PYAZHNIN.

I’ve started Moscow, 1937 by Karl Schlögel, a book I’m enjoying every bit as much as I’d anticipated—it’s just the kind of blend of literary, cultural, and political history, with constant references to geography (and a nice annotated map of Moscow on the endpapers), that I love. It opens with a bird’s-eye conspectus of the city in a chapter called “Navigation: Margarita’s Flight” (from the novel I posted about here), which leads to a discussion of “Bulgakov’s Moscow,” in the course of which Schlögel mentions “N. Piashnin’s apartment in Savelevskii pereulok 12, the meeting place of the literary Moscow of the end of the 1920s.” Well, I’m extremely interested in the literary Moscow of the 1920s, so of course I wanted to know who this N. Piashnin was. Unfortunately, Google could find no trace of any Piashnin or Pyashnin, and I didn’t have any better luck with Пяшнин. Fortunately, it occurred to me that this “sh” might be a Germanized version of Russian ж, normally rendered in English by “zh” (see this cri de coeur from the very first week of LH), and with a little detective work I turned up this page on Bulgakov from Москва энциклопедия (clearly Schlögel’s source), which says “на квартире Н.Н. Пяжнина (так называемые пяжнинские чтения, куда съезжалась вся литературная Москва 20—30-х гг.; Савельевский переулок, 12)” [in the apartment of N. N. Pyazhnin (the so-called Pyazhnin readings, which all literary Moscow of the '20s-'30s attended; Savelevsky pereulok, 12)]. But there is no other record of this “N. N. Pyazhnin”! In fact, if you google the surname you get “Your search – Пяжнин – did not match any documents.” So I turn to the Varied Reader: does anybody happen to know what literary figure is being referred to here? Or is this a Russian Mountweazel?
Update. OK, I think I’ve solved part of the puzzle. It turns out that Bulgakov’s close friend N. N. Lyamin (Булгаковская Энциклопедия entry for Лямин Николай Николаевич) lived at Savelevskii pereulok 12 with his wife Natalia Ushakova. The nonexistent name “Pyazhnin” is clearly a distortion of Lyamin. But how and why did the distortion creep in? At any rate, it just goes to show you can’t trust any information without double-checking it.
Addendum. Just came across another name so badly mangled I feel I should note it here for the benefit of other readers of the book: on page 148, the nonexistent “Nina Neshkina” is actually Militsa Nechkina, a historian prominent enough to have her own Wikipedia page.
Update. The excellent Arthénice posted about this, and the discussion is well worth reading; commenter labas writes that although Lyamin existed, “ни понятия ‘ляминские чтения’ (одно упоминание в книге 1993 г.), ни съезда на них ‘всей литературной Москвы’, насколько я могу судить, не существовало” [there don't seem to have been any "Lyamin readings" (there's one mention in a 1993 book) nor did "all literary Moscow" go to them, as far as I can judge], and crivelli links to this interesting article about Lyamin’s widow and her memories of Bulgakov (in Russian, of course).

Comments

  1. I don’t know Russian, but to judge by your transcriptions, it looks like a transcription error by someone trying to read bad handwriting or tiny blurry print. The commonest error of proofreaders dealing with Greek when they don’t know the language at all is confusing small nu and upsilon – very easy to do when the only real difference is that the nu is pointed on the bottom and the upsilon is rounded.
    In this case, if the Russian capital L had a straight left leg instead of a curved one, it would be a Russian capital P – not much difference between those two letters, at least in the script displayed in your post. The M and Zh are more different, but still look like they might be confused in a sufficiently blurred text – both are square symmetrical letters with ink in all four corners and the center. And the Russian N looks so much like the Russian I (the only difference is whether the crossbar is tilted or horizontal) that the difference between -IN and -NIN is mostly just the difference between three similar symbols and two.

  2. What Michael said. OCR? It accounts for all the major differences.

  3. Yup, sounds very likely. And now the mistake is immortalized in what will be a standard scholarly reference. Maybe they’ll fix it in reprints.

  4. Also, does anyone have as hard a time with Russian handwriting as I do? A string of L’s and M’s and I’s and Sh’s and a couple of the other characters dominated by those vertical lines are pretty damned hard to read if you don’t know what you’re reading in the first place.

