Russian, a Barbarian Language.

Anatoly Vorobey quotes (in Russian) a passage from an 1811 letter by Konstantin Batyushkov to Nikolay Gnedich complaining about the Russian language so strikingly I thought it was worth translating here:

Guess what I’m beginning to be angry about. What? The Russian language, and the writers who deal with it so unmercifully. And the language, it’s just not very good, it’s a bit boorish, it smells of Tartary. What is this y [ы]? And this shch [щ]? What about these sh, shii, shchii, pri, try? O barbarians! And the writers? Never mind them! Forgive me for getting angry at the Russian people and their dialect. I have just this minute been reading Ariosto, breathing the pure air of Florence, delighting in the musical sounds of the Ausonian language and speaking with the shades of Dante, Tasso, and sweet Petrarch, from whose lips each word is bliss.

Anatoly goes on to quote a passage from Bely’s Peterburg complaining about how awful the sound y [ы] is, concluding “Not a single cultured language knows the y: it’s something obtuse, cynical, slippery.” A strange coincidence of attitudes! Anatoly says he himself thinks the y is a very nice sound: “I like it a lot.”

Comments

  1. Both these points were mentioned in the comments to “Down with the nasty Asiatic vowel!”, which is mostly about Zhirinovsky’s rant to the same effect.

  2. At least he did not complain that Russian language is “guttural”. As for Belyj, no one forced Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev to put “y” in his name. He forfeited his right to complain.

  3. Sir JCass says:

    Man, what a weird coincidence. Yesterday I was skimming through Michael Wachtel’s Introduction to Russian Poetry when I came across that very quotation from Batyushkov. I thought to myself, first thing tomorrow morning I’ll add it to the old Ariosto thread as more proof the Russian Romantics were really into Orlando Furioso. Today I click on Languagehat and there’s the very quotation. Spooky.

  4. That is spooky!

  5. I wonder if it is predictable as to which foreign languages a speaker will find pleasing and displeasing. Is it personal, language specific, or universal.

    As an example, it seems that many English speakers think that French sounds nice (in spite of the antipathy many hold for all things French). I personally like to hear an Irish brogue (of course, that is just a dialect, but still).

    My question is, is foreign language euphony (and dis-euphony) universal, language specific, or personal? In either case, what are the features that are pleasing or displeasing?

    There may be a socio-linguistic factor as well: Like the people, like the language.

  6. It seems to me we’ve had a discussion of that, but I have no idea how to find it.

  7. My question is, is foreign language euphony (and dis-euphony) universal, language specific, or personal? In either case, what are the features that are pleasing or displeasing?

    I think people generally find consonant clusters displeasing and vowel-heaviness pleasing.

  8. J. W. Brewer says:

    I believe the famous contention attr. Tolkien that “cellar door” is in some objective sense the most euphonious NP in English has come up here from time to time, so searching to find the threads in which it did might turn up previous discussions on the general issue.

  9. There was a thread on the phrase, but it doesn’t seem to have gotten into the subject of perceived euphony in languages. Long ago (2003!) there was a thread on euphonious languages with some interesting discussion… ah, and here‘s the mother lode, exactly what was asked about.

  10. The westernmost island in Le Guin’s archipelago of Earthsea is called Selidor, and it’s often referred to, we are told, in the beginning of stories: “As long ago as forever, and as far away as Selidor”. The extreme west is dragon-infested (or -occupied, depending on your prejudices), and human beings don’t live on Selidor. I always wondered if it was a respelling of non-rhotic “cellar door” in a way that rhotic, weak-vowel-merging native Californians like Le Guin would get right. Works for me, anyway.

    My other question that I’ve never had the courage to write Le Guin about is whether the phrase “The tadde was a miner” in The Dispossessed was a conscious echo of “My daddy was a miner” in the 1931 song “Which Side Are You On”? (Pravic, the language of Anarres, avoids the use of possessive pronouns except for emphasis: when one character says to another “You will be his man”, it comes across as “He will own you”.)

  11. I sent her a letter her many years ago and got a postcard in response (which I hope I still have somewhere), so I would urge you to write her.

