LANGUAGE IN 19TH-CENTURY RUSSIA.

Earlier this year I wrote briefly about the linguistic situation in War and Peace; now I’m reading Orlando Figes’s Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia and finding more material, which I will quote here for those interested. (I suspect Figes is oversimplifying the situation, and as always would welcome responses from those who know more than I.) Talking about the fact that aristocrats were “so immersed in foreign languages that many found it challenging to speak or write their own” (pp. 55-56):

Princess Dashkova, a vocal advocate of Russian culture and the only female president ever of the Russian Academy of Sciences, had the finest European education. ‘We were instructed in four different languages, and spoke French fluently,’ she wrote in her memoirs, ‘but my Russian was extremely poor.’ Count Karl Nesselrode, a Baltic German and Russia’s foreign minister from 1815 to 1856, could not write or even speak the language of the country he was meant to represent. French was the language of high society, and in high-born families the language of all personal relationships as well. The Volkonskys, for example, a family whose fortunes we shall follow in this book, spoke mainly French among themselves. Mademoiselle Callame, a French governess in the Volkonsky household, recalled that in nearly fifty years of service she never heard the Volkonskys speak a word of Russian, except to give orders to the domestic staff. This was true even of Maria (née Raevskaya), the wife of Prince Sergei Volkonsky, Tsar Alexander’s favourite aide-de-camp in 1812. Despite the fact that she had been brought up in the Ukrainian provinces, where noble families were more inclined to speak their native Russian tongue, Maria could not write in Russian properly. Her letters to her husband were in French. Her spoken Russian, which she had picked up from the servants, was very primitive and full of peasant slang. It was a common paradox that the most refined and cultured Russians could speak only the peasant form of Russian which they had learnt from the servants as children…
This neglect of the Russian language was most pronounced and persistent in the highest echelons of the aristocracy, which had always been the most Europeanized (and in more than a few cases of foreign origin). In some families children were forbidden to speak Russian except on Sundays and religious holidays. During her entire education Princess Ekaterina Golitsyn had only seven lessons in her native tongue. Her mother was contemptuous of Russian literature and thought Gogol was ‘for the coachmen’. The Golitsyn children had a French governess and, if she ever caught them speaking Russian, she would punish them by tying a red cloth in the shape of a devil’s tongue around their necks. Anna Lelong had a similar experience at the Girls’ Gymnasium, the best school for noble daughters in Moscow. Those girls caught speaking Russian were made to wear a red tin bell all day and stand like dunces, stripped of their white aprons, in the corner of the class; they were forced to remain standing even during meals, and received their food last. Other children were even more severely punished if they spoke Russian—sometimes even locked in a room. The attitude seems to have been that Russian, like the Devil, should be beaten out of noble children from an early age, and that even the most childish feelings had to be expressed in a foreign tongue.

Later, talking about the Siberian exiles who had participated in the Decembrist revolt (p. 97):

And all of them were forced, for the first time in their lives, to become fluent in their native tongue. For Maria and Sergei [Volkonsky], accustomed as they were to speak and think in French, this was one of the hardest aspects of their new existence. On their first encounter in that Nerchinsk prison cell they were forced to speak in Russian (so that the guards could understand), but they did not know the words for all the complex emotions they were feeling at that moment, so their conversation was somewhat artificial and extremely limited. Maria set about the study of her native language from a copy of the Scriptures in the camp. Sergei’s Russian, which he had written as an officer, became more vernacular. His letters from Urik are littered with Siberian colloquialisms and misspellings of elementary words (‘if, ‘doubt’, ‘May’ and ‘January’).

