From Herzen’s Who Is to Blame?, translated by Michael R. Katz (the original from Кто виноват? follows); the context is that a “philanthropic privy counselor” is passing through town on his way to Moscow, and the principal of the gymnasium (high school) seizes the opportunity of having him visit the school:

Then one of the pupils stepped forward, and the French teacher asked, “Didn’t he have something to say on the occasion of this grand visit to their ‘garden of learning’?” At once the pupil began a speech in a strange Franco-ecclesiastical dialect: “Coman puvonn nu pover anfan remersier lilustre visiter?” [“How can we poor children show our gratitude to our illustrious visitor?”]. As the patron looked around during this Celto-Slavonic speech, he was somehow attracted by Mitya’s sickly and delicate appearance; he called the boy over, spoke to him, and showed him kindness.

Затем один из учеников вышел вперед, и учитель французского языка спросил его: «Не имеет ли он им что-нибудь сказать по поводу высокого посещения рассадника наук?» Ученик тотчас же начал на каком-то франко-церковном наречии: «Коман пувонн ну поверь анфан ремерсиерь лилюстръ визитеръ». Глядя по сторонам во время этой кельто-славянской речи, меценат обратил как-то внимание на болезненный и нежный вид Мити, подозвал его к себе, поговорил, приласкал.

(Cited in Anne Lounsbery’s Life Is Elsewhere: Symbolic Geography in the Russian Provinces, 1800–1917 to show how the provinces were portrayed as appropriating culture from elsewhere in hopelessly garbled form; I presume the “Celto-” refers to nos ancêtres les gaulois.)


  1. On a related note, the Greek for “French [language]” is apparently γαλλικά.

    I suppose the equivalent of the word “French” transplanted into the English context (in an alternate universe) would be calling English “Norse” or “Norman”, and the equivalent of γαλλικά would be calling English “British”, “Celtic”, or even “Gaelic”.

  2. I think we discussed it before – the Scots language is the direct descendant of the speech of the Angles of Northumbria.

    So it would make a lot of sense to rename Scots to English and Scotland to England.

    Naturally, then we’ll have rename English to Saxon and England to Sex.

  3. @Fancua Gallic is a good English adjective meaning stereotypically French. Collocates used in the linked dictionaries are “charm”, “elegance”, “indignation”, and “shrug”. There are also compounds “G. rose” and “G. cock” (or “rooster” if you prefer).

  4. Commennt pouvonns nous pauv’r enfants remercierr l’illioustre visitèr?

  5. Gallic is a good English adjective meaning stereotypically French.

    Sure. I guess my point was that the “Celto-” in “Celto-Slavonic” does not seem particularly stranger to me than using words like “Gallic” or the prefix “Gallo-” to refer to French.

  6. jack morava says

    very guttural languages the Celtic and the Slavonic.

  7. Well, of course. They are, after all, part of the Italo-Celto-Balto-Slavonic language family.

  8. ə de vivre says

    “On a related note, the Greek for “French [language]” is apparently γαλλικά.”

    I wonder if that’s because Φράγκος had become generalized to mean ‘Crusader, Catholic, Western European’ by the time Greeks started talking about France as we currently understand it.

  9. “Franco-ecclesiastical”, “Celto-Slavonic”…the author seems to think of this as a grossly distorted mixture of French and some other language(s), but looking at “Коман пувонн ну поверь анфан ремерсиерь лилюстръ визитеръ”/”Comment pouvons-nous pauvres enfants remercier l’illustre visiteur” all I see is French transcribed in Cyrillic (with all the uncertainties that entails), with only three (possibly four, see below) things that make it unlike L1 French:

    1-“поверь” as a a representation of “pauvre”, when “поврь” would be expected. This is unsurprising, since I believe Russian lacks word-final /vr/ clusters, and thus a realization /pov(j)er/ would be an unsurprising error for a Russian L1 speaker to make: interestingly “лилюстръ” seems to represent the pronunciation of the French word (“l’illustre”) accurately enough.

    2-“enfants” (анфан) in this context should have an initial /z/ through liaison.

    3-We would expect “ремерсие” and not “ремерсиерь” as a transcription of “remercier”.

    4- (This one is more speculative): “пувонн ну”: this is the only nasal vowel transcribed with a double “н”: since in this instance the nasal vowel is immediately followed by a nasal consonant, I wonder whether the speaker, for this nasal vowel only, realized it as nasal vowel + /n/.