  12. Yeah, she used to be famously good about answering her fan mail, and I would imagine that’s still true.

  13. She has a lot more trouble handling fan mail nowadays, per her web site.

    An interesting question from a reader or a kind fan letter can cheer a whole day. I love hearing from my readers, and wish I could respond to every letter. But I have no secretary or assistant, and a good deal of business to handle. To my sorrow, I can no longer keep up with fan mail. You’re very welcome to write to me, but please don’t expect an answer (especially if you ask me to explain “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”). (If you are under ten years old I will try very hard to answer.)

    If you send me a present, I will almost certainly be unable to acknowledge it, which makes me feel bad.

    Besides, though her mind is sharp, these are details from the 1970s. I’ve already lost the opportunity to ask Sprague de Camp if he named two characters in two contemporaneous stories Metellus the Saddler (ancient Rome) and Matilda Saddler (the 20C) on purpose or not. At the head of a reprint of one of his early stories, Alfie Bester said he had no memory of writing the story, but the name and the SSN on top are his: “Either could be a coincidence, but not both”.

  14. I’m pretty sure that any native speaker of Russian who claims to like the sound of ы, especially when it’s pronounced by itself, is lying. There is a kind of pretentiousness that makes some people claim to be above all natural aesthetic judgements. Modernist “art” has benefited a lot from that kind of pretentiousness. Any non-native speaker who does not dislike the sound of ы simply hasn’t yet acquired a sufficiently instinctive feel for the spoken Russian language.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Is Russian the only Slavic language to use the sound written ы ? I think it is also in Turkish (written as a dot-less i) and in several non-Indo-European languages of Central and Northeast Asia. So is the problem that Russians are or were ashamed of sharing one vowel with such “barbarian” languages? A single vowel (along with several others)? This unrounded vowel is much less common than the rounded vowel u, but it is found in a wider variety of languages, including several Amerindian ones.

  16. Another sound I instictively dislike is the voiced glottal fricative, which is used a lot in Ukrainian and Dutch among other languages. My native language is Russian, but I’ve once heard a native English speaker talk about his dislike of it in Dutch. I have no idea how widespread this dislike is among English speakers or how the Dutch themselves feel about it.

    I’ve never heard anyone disparage the sound of standard French or Italian. And I like them myself. It would be fascinating to do a world-wide survey about this. I’m assumig that some of these preferences are peculiar to native speakers of particular languages and some are universal.

  17. There is a very funny 1965 Russian movie called “Operation “Ы” and Other Adventures of Shurik”:

    https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Операция_«Ы»_и_другие_приключения_Шурика

    The movie’s title was menat to be, and is, funny. “Operation A” or “Operation T” would not have been funny. Only Ы could make that sound comical. Its roughness and uncouth awkwardness contrast with the official, business-like, bureacratic feel of a contruction like “operation [letter of the alphabet] or plan [letter of the alphabet]. And that contrast is funny to Russian speakers.

  18. By the way, the sound of ы only sounds uncouth to Russian speakers when it is stressed. In a word like программы it’s neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

  19. Stan Ogilvy says:

    @marie-lucie

    Polish (spelled “y”, as in “był”) and Romanian (spelled î and â) also have that sound.

  20. But, of course, most of the fun of the Operation “Ы” name is there because no native Russian word begins with this letter (“and nobody will have a clue”) and it can be found only in the beginnings of a few foreign nameplaces. FWIW, Russians do not vocalize on ы if they can help it, but quite famous “Выпьем, добрая подружка” would hardly make them recoil.

  21. D.O., it’s true that no native Russian word begins with ы, but realizing that takes a little bit of thought. The uncouthness of ы pronounced as a separate word, with nothing right before it or right after it to soften the blow, hits one immediately. It sounds inhuman. And if a bird, for example, made that sound, it would surely be an ugly and flightless one. I think that this, together with the business-like word operation, which has already been processed by the listener by the time he’s hit with Ы, is where most of the humor comes from.

  22. Word-initial Ы: Not only place names, but also names like Ким Чен Ын (Kim Jong Un), but it’s realy realy rare.

  23. Sam Ogilvy says:

    @marie-lucie

    Polish also has it, spelled “y” (as in “był”).

  24. Is Russian the only Slavic language to use the sound written ы ? I think it is also in Turkish (written as a dot-less i) and in several non-Indo-European languages of Central and Northeast Asia.