And on the patriotic effects of the Napoleonic Wars (pp. 102-03):

It became a fashion for the sons of noblemen to learn to read and write their native tongue. Dmitry Sheremetev, the orphaned son of Nikolai Petrovich and Praskovya, spent three years on Russian grammar and even rhetoric as a teenager in the 1810s—as much time as he spent on learning French. For lack of Russian texts, children learned to read from the Scriptures—indeed, like Pushkin, they were often taught to read by the church clerk or a local priest. Girls were less likely to be taught the Russian script than boys. Unlike their brothers, who were destined to become army officers or landowners, they would not have much business with the merchants or the serfs and hence little need to read or write their native tongue. But in the provinces there was a growing trend for women as well as men to learn Russian. Tolstoy’s mother, Maria Volkonsky, had a fine command of literary Russian, even writing poems in her native tongue. Without this growing Russian readership the literary renaissance of the nineteenth century would have been inconceivable. Previously the educated classes in Russia had read mainly foreign literature.
In the eighteenth century the use of French and Russian had demarcated two entirely separate spheres: French the sphere of thought and sentiment, Russian the sphere of daily life. There was one form of language (French or Gallicized ‘salon’ Russian) for literature and another (the plain speech of the peasantry, which was not that far apart from the spoken idiom of the merchants and the clergy) for daily life. There were strict conventions on the use of languages. For example, a nobleman was supposed to write to the Tsar in Russian, and it would have seemed audacious if he wrote to him in French; but he always spoke to the Tsar in French, as he spoke to other noblemen. On the other hand, a woman was supposed to write in French, not just in her correspondence with the sovereign but with all officials, because this was the language of polite society; it would have been deemed a gross indecency if she had used Russian expressions. In private correspondence, however, there were few set rules, and by the end of the eighteenth century the aristocracy had become so bilingual that they slipped quite easily and imperceptibly from Russian into French and back again. Letters of a page or so could switch a dozen times, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence, without prompting by a theme.

(Note the inconsistency in rendering women’s names: Maria Raevskaya, but Ekaterina Golitsyn. Tsk.)

Comments

  1. I’m puzzled by the repeated reference to Russian as the “native tongue” of the nobility, despite all the difficulty they are reported to have speaking it. Is the phrase being used to mean “language of their native country” here, or did noble children actually hear and begin speaking Russian early, only to stop later in childhood?
    The descriptions of punishments children could incur by speaking Russian suggest that it was indeed their first language and one they spoke competently, but the comment about the Decemberists having “for the first time in their lives, to become fluent in their native tongue” seems to indicate otherwise.
    Any thoughts about this? Is there some middle ground that I missed?

  2. komfo,amonan says:

    I wonder what CL wonders. It’s hard for me to imagine how these people grew up, with perhaps more contact with Russian-speaking servants & whatever-speaking nurses & governesses than with their parents at the age (6-18 months?) when one’s “native language” is established.
    I also wonder how good their French was. Are we talking about Stratford atte Bowe here? Were any of them capable of producing anything notable in French? Did any of them do so?
    (And now I realize I can’t think of any well-known second-language literature in the West between the Gospels and Conrad…)

  3. “I can’t think of any well-known second-language literature in the West between the Gospels and Conrad…”
    Virtually the whole of Medieval and Renaissance Latin literature falls into this category. Greek as a second language: Marcus Aurelius and Lucian of Samosata. French: John Gower, William Beckford (”Vathek”), Jan Potocki (”The Manuscript Found in Saragossa”), Oscar Wilde (”Salomé”). There are probably many more examples.

  4. michael farris says:

    As for “native language”, I’m assuming Russian has an expression similar to Polish “język oczysty”. While this is often (mis)translated as ‘native language’ the basic meaning is “language of one’s nation (in the ethnic meaning of the term but sometimes extended to country)”.
    In that sense, ethnic Russians without formal training in Russian could be said to not have full command of their “język ojczysty”.
    I’m also assuming that there’s a lot of exaggeration going on. A sentence like “my Russian was extremely poor” refers to a lack of cultivation rather than lack of fluency per se.
    A rough modern equivalent might be found in India, where English is cultivated and polished by the elite while their native languages are neglected and unloved and marginalized or excluded from formal education.
    As a result some Indians are described as being more fluent in English although by any linguistic standard they are far more fluent in their native languages.

  5. Thanks, I’ve quoted these quotations in my blog :). BTW, sorry for an off-topic, but I can’t leave a comment in a more relevant, but old and archived topic: I’ve just finished an article about Cherubina de Gabriak. Don’t you know if there are any English translations of her poems in the Internet?
    Thank you.