  5. Now, see, if the Russian alphabet had just used j instead of ж, as that guy proposed in order to save I-forget-how-much ink and paper every year, this would never have happened. It would have been I think much easier to recognize “N. N. Pyamin” as a misreading of “N. N. Lyamin”. By the way, does “N.” or “N. N.” have the same implications of possible pseudonymity in Russia that it does in the West, where it can stand for nomen nescio ‘I don’t know the name’ even among peoples that don’t use Latin? I note that Lenin was N. Lenin.
    Of course, that wouldn’t make Serbs (and various non-Slavic peoples) happy at all, since they are already using it, mostly for IPA /j/. None of the iotated Cyrillic vowels are used in Serbian at all: they wouldn’t fit Karadžić’s “write as you speak and read as it is written” one-phoneme-one-letter rule.
    Serbia is the only fully functional biscriptal community on the planet. It’s kind of cool (in a very nerdy way) that you can send in your manuscript typed in the Serbian Latin alphabet, and when you get your hands on the book or magazine where it’s printed, it all comes out in perfect Cyrillic untouched by human hands. Try that with Azeri or (much worse) Mongolian!

  6. Garrigus Carraig says:

    Also, does anyone have as hard a time with Russian handwriting as I do? A string of L’s and M’s and I’s and Sh’s and a couple of the other characters dominated by those vertical lines are pretty damned hard to read if you don’t know what you’re reading in the first place.
    @Lane – For me it’s not just the handwriting. The paucity of ascenders and descenders makes even printed Russian text hard.
    Will the Cyrillic script take over in Serbia eventually, now that it is official, and now that Croatia is its own republic? Or are there other factors at work?

  7. you can send in your manuscript typed in the Serbian Latin alphabet, and when you get your hands on the book or magazine where it’s printed, it all comes out in perfect Cyrillic untouched by human hands.
    I assume that you mean that the scripts can be automatically transliterated to the other without any change, loss, or distortion. If that is the case, the two scripts would be convertible through a process of one-to-one substitution. (I have no doubt there is a technical term for this, but I have no idea what it is. Formally equivalent?)
    This does not occur with Mongolian because the two current scripts (leaving aside the other scripts that have been used for Mongolian and its dialects) are not merely formally equivalent ways of representing the same thing. They are in many ways different systems, with different spelling conventions and (because of the dialect split) different vocabulary, grammatical, and stylistic usages.

  8. Garrigus: Cyrillic is the constitutionally official script, but Latin is the, er, other official script. They are still taught on equal terms to schoolchildren, I believe. In this LH post is my writeup of the facts on the ground as of some years ago, except for the error “Ekavian” for “Ijekavian” in the sentence about Standard Montenegrin. Search locally for the phrase “the whole truth”.
    Bathrobe: Exactly so. Every Latin letter has an specific Cyrillic equivalent. The three Cyrillic letters џ љ њ correspond to the Latin digraphs dž lj nj, but these digraphs are not used otherwise, and are treated as single letters in contexts like vertical writing or crossword puzzles. Thus mjenjačnica ‘currency exchange’ is spelled “m j e nj a č n i c a”, corresponding exactly to Cyrillic мјењачница, ten letters in either case. This page will do the conversion. For no other language, I believe, is this scheme possible.

  9. I agree with Michael Hendry above. Except that hand-written capital Л doesn’t have a ‘hat’ that the П has, very much like the Greek π. But in typography, in serif font variations Л is very similar to П.
    Ж can be confused with М but it’s a mystery to me how the additional n could have crept in.
    Happy New Year to all.

  10. Will the Cyrillic script take over in Serbia eventually, now that it is official, and now that Croatia is its own republic?
    I doubt it. I was just in Belgrade a few weeks ago, and I was surprised by how little Cyrillic I saw. Most unofficial writing – advertising, store fronts, menus, tv subtitles, etc – seems to be in Latin script. I wonder if Cyrillic is starting to acquire a sort of a stodgy “government preferred” flavor which makes the younger generation prefer the Latin alternative? I would guess “market forces” and increasing openness to Western Europe are going to favor the Latin script over time. Serbs are truly “biscriptal” though. A Slovenian friend of mine was proofreading some Serbian texts and discovered that people would sometimes mix Cyrillic and Latin letters even within the same word and be unaware they had done so until he pointed it out.

