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XVIII. LANGUAGE

 

Every Russian would agree that the Russian language has all the good characteristics of other languages and none of their deficiencies. It is melodious as Italian, as domineering as German, and as precise as English.

One of its best qualities is the possibility of expressing minute nuances of meaning with the help of an infinite number of suffixes. For example, Loshadj is just a horse, while loshadka is a gay little adorable thing and loshadyonka is an exhausted working horse. If you want to use an enearment you may call it your loshadushka but if you mean a big and clumsy animal, it will be loshara and so on.

There is little 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, Marijka, Marisha, Marja, Mara, Marulya, Mulya, Marusya, Musya, Masya, Masyata, Maryuta, Maryukha, Masha, Mashuka, Mura 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.

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 a worse nightmare, best demonstrated each year at the university entrance exams.

In Russian there are more ‘buts’ than rules and every ‘but’ has to be learnt by heart by the unfortunate victims of the learning process. Another stumbling block is punctuation. There is no logic whatever. It just has to be remembered that before a subjunctive clause one should place a comma. Why? What’s it there for? Don’t be silly because it’s always been there.

Such an attitude is very characteristic of the Russian way of thinking. Some years ago the Academy of Sciences proposed a modest spelling reform, canceling the most atrocious exceptions to the rules. It met with public outcry. All rose up in arms against the reform. The chief reason was that if they spent years learning to spell, why should anybody else escape the ordeal?

A number of Russian words like balalaika, Bolshevik, collective farm, intelligentsia, dacha, steppe, tundra, vodka are used by English speakers. One word, ‘sputnik’ ( the 1-st Russian earth satellite), became so famous that the suffix ‘nik’ was added to form new English words, like ‘refusnik’.

However, the English language has had rather more influence on Russian. Before the Second World War, most borrowed words were German; during and after the war, they were English and English only. A stylish youngster may proudly declare, “I’ve bought new ‘shoosy’ by which he means exclusive, imported shoes.


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 116


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XVII. CONVERSATION | These strange Russians
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