  6. I’ve been reading a couple months worth of posts I missed and come across the one about who coined ‘psychopath’ first. Since comments there seem to be closed here’s a link to the speech by one Nikolai Platonovich Karabtchevsky (‘psychopath’ is in the Mironovich speech; interestingly, Karabtchevski also uses the feminine form, ‘psikhopatka’, twice). I was surprised to learn that Karabtchevsky was among the several prominent lawyers who participated in the defense of Beilis.
    Apparently, Balinsky was THE Russian authority on psychiatry at the time (the volume published in his memory in 1902 (the year of his death) was titled “Иван Михайлович Балинский, отец русской психиатрии”).
    On the curious note: now, thanks to Karabchevsky, I know there was a perfect short russion word “ватерпруф” (“на девочку, одетую поверх платья в ватерпруф” – even though here it definitely means “длинное дамское пальто”, according to Brockhaus, not the waterproof material) which is sadly obsolete nowadays. It’s much better than clumsy “водоотталкивающая (or водонепроницаемая, or непромокаемая) материя (or ткань)”, and conveniently more general than “плащёвка”, “клеёнка” or more recent “болонья”.

  7. The usual Russian equivalent to English ‘native tongue’ or ‘native language’ is, I take it, «родной язык». Interestingly though, «ojczysty» appears to cognate with «отчизна» and «отчий». The Russian for Polish «język ojczysty» would in that case be «язык отчизны» and/or «отчий язык», raising the whole interesting question of ‘mother tongues’ vs ‘father tongues’.

  8. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Two different points:
    I believe it was the case that up until the end of the monarchy in Greece the Greek Royal Family communicated with one another in English, and some of them could barely understand Greek, let alone write it. (I don’t know if Prince Philip knows any Greek, but I’ve never heard of him using it, if he does.
    In the early 1990s we had a Moroccan student who said that she always wrote to her mother (in Morocco) in French. When I expressed surprised at that she said that her mother had been educated in French schools and didn’t know how to read or write Arabic (though she could of course speak it).

  9. John Emerson says:

    The Russian elite position reminds me of that of children of American immigrants I have known who were encouraged to speak only English. In one case a woman understood everything without being able to say anything. In other cases people were fluent in everyday conversations, but illiterate and unable to talk about anything abstract or learned — one called it a “kitchen language”.
    In what I’ve read about Musorgsky elite Russians, especially him, were accused of lisping in Russian. Whether that came from French I don’t know.
    The composer Cui was the son of a French soldier in Napoleon’s Army who was left behind. Cui’s mother was Lithuanian. Sort of an odd background for a nationalist.

  10. John Emerson says:

    The Russian elite position reminds me of that of children of American immigrants I have known who were encouraged to speak only English. In one case a woman understood everything without being able to say anything. In other cases people were fluent in everyday conversations, but illiterate and unable to talk about anything abstract or learned — one called it a “kitchen language”.
    In what I’ve read about Musorgsky elite Russians, especially him, were accused of lisping in Russian. Whether that came from French I don’t know.
    The composer Cui was the son of a French soldier in Napoleon’s Army who was left behind. Cui’s mother was Lithuanian. Sort of an odd background for a nationalist.

  11. In a “A People’s Tragedy” Figes also writes of Russian efforts near of the end of the 19th century (after 1881) to “stamp out” the native languages in areas with nationalist movements:
    “Polish students at Warsaw University, for example, had to suffer the absurd indignity of studying their own native literature in Russian translation. High-school students could be expelled for speaking in Polish in their dormitories, as the Bolshevik leader and founder of the Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, discovered. Even Anton Denikin, the future leader of the Whites, who as a Russian in a Warsaw District high-school in the mid-1880s was obliged to monitor the conversations of his Polish classmates, thought the policy was ‘unrealistically harsh’ and always wrote down ‘nothing to report.’ But if forbidding high-school students to speak in Polish was merely harsh (at least they had learned to speak in Russian), to do the same to railway porters (most of whom had never learned Russian, which as ‘public officials’ they were ordered to speak) was to enter into the cruelly surreal. This was not the only act of bureaucratic madness. In 1907 the medical committee in the Kiev Province refused to allow cholera epidemic notices to be published in Ukrainian with the result that many of the peasants, who could not read Russian, died from drinking infected water.”

