Splitting Russian.

Konstantin Zarubin discusses (Russian link) the new Russian law extending the purview of Roskomnadzor to all sites written in Russian (with 3,000+ readers a day). Anywhere. This ludicrous overreach is met by Zarubin with a solution that looks silly at first but makes more sense the more you think about it: break up the Russian language. If they could do it to Serbo-Croatian, why not Russian? The Russian-speakers of Ukraine can speak Ukraino-Russian, those of Belarus Belaruso-Russian, and so on. Sashura tries to decide (Russian link) whether to express himself in Anglo-Russian or Franco-Russian. Fortunately, it is easy for the foreign student to read all varieties… though if Russia isolates itself sufficiently, who knows what the future holds?

Comments

  1. The issue is a good deal more loaded in Zarubin’s piece where the emphasis falls on the potential official status of varietal Russian in the foreign nations where it may be used online. According to Zarubin, to protect foreign Russian-language online media and blogs from the overreach of the new law, it must be necessary for these “local Russian dialects” to be officially recognized there. For example, Ukraine would have to grant recognition to “Ukrussian”, or Latvia, to “Latvian Russian”, first, in order to guard these languages against encroachment of Moscow control / to keep the locals blogs from the potential threat of being blocked across the border in Russia. A whole lot bigger can of worms there, IMHO.

  2. You might also admire the use of Перманентный срач (not at all Zarubin’s coinage) as a description of usual state of Internet discussions.

  3. J. W. Brewer says:

    Did the variety/ies of Russian used in emigre/diaspora circles between 1917 and 1991 (either written or spoken) diverge notably from the variety/ies used back in Soviet-occupied Russia proper? Presumably there would be a handful of lexical/idiomatic items that differentiated between the two because they were understood to signal political affiliation, but anything broader than that (shifts in phonology, syntax, etc.) that could be attributed to geographical/cultural separation rather than self-conscious ideology? Any regional variations in the diaspora depending on e.g. whether the first generation of kids born outside the motherland grew up in, say, Paris v. Harbin?

  4. Other than Soviet-specific vocabulary (but that amounted to hundreds of words, not a handful) and the orthographic reform, no; the Revolution had essentially no effect on Russian.

  5. You might also admire the use of Перманентный срач (not at all Zarubin’s coinage) as a description of usual state of Internet discussions.

    I do, I do!

    the Revolution had essentially no effect on Russian.

    Even with your qualifications, I think this is an overstatement. Visitors from Sovdepia reliably remarked, for instance, on the old-fashioned purity of Nabokov’s Russian, whose like had not been heard in the motherland for decades.

  6. J. W. Brewer says:

    I guess I wouldn’t put too much weight on Nabokov as a datapoint because he seems particularly unlikely to be a representative specimen of any larger category of language user. But even if the Revolution caused no cusp or radical discontinuity in the language outside the areas remarked on, there must have been at least some subtle cumulative change over the course of the succeeding decades (as certainly happened in English) and it seems like there would at least have been an opportunity for divergence between domestic and diaspora varieties (even once one corrects for differences in social context, register, etc.) given the somewhat limited opportunities for interaction with each other those groups of speakers had. Doesn’t mean it had to have happened, of course. I guess one could also have a social dynamic in the diaspora where those who were most self-consciously “correct” about their Russian were also the most likely to push the language on their kids/grandkids rather than just allowing them to become by default monolingual speakers of English or French or whatever the local tongue was in the relevant part of the diaspora, which would make Russophones in the subsequent generations a somewhat skewed sample.

  7. Now that you bring it up, I too am curious about divergences in emigré Russian; surely someone must have studied it at some point.

  8. I have seen people like Aleksandra Aikhenvald explore contact effects but language divergence of this sort is not something I ever paid much attention too. She notes specific social forces that foster language shift and affect patterns of borrowing. I wonder if something like that applies to language splits too, that it’s not all just a matter of shoving off from the urheimat and woops! ten generations later neither group can speak to each other.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    When I first came to Canada in the mid-60′s there was among my co-workers a French-Russian émigré who was about 40 years old at the time. He had been born in France from Russian parents, speaking Russian at home, and spent most of his teenage years in a Russian-language boarding school in France, run as much as possible like a Russian military academy (his father had been a high-ranking naval officer). At the time I met him he had been in (English) Canada for perhaps 10 years. He spoke French like a French person in terms of phonology and general conversational ability, but his written French was not up to par. Conversely, his written English seemed to be better than his written French, probably by contrast with his spoken English, since he had a thick Russian accent.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    JIm, a number of linguists have been studying language “contact”, its various forms according to circumstances, the consequences for both the languages and the speakers, etc. It is currently a very active subdiscipline in linguistics.

