I’ve finished Radishchev’s Journey (see this post), and the final chapter, on Lomonosov, was actually reasonably interesting. In the course of discussing Lomonosov’s thirst for learning, acquired in part through mastery of foreign languages, Radishchev writes (I quote the Leo Weiner translation, published by Harvard University Press, 1958):
Thus the student, upon approaching an unknown language, is confused by strange sounds. His throat is exhausted by the unfamiliar rustling of air escaping from it, and his tongue, compelled to wag in a new way, grows lame. The mind grows stiff, reason is weakened by inactivity, imagination loses its wings; memory alone is wide awake and ever keener, filling all its convolutions and openings with hitherto unknown sounds. In learning languages, at first everything is repulsive and burdensome. If one were not encouraged by the hope that, after having accustomed his ear to the unusual sounds and having mastered the strange pronunciation, most delightful ways would be opened up to him, it is doubtful that one would want to enter upon so arduous a path. But when these obstacles are surmounted, how generous is the reward for perseverance in overcoming hardships! New aspects of nature, and a new chain of ideas then present themselves. By acquiring a foreign language we become citizens of the region where it is spoken, we converse with those who lived many thousand years ago, we adopt their ideas; and we unite and co-ordinate the inventions and the thought of all peoples and all times.
And, approaching the end of Slezkine’s wonderful Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (see this post), I’ve run into the following striking quote from the Nanai author Petr Kile (born 1936; I assume “Kile” has the stress on the second syllable—anybody know?):
There is no point in writing in my native language because out of eight thousand Nanai living in this world, if anybody reads poetry, they read it in Russian. There is no need to translate Pushkin into Nanai. I love Pushkin in the element of Russian speech and I cannot reject it. In any case, writing poetry in any other language strikes me as strange. And who knows to what extent Russian has become my native language?
This is from Идти вечно [To always go/walk] (1972), which Slezkine calls Kile’s “remarkably fresh memoir.”