    The Russian ы is a central high vowel, whereas in Turkish – and other Turkic languages, as well as Estonian – it’s a back high vowel. The Polish y is somewhat different.
    They may sound a bit alike, but can be told apart quite easily.

  25. Sir JCass says:

    After quoting Batiushkov in favour of harmony, Wachtel moves on to the Russian Modernist advocates of dissonance, citing Alexei Kruchenykh’s 1912 Futurist “Zaum” poem дыр бул щыл, which reads in full:

    дыр бул щыл
    убешщур
    скум
    вы со бу
    р л эз

    Kruchenykh and his friend Khlebnikov claimed “in these five lines there is more truly Russian (“больше русского национального”) than in all of Pushkin’s poetry.”

    Wachtel comments:

    Kruchenykh opens his “manifesto” poem by giving special prominence to those very phonemes that Batiushkov had decried as barbaric: the vowel ы and the consonant щ. Precisely these sounds, so alien to the “civilized” languages of Europe, represent for the radical Futurists the uniquely Russian spirit. It is difficult to explain Kruchenykh’s neologism щыл, since only substandard (Polish influenced?) Russian would allow for the “hard” variant of the Russian щ. As a “slap in the face” of Russian spelling rules, however, it aptly reflects the Cubo-Futurist ethos.

  26. GeorgeW says:

    “I’ve never heard anyone disparage the sound of standard French or Italian.”

    I particularly like the intonation of Italian (AmE 1st language).

  27. David Marjanović says:

    Zhirinovsky’s rant to the same effect

    I’m really surprised that man cares at all what “the West” thinks of Russia(ns).

    Is Russian the only Slavic language to use the sound written ы ? I think it is also in Turkish (written as a dot-less i) and in several non-Indo-European languages of Central and Northeast Asia.

    Belarusian has it (and uses the same letter), says Wikipedia. Ukrainian, however, has shifted it to [ɪ] (and spells it и).

    Most Turkic languages, as well as others, have the back [ɯ]. This is also found in the Mandarin syllables si, zi, ci and generally common in China.

    Russian ы seems to vary from central [ɨ] (which is how reference works transcribe it) to a central-to-front diphthong [ɨɪ̯]. The latter would fit the fact that the letter started, in Old Church Slavic, as a digraph of ъ (which seems to have been… some kind of [ʊ] or [ə] or… something) and a plain i (from iota, while и is descended from eta).

    Polish y is transcribed as [ɨ] as well, but in my limited experience that’s not correct. It’s at least as close to [ə]; I think it’s [ɘ]… oh, Wikipedia actually agrees.

    Czech and Slovak also use the letter y, but it differs from i only in that it doesn’t palatalize the preceding consonant; when that consonant can’t be palatalized, as is usually the case, the distinction is etymological.

    All the South Slavic languages have merged it into i/и altogether.

    [ɨ] does occur in Standard Mandarin shi, zhi, chi, ri.

    I’ve never heard anyone disparage the sound of standard French

    Widely considered to sound gay (when men speak it) by native speakers of German; not infrequently mocked to that effect.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    Oh, I wanted to look up Upper and Lower Sorbian. Lower Sorbian retains [ɨ], says Wikipedia (the German article more explicitly than the English one), and has even expanded it by merging it with whatever ó once was. Upper Sorbian appears to have participated in the merger with /i/ instead; behind non-palatalized consonants it comes out as [ɪ].

  29. GeorgeW says:

    “I’ve never heard anyone disparage the sound of standard French” . . .

    “Widely considered to sound gay (when men speak it) by native speakers of German; not infrequently mocked to that effect.”

    I am not sure what would constitute masculine sounds, but French would not be it.

  30. Both ы [ɨ] and the voiced glottal fricative [ɦ] appear in English as allophones. The adverb (not the adjective) just contains the former sound in my pronunciation. This is sometimes written “jist” in dialect writing, but it is not a homophone of gist. The latter sound is found intervocalically in some words, like ahead and behind, where voicing is continuous throughout the word. It is not really a fricative, but rather a period of breathy-voiced phonation.

    I understood that the i of Mandarin si, zi, ci was in phonetic fact [z].

