The proprietor of the new blog Дунго кив вукIаниги (in English, despite the Cyrillic name — I have no idea what it means) has taken on the impressive self-imposed task of learning Avar, one of the major languages of Dagestan (“major” in this case involving well under a million speakers). I thought I was being daring when I studied Georgian, but that’s a piece of cake by comparison — there are textbooks, grammars, dictionaries, and published books available. For Avar there is almost none of that; as the introductory post explains:
Of the 3 languages featured on the album [Ay Lazzat: Songs and Melodies from Dagestan], it was Avar (the largest one with all of 730,000 speakers) that grabbed my attention, with its guttural pops and creaks that made it sound more like the speech of a fictional race of extraterrestrial warriors than anything human (the apostrophe-heavy transcriptions of the song titles – “Kh’uwativ sh’ai qu’at’azav”, “Ak’lu tle ebel” – only reinforced this Klingon-like impression), with a great, but unknown, literary and oral tradition, with its own pantheon of poets and writers, some of whose verses were set to music in those songs, lyrics only hinted at in descriptions about girls’ hearts shattering like pearls from a string and other such things.
So of course I had to learn it.
But I quickly ran into trouble – the difficulty, lack of decent (or any) learning material and the sheer impracticality of it all made me drop it as quickly as I’d picked it up.
After a few more abortive attempts I continued to feed my interest in Dagestan by reading and listening to music but otherwise dismissed the idea of ever learning it. Instead, I turned my attention to “easier” Georgian and, in an unexpected turn of events, ended up flying away to Georgia and living there for a few years.
It was about a year ago, as my Georgian adventure was nearing its end, that I made the acquaintance of an Avar and the germ of something-as-yet-unclear was planted. After a lazy, unpromising start, I finally picked up the grammar books (there is nothing that could even charitably be called a “textbook”) and a bilingual Russian-Avar edition of “Taras Bulba” and started learning again, so many years after that first wide-eyed encounter.
The second post describes the frustration of trying to work with a Soviet translation of “the famous Dagestani poet and author Rasul Gamzatov’s ‘My Dagestan,'” whose translator clearly did not know Avar and did not appear to take the task very seriously:
Delving further into the book, the Russian “translation” got ever looser – a more and more wildly elaborate riff on the spare, laconic Avar.
And then I stumbled on a 6-page-long passage that was completely ignored by the Russian translator.
And then followed long, elaborate pieces of Russian “translation” that simply did not exist in the Avar original (or perhaps got shuffled around and are buried in some other part of the book).
Ok, I’m a translator myself, and know very well that readability often comes at the expense of accuracy, and some sacrifices need to be made. But large parts of this translation were just pure invention, and large parts were not translated at all. And that’s in only 30-odd pages of 498.
This is great stuff, and I thank Andrew for alerting me to it!