IN THE CITY OF N.

Lately I’ve been musing on general and perhaps unresolvable questions about what might be called the culture of Russian literature. One such topic is the turn to social realism that it took in the 1840s and maintained more or less uninterrupted for generations; all of Europe had a Balzac period, but only Russia was so stubborn about it. (There is an interesting discussion about this going on at XIX век [The tyranny of the radical critics, part 1, part 2].) Now, as I read Sollogub‘s 1841 Аптекарша [The druggist's wife], another has started vexing me. The story begins in a way that’s become a cliché/signifier for Classic Russian Literature: “Уездный город С. – один из печальнейших городков России” [The provincial city of S. is one of the saddest towns in Russia]. This raised a smile, but when the second section started with a jump in time and space and I read “Городок, в который я вас хочу перенести, читатель мой благосклонный, совсем не похож на тот, которым я так грустно начал повесть свою об аптекарше” [The town which I wish to carry you off to, gracious reader, is completely unlike that with which I began my tale of the druggist's wife in such a melancholy way], it occurred to me to wonder about that cliché. Why are towns in Russian literature always (or almost always) unnamed? Once you descend below the two great capital cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, there is nothing. In the United States, every city has associated books; we can all think of famous novels set in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but even relatively two-bit regional centers like Albany, N.Y., have dedicated chroniclers like William Kennedy. You can get to know pretty much any city in America by immersing yourself in novels if you’re so inclined; authors love to try to do for their hometowns what Joyce did for Dublin.

Not so in Russia. Ancient towns like Rostov and Pskov; important regional centers like Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan; proud Siberian cities like Tomsk and Irkutsk—none of them, as far as I know, feature in literature beyond occasional mentions. Authors came from them, but they didn’t write about them except in their memoirs (as in Gorky’s autobiography about growing up in Nizhny). Now, one obvious response would be that Russia is far more centralized than the U.S., and all cultural life is concentrated in the capitals; while there’s some truth to that, it needn’t have had such a drastic result. Even if writers had to live and work in Petersburg or Moscow to have a career, why couldn’t they have written with affection (or spite, as the case may be) and deep local knowledge about the places they were from or in which they had spent time? Instead, when they wrote about cities other than the capital it was almost always a generic “city of N” (or S, or whatever other letter caught the writer’s fancy). This seems to be changing (recent novels have been set in places like Kazan and Kaliningrad), but it was true for a very long time, and I think it requires explanation.

Addendum (Dec. 2014): I’ve just found a perfect example at the start of Anastasia Marchenko’s story Гувернантка (“The governess,” from her collection Путевые заметки; see this post):

Три часа пробило на колокольнѣ маленькаго городка, названіе котораго я не нахожу нужнымъ объявлять вамъ, не потому, чтобы я хотѣла скрыть тщательно отъ васъ это названіе, или чтобъ подобная таинственность была необходима для лицъ моей повѣсти; — совсѣмъ нѣтъ я, просто, не хочу пуститься въ географическое описаніе и заставить васъ отыскивать (пожалуй, еще по картѣ) въ такой-то губерніи. подлѣ такой-то рѣчки, незамѣченный доселѣ городокъ… Не все ли равно, въ Сибири, или въ Украйнѣ совершалось это происшествіе нашей вседневной жизни? вѣдь вы не пойдете собирать справки въ вѣроятіи разсказа, а принуждены вѣрить автору на слово.

Three o’clock sounded from the bell tower of a small town, whose name I don’t feel I need to announce to you, not because I want to carefully hide the name from you, or because that kind of secrecy was essential for the people in my story; not at all — I simply prefer not to embark upon a geographical description and force you to track down (maybe even on a map) in such-and-such a province, by such-and-such a river, a town hitherto unnoticed… Isn’t it all the same whether these events of our daily life took place in Siberia or Ukraine? After all, you’re not going to go around collecting information to verify the likelihood of my story, you’ll have to take the author’s word for it.

I note that she uses the preposition в rather than на with the name of Ukraine, as preferred by Ukrainians today; I don’t know what current use was in the 1840s or whether it depended on geography (she grew up in Kovno, now Lithuanian Kaunas, and moved to Odessa as a teenager, shortly before publishing the stories), but I thought it worth mentioning.

Comments

  1. Dmitry Prokofyev says:

    What about, say, Kiev and Odessa? Granted, neither is strictly speaking a Russian city, but both belonged to Russian Empire/Soviet Union and figure prominently in Russian literature: the former e.g. in Bulgakov and the latter e.g. in Kataev.

  2. Mirgorod, you know, does actually exist. But as a general matter, you are right. Though comparison with the US is somewhat unfair. What about some other country with a great literary tradition and hyper-centralized? Maybe, France?

  3. What about, say, Kiev and Odessa? Granted, neither is strictly speaking a Russian city
    That reminds me of Radio Erevan.

  4. I can also think of novels or parts of novels set in Riga and Warsaw. They are also not (strictly speaking) Russian cities.

  5. Though (in case that wasn’t clear) they were in the Russian Empire or the USSR when the novels were written.

  6. But is the namelessness just a failure to label places that may otherwise be identifiable, or is it the namelessness of the entirely fictional? Sometimes, at least, it was the former. Here’s Douglas Hofstadter on the street names of Crime and Punishment:

    [...] I happened to look at three different English paperback translations, and found the following curious situation.
    The first sentence employs the street name “S. Pereulok” (as transliterated). What is the meaning of this? A careful reader of Dostoevsky’s work who knows Leningrad (which used to be called “St. Petersburg”—or should I say “Petrograd?” [DH is writing in 1979]) can discover by doing some careful checking of the rest of the geography in the book (which incidentally is also given only by its initals) that the street must be “Stoliarny Pereulok”. Dostoevsky probably wished to tell his story in a realistic way, yet not so realistically that people would take literally the addresses at which crimes and other events were supposed to have occured. In any case, we have a translation problem; or to be more precise, we have several translation problems, on several different levels.
    First of all, should we keep the initial so as to reproduce the aura of semi-mystery which appears already in this first sentence of the book? We would get “S. Lane” (”lane being the standard translation of “pereulok”). None of the three translators took this tack. However, one chose to write “S. Place”. The translation of Crime and Punishment which I read in high school took a similar option. I will never forget the disoriented feeling I experienced when I began reading the novel and encountered these streets with only letters for names. I had some sort of intangible malaise about the beginning of the book; I was sure that I was missing something essential, and yet I didn’t know what it was … I decided that all Russian novels were very weird.
    Now we could be frank with the reader (who, it may be assumed, probably won’t have the slightest idea whether the street is real or fictitious anyway!) and give him the advantage of our modern scholarship, writing “Stoliarny Lane” (or “Place”). This was the choice of translator number 2, who gave the translation as “Stoliarny Place”.
    What about number 3? This is the most interesting of all. This translation says “Carpenter’s Lane”. And why not, indeed? After all, “stoliar” means “carpenter” and “ny” is an adjectival ending. So now we might imagine ourselves in London, not Petrograd, and in the midst of a situation invented by Dickens, not Dostoevsky. Is that what we want? Perhaps we should just read a novel by Dickens instead, with the justification that it is “the corresponding work in English”. When viewed on a sufficiently high level, it is a “translation” of the Dostoevsky novel—in fact, the best possible one! Who needs Dostoevsky!

