REGIONAL ACCENTS IN RUSSIAN.

Over at the Log, Mark Liberman has an interesting post about a performance of Chekhov’s Three Sisters he saw; as linguistic notes, he mentions Kulygin’s ut consecutivum and brings up the issue of accents, saying “a provincial town in the Russia of 1900 — especially one far enough away from the capital that the three sisters would not have gone back for a visit in eleven years — would have had a distinctive regional accent, I think, one that everyone involved would have been quite aware of.” I responded:

This is both true and irrelevant. Russian does have regional accents — broadly, northern (in which unstressed o’s are clearly pronounced, among other features), southern (in which unstressed o’s are pronounced as /a/ or schwa, and g is frequently a pharyngeal fricative, as in Ukrainian), and central (Moscow), which blends the two (basically, southern vowels and northern consonants) — but these accents are not culturally significant. What is significant, in fact essential, is that the speech be “educated”: accents in the right places, “correct” grammatical forms, etc. If your speech is educated, you will be accepted as a member of cultured society, and any provincial accent will simply be a clue to one’s origin (unless, of course, it is so strong as to seem peasant/uneducated, as with Khrushchev and Gorbachev, among others).
What this means for Chekhov (and Russian literature in general) is that regional accent is pretty much not an issue. There are only three kinds of speech: educated, peasant, and foreign (Germans and people from the Caucasus are frequent targets of mockery in this regard). All of the main characters in this play are educated, even if Natasha is just hanging on by her fingernails, and to give any of them a noticeable accent would (I believe) misrepresent the situation. I’ve seen a couple of productions in Russian, and I don’t remember any such thing.

Does this seem right to the Russians in the house? (I also link to this article by Anne Lounsbery, which is well worth reading if you’re interested in “the provinces” in Russian literature.)

Comments

  1. Broadly right about Russian accents. A note about “g” – to my ear it is pronounced as a voiced glottal fricative (.aiff audio) in Ukraine and a voiced velar fricative (.aiff audio) in Southern Russia. There was a discussion at Anatoly’s LJ about it some time ago.

  2. Thanks for the clarification (I took the liberty of converting your URLs to direct links); I’ll see if I can find the discussion at Anatoly’s.

  3. How far east do these accents extend? Surely there aren’t three bands of uniform accent from the Baltic States, Belarus, and Ukraine all the way over to the Sea of Okhotsk?

  4. Well, let’s go with “distinct accent” instead of uniform.

  5. Anatoly says:

    Steve, the entry in my LJ about the different g’s is here:
    http://avva.livejournal.com/2110174.html
    Your comment on the accents seems about right to me.

  6. I would like to add a timorous comment here. Hat’s claim is that Russian regional accents are not culturally significant. This sounds like he is imagining a shared Russian “culture space” in which, or against the background of which, accent differences are not significant (whatever “significant” is being taken to mean here).
    A necessary condition for such a common culture to exist, it seems to me, is that persons with those different accents must be able to understand each other without difficulty. If they could not, there would be no community of Russian, but something more like a multilingual community. After all, when you can’t understand what someone is saying, it is irrelevant (in terms of shared culture and community) whether they are speaking a foreign language, or in another dialect of your own language that you don’t understand.
    So what Hat seems to be saying, by implication at least, is that millions of Russian speakers over millions of square kilometers can all understand each other without too much trouble. Now I think that would be one of the wonders of the world if it were true. (Ryan here is also taken aback) I’m not saying it’s not true, just that it ought to be in the Guiness book of records at least, and also that some explanation should be forthcoming of why that is so. Little ol’ Germany is crawling with German variants that get my synapses in a twist when I try to wrap my head around them. Same for England and Scotland with English, Spain with Spanish, and France with French. Strangely, though, there are very few variants of English in the USA that are hard for me to understand, although it’s a big place.
    What I’m talking about here is not any first principle for deciding what’s what without leaving your armchair. If what Hat says is true, then it’s true. What I’m wondering about is certain impressions I’ve had from TV programs over the years about various parts of Russia and parts of the former Soviet Union, and whether a kind of systematic sampling error might be involved, as far as my own impressions go. These impressions are in line with what Hat is saying, but possibly for the wrong reasons.
    Now I studied Russian for several years, but that was 40 years ago, so I clearly can’t speak or understand it today. Nevertheless, in all those TV programs where I hear native Russian, Siberian, Uzbekh etc. people speaking Russian (in the pauses between the German dubbing), it all sounds more or less equally intelligible. I can hear each word clearly and could write it down, even though I can’t remember what the word means (if I ever knew). This is in stark contrast to my feeling of WTF when I hear on TV some bloody French regional accent, or a southern German one.
    Could this apparent uniform intelligibility be due to stern teaching practices for Russian in the past ? Or could it be that television teams (BBC, German television), who are reliant on local translators to provide contact, tend to find well-educated ones with good Russian who (unconsciously ?) select those locals as their interlocutors who speak an easily understood Russian ? That’s what I meant by “systematic sampling error”, another version of which would be if all the locals were on their best Russian behavior for the TV crew. I know that most Germans can manage a passable Germany-standard-German when they try. That’s more than I can say about regional French folks, at least those I hear on the box.
    How came it to pass, in other words, that there is one language called Russian, whereas there is no one language called Chinese ?