  11. David Marjanović says:

    The three Cyrillic letters џ љ њ correspond to the Latin digraphs dž lj nj, but these digraphs are not used otherwise,

    They’re rare, but they do occur as consonant clusters. Consequently, injekcija “injection” is инјекција, while џ is limited to loanwords (most of them Turkish, most of the rest English nowadays).

    and are treated as single letters in contexts like vertical writing or crossword puzzles.

    And this continues to be the case in Croatia. Indeed, your example is “Croatian” (Ijekavian) instead of “Serbian” (Ekavian).
    (In Slovene, however, the digraphs are counted as two letters each.)

    I was just in Belgrade a few weeks ago, and I was surprised by how little Cyrillic I saw. Most unofficial writing – advertising, store fronts, menus, tv subtitles, etc – seems to be in Latin script.

    In Niš (less close to the West), the proportion seems to be 1 : 1, and if you can’t read both alphabets, you’re illiterate.

    A Slovenian friend of mine was proofreading some Serbian texts and discovered that people would sometimes mix Cyrillic and Latin letters even within the same word and be unaware they had done so until he pointed it out.

    That surprises me a lot. Not just because my dad never does it, but because I’d expect having to use both all the time to be great training for keeping them apart.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    Forgot to mention: the more or less official transcription of Russian used in the German More or Less Democratic Republic used sh for ж out of sheer despair. (Ш was of course sch.)

  13. Well, if you live north of the White Sausage Equator and basically think of s as a voiced sibilant that is voiceless only in context (though more often than the other voiced letters), sh for a voiced shibilant isn’t so wrong-headed. The spelling of Asimov in English is accounted for by the author’s father’s Russian-Jewish notion that s is the Latin equivalent of з: he had a firm grasp on the Cyrillic and Hebrew scripts, but the Latin script, not so much.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Well, if you live north of the White Sausage Equator and basically think of s as a voiced sibilant that is voiceless only in context (though more often than the other voiced letters), sh for a voiced shibilant isn’t so wrong-headed.

    Yeah. It’s true that I sometimes have to remind myself of this; for me, [z] is an utterly exotic sound that I had to learn to articulate for French and English. Indeed, no voiced fricatives at all occur south of the White Sausage Equator – except /v/, which still behaves like the approximant it once was (in that it simply doesn’t occur in places where it could be devoiced), is so strongly nasalized in those dialects (such as mine) where it’s an actual [v] that there’s no actual friction left even though it’s articulated as a fricative, and is [ʋ] elsewhere – incidentally, it’s also [ʋ] here in Berlin.

  15. What are some fine Berlin examples to drool over?

  16. Also, I don’t think Equator is le mot juste: what is being equated with what here? My mother certainly ate Weisswurst, despite living on the Thuringia-Hesse border halfway from Bavaria to Lower Saxony. The WP article identifies the WSE with the Speyerlinie, quia absurdum est.

  17. Perhaps the Tropic of Weisswurst?

  18. David Marjanović says:

    What are some fine Berlin examples to drool over?

    Not sure what you mean – Curry[ʋ]urst?
    Or soundfiles? I guess there have to be some on YouTube. I’ve never looked.
    Perhaps the Tropic of Weisswurst? :-)

  19. On the topic of biscriptalism, would the runner-up be Japanese? Hiragana and Katakana are pretty much totally convertible, though it just isn’t done.

  20. Forgot to mention: the more or less official transcription of Russian used in the German More or Less Democratic Republic used sh for ж out of sheer despair. (Ш was of course sch.)

    That’s a fine choice, far better than the German Wikipedia’s current <sch>. If you understand the convention, you get it right; if you don’t, you pronounce it [ʃ], same as WP. Whereas with the alternative, you can’t get it right without knowing the original Cyrillic.

  21. xyzzyva: Japanese is not biscriptal in the same sense. It uses a complex script made of four component simple scripts (hanzi, katakana, hiragana, Latin), but each has a specific domain of use.

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