    For contrast, here is Tolkien in “On Fairy-Stories”:

    As for the beginnings of fairy-stories: one can scarcely improve on the formula Once upon a time. It has an immediate effect. This effect can be appreciated by reading, for instance, the fairy-story The Terrible Head in the Blue Fairy Book. It is Andrew Lang’s own adaptation of the story of Perseus and the Gorgon. It begins “once upon a time,” and it does not name any year or land or person. Now this treatment does something which could be called “turning mythology into fairy-story.” I should prefer to say that it turns high fairy-story (for such is the Greek tale) into a particular form that is at present familiar in our land: a nursery or “old wives” form. Namelessness is not a virtue but an accident, and should not have been imitated; for vagueness in this regard is a debasement, a corruption due to forgetfulness and lack of skill. But not so, I think, the timelessness. That beginning is not poverty-stricken but significant. It produces at a stroke the sense of a great uncharted world of time.

  7. As for France, I’m no expert, but Dumas père and Marcel Pagnol have written about Marseille, Alphonse Daudet and René Belletto have set novels in Lyon, I imagine others more versed in French literature could come up with other examples.

  8. But is the namelessness just a failure to label places that may otherwise be identifiable, or is it the namelessness of the entirely fictional?
    The latter. We’re talking about cities, not Petersburg street names, which are an entirely different kettle of fish (and D’s concealment of them is more a personal quirk than any sort of cultural habit/expectation; most Petersburg novels take care to situate the action in named locations).

  9. Re: France: Madame Bovary takes place in parts of Normandy that Flaubert knew well from his youth. (The city of Yonville itself is fictional, but Rouen of course is real, and accurately described in the book.) Likewise his short story Un cœur simple.

  10. But is the namelessness just a failure to label places that may otherwise be identifiable, or is it the namelessness of the entirely fictional?
    There’s a third possibility: the author wants to tell a story about “concrete types”, characters who could be found in any city whether real or imaginary. The author avoids naming places so that literal-minded readers are less tempted to trivialize the story by mistyping or “grounding” it (“Ooh, that’s so Odessa!”).
    Examples of this kind of story abound. I just finished Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1797), a very long (and engrossing) novel which does not name a single city, real or fictional. Another example: Middlemarch takes place in a typical, non-existent town, although in the novel I think London or Oxford is mentioned.
    Such an author is not writing a detective story about “where was it done” instead of “who done it”. Such an author intends to be fictionally realistic, not entirely fictional. I have to say that I’m not quite sure what “entirely fictional” is supposed to mean. Even Kafka’s novels, or science fiction stories, are not entirely fictional.
    Places in novels may be real or non-existent, it doesn’t matter much to me. I guess it’s fair to say that I don’t obsess about realism or reality in novels. I hope this is acceptable.

  11. As to Middlemarch: small portions of the plot play out in London and Oxford, I think. Of course Dorothea’s honeymoon takes her to Rome. But what I took away from that was not Rome, but memory:

    Our moods are apt to bring with them images which succeed each other like the magic-lantern pictures of a doze; and in certain states of dull forlornness Dorothea all her life continued to see the vastness of St. Peter’s, the huge bronze canopy, the excited intention in the attitudes and garments of the prophets and evangelists in the mosaics above, and the red drapery which was being hung for Christmas spreading itself everywhere like a disease of the retina.

  12. Dmitry Prokofyev says:

    That reminds me of Radio Erevan
    Yeah, well, small wonder: more or less everything there is to say about the country’s life and history can be found in “Армянское радио” jokes.

  13. There’s a third possibility: the author wants to tell a story about “concrete types”, characters who could be found in any city whether real or imaginary.
    Yes, of course, and that would explain the odd exception to a situation in which most books are set in named places. It does not begin to explain the Russian situation.

  14. Bill Walderman says:

    “Russian literature. One such topic is the turn to social realism that it took in the 1840s and maintained more or less uninterrupted for generations;”
    I’m not sure I agree with this completely. The European novel — Zola, Conrad etc. — remained almost exclusively in a realistic mode until the early decades of the 20th century, when –just about the time when the Communists in Russia put an end to experimentation. But in Russia, Andrei Bely, Boris Pilnyak, Zamyatin, and of course Bulgakov, and others had been experimenting with departures from strict realism. And in Western Europe and the US, even after authors such as late Henry James, Joyce, Proust, Gide and Faulkner moved away from strict realism, other writers (e.g. E. M. Forster) continued to write in a largely realistic mode. So maybe the Russian experience wasn’t as unique as it might seem–but for the intervention of totalitarian politics.

  15. Hat, you ask: “why couldn’t they have written with affection (or spite, as the case may be) and deep local knowledge about the places they were from or in which they had spent time?” I ask: why does it vex you that they didn’t ?
    I get the impression that you feel they did not do things “naturally”. But I can imagine a Russian being vexed at all the local detail in non-Russian novels, asking: “why are they forever writing with affection etc?”
    Don’t get me wrong: I find your question interesting, I too would like to know “what is behind” that Russian practice. I would also like to know what is behind the conviction that “affection (or spite) and deep local knowledge etc” are soooo important, even natural.

  16. What have Russian litcritics and sociologists said about this ? What have litcritics and sociologists said about the importance to 19C Anglophone bourgeosies of local Burg color?
    My historical knowledge is very slim. Was it not the case the Russian and Anglophone reading classes in the 19C preferred different things for different reasons ? I have no idea whether what counts today as great 19C Russian literature actually sold much at the time. Maybe readers merely took what was on offer – just as in the West.
    I bet Conrad could tell us more about these matters.

  17. I have a very simple theory. Writers in 19th century Russia were extremely careful not to offend anyone of importance.
    So if you write a novel which features unfavorably governor of, say, Nizhny Novgorod and everyone in Russia knows that Prince N. occupied this post for the last twenty years, the results would not be very pretty.
    Fate of Pushkin and Lermontov who were challenged to a duel and killed, comes to mind….
    Hence, a common practice of inventing city names and noble surnames for literary purposes

  18. So if you write a novel which features unfavorably governor of, say, Nizhny Novgorod and everyone in Russia knows that Prince N. occupied this post for the last twenty years, the results would not be very pretty.
    Yes, of course. But what about a novel which doesn’t feature the governor, favorably or otherwise? What about a novel that’s simply set in Nizhny Novgorod and features life there, the way Moscow novels feature life in Moscow?