  7. millions of Russian speakers over millions of square kilometers can all understand each other without too much trouble.
    Yes. This is hardly surprising when you realize that most of “Russia” was only colonized by Russian speakers in the 18th century and later. And compared to Western or Central Europe the population of Russia in the pre-revolutionary era was very fluid and geographically mobile – for centuries peasants were sold, transferred, or sent to colonize newly acquired territory.
    If you were comparing Russian to Chinese or German, a better comparison would be to say that “Slavic” has many local dialects – but they are called “Russian”, “Ukrainian”, “Belorussian”,”Polish”, “Slovak”, etc. and no dialect was ever able to fully suppress the others as the sole written standard.
    LH is quite right about the unimportance of regional dialect in Chekhov. The pre-revolutionary Russian upper classes were very different from Western European nobility – they really had no deep geographical roots in any specific place, even the older families lived maybe a few generations in one place at most. Moscow/St Petersburg was always the “center” no matter where in the Empire the ruling class lived, and the Tsar could and did move nobles from estate to estate. Regional accents probably were more pronounced at the peasant level than amongst the upper classes, but that isn’t very relevant to Chekhov.

  8. As a native speaker of Russian I can confirm that what LH writes seems
    to correspond to my own impressions and what I know.
    First, LH is – as far as I can tell – quite right about the fact that
    social and educational differences seem to be universally more important
    in Russian literature than those of dialect. In other words, a landlord
    from the Volga region in Chekhov’s time would be perfectly mutually
    intelligible with a St. Petersburg aristocrat (with the latter perhaps
    scoffing at the former’s manner of speech; up until mid-19th century and
    even later they would be speaking French more often than not, too), but
    would have to switch to a very different mode of speech when speaking to
    “his” peasants; Ostrovski’s plays show, time and again, how noblemen’s
    speech is markedly different from that of upstart merchants and
    industrialists. This – i.e. failure, on several linguistic levels, to
    understand people from different social strata – is in fact a recurrent
    theme of Russian literature, from Chekhov to Dovlatov. Regional
    differences are – comparatively – much less significant, now only a
    little less markedly than in Chekhov’s time.
    Second, I can confirm that Russian indeed seems to be much more uniform
    across the vast country than one would expect if one is extrapolating
    from what is typical for Europe, and one grows up with it and naturally
    expects to understand people leaving in a region that has 10-hour time
    difference with Moscow. The many French and – especially – German
    regional dialects are a recurring surprise for someone like myself. So,
    yes, we are very different from the Chinese in this respect. The most
    likely reason is probably that the wide territorial span of Russian is
    really not that ancient, historically speaking, especially compared to
    China.

  9. Not commenting on the language question, but on the setting of Three Sisters. I recently saw a production (in English), and one of the actors later told me that the suggestions in the text as to the location put the setting at roughly 100km from Moscow proper. The sisters’ persistent yearning for Moscow takes on a different meaning if this is the case…
    Disclaimer: I didn’t catch the references to location, and anyway don’t know the Moscow area geography well enough to notice. But I have no reason to doubt my source (an old friend and current MFA acting student, who played Andrei).

  10. As a native Russian speaker, I fully agree with Vanya and Maxim. It is also interesting to notice that nowadays it is more important to get rid of southern variant of the g/h rather than to worry about the o/a variations in order to succeed in Moscow or St. Petersburg. The “h” sound does sound “uneducated” to the cultured elite and leads to a multitude of anecdotes. Again, the provincial nobles of the Chekhov times made sure they sounded like the nobles in Moscow and Petersburg.

  11. It strikes me that your general thesis about the three kinds of Russian speech is correct: the language spoken by educated Russians varies surprisingly little from one end of the country to the other. Several of my students at Saint Martin’s University are from Khabarovsk, but I notice virtually no difference between their “dialect” and that of other Russians I know well, most of whom hail from Karelia and Saint Petersburg (or thereabouts).
    I have noticed оканье when listening to native speakers of Russian (mostly from the countryside, and mostly when they are being interviewed on Russian television), but I’ve never heard it among Russians who live in Karelia, even though that region would certainly fall into the “northern” category. Any idea why that might be the case?
    As it happens, I’m heading off next week to spend six weeks in and around Petrozavodsk, Karelia, and оканье is something that I’ll bring up with my colleagues there — who themselves are linguists and language teachers, and who must have thought a bit about varieties of Russian speech. I’ll try to remember to report back on what I discover.

  12. And compared to Western or Central Europe the population of Russia in the pre-revolutionary era was very fluid and geographically mobile – for centuries peasants were sold, transferred, or sent to colonize newly acquired territory.
    So it’s no coincidence that, in contrast with Germany and England, I have no trouble understanding people across the USA. Americans have always been geographically mobile – at least until the advent of national TV. Television may have inherited from mobility the function of primary dialect suppressant. So now folks can remain mutually intelligible without even having to go out into the back yard to talk with their neighbors across the fence.

  13. My “Americans have always been geographically mobile” is probably an over-generalization. Many families will have stayed put in towns where they were established, but there has always been a flux of strangers through those towns, looking for trouble and business opportunities.

