Archives for June 2014

Tatars and Non-Tatars in the Crimea.

A typically thorough and illuminating post at Poemas del río Wang discusses the complex ethnic and religious makeup of the Crimea following the Russian takeover:

After the late 18th-century Russian conquest, for virtually all the ethnic groups, be they Jews, Armenians or Gypsies, there were two classifications: Tatar and non-Tatar: “ours” and “newcomer”. As a result of five hundred years of Tatar rule, even the ethnic groups which, due to their religion or occupation, maintained their identity, adopted the Tatar language in place of their mother tongue. The Crimean Armenians and Karaim Jews, with the section of the Silk Road from the Crimea to Poland in their hands, spoke Tatar even in late 17th-century Lemberg, and used Armenian or Hebrew only as a liturgical language. The small group of the latter that survives in Galician Halich, which we will write about, even today carve their gravestones in Hebrew characters, but in the Tatar language. And both groups distinguish themselves from the Armenian-speaking Armenians and Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews who moved into the Crimea after the Russian conquest.

The first “Tatar” group of Crimean Gypsies, the Gurbets (who called themselves Turkmens) according to their own traditions arrived in the Crimea together with the Tatars as professional horse traders. They retained this profession until the revolution of 1917. They took their horses around to the fairs, not only in the peninsula, but in the whole steppe of Novorossiya, and the fortune of their wealthiest members was estimated at twenty thousand silver rubles. The other, more or less nomadic groups of the “Tatar” Gypsies were also organized primarily by crafts: the Demerdzhis were itinerant blacksmiths, the Elekchis sieve-makers and basket-weavers, the Dauldzhis the professional musicians of Tatar weddings and Ramadan celebrations. Although all of them declared themselves Sunni Muslims, the Tatars looked upon them with suspicion, because they also practiced a number of Shia customs, referring to their Iranian origins. Some of their groups allegedly used the confession “There is no god, but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet” with the addition of “and Ali, the God-like”; and in the holy month of the Shiite martyrs they roamed the villages with flags and drums, mourning Hassan and Hussein.

After the Russian conquest, an influx of the non-Tatar Gypsies, called “Lakhins”, which is to say Poles, started from the other regions of the empire, primarily from Moldova and Bessarabia. By profession, they were primarily Ayudzhi, bear-leaders, wandering entertainers, who, in addition to the village circus, earned their meagre bread by cartomancy, chiromancy and other magic practices. They spoke Vlach, and declared themselves Muslims, but they did not go to mosque, celebrated their feasts according to pre-Islamic customs, and at the time of the 1831 census dictated their names in double, Muslim and non Muslim-form: “Mehmet, that is, Kili, Osman, that is, Arnaut, Hassan, who is also Murtaza…” Their nomadism was ended with the Tsar’s decree of 1809, which forced them to settle. After that time they learned the crafts of the earlier Gypsy groups, from which, however, they kept their distance until the very end.

There’s much more, including a grim section beginning “The question of who is Tatar and who not became really important in the 1940s,” and of course there are the usual magnificent illustrations. Don’t miss it, and may Studiolum and his fellow riverines of Wang live long and keep posting.

New Neruda Poems Discovered.

Fans of Pablo Neruda will be excited by this news, quoted here from Alison Flood’s story in the Guardian:

More than 20 unpublished poems by Pablo Neruda – works of “extraordinary quality” according to his publisher – have been unearthed among the papers of the late Nobel laureate in his native Chile.

Neruda’s Spanish publisher Seix Barral called the discovery “a literary event of universal importance”, and “the biggest find in Spanish literature in recent years”. The poems, which range from love poetry to poems dealing with everyday objects, were written by the mature Neruda, said the publisher, after 1950’s Canto General. They are, said the poet and academic Pere Gimferrer, who is involved with the publication of the poems, as full of “the imaginative power, the overflowing expressive fullness and the same gift, the erotic or loving passion” as Neruda’s best works. […]

The poems were found, said Seix Barral, in boxes of the poet’s manuscripts kept at the Pablo Neruda foundation in Chile, and they will be published in late 2014 in Latin America and early 2015 in Spain.