  19. The European novel — Zola, Conrad etc. — remained almost exclusively in a realistic mode until the early decades of the 20th century
    The word “almost” is crucial there. Russia had no equivalent of, say, Lewis Carroll or Pierre Loti. And it had no art-for-art’s-sake novelists, either, like Flaubert, for whom whatever social background he was describing was not at all the point of the novel. In Russia it was taken for granted that it was part of the duty of a novelist, in fact the most important part, to have something to say about the Social Questions, to take a position with regard to serfdom and nihilism. This is, I repeat, unique and requires explanation.

  20. If novel’s plot did not require presence of governor and other important officials, author probably wouldn’t use “in the city of N” device in the first place.
    Take Gogol for example. His novels are set in Mirgorod, environs of Dikanki, St.Petersburg,he is not shy of naming these towns and cities, but events of Dead Souls and Government Inspector understandably take place in “the city of N”.
    In fact, it is well known that Gogol got idea for the plot of Government Inspector from Pushkin who was mistaken in 1833 for a secret government agent by the Governor-General of Nizhny Novgorod, general Mikhail Petrovich Buturlin.
    Gogol and Pushkin shared a private joke at poor general’s expense and “the city of N” was born in Russian literary tradition…

  21. Hat: Indeed, The Count of Monte Cristo is only possible at all because its hero is a son of the South and a Mediterranean person, much more, I think, than because he is French by nationality.
    Stu: I dropped a word there: it should have read the entirely fictional place. Your “third category” is what I meant by my second option. The woodland of Weir is not unlike real woodlands (well, except for the ghouls, which are only mentioned and not seen), but it exists only in Poe’s imagination, like Yoknapatawpha County in Faulkner’s. Per contra, Poe’s Mount Yaanek is just Mount Erebus, transported from Antarctica to the Arctic because Poe’s rhythm scheme demanded boreal pole rather than austral pole. More painfully, the story “A Subway Named Moebius” by A. J. Deutsch was arbitrarily transplanted in its American publication (linked here) from the London Underground to the Boston T, with results that puzzle and irritate Bostonians.
    Hat again: Realism often involves unpleasant subjects; indeed, one of the meanings of realistic is ‘sordid’. Quoth Wikipedia: “More generally, realist works of art are those that, in revealing a truth, may emphasize the ugly or sordid, such as works of social realism, regionalism, or kitchen sink realism.” Doubtless the governor of N-N would take it as a reflection on his governance if poverty and corruption there were described too closely.
    Speaking of Lewis Carroll, a Bulgarian friend of mine told me that it came as a great revelation to his and his parents’ generation after 1989 that there was a tradition of mathematical-scientific wit in the West, especially the anglophone West. Apparently such a thing had never been remotely visible in the postwar East.
    And I said “What is written, sweet sister,
    At the opposite side of the room?”
    She sobbed, as she answered, “All liquors
    Must be paid for ere leaving the room.”
         —Bret Harte, “The Willows”

  22. J. W. Brewer says:

    It was certainly not unknown for English-language writers wanting a setting outside the capital to make one up, whether the result was Barchester or Yoknapatawpha County. There are, in fact, whole wikipedia articles such as “List of Fictional Counties” dealing with such settings. I have a vague memory of being puzzled as a quite young reader by why the home towns of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew could not reliably be located in the atlas, since they seemed perfectly “realistic” settings unlike the Emerald City or Lilliput or what have you.

  23. I don’t think it is just concern about writing about malfeasance of the officials. The authorities were supposedly responsible for every aspect of life in their territories, for the merchants being honest and the roads repaired and the teachers, knowledgeable. Anything which isn’t perfect is the governor’s fault, and in the reactionary times following the defeat of the Decembrists in particular, the literature was supposed to extol perfection, loyalty, and morality.
    Whenever there is a remarkable historic event, of course, like Maloyaroslavets in War in Peace or Sebastopol in Sebastopol stories of Tolstoy, then it’s always named. And villages are rarely nameless, even though their names are so ubiquitous, they can be anywhere, like Turgenev’s Mar’ino & Nikol’skoe from Fathers and Sons. Like Springfield of The Simpsons.

  24. Middlemarch is an apt reference point: it’s “unnamed” because it’s Nowheresville, man. That’s my sense of most of the Russian unnamed, or initialed, cities, too. “I could name the city, but what’s the point?”

  25. Take Gogol for example. His novels are set in Mirgorod, environs of Dikanki, St.Petersburg,
    The first two are Ukrainian, and lots of novels are set in Petersburg.
    Doubtless the governor of N-N would take it as a reflection on his governance if poverty and corruption there were described too closely.
    Then how come the governors of Moscow and Petersburg didn’t take it as a reflection on their governance when poverty and corruption were described in those cities?
    It was certainly not unknown for English-language writers wanting a setting outside the capital to make one up
    No, of course not. It’s also not unknown for English-language writers to set works on the moon or in the time of the mammoths, or to use second-person narration, or do all manner of odd things. There’s a huge difference between “not unknown” and “virtually mandatory.”

  26. CuConnacht says:

    Somewhat similar was the habit, not exclusively Russian, of saying that the events of the story happened in the year 18–.

  27. Sir JCass says:

    “Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago…”
    Maybe those Russians were just echoing the daddy of all modern novels, Don Quixote.

  28. The first two are Ukrainian
    Mot sure that is a relevant distinction when discussing 19th century Russian literature, at least in relation to this point. Most Russian writers at the time thought of Ukraine as an intrinsic part of Russia.
    Another alternative is that Russia lacked the rootedness in place you find in Western Europe. Russians of the gentry, which comprises almost all the writers in that period, generally did not have roots in any particular location going back more than a few generations. It was a policy of the tsars to keep the gentry constantly shuffling around, precisely to avoid regional loyalties and power bases developing. This may have prevented writers from developing much interest in local traditions or peculiarities, which were mostly the cultural patrimony of the peasants, although even peasants were moved around a lot.
    Peter’s religious reforms also did a lot to destroy monasteries as independent cultural centers, if I remember correctly. Most towns in Russia proper were little more than market centers and military garrisons, even a place like Nizhny. Where there was industry – like Samara or Tver – it was state controlled and employed peasants. It may be the anonymity of most locales in 19th century Russian literature accurately reflects the way the educated class felt about Russia outside the capitals – just a vast homogeneous blur with similar peasants, priests, and gentry where ever you went.

  29. Unnamed but sometimes described in enough detail to make them recognizable. Unnamed, perhaps, to keep the imaginative license Russian authors would have felt unentitled to otherwise. Not so with St. Petersburg or Moscow because they were large enough to contain dozens of small towns. Also see the parenthetical in the first paragraph of Nabokov’s The Gift.
    Bulgakov’s The White Guard has some rather detailed descriptions of Kiev – which is only referred to as “The City” but is immediately recognizable. I visited Kiev last spring and saw for myself how faithfully Bulgakov had rendered some of the city’s topography and the interior of his family home.
    Chernomorsk in The Twelve Chairs is very much like Odessa. Leonid Dobychin’s En is Dvinsk (now Daugavpils) recreated.

