be learnt by heart. For instance the word ‘zhare(n)ny’ (fried, roast) should be spelled with one ‘n’ if it is an adjective as in zhareny gus (roast goose), but with two if it is a passive participle and is accompanied by some descriptive adverb; in that case some prefix is also necessary: khorosho zazharenny gus (well-fried goose).
- Another stumbling block is punctuation. There is no logic whatsoever. It just has to be remembered that before a subordinate clause one should place a comma. Pause, or no pause, don’t forget the comma.
Conversation: a favourite subject of conversation is politics
Why? What’s it there for? Don’t be daft, because it’s always been there. Such an attitude is very characteristic of the Russian way of thinking. When the Academy of Sciences proposed a modest spelling reform to get rid of the most atrocious exceptions to the rules, it met with public outcry. Labourers and lecturers, army men and men of letters, ministers and members of parliament, all were against the change. The chief reason was that if they spent years learning to spell, why should anybody else escape the ordeal? A favourite subject of conversation is politics. Every Russian, sane or otherwise, will tell you how bad things are politically, and what he would if he/she were the President. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t have an original plan for saving Russia from incompetent rulers, or a detailed plan for its economic development. After that they will hold forth about a great many things — domestic affairs, the health of the younger daughter of their second cousin or the concept of the Holy Trinity.
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