    All of the above are common enough errors made by learners of French, and thus I wonder: how well did Herzen speak French himself? Because I do not see anything unusually distorted in this speech sample.

    As for the use of “Celto-“, I wonder: “Celtic” was often associated in the nineteenth century (in France and England alike) with primeval remoteness and barbarity, and considering Herzen’s obviously negative attitude, is it possible he is using “Celto-” with a similarly pejorative meaning?

  10. This is unsurprising, since I believe Russian lacks word-final /vr/ clusters
    They’re rare, but they exist, e.g. lavr “laurel”.

  11. Some less then perfect conversion happened between the old and the new orthography. In the old orthography the offending phrase is “Команъ пувоннъ ну поверь анфанъ ремерсiерь лилюстрь визитерь”. The hard sign (ъ) at the end of a word is no more, but the soft sign (ь) is still there and the whole thing should be “Коман пувонн ну поверь анфан ремерсиерь лилюстрь визитерь” in the new orthography. I have no idea what sound Herzen thought “soft r” should be. Just a quick reminder, at the time, uvular r didn’t establish itself as a norm in French.

    In general, “ecclesiastic” and “Slavic” elements probably were just phonology. Stress on each word, non-nasal n (laminal denti-alveolar, as Wiki tells me), etc., etc.

  12. “Franco-ecclesiastical”, “Celto-Slavonic”…the author seems to think of this as a grossly distorted mixture of French and some other language(s)

    No, he just means French heavily distorted in pronunciation by Russian. Herzen lived in Paris for a while and seems to have spoken perfectly good French. (By which of course I do not mean perfect French, just less Russified than the people he and Westernizers like him mocked.)

  13. January First-of-May says

    and the equivalent of γαλλικά would be calling English “British”, “Celtic”, or even “Gaelic”

    It is said that one of the late Byzantine historians (Laonikos Chalkokondyles, IIRC?) described the then-contemporary Hundred Years War as a war “between the Celts and the Gauls”.

    No, he just means French heavily distorted in pronunciation by Russian.

    …oh, so he’s basically calling it the Russian version of Stratford-atte-Bowe.

  14. Exactly.

  15. There was this posthttp://hellenisteukontos.blogspot.com/2009/09/whats-londinon-in-language-of-inglines.html.

    Which ends with

    (Language Hat, sorry to have just destroyed your evening… 😉 )

  16. Thanks for reminding me of that fascinating post and thread after over a decade!

  17. ” non-nasal n”
    Slavonic has nasals. Boring people with sad facial expression who warn us against dangers of sin famously have nasals too.

    I saw that post when I was googling for Νεμίτζοι. I was curious about the Arabic Slavic word for Austria, /nimtsa/
    Constantine Porphyrogennetos and Anna Komnene use Νεμίτζοι, for certain Germans, and I wanted to see the context.

  18. (I said “facial expressions”. because the faces look as if the same people in their natarul habitat exchange obscene jokes.)

  19. David Marjanović says

    I have no idea what sound Herzen thought “soft r” should be. Just a quick reminder, at the time, uvular r didn’t establish itself as a norm in French.

    And the uvular r doesn’t sound like a soft r either, rather the opposite. It’s a mystery to me what’s going on here.

    non-nasal n (laminal denti-alveolar, as Wiki tells me)

    It’s nasal by definition, and exactly the same as in French and indeed most of Europe. This is rather about the nasal vowels.

  20. This is rather about the nasal vowels.

    Yes and no. French don’t close the gap for their ns, which is a very audible thing for Russians. “And Russian n like n in French she could pronounce through her nose”.

    And the uvular r doesn’t sound like a soft r either, rather the opposite.
    Yes, exactly. So that is not what “soft r” could mean. Probably, the attempted sound was produced further in the mouth then typical Russian r and it was something that a Russian could have tried to emulate with more pallatalisation.

  21. 1) Modern Russian soft r is, in many accents, a flap rather than trill.
    2) French -r loans don’t have soft -r.
    3) And again, the most salient feature of ‘ecclesiastical’ Russian is nasalization.