  11. marie-lucie, this is really fascinating. Your acquaintance had perfect French sound, but have spoken English with Russian rather than French accent.

    The mix of foreign accents is sometimes very strange. For example, I know a woman whose first language is Russian, who lives in the US and speaks very good English. When she went to Switzerland and tried to learn French (it was the French-speaking part of Sw.), she was told that she better switch her heavy English accent for the Russian one, because it’s closer to the French (I suspect that a good deal of anti-Americanism might have been the true reason). Anyways, she probably used approximations based on English phonemes to begin with because they occupied “foreign language” part of her brain. Or maybe it was something else entirely, I don’t know a first thing about foreign language interactions, especially phonology.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    D.O., it is quite typical for people who have learned a second language as children and speak it like natives of that language to later learn a third language with the accent of their first language, just as my co-worker had done.

    A well-known case was that of an American linguist born in Russia, whose family emigrated to Brazil when he was a child. There he learned Portuguese from going to school with Brazilian children and all his life he spoke Brazilian Portuguese like a Brazilian. Later the family emigrated again, to the US where he completed his studies and spent the rest of his life. He learned English very well, but always spoke it with a strong Russian accent.

    In learning foreign languages, there is a sharp distinction between acquiring pronunciation and learning vocabulary and grammar. The first one depends strongly on the age of the learner, with a usual cutoff point around the onset of puberty. Acquiring native-like pronunciation past that age is exceptional. This is true regardless of the number of languages one acquires: in terms of pronunciation, the learner does not become more proficient with each extra language learned.

  13. Did the variety/ies of Russian used in emigre/diaspora circles between 1917 and 1991 (either written or spoken) diverge notably from the variety/ies used back in Soviet-occupied Russia proper?

    My impression is that emigre Russian didn’t really develop along its own path. For one thing there were three major waves – the initial post revolutionary wave, then large numbers of Soviets who managed to avoid returning after WWII, and then the exodus of Soviet Jews in the 1970s. Each new generation tended to become the dominant voice of the diaspora, and each new diaspora was fairly unsuccessful at transmitting the language beyond their children. It’s an interesting contrast to Ukrainian, which has survived in a more “fossilized” form (as spoken in Galicia in the 1930s) among the diaspora in Canada.

  14. When she went to Switzerland and tried to learn French (it was the French-speaking part of Sw.), she was told that she better switch her heavy English accent for the Russian one, because it’s closer to the French
    DO, but how did they know she had two accents?
    Here, in Normandy, where lots of English live, I switch accents deliberately for social reasons, sometimes hamming up the English and sometimes falling back on my Russian r-s.

  15. M-L, I know about some of the work being done on contact, and by the way it is a long drink of cool water after any time in contact with Social Justice narratives on “cultural appropriation”. It is very interesting work because it takes the cultural matrix of borrowing into account.

    It’s language divergence that I think has some aspects that need to be studied. How long before dialect mixing stops? Do certain types of dialect mixing and borrowing stop at different times, and what are the conditioning factors? How often does phonological change affect morphological and eventually even typological features of the diverging languages? (e.g the shift in the gender system of Scandinavian languages from M/F/N to animate/inanimate (right back to the pre-Proto-IE system)

  16. Stefan Holm says:

    Jim

    There’s no real shift in Scandinavian from masculine/feminine/neuter to animate/inanimate. In local dialects (mine for sure) the three gender system is still alive. What happened in the standard language is that masculine and feminine were united into common gender acording to their definitive marker endings in either -t or -n.

    This is however ‘phonological’ and has nothing whatsoever to do with animate/inanimate. A few examples: the Swedish words sto (mare), <ilejon (lion), får (sheep), lamm (lamb), rådjur (roe deer), bi (bee), svin (swine) are all neuters in Swedish but, as you know, must certianly ‘animate’ in reality.

