A couple more philological/cultural digressions from Svetlana Boym’s Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia (see this LH post); first, on the two words for ‘truth’:
In Russian there are two words for truth — pravda and istina — and no word for authenticity. Pravda evokes justice, fairness, and righteousness; istina derives from “is” (est’), and means that it is a kind of truth and faithfulness to being. In the Orthodox saying, “pravda comes from the heaven, istina comes from the earth,” but the two words often sometimes reverse their meaning. By the nineteenth century pravda is the more colloquial term, while istina belongs to the literary language. Russian proverbs and folk sayings, as well as the Soviet anecdotes, are ambiguous when it comes to truth. (They only discuss pravda, never istina, which belongs to a different kind of talk.) On the one hand, there are warnings for truth-seekers: “truth is good but happiness is better,” or “if you tell the truth, you give yourself trouble”; and “every Pavel has his own truth”; or, on the grim side, “there was truth at Peter and Paul’s.” This last “truth” does not refer to the evangelical doctrine but rather to confession under torture in the infamous prison at the Peter and Paul fortress in St. Petersburg. On the other hand, pravda is also heroically celebrated: “truth does not burn in fire and does not drown in the water,” or “Varvara is my aunt, but truth is my sister.” Yet this common ambiguity about truth from Russian oral culture is rarely echoed in the writings of the Russian intelligentsia. In this respect Russian writers and intellectuals are unfaithful to the Russian folk tradition; many of them considered truth to be much better than happiness. They searched for the essential istina, the word that does not rhyme easily. [A footnote cites Nabokov’s essay “Leo Tolstoy.”] One feature, however, remains the same — truth has to be “Russian.” In the proverbs found in Dal’s dictionary, “Russian truth” is positively qualified, as opposed to “Gypsy truth” or “Greek truth” (“If a Greek is telling the truth, keep your ears open”). The affirmation of Russian truth and truthful behavior is one of the important cultural obsessions inherent in the intelligentsia’s discourse on Russian identity since the nineteenth century. It is closely linked to the relationship between Russia and the West and the attitudes toward Westernized conventions, rules and laws of behavior, conceptions of legality and the legal system, and boundaries between social and antisocial, lawful and unlawful, private and public. Truthful behavior is frequently seen as sincere behavior, defined in opposition to Western conventional manners.
The “is” etymology is disputed (Vasmer provides various other possibilities), but I’m interested in what readers familiar with Russian culture think about the rest of the quote.
And here’s a short bit about the words for ‘silence’:
Bakhtin distinguished between two Russian words for silence — tishina and molchanie, one referring to the silence of the world, where nothing makes sounds, and the other to the silence of people, where nobody speaks.
Succinct and convincing.