I look forward to reading them, but what I want to know right now (this is a question that’s bothered me over the years) is, how do Spanish-speakers say Seix Barral? Both names are Catalan, and I presume Catalan-speakers say /seʃbəˈrral/ or /seʒbəˈrral/ (depending on whether they assimilate the end of the first name to the start of the second), but do Spanish-speakers say /ˈseiks/? /seˈiks/? /ses/? Something else? If you know, please share.

A Blast (of Steam) from the Past.

One of the books I’m reading very slowly, a bit at a time (usually at bedtime), is Yuri Fedosyuk’s Что непонятно у классиков, или Энциклопедия русского быта XIX века [What we don’t understand in the classics, or An encyclopedia of Russian daily life in the nineteenth century] (see LH posts from 2004 and 2013), and I’m now on the section (towards the end of Ch. 12) dealing with train travel and the associated vocabulary. Fedosyuk writes (Russian at the end):

The locomotive was originally called a parokhod [which now means ‘steamship’]. This circumstance still confuses people who listen to Glinka’s well-known “Travel(ing) Song,” written to the lyrics of N.V. Kukolnik:

A column of smoke boils up, the parokhod smokes…

And further on:

And faster, quicker than the will
The train races along in the open field.

The song was written in 1840, when the short railway line between Saint Petersburg and Tsarskoye Selo was already in operation.

Eventually I was able to marvel at the early date of the song (and chuckle at the fact that whoever translated the lyrics here actually renders пароход as “steamship”!), but my first reaction was much like Proust’s when his palate encountered the soaked bit of madeleine: I was plunged into the dark backward and abysm of time.

At the tail end of the ’70s, between the hell of my last years of grad school (borrowing money for a PhD I was never to get and guiltily avoiding my dissertation advisor) and the hell of my first years in New York (whither I followed a woman who immediately dumped me, leaving me alone, bitter, and broke in a cubicle in a basement in Jamaica, Queens, sharing a bathroom with half a dozen Chinese students and forced to stand in the snow on the street to make job-hunting calls from a pay phone), I had a heavenly couple of years living alone in a $25-a-week apartment on Bradley Street in New Haven, working minimum-wage jobs in bookstores and movie theaters and spending all night talking poetry or arguing politics. My dearest friend in those days was a wonderful artist named Lisa Gillham (who hailed from Covington, Kentucky, to which she has long since returned — she recently got a River Cities Historic Preservation Award for the work she’s been doing in her neighborhood of Latonia, and you should all run out and buy her book if you like old pictures of historic towns); we loved a lot of the same music, and she was particularly fond of a record of mine that collected a bunch of songs sung by the Red Army Chorus (it must have been one of these, but after all these years I have no idea which). It had “Polyushko-polye” (YouTube) and “Oi ty rozh'” (YouTube) and “V put’” (YouTube), all of which I sing in the shower to this day, and a bunch of others that have receded into dark corners of my long-term memory, including the Glinka. Suddenly, seeing those tongue-twisting words (it takes a bit of work to get “shibche voli poezd mchitsya v chistom pole” right) I was back in New Haven, listening with my friend to the record I eventually gave her because she loved it so much. Ah, youth! Ah, Alexandrov Ensemble!

Fedosyuk’s original Russian:

Паровоз поначалу назывался… пароходом. Это обстоятельство до сих пор смущает слушателей знаменитой «Попутной песни» М.И. Глинки, написанной на слова Н.В. Кукольника:

Дым столбом – кипит, дымится

А далее:

И быстрее, шибче воли,
Поезд мчится в чистом поле.

Песня сочинена в 1840 году, когда уже действовала короткая железнодорожная линия между Петербургом и Царским Селом.

