I just read an interesting post at Anatoly’s blog (whose ever-changing name is now “Somehow Keats will survive without you”). He’s rereading The Twelve Chairs (something I keep meaning to do) and has realized that the dvornik‘s “Ходют и ходют” [Khódyut i khódyut, ‘They come and they come’] at the end of the novel provides valuable information about the chronology of a change in Russian pronunciation. Until some time after the 1917 Revolution, it was standard (especially in Moscow) to pronounce unstressed -ят (-yat) in third person plural verbs as -ют (-yut) (and, similarly, unstressed -ящий in participles as -ющий—see Comrie et al.). Ushakov in 1935 gives this as the only acceptable pronunciation, but Avanesov in 1947 says it’s less widespread, and in 1950 calls it archaic. As Anatoly points out, Ilf and Petrov’s use of it as a marker of nonstandard speech shows that it already seemed old-fashioned in Moscow in 1928.