  12. AJP Crown says:

    This is a nineteenth century hangover. I’ve no evidence either way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Prince Philip spoke something other than English (German perhaps) like a native. The King of Norway’s English (his voice, not his vocabulary) is better than mine, really beautiful.

  13. I don’t know what you think you’re doing in here, Crown. You’ve got business in “A Year in Reading 2008″ — down the hall and to the left.

  14. Siganus Sutor says:

    I suppose he’s like most of us, a bit lazy somehow and prone to do the easier things first.
    Incidentally, how could you have some many princes and princesses in 19th century Russia? Perhaps I should ask my question in another way: What makes you a prince/ss? (As opposed to a simple count or an ordinary duke.)

  15. did noble children actually hear and begin speaking Russian early, only to stop later in childhood?
    Yes, exactly. They were raised by nannies, speaking Russian, until the age of six or so, whereupon they were ripped from the only loving arms they had known (mothers and fathers usually being uninvolved with their children), handed over to foreign (French or German) tutors, and required to speak French. You can easily forget a language acquired in early childhood; I was fluent in Japanese when we left Japan the first time, but forgot it almost instantly, so that when we returned (when I was in fourth grade) I had to set about learning it from scratch (and didn’t learn much at all).

  16. From the 1911 Encyclopedia, written at a time when this osrt of thing still mattered:
    The Russian title of ” prince ” (knyaz) implies undoubted descent from the great reigning houses of Russia, Poland and Lithuania; but the title descends to all male children, none of whom is entitled to represent it par excellence. There may be three or four hundred princes bearing the same distinguished name; of these some may be great nobles, but others are not seldom found in quite humble capacities – waiters or droshky-drivers. The title in itself has little social value.

  17. michael farris says:

    Back to India, I seem to recall reading that many English children born there spoke local languages better than English (since again, they were taken care of by local servants and the parents were largely uninvolved in their children).
    Once they were old enough they were sent to England for school where they forgot the Indian language(s) they knew.

  18. hilding: Thanks very much! I hate having to close old threads because of spammers, and I truly appreciate your taking the trouble to post here. “Психопат тип, лишь недавно установленный в медицинской науке”: very interesting! It’s hard to believe no earlier cite has turned up. And you’re right, ватерпруф should be restored to the active lexicon.

  19. The foreign monarchs of Greece are not really relevant here, because it’s not surprising they didn’t speak the local language; the same was true of the Hanoverian rulers of England for a long time. The point is that native Russians could not speak their own language. A comparable situation obtained in Ottoman Turkey, where Turkish was the language of the peasantry and the court spoke Persian or the heavily Persianized form of Turkish called “Ottoman.”

  20. Siganus Sutor says:

    And Crown doesn’t speak fluent Martian either.

  21. John Atkinson says:

    As for Prince Philip, he grew up in exile in France and Britain and for a while in Germany, and speaks these languages well. I understand his Greek was poor or perhaps nonexistent as a child and that he took lessons when he was invited back to Greece for the first time as an adult.

  22. Yes, Russian, of course, is a Great Language, so we read these things with considerable amazement. The fact that Russian bounced back makes it even more incredible in hindsight.
    But many languages have been driven into extinction by attitudes like these . In Japan in times past, Ainu and Okinawan children were forbidden to speak those languages in the playground, and punished for doing so. Ainu has now virtually disappeared.
    In the company where I work, a Chinese management official told an (Inner) Mongolian subordinate not to speak Mongolian in the office because he couldn’t understand what was being said. I’m sure he was speaking in jest, but as is usual in such cases, it is much easier for those in power to say such things in jest than it is for subordinates to take them in jest. The denial of language and culture happens everywhere, and it is, by and large, accepted everywhere without a lot of demurral. If you demur too much, you are a troublemaker.

  23. komfo,amonan says:

    JCass: Thanks. I’m no expert, & the medieval lit that jumped to mind was all vernacular.
    Bathrobe: I don’t know if you could say Russian ‘bounced back’. Notwithstanding the situation among the elite and the that in Poland, Ukraine, &c., I imagine Russian was always spoken by the masses of Russia & there was no pressure on them to give it up. In other words, it did not have the status of a minority language of a state as in the examples you cite.