The Nihilist Buffs His Fingernails While Society Crumbles.

in Every Russian Novel Ever, Mallory Ortberg provides chapter titles summing up the classic nineteenth-century Russian realist novel. You can take them as representing separate novels or as a single monstrous work that is to War and Peace as War and Peace is to a Pushkin short story. Anyway, it’s funny as hell. (To save you wading through the comments, the only decent suggestion there is “Friends Swindle You While You Lounge on a Couch.”)


My wife asked me about the etymology of the verb root in root for ‘support (a sports team)’; I looked it up in the American Heritage Dictionary and told her it was “possibly alteration of rout ‘to bellow, used of cattle.'” But I thought I’d better get a second opinion, so I checked the OED, which includes it in the entry for root “Of a pig: to turn up the ground, etc., with the snout in search of food,” updated September 2010, and says:

It has been suggested that it may be a transferred use of the sense ‘to dig’, ‘to turn up the ground’, perhaps ‘with the imagery of stamping so hard that one is visualized as digging a hole’ (see G. Cohen Stud. in Slang (1989) II. 67–8). A connection with rout v.4 [“Of cattle: to bellow; to low or moo loudly”] has also been suggested, but is unlikely on phonological grounds (although compare rout v.9) and also perhaps also on semantic grounds, since some early examples emphasize stamping and clapping rather than cheering.

The first citation is from 1889 (World (N.Y.) 7 June 11/4 “All during the game Jim never blinked, and he rooted more energetically and with twice the freedom of a Yorkshire porker”); the most recent gives me great pleasure:

2004   M. St. Amant Committed xx. 160 How can anyone root for the Yankees and claim to have a human soul?

Also under this root they include the Austral. and N.Z. coarse slang sense (‘fuck’), with the first citation from 1922, in (of all things) J. Joyce Ulysses iii. 719 (“All the poking and rooting and ploughing he had up in me”).

Splitting Russian.

Konstantin Zarubin discusses (Russian link) the new Russian law extending the purview of Roskomnadzor to all sites written in Russian (with 3,000+ readers a day). Anywhere. This ludicrous overreach is met by Zarubin with a solution that looks silly at first but makes more sense the more you think about it: break up the Russian language. If they could do it to Serbo-Croatian, why not Russian? The Russian-speakers of Ukraine can speak Ukraino-Russian, those of Belarus Belaruso-Russian, and so on. Sashura tries to decide (Russian link) whether to express himself in Anglo-Russian or Franco-Russian. Fortunately, it is easy for the foreign student to read all varieties… though if Russia isolates itself sufficiently, who knows what the future holds?

The Anxious Scribe.

I just ran across a quote attributed to an Egyptian scribe named Khakheperresenb (Walter Jackson Bate, in The Burden of the Past and the English Poet, says 2000 BC, Wikipedia says ca. 1900 BC) that I found irresistible:

Would I had phrases that are not known, utterances that are strange, in new language that has not been used, free from repetition, not an utterance which has grown stale, which men of old have spoken.

A lot of other people have found it irresistible, too (four thousand years ago they were already complaining everything had been written!); if you put “Would I had phrases that are not known” into Google Books search you get a whole lot of hits. But it’s very odd that the Wikipedia article linked above cites no references other than Bate; at first I had the uncharitable suspicion Bate might have invented both scribe and saying, but then I found it in Thomas Eric Peet’s A Comparative Study of the Literatures of Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia: Egypt’s Contribution to the Literature of the Ancient World (Oxford University Press, 1931). Peet attributes it to “the Complaint of Khakheperresenb, of which a fragment has come down to us on a pupil’s writing-tablet now in the British Museum,” but if you search on “Khakheperresenb” at the museum’s site you get no results. So I ask the Varied Reader: do you happen to know anything more about this elusive author, fragment, and quote? Is there a currently more favored form of the name Khakheperresenb? The thanks of a grateful Hat await you.

Update. The thanks of a grateful Hat go to MMcM, who points out that the name is better spelled Khakheperraseneb. See thread below for British Museum link and translation.