  30. The strangeness of this tradition is not unnoticed by Russian reader. I remember my father chuckling at the city of Ensk (N-sk) in Kaverin’s The Two Captains which is, of course, an easily recognisable Pskov. ‘He could have invented a more exciting name’ he said.
    I agree with SFReader and Dmitry, it must have had something to do with self-censorship and fear of being accused of slander. Imagine Gogol naming the town where the events of Inspector General happened, or even Chekhov naming the provincial town in The Lady with the Dog (‘Who’s that lady in our town who slips away every now and then to her lover in Moscow?’)
    And another example, Alexander Radischev names all towns he passed through in his Journey from Petersburg to Moscow. And what happened to him? Death sentence commuted to exile in Siberia.

  31. Chernomorsk in The Golden Calf, of course. Sorry for the confusion.

    I’ve read somewhere that Kiev was to a large degree Ukrainian and Polish in Leskov’s time but mostly Russian when Bulgakov was growing up there in the early 20th century.

    Dvinsk was mixed: Latvian, Jewish, Russian, Belarusian, Polish and German.

  32. I remember seeing things like “the city of N.” also in several 19th century German novels and stories; I’ve always thought of it as a 19th century literary fashion, not as something typically Russian. My interpretation is that – at least initially, before it just became fashionable – it was meant to create the literary fiction that the story told has “really happened” and the name of the place is withheld in order to protect the real-life equivalents of the protagonists; while just making up a name would not have had that effect.

  33. I think ‘Nowheresville’ is a known location in US literature– often found somewheres in suburbia. Think of the various novels and stories set in the suburbs… can you, offhand, name the specific location of any of them?

  34. ha, there’s a Russian wikipedia article about the City of N. which includes a link to the rap song about Vladimir from the said city saving Uma Turman from Tarantino.

  35. Lermontov, The Hero of Our Time, Pyatigorsk.
    Ostrovsky, The Storm, Yaroslavl (not named)
    Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Staraya Russa (Skotoprigonievsk in the novel)
    Leskov, The Steel Flea, Tula
    Chekhov, The Lady and the Dog, Yalta (not Ukraine at the time)
    Kataev, Time, Forward, Magnitogorsk

  36. Most Russian writers at the time thought of Ukraine as an intrinsic part of Russia.
    Politically, maybe, but not otherwise. I’ve read a whole bunch of early-19th-century literature set there, and it’s quite clear it was seen as a fascinatingly foreign place full of Cossacks and Poles and Jews and strange customs.

    Russians of the gentry, which comprises almost all the writers in that period, generally did not have roots in any particular location going back more than a few generations.
    But so what? Writers don’t write about places because their great-grandparents grew up there, they write about places because they grew up there. Plenty of immigrants to America wrote about the cities they grew up in, and often didn’t give a damn about whatever foreign places their parents were from.

    Most towns in Russia proper were little more than market centers and military garrisons, even a place like Nizhny. Where there was industry – like Samara or Tver – it was state controlled and employed peasants. It may be the anonymity of most locales in 19th century Russian literature accurately reflects the way the educated class felt about Russia outside the capitals – just a vast homogeneous blur with similar peasants, priests, and gentry where ever you went.
    The last sentence is true, but that’s exactly what needs to be explained. Of course if you’re from Moscow or SPb, everyplace else is a blur, but that’s true in America too—cf. Saul Steinberg’s famous cover illustration. But if you’re from Nizhny, Nizhny is certainly not a blur; read Gorky’s intimate evocations of it in his autobiography. As for the earlier part, you can say provincial cities were “little more than market centers and military garrisons,” just as you can say Albany is little more than a state capital; such generalizations are meaningless. I’m sure if you think about what it was like to grow up in Nizhny or Tver or wherever, you’ll realize that it’s as full of local impressions and intimately known geography as anywhere else. It’s only grown-ups indifferent to local peculiarities who sweep it all under the rug of generalization. After all, any country estate could be described as “just a country estate,” and yet many, many Russian writers have left lovingly detailed descriptions of the places they spent their vividly remembered childhood summers (Nabokov, of course, is the best known in English).

    Bulgakov’s The White Guard has some rather detailed descriptions of Kiev… Chernomorsk in The Twelve Chairs is very much like Odessa. Leonid Dobychin’s En is Dvinsk (now Daugavpils) recreated.
    Kiev is Ukrainian, Odessa (which has often been described in fiction and nonfiction) has been international and therefore fascinating from the very beginning (cf. the Crimea, another frequent exotic locale), and Dünaburg/Dvinsk/Daugavpils is Baltic (Polish/Jewish/Latvian/Russian). I’m talking about echt Russian cities. There are lots of them, and nobody can name any novels set in them. This is an interesting fact.

  37. This is not to argue with the general observation. Just thinking: maybe it’s not the reluctance to write about smaller towns but a manifestation of the capital vs provinces conflict. If you look at it that way then ‘the town of N.’ is not that exceptional. Chicago is hardly a small provincial city, is it?

  38. Pyatigorsk and Yalta are exotic, like Odessa. Tula is a good one, but it’s kind of the exception that proves the rule, since “The Steel Flea” is explicitly about the industry specific to that town. Same goes, of course, for Time, Forward and Magnitogorsk; in fact, the book was written more or less as a promotion of the new industrial city, if I remember correctly.
    Chicago is hardly a small provincial city, is it?
    Not small, but neither are Nizhny and Kazan. In America, such cities are looked at as places in their own right, worth writing about; in Russia everything but the capital cities is just “the provinces,” which is why any city can be represented as “the provincial city N.” It’s reminiscent of the fact that there are no well-defined regional accents in Russia, but hardly causally connected.

  39. By the way, speaking of Dünaburg/Dvinsk/Daugavpils, I was amused to run across this in the Sollogub story: “когда я стоял с полком в Белоруссии – вы знаете, около Динабурга” [when I was with my regiment in Belorussia—you know, around Dünaburg].

  40. I’m talking about echt Russian cities. There are lots of them,
    But prior to industrialization taking hold in the late 19th century there weren’t any echt Russian cities besides the two capitals. That’s my point. “Cities” like Nizhny, Tver, Novgorod, Yaroslavl, or Rostov were small miserable provincial outposts, that had none of the cultural identity you would have found in even smaller European towns like Klagenfurt, Lucca, Bristol, Sandomierz, Beaune, Nottingham or Olmuetz, just to name at random 6 towns among hundreds. This is very visible even today if you travel through Russia. Most Russian towns, other than maybe a few old churches, are pretty dull, the difference in the quality of provincial towns once you cross the Dnieper is striking. Maybe I am too influenced by Richard Pipe on this point – but I agree with him that one of the elements that distinguished Old Russia from Europe was the lack of urbanization through most of the Tsarist period. As you say, Russian literature contains many evocative descriptions of country estates – that’s not an accident, that’s where life took place for most people. A town was just a central place to get some business done or put a factory, not an organizing principle for the lives of the gentry or the peasants.

