RECOGNIZING RECONNAISSANCE.

Having read a little farther in Baklanov (see the previous post), I have another linguistic nugget. In chapter 3, he talks about “командиры полков, вызванные на рекогносцировку”: ‘regimental commanders sent out on rekognostsirovka.’ That last word was completely mystifying to me, and yet when I looked it up and discovered it meant ‘reconnaissance,’ I (figuratively) smacked myself on the forehead and wondered why it hadn’t been obvious. After all, reconnaissance in French can mean ‘recognition’ and the verb reconnaître is from Latin recognoscere, all of which I know perfectly well, so I should have recognized rekognostsirovka for what it was. And yet the Latinate form completely flummoxed me. Mind you, if my German were better I wouldn’t have had a problem, because the German word for ‘reconnoiter’ is rekognoszieren, which is where the Russians got their verb rekognostsirovat’. All of which goes to show that you can never know too many languages.

Comments

  1. You are very broad-minded about this, Hat. Almost blaming yourself because you didn’t know the German word from which the Russian was borrowed.
    It is a bit of a contrast with an Inner Mongolian colleague of mine who admitted that the (Outer) Mongolians have borrowed a lot of Western vocabulary, but they borrowed it the wrong way, through Russian, so the words are in the wrong form — the ‘right’ form presumably being English!
    The background to all this, of course, is the tension between (Outer) Mongolian, which is supposedly ‘correct’, and Inner Mongolian, which has been corrupted by Chinese, an implication that Inner Mongolians resent. The first thing that Inner Mongolians will point out is how much Russian has made its way into (Outer) Mongolian vocabulary.

  2. “Ir” suffix in Russian typically indicates a German origin of the verb. Although some homegrown verbs were given the same suffix just too give them a learned, faux scientific feel. Like Trofim Lysenko’s invention “яровизировать” (“iz” and “ir” are make-believe German suffices and then “ov” is a Russian one – what a pompous pileup!)

  3. I love it!

  4. Not a word I’ve seen before either. I wonder why the author chose this over “разведка”. What is the difference in connotation? Does “рекогносциковка” have more of a specialized, jargony ring to it?

  5. Not surprisingly, I mistyped “рекогносцировка” in my previous post. I should have copied and pasted, as I did just now.

  6. It’s mostly military speak. The difference between рекогносцировка and разведка is semantic too. Разведка is generic for intelligence: ГРУ – главное разведывательное управление (GRU, general directorate of intelligence, military), СВР – служба внешней разведки (external intelligence service). Рекогносцировка is reconnaitre, probe, find out where the opposition is on the ground. It includes evaluating position, landscape for military purposes – where to position troops and machinery for combat. Рекогносцировка often comes with местности (gen. of landscape, ground). It’s mostly done by staff officers. Soldiers who went at night into no-man’s land to capture an enemy “язык” (a tongue – a prisoner to extract information from) would have described it as разведка, not recognoscirovka). Yazyk in that sense would appear in Baklanov’s narrative somewhere.
    The word is also used by geodesists (land surveyors) to plan on the ground for roads, bridges etc.

  7. I wonder if there’s anybody out there who somehow knows just one too many languages, and regrets it terribly.

  8. Almost blaming yourself because you didn’t know the German word from which the Russian was borrowed.
    I do blame myself—I’m supposed to have a decent reading understanding of German!

  9. I don’t kow if a person can know too many languages, but when it comes to etymologizing military terminology, you really only need three: French, German and now English. During the period when Russia (and the US and Japan) were developing professional armies the German Imperial Army was the model everyone was watching. And even now there is some cross-fertilization – The US Army may not borrow the actual term, but it will calque it – “Auftragtaktik” came across as “mission-type order” in the 80′s.
    Before that era the model was France, for obvious reasons. A lot of the basic organizational terminology in western armies is French – battalion, colonel, lieutenant, company – even down to the internal syntax of the terms – sergeant major, lieutenant general, etc. And tems tor words that already existed in X language were used in a military setting exactly as in the French structure – division is an example; same term for the same echelon. Oops, there’s another, used in English in both of the French meanings in the same ways.
    And back to calquing – even Chinese terminology reflects the same rank structure as the French model.

  10. komfo,amonan says:

    Oh Bathrobe. Are you trying to start a flame war? ;~)

  11. Heh. Yeah, B, don’t poke the anthill!

  12. when it comes to etymologizing military terminology, you really only need three: French, German and now English
    What about Latin? Don’t centurions count for anything any more?