  14. Right now Russian is more homogeneous than any other large language I’m aware of, though I’m sure that in Chekhov’s time there was more regional and class-based variety. Both the northern and the southern accents are now rare and have low prestige. The vast majority of native speakers use the neutral, “Moscow” variety. Most of the time you cannot tell a Russian’s home town by his speech.
    “If your speech is educated, you will be accepted as a member of cultured society, and any provincial accent will simply be a clue to one’s origin”
    I don’t think that’s true today. Any whiff of a non-standard accent in a native speaker lowers his perceived status. I don’t know whether this was the case in Chekhov’s time though. The very few regionalisms that are peculiar to St. Petersburg are not stigmatized – that’s the only exception.
    “How far east do these accents extend?”
    The northern and southern accents are only present west of the Urals, in the historical core of Russia. All the Siberians I’ve ever met used the standard accent. Their speech is indistinguishable from that of Moscovites.
    There used to be an upper class accent, which I’ve always associated with old recordings of Lenin’s speeches. The r was pronounced in it in a French manner and there were other peculiarities.

  15. i recalled my friend claiming that educated speech in any language sounds a bit like restricted in the use of one’s oral cavity, the muscles involved in speech or what, maybe there are specific terms in linguistics describing that
    he was Japanese who studied Russian
    so he would say that he can tell an educated Russian not from mannerisms, specific words or accents but just listening to the speech in general
    he didn’t know my language, but he bet that he could tell the same difference in any language

  16. Yes, Lenin “kartavil” as the Russians say, but I don’t think that was ever considered upper class speech – it is usually associated with a “Jewish” accent. His “kartavost’” was sometimes mocked by contemporaries. You can hear historical recordings of Tolstoy and Bunin and both of them used a trilled “r” if I remember correctly.

  17. callasfan says:

    Нина Берберова. Из книги “Курсив мой”
    …и в голосе звучало петербургское грассирование, такое знакомое мне с детства: в семье тверской бабушки половина людей грассировала. Мережковский картавил, Толстой в свое время картавил. И бывший царский министр, Коковцев, доживающий свой век в Париже (ум. в 1942 году), когда произносит звук “р”, как бы полощет горло, говоря “покойный государь император”.
    http://nabokovandko.narod.ru/berberova1.html

  18. Thanks, both for the quote and the Набоков & Ко site! And I found the Russian original of Berberova’s book online, which is great because I’ve always regretted not getting it at a library sale when I had the chance. (I dislike the personality she reveals in her book, but it’s full of wonderful gossip about Russian writers.)

  19. The following is from War and Peace:
    “Моряк говорил тем особенно звучным, певучим, дворянским баритоном, с приятным грассированием и сокращением согласных, тем голосом, которым покрикивают: «Чеаек, трубку!», и тому подобное. Он говорил с привычкой разгула и власти в голосе.”
    “The naval officer spoke in a particularly sonorous, musical, and aristocratic baritone voice, pleasantly swallowing his r’s and generally slurring his consonants: the voice of a man calling out to his servant, “Heah! Bwing me my pipe!” It was indicative of dissipation and the exercise of authority.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    American dialect differences:
    The situation in the US cannot be compared meaningfully with that of European countries, where local differences have been developing for centuries if not millennia. For instance, there are more differences between Italian dialects (as opposed to local varieties of Standard Italian) than between French or Spanish dialects, spoken in countries which were latinized much later. The US has been anglophone (mostly) for less than four centuries even in the Eastern part. As someone pointed out, the Russian presence East of the Urals is about the same vintage. As for French in Canada, here too the local dialects are about that age: the settlers came mostly from Western France, and the peculiarities of Canadian French varieties, especially rural, are still very similar to those of their places of origin. (It seems that Parisian speech in those early days had many of the same features, but it has changed quite significantly since – a general tendency in big cities which attract a variety of in-migrants).
    In the US, some years ago linguists used to think that with the advent of radio and especially TV, local differences would be ironed out and disappear into a homogenized variety of English, but in fact more recent studies have shown that the differences between the various areas of the country are increasing, not decreasing. I have not studied this myself, but my impression is that as in the older Russian case mentioned above, “if your speech is otherwise educated, a regional accent is not a hindrance”.

  21. Speaking about whether dialects in Russian exist – yes they do, but they are confined mostly to elderly people who did not have any formal education and live in remote areas, and are very rare nowadays. I am a native Russian speaker living in what you would certainly call a provicial city (administrative center of a region, about 300 miles from Moscow and 400 miles from St. Petersburg). Several years ago I worked for the Admissions committee of the local University, and there was a case which is still remembered by my colleagues. One morning, after the entrance exams on that day had already started, we had some visitors – an applicant, a young girl who was unable to speak because she was crying so hard (evidently she was late for her exam), and an older woman accompanying her (probably her grandmother). When the woman started speaking, we were all taken aback because none of us could understand a word from what she was speaking. It was, like, “are you sure she’s speaking Russian”? After some time, somebody managed to get what major the girl was applying to, and we could refer them to the people they needed, but the whole experience seemed surreal. For us, “standard Russian” speakers, coming from the same region as that woman, it was unthinkable that there is a form of Russian we could not understand.
    Otherwise, there are some variations in pronunciation, and they do not make the language unitelligible but just mark the speaker as coming form a certain region. These phonetic features are also noticeable in less educated people and there is a lack of prestige associated with regional accents (though some people may emphasize these features as a sort of protest). As was mentionesd here, differences in speech in Russia in Chekhov’s time were mostly a matter of social class (for example, the nobility and the intelligentsia spoke a relatively uniform Russian throughout the country, and the language of the peasants had marked regional features). Nowadays Russian is mainly uniform, due to bigger mobility in Soviet times (both voluntary and forced), unifrom standards ion education and the influence of radio and TV.