  24. Responding to a few points at once:
    She said that her [Moroccan] mother had been educated in French schools and didn’t know how to read or write Arabic (though she could of course speak it).
    Not that crazy really – written Arabic is sufficiently different from spoken Maghrebi that you could argue either literacy alternative (French or MSA) is practically a foreign language for a native Moroccan.
    In 1907 the medical committee in the Kiev Province refused to allow cholera epidemic notices to be published in Ukrainian with the result that many of the peasants, who could not read Russian, died from drinking infected water. Frankly, this sounds like a nationalist exaggeration at best. Anyone literate in Ukrainian could probably figure out the Russian without much difficulty. The Russian for cholera is “Холера”, in Ukrainian it is, surprise, “Холера”. And really, how many peasants in 1907 in Kiev province were actually literate in Ukrainian?

  25. John Emerson says:

    George III was very fond of the Anglophile Georg Chrisoff Lichtenberg, and when Lichtenberg was in London George frequently summoned him to court. Lichtenberg didn’t know what to make of this.

  26. John Emerson says:

    George III was very fond of the Anglophile Georg Chrisoff Lichtenberg, and when Lichtenberg was in London George frequently summoned him to court. Lichtenberg didn’t know what to make of this.

  27. John Emerson says:

    Christoph.

  28. John Emerson says:

    Christoph.

  29. AJP Shadowy Figure says:

    Me neither.

  30. AJP Shadowy Figure says:

    And Crown doesn’t speak fluent Martian either.
    Yeah, right. Yesterday you thought I was green.

  31. @ Vanya
    In Britain we have the idiocy of vast sums spent on translating medical pamphlets into languages belonging to cultures where, if people can read at all they can read in several languages: all literate Bengalis can read English; I imagine those literate in Somali et al can read a European language. And the literary West-Bengal Bengali one sees (that’s where most translators are from it seems)is of little benefit to those who speak the Sylheti Bengali dialect of Bangladesh. I imagine similar considerations apply to Somali…

  32. AJP Shadowy Figure says:

    the same was true of the Hanoverian rulers of England for a long time

    I don’t think it was THAT long, actually. Max. fifty years (until George III).

  33. I seem to remember hearing a story from the history of Denmark about a time when guys would speak French at court, German to their wives, and Danish to their dogs. Can I be remembering it right?

  34. AJP Crown says:

    No.

  35. @ Saif
    And the literary West-Bengal Bengali one sees (that’s where most translators are from it seems)is of little benefit to those who speak the Sylheti Bengali dialect of Bangladesh. I imagine similar considerations apply to Somali…
    Not really – when Somali is written, it’s virtually always written in Standard Somali, rather than simply transcribing a non-standard dialect.

  36. David Marjanović says:

    In the early 1990s we had a Moroccan student who said that she always wrote to her mother (in Morocco) in French. When I expressed surprised at that she said that her mother had been educated in French schools and didn’t know how to read or write Arabic (though she could of course speak it).

    Qualitatively, that’s probably not different from my own situation — I write Standard German to my family (notes on the kitchen table, e-mails, chats, everything), because the dialect that we actually speak is simply not written. (I leave out some of the grammar that doesn’t occur in the dialect, but that’s it.) The five to ten poets who ever tried within the last maybe 150 years didn’t bother to devise a halfway consistent orthography, and some things like… erm… easily half of the vowel system are beyond the power of the Standard German orthography to express (in marked contrast to the situation in Switzerland).
    vanya has covered the quantitative difference.

    In what I’ve read about Musorgsky elite Russians, especially him, were accused of lisping in Russian. Whether that came from French I don’t know.

    Doesn’t make sense if lithping in the thtrict thenth is meant, so it probably isn’t…

  37. Usually what’s translated as “lisping” is really pronouncing the r “grasseyé” as in Parisian French. (I have no idea why it gets rendered as “lisping” except that all linguistic oddities get lumped together.)