  41. Just to connect up a few people and places, I looked for factlets in the German WiPe. These “who was born where” items by themselves are insignificant. The links give you more to read about the political and cultural histories of these cities:
    Musil was born in Klagenfurt, Mahler spent several summers there composing. In 1900 the population was 36,000. Klagenfurt is the capital of Kärnten (Carthenia, as I know from Feuchtwanger’s Die häßliche Herzogin, which takes place in first half of the 14C).
    Mozart composed his 6th symphony while living in Olmütz. In 1900 the population was 21,933.
    Boccherini and Puccini, as well as a pope and an antipope, were born in Lucca. Today’s population: 87,598.
    The 18C mathematician Gaspard Monge, also our contemporary Bruno Latour, were born in Beaune, “la capitale des vins de Bourgogne“. Population in 1901: 13,887.

  42. the fact that there are no well-defined regional accents in Russia
    That would be pretty startling if true, but it isn’t, of course: consider all the Xkanie for various values of X. The Wikipedia article on them pointed me to this dialect atlas, which is actually aimed at intermediate-school students. If it is considered worthwhile for such things to be taught in school, they can’t be utterly obscure.

  43. no dialects, me!
    Even in Ryazan, 200 km South of Moscow, people speak in a distinctly different way, softening their g-s and a pitch higher than in Moscow. Moscow vs Petersburg is a butt of endless jokes and arguments. The Volga region has its own, and go down South below Voronezh and hear a completely differently sounding Russian of the Cossack country.

  44. Pyatigorsk and Yalta are exotic, like Odessa.
    The Capitals were more exotic, to a Russian provincial dweller, than most of Russia’s ethnic periphery towns. German, Dutch, Polish multitudes; Lutheran, Armenian, Catholic churches, mosques, outlandish architecture … Moscow with its old ethnic ‘hoods, Tatars, the Dutch Borough, Maroseika and Polyanka …
    The regional accents and loyalties were quite strong, military regiments were locally based, especially environs of Petersburg were well known by their well-known regional dialecs and pejorative region-names (Skobari of Pskov, for example). It’s just there were no locally-based Russian elites; no regional nobility of importance; no regional universities; not even much regional architecture since Peter I forbade civilian stone-masonry outside of the Capitals.
    So the distinctiveness of the provinces was no secret to a cultured Muscovite of StPetersburger but it had a flavor of bygone-days, uncivilized, strange ethnicity as opposed to Russian-ness of the civilization of the two Capitals. Nothing to look up to?

  45. marie-lucie says:

    City of N
    If this was a Russian or German expression, why the letter N? When I started reading French literature, I was surprised to encounter places and people called N. Of course it is the initial of Nom ‘Name’.

  46. marie-lucie says:

    not offending the locals
    One of Somerset Maugham’s novels (I forget the title) takes place in China and features a doctor called Walter Fane. The author later explained that he had originally named his character Lane, but after he circulated the manuscript, or perhaps the proof, among local British expatriates he discovered that there was a Dr Walter Lane who was furious that people might think the story was about him even though the novel’s character and circumstances were quite different from his. I am not sure if the doctor threatened to sue, but Maugham changed Lane, a common enough name, to the unusual Fane.

  47. That would be pretty startling if true, but it isn’t, of course
    But it is; we discussed it just a few years ago.
    But prior to industrialization taking hold in the late 19th century there weren’t any echt Russian cities besides the two capitals.
    Now we’re getting somewhere. While your analysis is exaggerated (“A town was just a central place to get some business done or put a factory, not an organizing principle for the lives of the gentry or the peasants” ignores the fact that people did actually lead their lives in those towns and had the same kinds of joys and sorrows, petty triumphs and wrecked love lives, as anywhere else), your point is certainly relevant and important. By the time those regional centers got big and diverse enough to be in some obvious sense “worth writing about,” the tradition had been established.

  48. Note that the very story that prompted the post, Аптекарша, takes place in a miserable little уездный город, and yet Sollogub found enough material to write a short novel; it could perfectly well have been set in an actual, named town. Life, and therefore literary material, is everywhere.

  49. Marie-Lucie, it’s The Painted Veil of course, one my favourites.

  50. Life, and therefore literary material, is everywhere.
    I’m not sure that the converse holds, though, which is what some people here, myself among them, are maintaining. Literary material is everywhere, but there doesn’t have to be a life to match it.
    Why should novels be required to match up with “life”, even with respect to naming the names of real live towns ? There are more anywheres than any real wheres. The overhang is called fiction.

  51. But why did you get vexed about N. in the first place? Because of the anonymity of the N., or because you really want to find works about Russian cities outside of St.Pete and Moscow?
    I found a dissertation on the subject of Nizhny Novgorod in the works of M.Gorky and urbanism in Russian literature. It’s a long text, but if you skim it you’ll find a list of short stories and novel with N.Novgorod and linked lists of other regional ‘texts.’

  52. Outrage! Marie-Lucie’s comment about NN reminded me of the famous Pushkin verse from Eugene Onegin ‘Blest he who in his youth was truly’ – “Блажен, кто смолоду был молод” which ends with “О ком твердили целый век: N.N. прекрасный человек” – ‘Who was forever spoken of as NN, a perfect man!’
    And what? Charles Johnston omitted the crucial bit! No NN in his translation:
    ‘Who all his life would garner praise
    as the perfection of our days!’

  53. Nizhny isn’t really “N”; it’s always “NN” :)
    That would be pretty startling if true, but it isn’t, of course
    - But it is; we discussed it just a few years ago.

    A great old thread and – or but – it comes to exactly the opposite conclusions. How the local dialects ran very strong but were always considered to be a shameful stamp of lack of culture. An uneducated way of speech, no more, somewhat on par with foreign accents such as oft-ridiculed (in the XIX c. fiction) accent of the Germans. In many circles, on par with Ukrainian. As I wrote, not something an educated urbanite could identify with; not even something the authors were allowing themselves to portray, for it was one thing to chuckle about the German accent, and completely another one to “abet to illiterate use of one’s native language”.

  54. I just remembered another use of N in Russian – in military speak. In the press a regiment would be referred to as N-skaya chast’, for disguise.

  55. There is also an ethnic group, Enets, which sounds exactly like N-ish in Russian.
    For N-skaya, Google auto-fills ” Chast’ ” but among the popular searches are also schools and even real estate locations :/

  56. Dmitry Prokofyev says:

    I sort of assumed that Pushkin’s NN (as well as Gogol’s – for the Dead Souls story takes place in and around the town of NN – and many others’) comes from nomen nescio.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for the Maugham title, Sashura, I remember some episodes of the story, but the title does not mean anything to me right now.
    Dmitry, NN also occurs in older French literature, but I had no idea where the second N came from. You are probably right about nomen nescio, so the single N is probably from Latin nomen rather than French nom.

