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.)