  38. Siganus Sutor says:

    I don’t know if this is supposed to be 19th-century French, but an expression has struck me in my French translation of Anna Karenina: “rompre les chiens”. I have no idea what it means. It appears several times in the book, like for instance in the middle of chapter VI in the sixth part:
    « — Alors vous attendez Stépane Arcadiévitch ? demanda Serge Ivanovitch, dans l’intention évidente de rompre les chiens. »
    I don’t know what these poor dogs may have done to be broken like that, but that’s very cruel. Anyhow, I wonder what Tolstoy has written in Russian, and what it means.

  39. Siganus Sutor says:

    Ah, it was another one of these hunting expressions. Its primary meaning is “calling the dogs back”, but there is a secondary meaning: “Stop the conversation before it goes wrong.”
    http://tinyurl.com/6l5j5v
    As far as I remember it’s the only place where I encountered this idiom. (Could it be that the equivalent expression in Russian mentions dogs as well?)

  40. using Danish only to speak to the dogs:
    Oh, Kron, you’re just jealous because I’m so tall. Hmm, looks like French was the international language in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also Denmark included a German speaking area at about that time. And here is a court official–a king’s physician and later regent–who issued documents in German and whose court title was French–Maître des requêtes. Maybe the remark is meant to express resentment towards foreign influences.

  41. AJP Crown says:

    It probably derives from the thing that’s attributed to Charles V: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

  42. And of course the last two Danish royal houses were imported from Germany. Most recently in 1863. I vaguely recall that Christian X, the grandson, was the first king of the Glücksburgs to be fluent in Danish.
    Add to that a propensity to marry various minor German princesses and it makes sense that they should speak (some variety of) German to their wives.
    The story goes that after the occupation in 1940 the German commander called the royal palace – presumably to inform the king of the situation and when the phone was answered he was greeted with a stream of invective. When angrily demanding to know to whom he was speaking, he was told “This is the queen!”, whereupon the receiver was slammed down.
    I doubt it’s true, but the point of the anecdote is that queen Alexandrine was a duchess of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

  43. Phil the Greek, of course, is properly a member of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, like the Danish and Norwegian royal families, and as far as I’m aware he doesn’t actually have a drop of Greek blood in him. My guess is that, with his mother being a Battenberg, the language at “Mon Repos” was German … I recall being told by someone who was descended from one of the aristocratic families of the Baltic states, who were all (or mostly) originally descended from the German-speaking Teutonic knights, that one of the problems at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914 was that Russian generals such as Paul von Rennenkampf, from an Estonian German family, the man in charge of the Russian First Army, communicated by radio with their fellow Baltic German Russian Army officers in German, the language they were most fluent in, which let the German Army itself in on everything the Russians were up to with no problems at all …

  44. AJP Crown says:

    It probably derives from the thing that’s attributed to Charles V: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”
    (They think the reason no one can find the original quote is because he said it in German.)

  45. (Could it be that the equivalent expression in Russian mentions dogs as well?)
    No: the Russian reads «очевидно не желая продолжать разговор», meaning simply ‘evidently not wishing to continue the conversation’.

  46. one of the problems at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914 was that Russian generals such as Paul von Rennenkampf, from an Estonian German family, the man in charge of the Russian First Army, communicated by radio with their fellow Baltic German Russian Army officers in German, the language they were most fluent in, which let the German Army itself in on everything the Russians were up to with no problems at all
    I seriously doubt that, and it sounds like an offshoot of the anti-German propaganda so prevalent in WWI-era Russia (“the Empress is a German, so of course she’s telling the krauts everything our army is doing”). The problem was not that the generals were talking in German, it was that they weren’t bothering to encode their communications. (Trust me, the Germans had plenty of people who could understand Russian.) Plus the fact that they didn’t coordinate with each other or follow coherent plans or use even the most elementary common sense… Don’t get me started on the disaster that was August 1914.

  47. Phil the Greek, of course, is properly a member of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg
    What I heard was when he was going to be married to the Queen, he didn’t have a last name to put on the marriage licence — he’d just been going around telling people he was ‘Prince Phillip’ — and so his uncle came up with Mountbatten, his own name (anglicised at the time of WW1 from Battenburg). Thereafter Lord Mountbatten went around telling anyone who would listen that it was “absolutely vital” that the last name of the children (Prince Charles & co.) be Mountbatten-Windsor, rather than plain old Windsor like their mum.
    Bloody parasites.