  17. DO, but how did they know she had two accents?
    I am guessing here, but apparently they knew her L1 was Russian and conjectured that she can switch her approximations of French phonemes by Russian rather than English ones. Anyways, they might just have disliked her English accent and tried to nudge her to do something else.

    And it’s true that it is possible to play with your non-native accent at least a little bit when not under stress or trying to speak too fast. I can switch between rhotic and non-rhotic English or merge/unmerge cot/caught, but am not able to approximate most vowels or intonation anywhere convincingly.

  18. Stefan,
    “What happened in the standard language is that masculine and feminine were united into common gender acording to their definitive marker endings in either -t or -n.”

    In other words the distinction between masculine and feminine genders disappeared, leaving a masc/fem vs. neuter distinction. How is this not an animate/inanimate distinction?

    “This is however ‘phonological’ and has nothing whatsoever to do with animate/inanimate.”

    Yes on the first – you can’t have a morphological distinction where the phonological distinction has disappeared. But really? on the second. I am not talking about an semantic actual animate/inanimate distinction but rather a morphological gender system that has no connection to any semantic load.

    “the Swedish words sto (mare), <ilejon (lion), får (sheep), lamm (lamb), rådjur (roe deer), bi (bee), svin (swine) are all neuters in Swedish but, as you know, must certianly ‘animate’ in reality."

    Reality has almost nothing to do with any gender system in a European language. These systems are formal relics that serve almost no communicative purpose at all.

  19. marie-lucie says:

    a lady with two accents

    Some years ago I took a night course (not a university course) which involved doing some minor creative writing (in English), such as writing short sketches of people. For one of those assignments I chose to remember an old Jewish lady in whose house I had once rented me a room when I was a student in the US. She had been born “in the old country”, her native language was Yiddish, and I heard a lot of the language because whenever her daughter visited (at least once a week) I heard a bilingual conversation, the old lady speaking Yiddish and her daughter English. She also spent a lot of time of the phone, speaking Yiddish almost all the time. In my assignment, which I read aloud in class, I quoted one of the old lady’s favourite topics when she spoke to me (in English): “Do you know how old I am? I am eighty-eight years old!” When I read my assignment I tried to approximate the lady’s accent. The class apparently liked my sketch, but I was mortified when some of the participants afterward said they wished I spoke that way all the time, as it was much easier for them to understand me than when I spoke with my own French-accented English!

    About the Russian lady in the Swiss hospital, she was told that she better switch her heavy English accent for the Russian one, because it’s closer to the French

    Her heavy “English” accent was probably an American one, while the hospital personnel might have been more familiar with the British accent then taught in Europe. Two things make an especially big difference between (more or less Standard) French and English pronunciation: word stress and vowel quality (especially the loss of vowel quality in English unstresse vowels). An English speaker pronouncing French words is bothered by the lack of prominent stress in French and tends to add stress where it does not belong. As a consequence, such a person will emphasize the incorrectly stressed vowel in a word and make the other vowels more neutral in quality. The combination of these two factors (plus a few others) can make French words unrecognizable to a French hearer. (The opposite is also true, making English words spoken by a monolingual French speaker unrecognizable).

    In Russian too there is strong stress and some neutralization of unstressed vowels, but (I think) not as prominently as in English.

  20. not as prominently as in English

    On the contrary. In Russian, all unstressed vowels are reduced, whereas English distinguishes between unstressed but unreduced vowels (aka “secondarily stressed vowels”) and reduced vowels.

  21. In Russian, all unstressed vowels are reduced

    Nope, not the high ones.

  22. True, O King. What I meant was that there is no distinction between unstressed/unreduced and unstressed/reduced.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    Anyways, she probably used approximations based on English phonemes to begin with because they occupied “foreign language” part of her brain.

    Or perhaps even the “Latin alphabet” part of her brain.

  24. I don’t have it to hand to check but doesn’t “The Russian Language in the Twentieth Century” by Comrie et al explore the differences between Soviet and emigré Russian ?

  25. Apparently not. I just checked my copy, and the only emigré name I see in the index is Bunin (no Aldanov, Gazdanov, or Nabokov, for example), and the only reference to him cites his Окаянные дни for “a number of distorted words and phrases that occurred in the proletarian [Soviet] press in the early years after the revolution.”

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