  22. “if your speech is otherwise educated, a regional accent is not a hindrance”
    I think that’s true in Britain too, and the description of Russian sounds to me a lot like the classification of English in Britain. Scottish, Welsh & Irish accents have always been fairly common in British politics, for example, and not necessarily identified with either the left or right, but some accents that are class-related are exceptions: it would still be hard to imagine the Tory party having a cockney leader and two of its recent leaders who had humble backgrounds (Thatcher & Edward Heath) had to have elocution lessons to learn how to talk proper. During his time as PM in the ‘seventies, Heath was mocked for his “fake” accent.

  23. A digression:
    Galsworthy offered a warning of what can happen if you decline an interpreter. A German at an international conference that had been running late into the night brought it to a close with the words: “Let us all go to bed; and up with the cock.”

  24. There are further dangers in wait for the phrasebook-reliant visitor to Germany. To order a caffe latte in the morning is not the same as to order a Morgenlatte, which is a matutinal woody.

  25. Victor Sonkin says:

    Everything you ever wanted to know about ut consecutivum. Sobolevski’s grammar is by far the best compendium of Latin grammar in Russian, and he was more or less Chekhov’s contemporary (though he survived until well into the 1960′s or so). So it’s the kind of grammar Chekhov’s characters would have had to deal with.
    As for regional accents in Russian, most people would agree with what’s been written above, but sometimes, when they are broad, they are out of place. One thing that’s especially frustrating is that the notion of a regional accent is largely absent from the popular psyche; there’s no such thing as dialect coaches, and if they are, they do a very sloppy job. In the recent TV mini-series “Liquidation”, otherwise a huge success among viewers, the actress whose character was supposed to be Polish had her language mistake and accent hopelessly wrong. When people try to mock ‘village’ speech, they usually start to pronounce unstressed o’s (окать), which results in o’s everywhere, including the places where ‘a’ is written and etymologically warranted.
    Having grown up in Moscow, I’ve been told many times by people from elsewhere that I don’t have the ‘obnoxious Moscow accent’. I am unsure what that might be, though there is a certain type of sing-song, very ah-heavy accent which had been used by shopgirls (sorry for the sexist term) twenty years ago. As these days most Moscow shop staff tend to be non-Muscovites (quite often not native speakers of Russian), this proletarian female Moscow accent has all but disappeared.

  26. If I ever stay at a hotel in Germany again it will be important to know the difference, Grumbly.
    “Möchten Sie etwas zum Frühstück bestellen?”
    “Ja. Ich möchte gerne…”

    Sigmar Polke: Kathereiners Morgenlatte

  27. “…the actress whose character was supposed to be Polish had her language mistake and accent hopelessly wrong”
    I have heard about the Polish accent of the character in question being a crude fake, and thought I have noticed a couple of blatant inconsistencies myself; “Liquidation” being such a fake overall, that’s no surprise; it’s really on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” level.
    However, the character in question is likely Jewish, coming from what was Eastern Poland between the wars, a native speaker of Yiddish who had only limited command of Slavic languages – Polish, Ukranian and Russian, in that order. I wonder if we can really gauge the accuracy of her accent in the film, as the linguistic environment that she is supposed to have come from is no more.

  28. Polke’s sense of humor seems to be right down there in the gutter, next to mine. I see that he lives and works in Köln. Maybe I’m slatted to become a famous Capitalist Realism artist as well.
    Did you know that the original MGM lion was from Ireland and rejoiced in the name of Slats ?
    Returning to the thread topic, I find this passage in The Russian Master and Other Stories by Chekhov:

    And she found something deeply moving in the words joist, logging, laths, slats, scantlings, purlins, frames, slabs. When she was asleep at nights, …

  29. I’m afraid that the traditional North/South/Moscow classification is going out of date as the окающие Northern accents (to say nothing of dialects) are becoming extinct. Moscow is packed with native Russian speakers who grew up elsewhere, yet I have never met a pure Northern type speaker here. Other accents are coming into play though, from the Urals and Siberia (especially those curious “fusion” accents from West Siberian oil towns), from native Russian speakers who grew up in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Central Asia. They are all different from Moscow speak, yet in subtler ways than the Northern/Volga accent — among other things, in intonation and melody. That, along with vowel clarity, is also becoming a new “class” marker too, or so it seems to me.