  58. Alexei K. says:

    No doubt Russia was seriously under-urbanized until the late 19th century and perhaps much later. Still some important works of Russian fiction are set in small – уездные, not even губернские – towns. They remain unnamed or pseudonymous for the most part, except Mtsensk. Gogol’s Inspector arrives in one. Karamazov père is killed in another. Peredonov loses his mind in yet another one. Stuff also happens in larger non-imperial cities – The Possessed and The Three Sisters are set in gubernia capitals.
    But those authors, except Leskov, paint their urban settings in shades of hopeless. Why name them – why upset the good people? Chekhov wrote in his diary that Tomsk was “most boring,” dirty and drunken, with great dinners but women stiff to the touch. Tomsk retaliated in 2004 with a caricature statue of Chekhov.

  59. Alexei K. says:

    “when I was with my regiment in Belorussia—you know, around Dünaburg”
    That’s in the glorious Vitebsk gubernia, stretching from what is now eastern Latvia almost to Smolensk. “Dünaburg” sounds odd when placed in “Belorussia” but it’s hard to properly pigeonhole the town. It used to be part of the GDL (hence the “Belorussia” label makes sense) and of the so-called Polish Inflanty. But the town was founded by Livonians and was briefly held by Swedes and Russians in the 16th and 17th centuries. Jews were its largest ethnic group until WWII. Nowadays, it’s majority Russophone; Russians, Poles and Belarusians make up 75% and Latvians, 20%. Quite a place; too bad it’s so small, only 100,000 people.

  60. If N. in Russian goes back before the 18th century, I can’t account for it. But all over the Latin West (definitely including England, France, the Low Countries, Sweden, and Germany), N. for nomen ‘name’ and N.N. for nomen nescio ‘I don’t know the name’ are very old, probably going back to classical Roman times. Standard Roman legal formulae used Numerius Negidius as a place-holder for the defendant’s name: it not only has the initials N.N. but also indicates that the defendant negat ‘denies’ that he ought to numerat ‘pay’. Wikipedia quotes the beginning of one of these as Si paret Numerium Negidium Aulo Agerio sestertium decem milia dare oportere ‘If it appears that Numerius Negidius ought to pay Aulus Agerius ten thousand sesterces’. (Agerius is who one agat ‘acts, carries on an action at law’.)
    In English, N.N. was reinterpreted as no name, and of course French nom and German Name fit the pattern too. Indeed, Slavic is the only IE language group I can think of where ‘name’ does not have initial /n/ (possibly with an epenthetic vowel, like Irish ainm and Greek onoma-.
    By the way, Lenin (whose surname we discussed a few posts ago) used the pseudonym Nikolai Petrovich for a while, and his early books were signed “N. Lenin”. Is there a mental connection in Russian between the name Nikolai and the pseudonymous N.?

  61. Ngram shows that “NN” has been widespread in the first half of the XIX c., while “н-ский” in its meaning “Not to be disclosed” emerged in WWII. Does anyone know who might have coined this iconic term? Not just an unnamed bureaucrat?

  62. Dmitry Prokofyev says:

    John:
    Is there a mental connection in Russian between the name Nikolai and the pseudonymous N.?
    To my experience as a native Russian speaker whose grandfather’s name was Nikolai Nikolaevich (thus N.N.), there isn’t. Besides, Nikolai, while certainly the most common Russian male name starting with N, is by no means the only one: there are also e.g. Nikita, Naum, Nikifor, etc. Most of them have more or less fallen out of use by now, but they seem to have been much more frequent a hundred years ago.

  63. Nizhny isn’t really “N”; it’s always “NN” :)
    I could have sworn I’d seen it abbreviated as Нижний from time to time, but I’ll take your word for it that I’m mistaken.
    If N. in Russian goes back before the 18th century, I can’t account for it.
    Latin was a major language of education in the Russian Empire after the absorption of much of the Commonwealth, so it may actually be of the same origin.

  64. I could have sworn I’d seen it abbreviated as Нижний from time to time, but I’ll take your word for it that I’m mistaken
    You aren’t mistaken – it’s just the usage shifted over time. Of old, it was just “Nizhny” and its residents, нижегородцы. But it’s also universally called NN now. Its city website is nn.ru; its supermarkets, sports teams, recreation centers, everything are all NN-something. In the social networks, it’s NN and nothing else.
    BTW peculiarly, SPb is also universally referred to as L-d (AFAIK one and the only Russian city acronym with a dash in it, sort of reminiscent of Judaic G-d)

  65. Dmitry: I sort of assumed that Pushkin’s NN (as well as Gogol’s – for the Dead Souls story takes place in and around the town of NN – and many others’) comes from nomen nescio.
    There are several ways that (educated) Germans interpret “N.N.” The one I picked up on years ago is nomen nominandum, “the name will be inserted / made known later”. According to the German WiPe article just linked, all the nomen nominandum, nomen nescio and nomen notum (“the name is known [but will not be publicized]“) versions are folk etymologies. I find it very unusual that the article does not frown on them, but simply notes their existence and frequency.
    “N.n.” originated in the historical period when Roman court cases were conducted as Formularprozesse (agere per formulam). In the court records the defendant was referred to as Numerius Negidius, effectively = “the one who refuses to pay”. This was often abbreviated as N.N. or N.n.
    Sorry about the German websites, I can’t find English ones explaining this.

  66. N.N. is still used in Germany and elsewhere in lists of names, to mean “name not yet known” etc. I suppose that is why the article does not frown on the folk etymologies – that would be deprecating actual, productive practice. Frowning might be OK when the folk etymologies are just crazed, baseless opinions of practical irrelevance.

  67. Indeed, Slavic is the only IE language group I can think of where ‘name’ does not have initial /n/ (possibly with an epenthetic vowel, like Irish ainm and Greek onoma-.
    The “prothetic vowel” in Greek is nowadays normally traced back to an initial laryngeal (H3) and the word is reconstructed as *H3neH3-men-. The Irish and (Balto-)Slavic forms are traced back to the zero grade variant *H3n.men-, with the ususal developments of syllabic n to an (near laryngeal) in Irish and to in in (Balto-)Slavic – Old Prussian emmen-/emnen- and Proto-Slavic *jьmen-., with additional assimilation in the cluster -nm-.

  68. Correction: The PIE preform for Irish, Balto-Slavic is meant to be *H3n.H3-men-; I dropped the second laryngeal.

  69. Marie-Lucie, the novel also has a memorable epigraph:
    ‘The dog it was that died’ (meaning a plan that went opposite to what was intended).
    It’s from Goldsmith’s poem, and was also used by Stoppard in a spy thriller of the same title.

  70. Sir JCass says:

    NN must be behind Dostoyevsky’s Неточка Незванова (“Netochka Nezvanova”, usually translated “Nameless Nobody”).

  71. “Nameless Nobody”
    As the WiPe articles explain, that was the point of Roman “form-based procedure”: to anonymize the participants and conduct the trial without respect of person. The defendant was Numerius Negidius (N.N.), the plaintiff was Aulus Agerius (A.A.)