Football vs. Soccer.

As an American, I think I’m fairly typical in not paying much attention to soccer except when the World Cup comes around every four years, at which point I root mainly for Argentina, where I went to high school — I’m pleased, of course, when the U.S. wins, but in men’s soccer they have little hope of winning it all, and if I want to root for a hopeless cause I’ll stick with my Mets (currently battling it out for last place in the NL East). I’m certainly typical in calling it “soccer” rather than “football.” I’ve always been a little puzzled by the vitriol people who are not Americans can exhibit over this terminological difference, vitriol they do not usually expend over (say) “trunk” vs. “boot” or “eggplant” vs. “aubergine.” After all, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that the Italians call it calcio, and the word “soccer” was, after all, created by Brits. At any rate, I was pleased to discover that Stefan Szymanski, a University of Michigan professor, has gone into the history of the difference in a paper (pdf) called “It’s Football not Soccer,” and I’m posting it to celebrate the start of the 2014 Cup; you can also read a press release about it, or watch a short video in which he summarizes the main points.

One of the things I learned from him that most surprised me was that “soccer” was quite popular in the U.K. up until the 1980s (though it never rivaled “football”); here’s a telling paragraph:

Football biographies and autobiographies are particularly interesting in this respect. Famous personalities are likely to be sensitive to the choice of name, given the intense scrutiny of the lives and actions of these individuals. Given the antipathy to the word “soccer” in the UK today, it might surprise many people to know that many of the most famous personalities of the 1960s and 70s used the word “soccer” in their autobiography. Thus Sir Matt Busby, the celebrated manager of Manchester United in the 1950s and 60s entitled his autobiography “Soccer at the top”. One biography of George Best, the most famous player of the era, was titled “George Best: the inside story of soccer’s superstar”. Jimmy Hill, one of the most influential figures in the development of English football entitled his autobiography as a player “Striking for Soccer” in 1961, while the autobiography of John Charles, a great player of the 1950s was titled “King of Soccer”.

From his conclusion:

The main purpose of this article has been to illustrate the trends in usage. It is possible to offer some speculations in explanation of these trends. One key difference in the usage of “soccer” in Britain and the US seems to have to do with social status. In Britain the word seems carried both an elitist connotation – the language of the ruling class – and an air of informality. It was, possibly, just a little too colloquial in the first half of the twentieth century for use in high-brow newspapers such as The Times of London or to be used in the title of a book. In the US it seems to have had a more democratic flavor – everyone used it – and more easily shifted from a colloquialism to a proper name because of the utility of distinguishing it from the other “football”.

There are lots of good details in the paper, which I commend to your attention. If you have any interest in Russian soccer/futbol, I also recommend Robert Edelman’s Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Workers’ State, which I’m reading with great enjoyment; it’s teaching me a great deal about the history of working-class Moscow (especially the Presnya district from which Spartak grew) as well as that of the soccer team whose long rivalry with Dinamo is comparable to those of Real Madrid with Barcelona and Celtic with Rangers. Anyway, my apologies to those who are already fed up with all things Cup-related; regular non-sports-related programming will resume tomorrow!

Update. I just got a timely delivery from Amazon, the copy of David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer I ordered after realizing from the Edelman book that I needed to read it. Looks great, and will be perfect reading over the next month!

The Rise of Local Languages in India.

India After English?” is the misleading title of Samanth Subramanian’s very interesting piece for NYRBlog; English, the only national language India has, isn’t going anywhere, but the economic boom the country has been experiencing means that the local languages are becoming much more prominent in print:

For a couple of decades now, the rise of English-language journalism was assumed to be a natural consequence of India’s steady gains in literacy and rapidly growing middle class, which now includes more than 200 million people. In 1990, India had 209 English dailies; two decades later, the number had increased nearly seven-fold, to 1,406. […]

Most recently, though, India’s major newspapers have been expanding in a different direction. In 2012, Bennett Coleman, the publisher of The Times of India, the world’s largest English daily, started a Bengali newspaper and poured fresh resources into its older Hindi and Marathi papers. Last October, the publisher of The Hindu, a 135-year-old English paper, launched a Tamil edition. Another leading English daily, The Hindustan Times, has enlarged the staff and budgets of its Hindi sibling Hindustan. And this past winter, a few months before the election, The Times of India launched NavGujarat Samay, a Gujarati paper for Modi’s home turf.