  30. Oh, one more thing — Pisemsky (Алексей Феофилактович, the author of A Thousand Souls among other things) spoke with a Kostroma accent, according to Annenkov. Yet it’s not оканье Annenkov remembers but verb endings: a broad long а instead of ае. “Кабинет Панаева поражаат меня великолепием”. (Spellcheckers change this to поражает, spoiling online versions). More on 19th-century accents in this note by Vinogradov.
    Boris Yeltsin, by the way, had something of a Urals accent.

  31. It’s not clear why they chose an Irish lion or why he was called Slats. It sounds like he had been out of work.

  32. Victor, I agree with one caveat and one question. A friend teaches in an acting institute, and she works with kids from the provinces to “get rid of their provincial accents.” This is partially (probably mostly) grammar work, but also work with the broad “o”s. I wonder if the same is done on TV.
    I’ve also been told in St Pete that I have a Moscow accent, which is probably the broad “a”s I’ve picked up. But the differences are not as strong as, say, between an upstate NY accent and a Georgian (US) accent.
    Very interesting about the grandmother no one could understand!

  33. I have noticed оканье when listening to native speakers of Russian (mostly from the countryside, and mostly when they are being interviewed on Russian television), but I’ve never heard it among Russians who live in Karelia, even though that region would certainly fall into the “northern” category. Any idea why that might be the case?
    One reason is probably that large parts of Karelia used to be Finnish and most Russians living there now only settled there during the Soviet period.

  34. And she found something deeply moving in the words joist, logging, laths, slats, scantlings, purlins, frames, slabs.
    That’s an interesting passage; the Russian goes “и что-то родное, трогательное слышалось ей в словах: балка, кругляк, тес, шелевка, безымянка, решотник, лафет, горбыль.” The words aren’t all translated as such, but reasonable substitutions are made; the only word that puzzles me is лафет [lafet, from German Lafette], which as far as I can tell means only ‘gun mount, gun-carriage.’ The rest are all terms related to lumber and logging.

  35. Лафет is in-between square and round timber, as shown here. Multitran suggests “half-timber” but it doesn’t sound right.

  36. Eine Lafette (earlier Laffette) is a gun-carriage, i.e. the rolling support of a gun. But it was also used for other purposes, I find from the example in Duden: der General wurde auf einer Lafette zu Grabe gefahren. In Grimm I found the composite form laffettenblock: this is a gun support block as used on a battleship instead of a (rolling) gun-carriage. Maybe the Russian word just means a heavy block of wood to support something.
    Somehow “slab” didn’t sound right to me at first. When I read “slab” I think stone or marble. But I find “slab of wood” all over the internet. Here is a big one. I guess a slab of wood is a board that is too big to be used as a board, and so is not called a board but a slab.

  37. That’s one crappy house catalogue. This is what half-timber(ed) means.

  38. I guess a slab of wood is a board that is too big to be used as a board, and so is not called a board but a slab.
    No, it’s a technical term. OED: “A rough outside plank of timber cut from a log or a tree-trunk preparatory to squaring the main portion, or sawing it into planks.”

  39. Лафет is in-between square and round timber, as shown here.
    Thanks very much! None of my dictionaries had such a definition.

  40. So a Fachwerkhaus is a half-timbered house. I had never encountered an English term for Fachwerk.
    Crown, do you know the technical term(s) for such a “log notched and dressed (?) to build a log cabin with” ? I suppose there are different ways to build log cabins.

  41. You’re welcome, LH. I knew nothing about this type of лафет until I found out via Yandex.
    AJP, you’re right of course, but half-timber has another, more technical meaning (different from лафет, unfortunately): “‘Half-timber’, greater than 125mm by 250mm cut through the pith.”

  42. Goodness, that’s interesting, Alexei. Thanks. The reason for these specifications is to control shrinkage and warping. Some ways of cutting give a stronger and more dimensionally stable piece of wood, but the trade off is that there’s more waste.
    Grumbly, I’m no log-cabin expert. I think N. American, Scandinavian & Russian cabins all utilise some version of that notched corner detail. Probably Alpine ones too. There’s quite a good comparison in the pictures on the Wikipedia log cabin page. If you switch languages, you can get more specific information.

  43. Grumbly, I’m no log-cabin expert.
    I have my weak spots too. Don’t feel bad about yourself.

  44. Bill Val'derman says:

    When I was studying Russian–this was 40 years ago at DLI–one of the teachers, gos. N., who was from southern Russia or Ukraine, not only had a velar fricative g but also pronounced his v’s like English w’s. When I ingenuously mentioned this curious speech characteristic to another teacher, I was told not talk about it as it would be embarrassing to gos. N. I got the impression it was considered a substandard regionalism.

  45. Bill, that w-type sound is common enough in Southern Russia — before consonants and at the end of a word, but not between vowels. Gorbachev speaks that way, or at least did when in power.
    It is also the standard pronunciation in Belarusian (ў), e.g. “Пасля Другой сусветнай вайны галоўнымі тэмамі беларускай літаратуры сталі досвед вайны, жыццё беларускага народа ў новых умовах і яго мінулае.” Note the difference between “Васіль Быкаў” (nominative) and “Васіля Быкава” (genitive).