  31. GeorgeW says:

    “The adverb (not the adjective) just contains the former sound in my pronunciation. This is sometimes written “jist” in dialect writing, but it is not a homophone of gist.”

    I think mine is similar (SoAmE). My ‘just; and ‘must/rust/lust’ have different vowels.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    I understood that the i of Mandarin si, zi, ci was in phonetic fact [z].

    There’s definitely a vowel involved. I can’t tell for sure when exactly the friction stops in si and zi, but [z] is clearly not the whole story; and after the aspiration of ci it would be really difficult to pronounce anything other than a vowel. In fact, utterance-finally, it’s sometimes a diphthong – [ɯɤ̯] or [ɯə̯] or something.

    (And once on a plane I watched a movie where someone shouts Fūzǐ! Fūzǐ! after Confucius; he opens his mouth so wide that the final stressed vowel comes out as some kind of pharyngealized [ə̯ɒˁ].)

    Most work on phonetics in China was done by people who weren’t aware that unrounded back vowels even existed. You can still find traces of the resulting confusion, complete with non-IPA symbols in otherwise IPA transcriptions, in some Wikipedia articles.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    General American is given as an example of an accent that has [ɘ] in the Wikipedia article I just linked to; the example word is cuz (“because”).

  34. Polish (spelled “y”, as in “był”) and Romanian (spelled î and â) also have that sound.

    I don’t know about Romanian, but the Polish vowel is definitely not the same. I know this because I was harshly mocked by a Pole for pronouncing it the Russian way. (He didn’t like Russians or things Russian, for understandable reasons; this was around 1972/3.)

  35. Ian Press says:

    I hesitate to report that I wrote my PhD on the vowel ‘jery’ in the Slavonic languages. I consequently hesitate to say anything on this topic! I suppose that the sound people are complaining about is really heard only when it is pronounced on its own, when the tendency will be to emphasise it, and when it is immediately preceded by labial and labio-dental consonants (I’m not sure the stress is relevant). I feel it is the syllable which is important in the articulation of Russian vowels; this will most often apply to the effect of immediately preceding consonants (here’s where ‘y’ probably comes into its own for this discussion), but immediately following ones play a role too. I think it was demonstrated ages ago that ‘y’ is actually very close in articulation to ‘i’. As for languages sounding beautiful, silence on such a topic is probably best (but talking about it is fun, of course) – all I might say is that I was sitting on a bus here in London two days ago, behind a couple speaking Hungarian, and it sounded wonderful.

  36. John Cleese’s character in A Fish Called Wanda much preferred the sounds of Russian to Italian.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6QUFqiJx9k
    However, Wanda seemed to be happy with either.

  37. marie-lucie says:

    Some years ago I saw the film Topkapi which takes place in Turkey. It is mostly in English but you do hear Turkish spoken by local people. Having by that time studied phonetics and being aware of the dotless i, I was able to recognize the sound and notice that it was pronounced with spread lips. More recently I was speaking with my sister (not a linguist) who had just returned from a trip to Turkey, especially Cappadocia, with some other French friends. She said that they asked their tour guide to demonstrate the sound and it was just like the French e in je, me, de etc, and she did not notice an unusual lip position. I thought that that must be her interpretation rather than the guide’s actual pronunciation. Or is the sound more central in some regions?

  38. Korean has a vowel written ㅡ eu which is the high back unrounded vowel /ɯ/ in current standard pronunciation, or a more central /ɨ/ in a more traditional pronunciation if earlier descriptions are to be trusted (though early 20th century recordings sound like /ɯ/ to me). The French e /ə/ in me, de, which is phonetically a mid (near-)front rounded vowel [œ~ø] in current standard pronunciation, nevertheless sounds quite a bit like ㅡ eu to Koreans, and this is the mapping that is used in the official transcription from French(me becomes 므 meu, de becomes 드 deu, etc.). An added bonus is that ㅡ eu is the default epenthetic vowel in Korean and is thus quite useful for representing a vowel that is often dropped in French.

    The Turkish dotless i /ɯ/ as in Topkapı /ˈtopkapɯ/ is also mapped to ㅡ eu in Korean nowadays in the official recommendations, although in the past they were mapped to ㅣ i under the influence of spelling.

    Russian ы /ɨ/ is mapped to ㅣ i though, as are Polish y /ɨ/ and Ukrainian и /ɪ/.