In nearly every case, the publishers of these new papers aim to be more sophisticated than the existing vernacular press. Editors are asked to court the young and the middle class by covering technology, world news, and business, so that the Ukrainian revolution or the launch of a new iPhone, for example, gets as much serious play as in an English daily. The tone is less partisan, the style less tabloid. These papers are finding exceptionally diverse audiences: youngsters buying their first paper, older adults to whom a paper has never been marketed before, people who are the first readers in their families, and urban subscribers who purchase The Hindu in Tamil or Bennett Coleman’s Bengali paper alongside their regular English daily.

A decade or more ago, the publishers of English newspapers scorned Indian language readers, assuming that, as hundreds of millions more Indians became literate, they would turn automatically into consumers of English papers. But the steady rise in literacy rates—from 64.8 percent of the population in 2001 to 73 percent in 2011—has had unexpected consequences. The new middle class is increasingly found in smaller towns, and prefers to read in its own regional language, rather than English. Meanwhile, major media houses have discovered that English readership is declining or stagnant, and that advertising rates in English papers cannot be pushed much higher. Along with an influx of politicians from non-elite backgrounds and the growing importance of regional and state-level politics, these developments have begun to challenge the assumption that English is the default medium of Indian public life. By putting more energy into regional languages, said Ravi Dhariwal, the chief executive of Bennett Coleman, “We’re just adapting to the way our country is changing.”

You can read more about this heartening development, including further analysis of the causes (as well as a great deal about politics), at the link.

It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Job.

I love reading Gasan Guseinov; among other things, he’s a reliable source of Russian slang and allusions that are often new to me. This column on the verbal formulas we use to help us find our way through life ends with a truck driver contrasting Western Europe with Russia, saying that when he goes west he says to himself “Все продумано” (Everything has been thought through), so that if he doesn’t understand something he thinks about how things might be arranged for the greatest convenience of the user and he can usually figure it out (in this section I learned the colloquial use of the word азимут ‘azimuth’ from the phrase “и вот по этому азимуту идти” ‘and take my bearings from that’). But when he heads back east, he repeats to himself “Все схвачено”: “Значит, надо забыть об удобстве и тупо искать этого вот того, у которого все схвачено. Я так всегда делаю. И за двадцать лет ни разу не ошибся.” Literally the phrase means ‘Everything is seized/caught’: ‘That means you have to forget about convenience and dumbly/blindly look for the guy who has everything seized. I always do that, and in twenty years I’ve never once been mistaken.’ But that didn’t make much sense, so I went to my go-to guy for Russian allusions, Sashura, who explained to me that “Все схвачено” is a slang expression referring to someone who has all the right connections and reliable protection, who is “in control and using it for his own corrupt advantage, for profit.” He adds, “It’s very interesting that this expression, which I’d date back to the ’60s-’70s, that grew out of the shortages and controlled distribution of goods and services, has survived in our time of, supposedly, market economy.”

He finishes up with this intriguing question: “I loved his last phrase: Поэтому дома работа тяжелая, а там – трудная. How would you say it English? At home, work is a grind, over there, it’s toil?” I wondered the same thing; the first word for ‘hard, difficult,’ тяжелый, literally means ‘heavy,’ while the second, трудный, is derived from труд ‘labor, work,’ and we don’t have a comparable distinction in English. I tentatively suggested “here it’s a burden, there it’s a task,” but that’s not really satisfying, so I thought I’d throw it open for suggestions.