  46. Eine Lafette (earlier Laffette) is a gun-carriage, i.e. the rolling support of a gun. But it was also used for other purposes, I find from the example in Duden: der General wurde auf einer Lafette zu Grabe gefahren.
    In such cases, the coffin is placed on a gun carriage on during the procession to the grave.
    Just a picture for illustration (from the burial of former Austrian president Waldheim):
    http://www.bmlv.gv.at/organisation/regional/wien/galerie.php?id=1128&currRubrik=98&slideshow=4#pics_top

  47. Hans, that much is true of course, yet “eine Lafette” is derived from the French “l’affut,” which in its turn comes from “le fût,” meaning, among other things, “the trunk of a tree.”
    BTW, from Prutkov’s Military Aphorisms:
    Сумка, лядунка, манерка, лафет —
    Господин поручик, кеске-ву-фет?

  48. I think that лафет may be flitch in English, a word I’ve occasionally heard used in cabinetmaking circles, though it’s really a lumberyard word — a high-quality lumberyard. (I got it as a translation from google’s translate).

  49. Bill Val'derman says:

    Thanks, Alexei. I wonder whether the “w” pronunciation (continuant) developed from the “v” pronunciation (fricative) or whether it is a relic of the original PIE sound. In OCS the continuant “w” must already have changed to the fricative “v” because the Cyrillic letter is the Greek letter beta, which has been a labial fricative in Greek since about the first century CE–but maybe some Slavic speech areas preserved the continuant pronunciation.

  50. “I think that лафет may be flitch in English, a word I’ve occasionally heard used in cabinetmaking circles, though it’s really a lumberyard word — a high-quality lumberyard. (I got it as a translation from google’s translate).”
    AJP, the way I have heard “flitch” used – on the West Coast – is to describe the thick lateral slices you saw off a log, which you then cut into dimension lumber, presumably for furniture. It is a hardwood term, not used for softwoods. These flitches are in fact slabs, but they are not rounded on one side like the cuts LH describes.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    “eine Lafette” is derived from the French “l’affut,” which in its turn comes from “le fût,” meaning, among other things, “the trunk of a tree.”
    The word l’affût does not “come from” le fût, but both have the same origin. Le fût in a tree is the straight part of the trunk between the roots and the branches. I think the word is used only of large, mature trees with substantial trunks. A place with many big trees whose branches start quite high (eg beeches) is called une futaie.

  52. The word l’affût does not “come from” le fût, but both have the same origin.
    I know appearances can be deceiving, marie-lucie, but I have a question about this particular case. One might be tempted to say that

    the English “adfix” comes from “fix” by the addition of “ad”

    but MW puts it like this:

    Etymology: Latin affixus, past participle of affigere to fasten to, from ad- + figere.

    So it’s only of the Latin that one could say

    affigere comes from figere by the addition of ad

    Alexei presumably thought, as I would have, that affût looks like ‘prefix + stem’, so it ‘comes from’ fût. But the Petit Robert says of affûtde affûter“, and of affûterde à et fût“. Is that the kind of thing you were indicating by your statement ?

  53. Marie-Lucie, Vasmer cites two mainstream German etymological dictionaries when he explains the origin of лафет:
    “Via Ger. Lafette (from 1691, see Schulz-Basler 2, 4) from Fr. l’affût — the same meaning, from fût “shaft,” Lat. fustis (see Kluge-Götze 341).
    In other words, the military and construction meanings of the Russian word stem from the same root. If ít’s not French, it’s Latin, which should still prove the point.

  54. Jim, the way I’ve heard ‘flitch’ (on the E. coast) is to refer to the log that produces a quantity of (hardwood) veneer. A spec. writer might call for a wall covered in 4×8 sheets of maple plywood to be “flitch-matched”, meaning that the veneer will all come from the same flitch and therefore all have the same qualities of grain and color. (That’s less picky than for example “book-matched”, where the adjoining sheets of veneer are mirror images, like a Rorschach inkblot.)

  55. FWIW, in contemporary German I’ve never encountered any other meaning than “gun carriage”, and a quick zeno search (http://www.zeno.org/Zeno/0/Suche?&q=Lafette&h=1) also doesn’t turn up any other meanings. So the forestry-carpentry related meanings of the word probably were not mediated to Russian by German.

  56. marie-lucie says:

    fût, affût, affûter:
    The situation with these three words seems quite complex. The TLFI has only one entry for fût, with several meanings (including “tree-trunk” and “barrel”), but three each for affût and affûter although some of the meanings seem to overlap (but not all are even remotely related to wood). The Petit Robert is much more terse, and affût from affûter is given for only one of the meanings. Apart from a reference to Latin fustis for the piece of wood, other attestations are much later, so the words beginning with a may not go back all the way to Latin. But you can’t just say “affût comes from fût” as if affût was a modern term. The variety of meanings for all those terms shows that they have had a long time in which to evolve those specialized meanings.

  57. AJP – that makes sense. You do cut veneers off of flitches. Flitches are also the source cut for hardwood dimension lumber, other than what is cut from quarter-sawn lumber, and that’s normally only oak.
    “Le fût in a tree is the straight part of the trunk between the roots and the branches. I think the word is used only of large, mature trees with substantial trunks.”
    Funny; I heard that piece of a tree called the “bool” or some such in hardwood industry, which sounded a lot like “bole” but probably from a French source “boule”, since this was in Michigan. So “boule” is not the word for that.
    This is getting to be like the salmon thread.