    But I have no idea what are other features of Slavonic reading, what are their r-s, what was the attempted sounds etc.There was a tongue twister: nashego ponomar’a nikto ne pereponomarit (noone will ever outsacrist our sacristan… or our sacristan is unoutsacristable?). It clearly has r-s, but I don’t remember anything unusual about church r:/ Ponomar’ usually was also a reader

  22. Lars Mathiesen says

    How does an /n/ without nasal airflow even work? What differentiates it from a stop? D.O. says close the gap, but if I try that I get some kind of /d/.

    (Of course you can have realizations of /n/ and /d/ that are both buccal stops but different, and going by how often they evolve into each other that may not even be rare as a transitional stage — but nothing I’ve seen about standard Russian phonology hints at that; in fact Wikipedia tells us they have the same manner of articulation except for the nasality implicit in the IPA symbol).

    Are we talking about nasal airflow spreading to adjacent segments in presbyteric pronunciations of slavonic, but not like in French where it’s only regressive and for vowels? Or even an unconditioned nasality like in US English?

    OT, reading that Russian /n/ does not assimilate before velar stops: I find it interesting that Spanish has, e.g., inmediatamente for a sequence that was well assimilated 2000 years ago — maybe some mediaeval peever was involved.

  23. Perhaps when writing “French don’t close the gap for their ns”, D.O. is talking about the letter n rather than the phoneme /n/? It is true that in French spellings the sequence VnC indicates nasalisation of V rather than presence of a nasal consonant. (The same is true of sequence VmC.) But the n in sequence nV is a nasal consonant.

    One might a similarly say “the English don’t close the gap for their rs” (ooh matron).

  24. This is beyond my level of understanding, but I thrust forward nonetheless. I am not saying that Russian /n/ doesn’t involve airflow through the nose. I am pretty sure it does. But when a Russian who didn’t study phonology says that French pronounce their /n/ through the nose they mean, as far as I can understand, that the crucial feature of Russian /n/ is the tongue pressing on teeth and alveoli. That’s why no matter how much air various ecclesiastics let escape through their noses, it wouldn’t make for a French n in Russian ears because they are still closing the gap.

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    Is this a confusion between writing and speech? (viz that French written n is very often just a marker of vowel nasalisation rather than representing /n/.)

  26. Maybe you mean a differnet thing?

    I mean, Russian ‘soft’ (palatalized) and ‘hard’ (velarised) consonants. Velarized ‘n’ is, accordingly a dark sound (if it is possible to apply ‘dark’ to sounds other than /l/?).

    @David, no, I think D.O. means, French /n/ is less of a stop (less plosive? less occlusive?) than Russian /n/.

  27. David Eddyshaw says

    French /n/ is less of a stop (less plosive? less occlusive?) than Russian /n/.

    It isn’t, though. There’s nothing peculiar in that respect about French /n/ at all. It’s more dental than the usual English /n/, but then, so is the Russian “hard” /n/.

    I wonder if this is a manifestation of a general difference in how fortis or lenis consonants are by default in French and Russian (languages do vary along this axis, but I can’t find much useful information about the variation.)

    Mind you, to my ear, French consonants sound distinctly more fortis by and large than English (certainly in the case of the voiceless stops), which is not the impression I get of Russian. I’m not at all used to hearing Russian spoken though, so that means very little.

  28. Fortis and lenis just Latin for strong and weak:/

    What is lax, and what is tense, by the law, by the law? What is lax and what is tense by the law?

  29. What is Right, and what is Wrang?
    A short /sɔɹd/, and a lang, a weak /r/ and a strang, for to draw, for to drawl.
    A weak /r/ and a strang, for to drawl….

  30. By the way, it is impossible for Russians to say “god” other than /got/. A Russian voiced stop will always have a clear schwa as its release.

  31. As I said, I don’t know what I am talking about. David Eddyshaw is right, I was talking about nasalized vowels in French in contrast with Vn in Russian. Writing must be a large part of the story, but I guess for some reason Russians interpreted a nasalized French vowels as Vn with n pronounced “through the nose”.

  32. /n/ is always pronounced through the nose. Nasalized vowels are also pronounced through the mouth. But whatever.

    “Khow ken ve poor chuldren tenk our yillostrious weesitor?”

  33. John Cowan says

    The Burns version of the song contains that curious mark of the Scot, the use of doubt/doot ‘have no doubt > think, suppose’.

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