  48. John Emerson says:

    At the time of Karl XII the Swedish Royals married into the Schleswig ruling family and the Danish ruling family alternately. His grandmother was from Schleswig, a Swedish ally, and his mother from Denmark, a frequent Swedish enemy. His sister Hedvig Sophia married the Schleswig ruler or heir, whereas Karl was engaged to marry the Danish Princess Sophia Hedvig. Karl’s married was never consummated, mostly because Sweden was at war with Denmark but possibly also because Karl had no carnal desires as a matter of principle. (Karl XII’s father Karl XI’s marriage to Karl’s Danish mother had been similarly postponed because of a war.) When Karl XI died while Karl XII was very young, his grandmother was still alive and became a power at his mother’s expense. Whether this was a cause of the Swdish anti-Danish policy, or the result of Denmark’s anti-Swedish policy, I don’t know. More likely the latter.
    Anyway, dynastic politics is a strange world indeed, where you’re always killing or being killed by your cousins and inlaws, and where a childless marriage or king’s premature death can throw half a continent into turmoil.
    Note: the facts in the above are mostly actually factual, but caveat emptor.

  49. John Emerson says:

    At the time of Karl XII the Swedish Royals married into the Schleswig ruling family and the Danish ruling family alternately. His grandmother was from Schleswig, a Swedish ally, and his mother from Denmark, a frequent Swedish enemy. His sister Hedvig Sophia married the Schleswig ruler or heir, whereas Karl was engaged to marry the Danish Princess Sophia Hedvig. Karl’s married was never consummated, mostly because Sweden was at war with Denmark but possibly also because Karl had no carnal desires as a matter of principle. (Karl XII’s father Karl XI’s marriage to Karl’s Danish mother had been similarly postponed because of a war.) When Karl XI died while Karl XII was very young, his grandmother was still alive and became a power at his mother’s expense. Whether this was a cause of the Swdish anti-Danish policy, or the result of Denmark’s anti-Swedish policy, I don’t know. More likely the latter.
    Anyway, dynastic politics is a strange world indeed, where you’re always killing or being killed by your cousins and inlaws, and where a childless marriage or king’s premature death can throw half a continent into turmoil.
    Note: the facts in the above are mostly actually factual, but caveat emptor.

  50. Caveat imperator.

  51. David Marjanović says:

    Usually what’s translated as “lisping” is really pronouncing the r “grasseyé” as in Parisian French.

    That makes a lot of sense. If you can pronounce one trill, it’s very difficult to learn the other. I even used to look for it in the wrong place, and my sister still is.

    Also Denmark included a German speaking area at about that time.

    For some value of “German”… :o)

    Battenburg

    Battenbeeeeeeeeeeerg! Berg = mountain; Burg = medieval castle (château fort).

  52. A.J.P. von Misinformation says:

    Yes, I knew this berg/burg thing, and still got it wrong. However, and to distract you from my mistake, on looking up Battenberg cake (something I’ve always quite liked) on Wiki I found this:

    On 10 April 2008 the British Food Standards Agency asked for a voluntary ban on artificial food colourings and suggested that the ban would be practical by the end of 2009. This would mean that certain foods such as mushy peas, battenberg cakes, Turkish Delight and tinned strawberries might disappear temporarily or permanently.

    I’m looking forward to this. Is it something to do with Harry Potter?

  53. marie-lucie says:

    There is also Battenberg lace:
    It’s that heavy, flat lace made with very narrow ribbon laid out in a pattern and joined together with a variety of decorative stitches. … You’ve seen it trimming bed, bath and table linens in pricey shops. … (From: Chicago Sun-Times | Date: August 10, 1990| Author: Judy Moore | Copyright information)
    This is not real lace but gives a good imitation from a distance. Like lace it looks good in white over a plain coloured cloth such as a tablecloth. You sometimes see dressy white summer jackets (or even dressier black ones) for women made of this lace.