  58. I don’t know any carpentry connections either. From Grimm, Laffette:

    der ausdruck ist im 17. jahrh. aus dem franz. affût mit vorgesetztem artikel übernommen und hat den alten deutschen ausdruck lade (sp. 38) verdrängt, doch so, dasz dieser auf den gebrauch des fremdworts als fem. (im franz. ist es masculin) mit eingewirkt haben mag.

    The expression was borrowed in the 17th century from the French affût with an article prefixed to it. It gradually replaced the German expression lade. This older word [of feminine gender] may have been a factor in the loan word’s acquiring feminine gender [the French original is masculine].

  59. Flitches are also the source cut for hardwood dimension lumber, other than what is cut from quarter-sawn lumber, and that’s normally only oak.
    That’s interesting. You’re obviously an expert, Jim. I suppose if there’s one thing they have in the Pacific Northwest it’s lumber. And salmon — two things they have in the Pacific Northwest. Lumber, salmon and Microsoft — three things.

  60. Flitch is also used for bacon before slicing, and also, per the internets, for slices of large fish cut in a certain way.

  61. one thing they have in the Pacific Northwest
    They also have logrolling and log-rolling.

  62. You should watch this cartoon, to hear the Logdriver’s Waltz sung by Kate & Anna McGarrigle.

  63. Sweet. Also, pretty impressive how those guys handle the logs. It must be a terrifically dangerous job.

  64. Oh, you don’t want to believe everything you see in cartoons, Grumbly. They’re making it up.

  65. logging, mining, fishing, and farming are the most dangerous jobs in America, IIRC. Night taxi and night clerk at convenience stores are right up there.
    From tolking to a friend of mine, it seems that logging is more dangerous than it has to be because of various individual and company practices. Safety was not job one.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Jim: le fût, la boule
    I am not familiar with the technical vocabulary of the lumber industry. Le fût applies to the trunk of the standing tree; it is possible that la boule is used of the same part of the tree once it is cut down.

  67. At least I learned in this connection that perdre la boule = “lose your marbles”. I seem to recall that there was another American expression “lose your [small objects of some kind]” meaning to get angry, fly off the handle. The small objects may have been buttons, [shirt] snaps, or [Ritz] crackers. Or was it just “lost it” or “lost his hair” ?
    Here is my candidate for most harebrained idea of all time regarding the origin of an expression. The commentator devotes an entire judicious paragraph to it:

    It has been suggested that the ‘losing one’s mind’ meaning derives from the Elgin Marbles.

    Of course that may turn out to be correct, and I would again be branded as intolerant and non-objective.

  68. most harebrained idea of all time regarding the origin of an expression
    An expression Language mentioned, “as tight as Dick’s hatband”, has several absurd explanations when you google it.

  69. Ryan P. Murray says:

    A bit late to the game here, but:
    When I was in Novosibirsk in the early nineties, I asked a friend native to the city if there were characteristic aspects of Siberian Russian. The example he gave me was pronouncing the word “nichego” (sorry–no Cyrillic on this computer) approximately like “ni-chyaw,” omitting the expected v-sound and reducing the word to two syllables.
    Does that sound familiar to anyone?

  70. @Ryan:
    “nichyaw” (íè÷¸) is not particularly connected to any region of Russia. It’s just a very informal pronunciation common for all the regionsof Russia.

  71. marie-lucie says:

    perdre la boule
    La boule in this context is one’s head, meaning one’s mind.

  72. nichyaw
    Like the American “nuthn” and “wanna”. I can’t think of any kind of consonant elision in standard Germany-German. If it occurs, it must be extremely rare. Vowels regularly fall prey to informality, of course, such as in gehn for gehen. Consonants can get slurred and zzzz-ified in drunken speech, for instance, but not elided. I’m talking here only about speech phenomena, not speech in comparison with text.
    For the French, in contrast, it seems to be in the spirit of the language to drop as much consonantal ballast as possible, at every historical opportunity. (I’m trying not to exaggerate too much, marie-lucie !) Here it is contemporary speech in comparison with text that I am talking about, for lack of fuller and diachronic (imagined) experience. This foreshortened perspective may be misleading me, since my spoken/heard French is not that good. Consider the differences between Parisian intellectual French as heard on TV5 in a talk show, and the Parisian patois/argot you hear on TV5 in a crime thriller much of which plays out in a Paris police station. For all I know, it would be fairer to say that Parisian intellectual pronunciation is a studied, class-marking attempt to re-introduce consonants indicated by the orthography that have long vanished from everyday speech. But the preservation of orthography in speech may be a standard feature of learnèd speech in many languages, so to say one of the very purposes of learnèdness.

  73. Grumbly, can you watch French television in Köln? Oslo has a French-language radio station (and a lycée).

  74. Yes, TV5 and arte are the two standard TV channels available. arte has dual channel audio that allows you to avoid the German dubbing. Parisian police series shown on TV5 in French are often subtitled in French. They know, you know.