    There are no official rules for transcribing Mongolian, but one study abstract I saw curiously recommended mapping Mongolian ө (usually romanized as ö) /ɵ/ to ㅡ eu based on acoustic analysis. I think I would prefer to use ㅚ oe /ø~we/ for ө. Even though most Koreans today have merged ㅚ oe with ㅞ we /we/), it is still the standard transcription for mid front rounded vowels, which is close enough to ө. Or I would also be open to using ㅓ eo /ʌ/, which I would also prefer to use for Mongolian о /ɔ/. The two Modern Mongolian names I am aware of that contain ө and have been included in official transcriptions into Korean actually romanize this as u, so the transcriptions also use ㅜ u /u/.

  39. GeorgeW says:

    Ian Press: “As for languages sounding beautiful, silence on such a topic is probably best . . ”

    I would be interested in knowing why silence would be best.

  40. I assume he’s implying that he doesn’t want to start an argument on a contentious topic.

  41. GeorgeW says:

    Well, that was what I surmised, but could not figure out why it would be contentious as long as no language was being denigrated. And, his response was about “languages sounding beautiful” not ugly.

  42. Well, it’s hard to talk about some languages sounding beautiful without people saying that other languages sound ugly.

  43. John Cowan on ugly accents.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    On the topic of topic-dependent beauty of languages… my maternal grandfather, who didn’t speak any Slavic language, once heard a Russian translation of Goethe’s Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh, über den Wipfeln spürest du kaum einen Hauch (“above all mountaintops there is quiet/rest, above the treetops you barely feel a whiff”). He didn’t understand a word, he said, and he didn’t need to: the sound of it fit the meaning so perfectly. And then my father weighed in, laughing: he had heard epic Serbian hero songs translated into Russian and found them way too soft! Too many vowels and way too much palatalization, I suppose.

  45. Discussed here (in the paragraph beginning “This is distilled…”). Have I really talked about everything by now? Is it time to close up shop?

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Wurzeln, Steine,
    müde Beine,
    Aussicht keine.
    Heinrich Heine

  47. GeorgeW says:

    “Well, it’s hard to talk about some languages sounding beautiful without people saying that other languages sound ugly.”

    That is true. However, I feel like “ugly” is also fair game, if based on some phonological predilection, not racist, nativist, or whatever. Someone mentioned aversion to consonant clusters. I think that is a perfectly legitimate proposal.

  48. marie-lucie says:

    JPark: The French e /ə/ in me, de, which is phonetically a mid (near-)front rounded vowel [œ~ø] in current standard pronunciation

    Southern (= Occitan-influenced) French uses [ø] for both, but I don’t think this is Standard (perhaps “yet”). I certainly make a difference between je ‘I’ and jeu ‘game’, je dis ‘I say’ and jeudi ‘Thursday’ or de ‘of’ and deux ‘two’, where the second item in each pair has [ø]. Or je ne … ‘I don’t …’ and jeune ‘young’, or genèse ‘genesis’ and jeunesse ‘youth’, where the second item has [œ]. If I say je ne suis plus jeune ‘I am no longer young’, the schwa in the je of je ne is not nearly as low, as front and as rounded as the vowel of jeune. I don’t think my pronunciation is archaic in this respect.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    JPark: The French e /ə/ in me, de, ….. sounds quite a bit like ㅡ eu to Koreans

    And no doubt the reverse must be true. If Korean ㅡ eu is (at least for some speakers) similar to Turkish dotless i, that would explain why my sister and her friends thought the Turkish speaker’s vowel sounded like the French schwa.

  50. Il vergognoso says:

    Southern (= Occitan-influenced) French uses [ø] for both

    Wow! I always consider pronunciation with a real [ə] Southern.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    To me, Southern demain ‘tomorrow’ and deux mains ‘two hands’ sound the same. At least that’s the way my Occitan-speaking grandparents (and many other Southerners) sounded. But your comment may be true for some areas.

  52. m-l: As you’ve said before, Southern-style French pronounces schwa where the standard has zero.

  53. marie-lucie says:

    JC, yes, but whether Southern French schwa corresponds to Standard schwa or to zero has no bearing on its pronunciation.