  54. John Emerson says:

    Hey, a lot of castles are on mountains.

  55. John Emerson says:

    Hey, a lot of castles are on mountains.

  56. John Emerson says:

    I like fermented mushy peas.
    Battenberg cake looks quaintly ethnic.

  57. John Emerson says:

    I like fermented mushy peas.
    Battenberg cake looks quaintly ethnic.

  58. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I am quaintly ethnic.
    My mother makes lace. She just spent two weeks in Bruges, at a convent, learning new things. Her bag was snatched at Brussels station (not by nuns).

  59. zythophile says:

    The problem was not that the generals were talking in German, it was that they weren’t bothering to encode their communications.
    I’m sure you’re right, LH, I’ve certainly seen that given as a reason for the Russians’ failures – I mentioned the story only because my source was the grandson of one of those German-speaking Russian generals, which might perhaps give it slightly more of a chance of authenticity than if he were the grandson of a Russian-speaking Russian general …

  60. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, one thing we have in common: my mother made lace too! bobbin lace, which I think is also the type made in Bruges.

  61. John Emerson says:

    My next door neighbor crocheted lace. When she moved I bought 50-100 crochet or other magazines from her, more or less as a favor but with the idea of selling them. She also sold lace doilies quite cheaply.

  62. John Emerson says:

    My next door neighbor crocheted lace. When she moved I bought 50-100 crochet or other magazines from her, more or less as a favor but with the idea of selling them. She also sold lace doilies quite cheaply.

  63. Also in Emerson’s neck of the woods they used to do tatting-I think it uses a little heavier thread and is done with a small metal shuttle. If you go to some of the Wisconsin festivals you can see some incredible Norwegian lace, I don’t remember the name of it, but I think I remember seeing some at the Stoughton festival years ago.

  64. Not really lace, I guess; it’s called Hardanger.

  65. In the company where I work, a Chinese management official told an (Inner) Mongolian subordinate not to speak Mongolian in the office because he couldn’t understand what was being said.

    I’ve been meaning to mention to the Hattics that I am once again gainfully employed, and this is a fine opportunity. In the company where I now work, here in the cosmopolitan city of New York, I was sitting in a meeting with two colleagues from India. One of them (a female junior technologist) addressed the other (a male project manager) with a two-word remark in some language, presumably an Indian one (I am not yet on sufficiently close terms with these people to ask what their native languages are). It did not sound like a vulgarism, so I looked at the recipient, hoping for a translation. Instead, he said to her “English! English!” and the conversation took another turn. Somehow I don’t think this was done out of courtesy to me, though it might at best have been done in an attempt to escape my English-only bigotry (which of course does not exist, but how are they to know that?)

    It is my view, by the way, that the aforesaid junior technologist comes in for far more than her share of scorn and impatience from the other employees, who I would describe as damnably condescending. I can’t do anything about her gender, but I am doing my best to upgrade her skills as quickly as possible in hopes that she can get a better job at another place.

  66. I’ve been meaning to mention to the Hattics that I am once again gainfully employed

    Huzza!

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks for letting us know!

  68. marie-lucie says:

    After the Russian revolution many upper-class Russians fled to France, where people were astonished to hear them speak almost like French natives. This was attributed to the Russian ‘gift for languages’, rather than their having been raised by French governesses and tutors.

    Here in English Canada I met an older lady who spoke French like I did. She explained that she had been raised in Canada but her British parents had engaged a French nanny or governess when she was a very small child, with orders to speak only French to her.

    Russian princ(ess)es

    A few years ago I read a biography of la Comtesse de Ségur, née Rostopchine (a Russian aristocrat who married a French nobleman and later became the author of still popular French children’s books). She was very proud of her father, who had been the governor of Moscow who burned the city to make sure it did not fall to Napoleon’s troops. When still quite young, he had been a close friend and aide of the (also young) Tsar, both resented and valued because he never hesitated to challenge the Tsar (who would sometimes banish him, but recall him within a few days). Once the Tsar asked him about his background, which was far from aristocratic: “What, you are not a prince? We must make you a prince!” And he was made a prince.

Speak Your Mind

*