  75. That’s a relief. When I first lived in Germany, & didn’t speak any German, I couldn’t watch Anglo-American tv programs or go to movies because it was all bloody dubbed. It was most annoying.

  76. marie-lucie says:

    For all I know, it would be fairer to say that Parisian intellectual pronunciation is a studied, class-marking attempt to re-introduce consonants indicated by the orthography that have long vanished from everyday speech.
    French spelling is largely based on that of Middle French, when all the “silent” consonants were indeed pronounced. Later, in everyday speech final consonants started to be silent at the end of a word-group or a whole utterance, but not if they were followed by a vowel (in a form of the same word, or between words in the phenomenon known as “liaison” (= linking)). This is why those consonants are still written, because they must be pronounced in some contexts. In speaking, whether you pronounce them or not in the same allowable context depends both on your degree of education (since you need to know the spelling of words) and on the degree of formality of the situation: the more formal the situation, the more potentially pronounceable final consonants you pronounce, thus linking more words together. So for instance, a person in a high position who makes a speech at the funeral of another important person will pronounce a lot of final consonants before other words, but the same person having breakfast at home or coffee with a friend the next day will pronounce many fewer such consonants. This stylistic gradation in the individual use of liaison has been true for a long time and is not a new development.

  77. Thanks, marie-lucie. So they don’t necessarily order these things more class-markedly in France. Someone in a high position in America, making a speech at the funeral of another important person, would also want to avoid saying “nuthn” and “wanna”.
    The thing is, though, I don’t remember having known many people in America (well, Texas if you insist) who only sometimes spoke proper. Proper-speaking folks generally alluz spoke that way in every situation, while the rest of us scrambled to save the appearances each time as best we could. I have had the impression that the same is true of the English. In Germany it’s certainly the case that pronunciation in social contexts does not reflect the historical development of the language. Instead, one discharges one’s cultural obligations by a cunning choice of unusual words, and by revvin’ up the hypotaxis.
    So, whereas the rest of us have only one character role in our repertoire, I still see professional pronunciation actors in la France. Of course I may change my mind once I’ve grown accustomed to her grace.

  78. In Germany it’s certainly the case that pronunciation in social contexts does not reflect the historical development of the language. Instead, one discharges one’s cultural obligations by a cunning choice of unusual words, and by revvin’ up the hypotaxis.
    An additional difference is that in formal speech, one avoids dialectal and markedly regional features as well as some stigmatised grammatical constructions (possessive constructions like “meinem Vater sein Haus”, the “Rheinische Verlaufsform” (“ich bin das Auto am Waschen”) etc.)

  79. In recent years the incorrect Hier werden Sie geholfen, far from being stigmatised, is in fact popular due to a silly but attention-getting advertising spot. Nevertheless, one wants to avoid using it in when addressing the nation on TV.

  80. The only way to address the nation is “ich bin ein Berlinerbolle”.

  81. Instead, one discharges one’s cultural obligations by a cunning choice of unusual words, and by revvin’ up the hypotaxis.
    In 1965 or so I heard a lecture in English by a German professor who also still seemed to prefer the page-long sentence. It was a written lecture being read aloud, so I doubt he conversed that way. He was lecturing to mostly-monolingual anglophone undergrads, and his efforts were not appreciated. Students in his classes loves and admired him, though.
    On top of that his native German dialect was whichever one is least respected and most ridicules, so his colleagues gave him a hard time too.

  82. And apparently “the page-long sentence” is another way of saying “revved-up hypotaxis”.

  83. Either would do as the title of an academic-press book whose subtitle would be “German Prose Style in the Modern Era.”

  84. It would be even better if they were two different books coming out from two different academic presses at the same time, with the same subtitle. Last week the NYT reviewed three simultaneous books on the topic of silence.

  85. michael farris says:

    “I can’t think of any kind of consonant elision in standard Germany-German”
    What about ham(m?) for ‘haben’?
    auf em (sp?) for ‘auf dem’ etc
    I hear those on German tv from supposedly standard speakers. I wouldn’t swear that the final ch of ich doesn’t get elided too…

  86. michael farris says:

    “When I first lived in Germany, & didn’t speak any German, I couldn’t watch Anglo-American tv programs or go to movies because it was all bloody dubbed. It was most annoying”
    My heart bleeds, the worst German dubbing is heaven compared to the blighted and aesthetically bankrupt form of localization most common in Poland – voice over.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t439tiavKGg

  87. That’s really sick.

  88. Bathrobe says:

    Voiceover is also the norm in Mongolia.

  89. I enjoyed decoding Nietzsche’s and Kleist’s page-long sentences when I was learning German, and I enjoyed reading the sentences once the decoding was done, but to me it didn’t seem like an efficient way to get the job done.

  90. I seem to remember that American log cabins were made from round logs, with moss in the chinks to plug the drafts, while Finnish (and maybe other northern) log cabins were made from square logs. Presumably the square log is either more labor intensive or requires a nearby saw mill to square it off. For information on dimensional stability of wood: quarter sawing.

  91. I’ve seen it claimed that log cabins were brought to the US by the Swedish colony in Delaware, which was quickly absorbed by the Dutch.

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