  54. gwenllian says:

    I think people generally find consonant clusters displeasing and vowel-heaviness pleasing.

    That seems to be true. Not the case for me at all, though. I don’t mind consonant-clusters the least bit. Not sure how much of that is to do with having a Slavic mother tongue, and how much of it might be hard-wired.

    “I’ve never heard anyone disparage the sound of standard French” . . .

    “Widely considered to sound gay (when men speak it) by native speakers of German; not infrequently mocked to that effect.”

    I am not sure what would constitute masculine sounds, but French would not be it.

    Not just native speakers of German. This kind of comment about French seems pretty common. At least about European French. In Canada most of the negativity seems to be focused on the perceived redneck sound of Canadian French, and I have no idea about perceptions in other regions. I’ve also often heard people express a dislike of French as too nasal.

    Personally, one thing I have to admit to disliking is the uvular r. It’s not a deal breaker, I like the sound of French or German regardless, but I do tend to enjoy the dialects that don’t use it somewhat more.

    And then my father weighed in, laughing: he had heard epic Serbian hero songs translated into Russian and found them way too soft! Too many vowels and way too much palatalization, I suppose.

    Yeah, that’s my feeling too. I really like listening to Russian, but the closest word I can come up with to decribe how it sounds to me is cute,

  55. GeorgeW says:

    “Personally, one thing I have to admit to disliking is the uvular r. It’s not a deal breaker, I like the sound of French or German regardless, but I do tend to enjoy the dialects that don’t use it somewhat more.”

    I really like the sounds in “Lili Marleen” sung by Marlene Dietrich, particularly the /r/ sound in ‘Marleen.’ It sound uvular to my aging Southern, American ears. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cF9j815xrI

    (For the record, I speak no French or German.)

  56. Both ы [ɨ] and the voiced glottal fricative [ɦ] appear in English as allophones. The adverb (not the adjective) just contains the former sound in my pronunciation.

    It can be heard here (FSI, Standard Chinese: A modular Approach), starting at 12:20.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    In my limited experience the reduced vowel of French is not quite [œ] or [ø], but it does seem to be between them, and there’s no doubt that it’s rounded. It’s all ö to me.

    Speaking of which, a somewhat official German transcription of Mandarin from the beginning of the 20th century used ö for [ɤ]. Despite being “the opposite” ([œ] and [ø] are front and rounded, [ɤ] is back and unrounded), this was an obvious choice as far as my acoustic impression is concerned.

    “Lili Marleen” sung by Marlene Dietrich

    The video is not available, funnily enough, in Germany.

  58. GeorgeW says:

    “The video is not available, funnily enough, in Germany.”

    Wow! Interesting.

  59. The video is not available, funnily enough, in Germany.
    That happens frequently, due to rights issues.

  60. gwenllian says:

    Apparently, around 60% of the most viewed YouTube videos are blocked in Germany.

    Blocking of YouTube videos in Germany

  61. David Marjanović says:

    That happens frequently, due to rights issues.

    Yes, but in this case no explanation is given. Usually it says the video isn’t available because it might contain music on the use of which YouTube hasn’t reached an agreement with the copyright collection agency (weil es Musik enthalten könnte, über deren Verwendung wir mit der GEMA…).

  62. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    I know this because I was harshly mocked by a Pole for pronouncing it the Russian way. (He didn’t like Russians or things Russian, for understandable reasons; this was around 1972/3.)

    LOL, this sounds very weird, oversensitive these days. Seems to me like the guy had quite an ear, too. As someone raised in the nineties, I find the concept of both being aware how the Russian ы differs from Polish y and stigmatizing based on using the wrong one mind-boggling. But I presume Russian had a much stronger presence here before ’89.

    This is not to say the sounds aren’t discernibly different, just not the thing I’d expect to be ridiculed in Russian-accented speech.

  63. Interesting and comforting!

  64. mocked by a Pole

    Well, not just any Pole, a professor of Polish in the U.S., who would be very conscious of all sorts of foreign manglings of the język ojczysty.

  65. marie-lucie says:

    “I’ve never heard anyone disparage the sound of standard French” . . .