  72. (“Netochka Nezvanova”, usually translated “Nameless Nobody”) – JCass
    The name does not signify that to my native Russian ear. One can hear нет in the first name – a hint at denial or rejection? – and “незваный”, uncalled or uninvited, in the surname. Could be interpreted as “one not invited (to a feast)” but also “one who won’t call anybody (for help)” suggesting independence.
    All that is terribly subjective of course. Yet most native speakers will probably agree that the name sounds tender and sweet and somewhat sad. (Such names should be banished from high-quality fiction: one gets teary too soon.) The girl’s name is Anna, Frenchified into Annette, Russified into Netochka.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    Anna, Frenchified into Annette, Russified into Netochka.
    One of my sisters is officially Anne but has always been called Annette in our family. When we were young my father liked to make up nicknames or variations on our names, so Annette was sometimes addressed as Anniouchka.

  74. Hans: Sure, but recognizing N. as a form of ‘name’ is a synchronic effect. It’s easily recognizable in Germanic and Romance, minimally so in Greek and Celtic, and not at all in Slavic.
    Stu: If the Wikipedia article says that, it’s mistaken. The recorded formulae use Numerius Negidius and Aulus Agerius because they are templates; the actual names of the parties were substituted when the template was instantiated in an actual case. Formulary process worked like this: the plaintiff and defendant (or their lawyers) designed the formula before the praetor ‘magistrate’ step by step in accordance with precedent. They inserted hypothetical clauses into a single Latin sentence, creating a program of the general form “If [defendant] ought to [whatever], then let him pay [so much], unless [defendant's condition], unless on the other hand [plaintiff's condition], but otherwise not.” This sentence was then passed to the iudex, a sort of one-man jury chosen at random or by agreement of the parties. His job was to take evidence according to any informal procedure that seemed fair to him, and then render judgment in accordance with the terms of the formula.

  75. A reader sent a link to an article by Anne Lounsbery, from which she extracted this quote:

    Because the members of Russian society who were (for a long time) the most likely to produce and consume high culture-the upper nobility-did not identify strongly with distinct regions of European Russia, it makes sense that regionalism played a comparatively minor role in Russia’s literary development. It would certainly be difficult to argue that regional differences carry the same weight in the Russian tradition as they do in England or France or America; hard to argue, that is, that a story set in one particular Russian region, in one particular province, is fated to unfold differently from a story set in another. What is the difference, in semiotic terms, between something that happens in Pskov and something that happens in Saratov? I would propose that the difference is likely to be minimal, and that this is so because in Russian culture the semiotic distinctions among various regions are simply dwarfed by the difference between capital and province-a distinction so fundamental and with such determinative power that the provinces actually tend to collapse, semiotically, into the “not-capital.”

    Which I don’t find entirely convincing, because to me literature is about life and not about semiotic distinctions and I don’t see why a love triangle or a failed marriage or an unhappy childhood is somehow more significant if it happens in Petersburg rather than Orel, but the whole article certainly looks relevant and interesting, and I look forward to reading it carefully.

  76. John: If the Wikipedia article says that, it’s mistaken.
    If the article says
    what, then it is mistaken ? What you write is, with one exception, consonant with what I wrote, and what I wrote is a paraphrase of parts of the article.
    The article on nomen nominandum agrees with that part of your sentence that begins: “The recorded formulae use Numerius Negidius and Aulus Agerius because they are templates …” The German juridical term for such a “template” is apparently Blankett.
    It does not agree with the continuation of your sentence: “… the actual names of the parties were substituted when the template was instantiated in an actual case.” The passage contradicting that is right at the beginning of the first section of the article:

    Eines der Grundprinzipien des antiken römischen Rechtswesens, das auch in der heutigen Rechtsprechung eine entscheidende Rolle spielt, bestand darin, ohne Ansehen der Person Recht zu sprechen. Das Gericht sollte sich mit der rechtlichen Situation zwischen den Parteien abstrakt und prinzipiell befassen und nicht durch Haltungen zu konkreten Personen beeinflusst werden. Die streitenden Parteien wurden daher mit allgemein verwendeten fiktiven Namen anstelle ihrer Eigennamen bezeichnet und angesprochen. (were referred to and addressed by these fictional names, instead of their proper names)

    As I understand it, the very purpose of these templates was to introduce and maintain anonymity for the judex deciding the case. The wording of the article is unambiguous (although that doesn’t make the claim correct). Slightly farther down:

    Im römischen Formularprozess ist Numerius Negidius der stets gebrauchte fiktive Name [the fictional name always used] für die beklagte Partei, was dem deutschen Begriff „der Beklagte“ entspricht.

    And:

    In den Gerichtsprotokollen (court transcripts) wurden die fiktiven Namen oft in abgekürzter Form wiedergegeben. So entstand aus Numerius Negidius (Numerius negidius) die Schreibweise N. N. (N. n.).

    Here is an example of the formulas used, in Latin and Spanish. As I said, I couldn’t find anything in English on these Formularprozesse. It may well be that the Numerius Negidius templates appear only in the formulas submitted to the praetor for approval. It that is so, both WiPe articles are mistaken from start to finish.
    Could you link a source for your version of these things ? If the claims in the German WiPe articles are wrong or contentious, I would add a note to that effect.

  77. Well, part of the trouble is that the Institutes of Gaius, which is our only primary source on the formulary system, was written to explain things to beginning lawyers; it doesn’t bother to lay out what everybody knows. By the time of Justinian, which is the next time we have a detailed description of Roman law, the formulary system has been dead for centuries.
    But I found this footnote on p. 205 of Jolowicz’s Historical Introduction To The Study Of Roman Law:

    In the pattern formulae (infra 208), the name of the plaintiff (he who brings the action — agit) is always given as Aulus Agerius, that of the defendant as Numerius Negidius (he who pays — numerat — and denies — negat). The parallel sometimes drawn between these names and the Richard Roe and John Doe of English law is a little misleading, for these latter persons are actually feigned to exist and act for certain purposes, whereas the Roman names mean no more than the A.B.‘s and C.D.‘s of our books of precedents.

    We know (p. 208) that the praetor posted a list of the different formulae that he would allow plaintiffs and defendants to use, and presumably the A.A. and N.N. names appeared in these. However, there is no trace of an indication in Gaius himself (who does not explain the names, but merely uses them) that they are used for any type of privacy or concealment. Indeed, when it’s necessary to mention a third party in the sample formulae, a variety of names are used.
    In any case, the German Wikipedia article has no citations.

  78. There is no trace of an indication in Gaius himself (who does not explain the names, but merely uses them) that they are used for any type of privacy or concealment.
    Thanks. Well, perhaps the authors of the articles did just make it all up. I’ll broach the issue on the discussion page.
    In any case, the German Wikipedia article has no citations.
    All the more reason to flag it.

  79. The name does not signify that to my native Russian ear. One can hear нет in the first name – a hint at denial or rejection? – and “незваный”, uncalled or uninvited, in the surname. Could be interpreted as “one not invited (to a feast)” but also “one who won’t call anybody (for help)” suggesting independence.
    Thanks, Alexei.