  13. Jim: During the period when Russia (and the US and Japan) were developing professional armies the German Imperial Army was the model everyone was watching.
    This is quite wrong. “German” influence is a result of Vom Kriege, the most famous work of the Prussian military theorist von Clausewitz, who died (1831) a good thirty years before Germany was unified.

  14. I don’t think those ideas are incompatible. It is (at least partially) as a result of von Clausewitz that the German army became so admired, and it was indeed a model throughout the nineteenth century and up to WWI.

  15. @Bathrobe: One of the first things that shocked me when I opened for my first time a textbook on Inner Mongolian is that they call cinemas kino.

  16. The German Kikipedia article on Clausewitz contains much interesting information not found in the English article. For instance the fact that Clausewitz’ ideas “are part of the material covered in courses on business economics at Harvard and various other management schools”.
    I once tried to read Vom Kriege but fell asleep. I clearly didn’t have the right attitude at the time. After perusing the article just mentioned, I see that Vom Kriege is another goddamn book I need to read before I die.

  17. Yes, there is also a lot of Russian vocabulary in Inner Mongolian. But it’s much more widespread in Mongolia itself.

  18. “This is quite wrong. “German” influence is a result of Vom Kriege, the most famous work of the Prussian military theorist von Clausewitz, who died (1831) a good thirty years before Germany was unified.”
    That’s superficial, and in a specifically academic way. Clausewitz was hardly the seal of the prophets when it comes to military affairs, and if you are trying to build a modern army he is quite inadequate as a guide. (He fell out of fashion a long time ago, at least in the US Army – who is going to inflict Clausewitz’s interminable, flatulent, German-style prose on himself when he can read Sun Zi’s terse Classical Chinese in any number of very good translations? And now people at Leavenworth are reading the Bhagavad Gita, in this era of insurgencies and nation-building, because it deals with the miltary as just one aspect of the warrior’s overall role in providing governance. I swear to God.)
    For example, the staff system everyone in the west uses is based on the German General Staff – Generalstab. The Russians even called theirs Stabka. The Germans pioneered modern military logistics, although the Ameicans surpassed the masters a verylong time ago. This is the detailed stuff that serving as a real model requires, not a treatise dealing laying out discussing general principles.

  19. German-style prose
    No surprise there, since Clausewitz had German as his native language. (I guess it would be historically inaccurate to say he “was German”). But interminable flatulence may have been what put me to sleep. Anyway, I’ve ordered the little Reclam edition, and before taking it on again I will make a pot of strong coffee.

  20. You would know about superficial. Your post was entirely superficial, and now you’re arguing something entirely different. Whether the US army currently likes to read Clausewitz has nothing to do with your original assertion – and it’s too boring to discuss.
    although the Ameicans surpassed the masters a verylong time ago.
    I find your chauvinism revolting. If there’s one group the world is united in loathing, it’s the US military.

  21. I hope that the U.S. Army is now reading The Wolf Totem, which claims that the Mongols learnt all their stunning military tactics from the wolves.

  22. I find your chauvinism revolting. If there’s one group the world is united in loathing, it’s the US military.
    Pot, kettle.

  23. If you’re referring to me, I don’t defend Britain’s past colonial adventures any more than the USA’s (I have both citizenships). Otherwise, I don’t know what you mean by pot & kettle. The world hates the US military because they’re the ones currently indiscriminately murdering unarmed people, not because they’re inherently any badder than anyone else’s army.

  24. The world hates the US military because they’re the ones currently indiscriminately murdering unarmed people
    I do not hold a PR brief for the US army, but I believe the “killing unarmed civilians” league table is currently headed by the Egyptian police force (in mufti), probably followed by the Taliban in Afghanistan/Pakistan, and al Qa’eda in Iraq/Yemen.
    Which is one of Clausewitz’s problems, I believe – some time since I read him, but if I remember correctly, he doesn’t have much to say about fighting against guerrillas, terrorists and popular revolts.

  25. This isn’t a political blog, but here’s one documented example, thanks to Wikileaks. There are worse ones with drones killing unarmed civilians in Pakistan – worse in the sense of both numbers & cowardliness. I can’t see how the Egyptian police can hold a candle to the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Vietnam and all the other places they’ve made safe for us during the past 50 years.

  26. I also hold no brief for the US army, but can we not get into this stuff? Thanks.

  27. I also hold no brief for the US army
    My young life was lit up by a GI in Fort Hood. I suppose you could say I held his briefs after removing them.

  28. But not for long, I bet.

  29. As briefly as possible.

  30. Don’t mention the war. Sorry, Language.

  31. ‘S OK; I often succumb to the temptation to shoot off my mouth when I shouldn’t. We’re all a bit Grumbly, eh?

  32. That’s right.

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