    When I was a child (speaking more or less Standard French), Southern people (such as my L1-Occitan-speaking grandparents) characterized Standard (basically Northern) French as parler pointu ‘to speak sharp’. I am not sure if this is still the case, since the Standard speech is now heard everywhere at least on radio and TV, which was not the case when at the time. I think the “sharpness” was probably due to the nasal vowels and perhaps also the uvular r, since local pronunciation (except for young people) used the apical r.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    Russian sounds “cute”

    To me a male Russian voice sounds gravelly rather than cute.

  67. Bathrobe says:

    You think it’s weird that Youtube is blocked in Germany? Languagehat is blocked on the Queensland Railways wifi service. I can’t remember the reason, but it appears to have been judged an undesirable site.

  68. What have I ever done to the Queensland Railways?!

  69. SFReader says:

    QueenslandRail Wi-Fi terms and conditions of use

    You must not use the Service to:
    -access content with respect to adult or sexually explicit material, criminal activity, games, hacking, intolerance and hate, personals and dating, advertisements and pop-ups, alcohol and tobacco, chat, gambling, illegal drugs, intimate apparel and swimwear, peer to peer, phishing and fraud, proxies and translators.

    I guess Languagehat is banned for content relating to translators…

  70. Il vergognoso says:

    advertisements and pop-ups

    How is that remotely feasible!

  71. I know this because I was harshly mocked by a Pole for pronouncing it the Russian way. (He didn’t like Russians or things Russian, for understandable reasons; this was around 1972/3.)
    When I was learning Polish at university (late 80s), our lector (native Pole from Cracow) told us that normally, if one tried to educate Poles on correct usage, they would ignore the advice, but if one told them that this or that usage was a Russicism, they’d try their utmost to avoid it.

  72. marie-lucie says:

    QueenslandRail Wi-Fi terms and conditions of use

    That’s quite a list. Perhaps it would be more efficient to list what one is allowed to access.

  73. Ксёнѕ Фаўст says:

    Well, not just any Pole, a professor of Polish in the U.S., who would be very conscious of all sorts of foreign manglings of the język ojczysty.

    In my experience, syntactic Russicisms are particularly ‘privileged’ as the purists’ bogeyman—the calques from other languages don’t get quite the same treatment. E.g. German calques are widespread in Polish but hardly anyone cares (unless they’re also perceived as rural/dialectal). I think it’s related to the fact that the Russian ones are fairly recent and of course cultural (many Poles’ feeling of superiority towards Eastern Slavs) and historical reasons.

    When I was learning Polish at university (late 80s), our lector (native Pole from Cracow) told us that normally, if one tried to educate Poles on correct usage, they would ignore the advice, but if one told them that this or that usage was a Russicism, they’d try their utmost to avoid it.

    There is something to it. What’s more, the argument is even sometimes used against ‘incorrect’ usage that doesn’t stem from any attested Russian source. Nonetheless the constructions so fiercely fought against haven’t been so far eliminated from popular usage. At least quite a few of them.

  74. way too soft […] how it sounds to me is cute

    Jespersen spoke of the “insinuating grace” of Russian:

    The English consonants are well defined; voiced and voiceless consonants stand over against each other in neat symmetry, and they are, as a rule, clearly and precisely pronounced. You have none of those indistinct or half-slurred consonants that abound in Danish [his native language], for instance (such as those in hade, hage, livlig), where you hardly know whether it is a consonant or a vowel-glide that meets the ear. The only thing that might be compared to this in English is the r when not followed by a vowel, but then this has really given up definitely all pretensions to the rank of a consonant, and is (in the pronunciation of the South of England) either frankly a vowel (as in here) or else nothing at all (in hart, etc.).

    Each English consonant belongs distinctly to its own type, a t is a t, and a k is a k, and there is an end. There is much less modification of a consonant by the surrounding vowels than in some other languages; thus none of that palatalization of consonants which gives an insinuating grace to such languages as Russian. The vowel sounds, too, are comparatively independent of their surroundings; and in this respect the language now has deviated widely from the character of Old English, and has become more clear-cut and distinct in its phonetic structure, although, to be sure, the diphthongization of most long vowels (in ale, whole, eel, who, phonetically eil, houl, ijl, huw) counteracts in some degree this impression of neatness and evenness.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Hat notes the dislike of Russian aristocrats for the Russian language, and maps London’s different […]

Speak Your Mind

*