  80. I thought I had posted this earlier, but seemingly not. When I saw “the so-called Polish Inflanty”, I initially read it as “the so-called Polish infantry”!

  81. John Cowan says:

    This LRB article is about British city-of-N literary practice contrasted with French particularism; the former is not as indifferent to place as Russian N-ism is, but still acts as if when you’ve seen one city in the North or the Midlands, you’ve seen ‘em all.

  82. I’m reading it in my physical LRB now, and I’ll quote the part about French particularism:

    Paris is the epicentre of the Comédie humaine, but Balzac’s world in no way stops there, as that of Dickens does in London. Equally memorable are his depictions of Saumur, Angoulême or Tours. In Stendhal and Flaubert, the narratives of Le Rouge et le noir and Madame Bovary depend on Besançon and Rouen. In the 20th century, cinema has relayed the tradition. The extreme example is Eric Rohmer, whose Comédies et proverbes and Contes des quatre saisons include settings in Clermont-Ferrand, Annecy, Le Mans, Biarritz, Cergy-Pontoise, Nevers, St Malo. The list, like that of Impressionist paintings a century earlier, leans towards resorts, without being confined to them. But larger centres have their filmographies too: Marseille in Robert Guédiguian’s movies; Bordeaux [actually Blaye, 50 km. north] in Moderato cantabile, Nice in Baie des anges; Lyon in Melville’s L’Armée des ombres; Lille in Zonca’s La Vie rêvée des anges. In such cases, the location of novels and films is precise and explicit, each accorded their distinctive colour and atmosphere.

    I should mention that it’s by Perry Anderson.

  83. Thanks to the Albanian thread, I can now add Albanian to the short list of IE languages where the equation of N. with ‘name’ doesn’t work: the Albanian word is emër (where ë = schwa). In the Baltic languages, the word for ‘name’ is cognate with word, Lith. vardas, Lat. vārds, so it also fails there.

    It does work, however, in the Uralic languages, where the protoform is *nimi (Finnish nimi, Estonian nim, Hungarian név), one of those suspicious coincidences between Uralic and IE that may be borrowing in either direction or may be a faint trace of common descent. It also works in Malay/Indonesian and in Lao by borrowing from Sanskrit, and presumably by chance in Japanese 名前 namae and Mongolian ner.

  84. The Slavic word for ‘name’ doesn’t begin with N any longer, but the word for a place-name doesn’t have to be the same word as that for a personal name. In Polish, the former is nazwa (and it happens to begin with N, quite by chance, just like Russian название, which means the same thing), while the latter is imię (pl. imiona, cognate to name etc., of course).

  85. Martin Huld says “emër reflects a zero-grade and is matched by OCS imę, OIr ainm, Welsh enw, Arm anun < *an-moon-. PIE */E1n̥men-/; IEW 321 [with the labels Gheg and Tosk reversed] √en(o)mn̥ ‘Name’.”

  86. To summarize: N = name works in modern IE except for Slavic and Albanian, where it’s a WTF, and Celtic, Armenian, and Hellenic, where it’s a maybe (you have to disregard an initial vowel). It works in Uralic and in Japanese. See Wiktionary translations.

  87. For a really careful analysis of the reflexes of PIE ‘name’, check Sergio Neri, 2005, “Riflessioni sull’apofonia radicale di proto-germanico *namō(n) ‘nome’”, Historische Sprachforschung 118, 201–250. The total evidence favours the derivation of the Albanian (and Slavic) reflexes from a secondary hysterokinetic variant of the word, *h₁n̥h₃-mén-. In Proto-Albanian, this form regularly yielded *anmen- and eventually *e(n)mën-. The Celtic development was very similar, but the Armenian word reflects the primary variant with a full-grade root syllable. One point on which I would disagree with Ranko is the outcome of syllabic nasals in Albanian. IMO, it’s completely clear that they normally yield PAlb. *a except when followed by a tautosyllabic laryngeal (then the reflex is *am, *an, as in the ‘name’ word).

  88. Interesting, but who’s Ranko? It’s the first mention of him in the thread.

  89. Oops, I forgot where we were. I mean Ranko Matasović from the University of Zagreb, author of the grammatical sketch recommended by Chris Culver (see the Albanian thread). I referred to him by his first name, since we’ve known each other for ages.

  90. Aha! Thanks.

  91. Who came up with ‘hysterokinetic’? I know it has to do with stress shift between stem and suffix, but the etymology of the term puzzles me.

  92. –When we were young my father liked to make up nicknames or variations on our names, so Annette was sometimes addressed as Anniouchka.

    Russian dimunitives for personal names (-chka) were sometimes used in Mongolian, but a new system of unknown origin became popular recently.

    You take first letter of the name, lengthen the vowels and add “gie” ending.

    So, Marie would become Maagie, Bathrobe Baagie and Languagehat Laagie.

    No linguists did research on its origins yet, but I suspect influence from English.

  93. David Marjanović says:

    the etymology of the term puzzles me

    Me too: what is a uterus doing in there?!?

  94. It’s not from the noun ὑστέρα ‘womb’, but from the comparative grade ὕστερος ‘posterior, latter’ (= Skt. úttara- ‘upper, higher, later’); the corresponding superlative is ὕστατος ‘last, hindmost’. They are defective forms, with no positive-grade adjective (probably formed to a PIE adprep like the one ancestral to English out and Slavic vy-). Tne hystero-/protero- terminology was introduced by the famous Danish linguist Holger Pedersen (the same guy who coined the term “Nostratic”).

  95. Nothing. This hystero- is not < ὑστερά ‘womb’ but < ὕστερον ‘after(wards)’, as in hysteron proteron, the rhetorical figure of mentioning things out of order, as in “he put on his shoes and socks”, which is standard in English despite its obviously unreasonable ordering. A hysterokinetic stress is one that shifts to the latter part of the word.

  96. preposition в rather than на with the name of Ukraine, as preferred by Ukrainians today
    I couldn’t get N-gram to display it, but regular Google searches turn up similar numbers of hits for all 4 combinations “въ Украйнѣ” / “на Украйнѣ”/ “въ Украинѣ” / “на Украинѣ” (but most of the books, of course, are from the latter part of XIX c. or early XX c. )

    In the non-yat post-revolutionary spelling “в” lags behind but is still in wide use, e.g. by Lenin. Ukrainian wiki page notes that Pushkin was an adherent of “в” usage, and so was Peter the Great, but over time “на” has become an unchallenged norm in Russian, Polish, and Czech.

    My first guess is that the preposition “на” has been preferred out of respect to the Ukrainian’s own contemporary usage, after Taras Shevchenko’s poetic testament

    Як умру, то поховайте Мене на могилі, Серед степу широкого, На Вкраїні милій

    (although I have few doubts that the poets’ choice of the prepositions could have been informed by the demands of the meter. Shevchenko is on record using the other preposition as well:

    В Україну ідіть, діти! В нашу Україну

  97. Wow, I had no idea use was so varied — thanks for the followup!

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