Dedovshchina (дедовщина) is an extreme form of hazing that has been one of the more shameful aspects of the Russian military for decades. Some say it developed during World War Two, when prisoners were taken from penitentiaries straight into the army, others think it was a product of the ’60s, when the term of service was shortened and soldiers started punishing newcomers who had to serve a year less. Whatever the origin, it seems impossible to eradicate, despite horror stories like that of Andrei Sychev (see-CHOFF); Sunday’s NY Times had a story by Steven Lee Myers describing the situation, with depressing quotes like “By the military’s own count, disputed as conservative, 16 soldiers were killed by dedovshchina last year, while an additional 276 committed suicide” and (from the minister of defense) “I think nothing serious happened… Otherwise, I would have certainly known about it.”

However, none of this is Languagehat-related. This, from the sixth paragraph of the story, is:

The trial, however, has cast doubt on the military’s prosecution and showed how deeply rooted dedovshchina (pronounced de-DOV-she-na) remains in Russia’s barracks, still largely filled with conscripts despite overwhelming opposition to the draft.

The parenthetical information I have put in bold is wrong [or at least inadequate]. The simplification of shch to sh is reasonable anglicization, but the damn stress is on the wrong damn syllable: it’s di-duhf-SHCHEE-nuh [in standard Russian]. The accent is indicated at the Russian Wikipedia article from which I drew my information about the history of the practice. Now, I don’t expect Times reporters, editors, and proofreaders to know Russian, but is it asking too much that they check with a Russian before embarrassing themselves with an incorrect pronunciation? If you’re not going to bother finding out the facts, at least don’t make something up.

(It may be, of course, that there is an alternate pronunciation, in which case I’m sure one of my Russian-speaking readers will so inform me.)

Update. In the comments, the estimable mab informs me that there is indeed an alternate pronunciation, which was presumably used by whoever the Times consulted. Sorry, Times: my outrage was excessive. But if you didn’t deserve it today, you’ll deserve it tomorrow, as the parent told the naughty child.


  1. Michael Idov says

    Amusingly, this looks like overcompensation for a more popular English error: instinctively placing the accent in longer Russian words and names on the penultimate syllable, as if dealing with Italian (that’s how we get Sha-ra-PO-va and her ilk). In this rare case, the instinct would have been correct.

  2. David Marjanović says

    The placement of the stress here surprises me, but then Russian stress is so chaotic* that Kerenski wrote in his memoirs that his name, derived from some river Kerenka, is stressed on the first syllable, and that his fellow native speakers usually get that wrong.
    Concerning щ, this seems to be commonly pronounced [S;] or maybe [S;:] these days (I have to use Kirshenbaum here, I can’t change the font…). I was taught in school (4 years) to do so, and my dictionary gives both [S;t;S;] and [S;S;]. I suppose this is connected to the tradition of dropping the middle consonant in 3-consonant-clusters (most commonly [stn] and [zdn]).
    (Yeah, of course, that’s all Russian. Bulgarian has [s.t], as in щорк “stork”.)
    * Why oh why didn’t they keep the Greek accents? I mean, one of them?

  3. I remember sitting in a train in Russia and listening to Russians discuss weather it’s Bul-ga-KOV or rather Bul-GA-kov.

  4. Michael Idov says

    Those were some odd Russians… Was the train, perchance, bound for Brighton Beach?

  5. …but the damn stress is on the wrong damn syllable
    How relieved I am to find other people so incensed by this species of lapse. Placement of stress is less and less considered. I fear the English-speaking world is becoming “stress-deaf” altogether. The only thing to say in defence of the NY Times story is that they at least knew there might be something to say about stress, which is a rare insight these days.
    Recently here I remarked on the stressing of Hezbollah. How distressing that no one seems to know, or more importantly give a tinker’s fart, where the stress goes. You helped me with that, LH; and, since no one else would, I have rectified things in Wikipedia, where there was a great deal of information about variants and competing transcriptions, but not a syllable on stress. (Recently I confirmed from a native speaker what you said about the Farsi, by the way.) In the Australian media the word continues to be stressed indifferently on any of its three syllables.
    But this is quite common also with standard and easy English words. Perhaps with these we shouldn’t think it matters so much, since it is just a means of expressive variation that is coming more into use. Could this be partly caused by the systematic differences between American and broadly British stressings breaking down the fixed versions that any dictionary might give? I suspect it is.
    A connected and even more serious shift, I think, is in the stress patterns of whole sentences. Again this is well shown in Australian media, where it is pervasive and truly remarkable. Last night I watched an iconic Oz television documentary program, Four Corners, on our ABC. The topic was an important one, so I endured the whole thing. But I could hardly bear the narrator’s way of imposing the same fixed pattern on virtually every sentence he uttered, completely insensitive to the meanings or relative salience of the words. It was as if he did not understand the text at all, but was simply a virtuoso pronouncer of isolated English words, which he then had somehow to string together.
    But again, what is most alarming is that no one appears to notice, let alone care. I fear I am becoming a dinosaur. Could it be that it really doesn’t matter?

  6. Possibly the author came up with the incorrect stress by analogy to Ежовщина, which is stressed on the antepenult rather than the penult. Not that that should be an excuse.

  7. Michale Idov, I can easily imagine this discussion among Russian filologists, let along American slavists; Brighton beach have their own worries, far removed from academic matters (which is wholly understandable, or should be, to somebody with your name).
    Russian surnames have a nasty habit to transform themselves geographically, including stresses, according to dialectical differences of locale. BulgakOv, f.ex, might be how Southern Russians would pronounce it, somewhere in Kuban.

  8. Oy. I appreciate idealism, & if it weren’t for people like the Hat, who knows how much worse it would get? But if the Times, based in a city with a non-negligible Russian population, can’t get this right… [sighing, weeping]?
    Meanwhile, across the pond, someone’s paying attention. (Don’t know where that link came from; if it came from this site, mea culpa.)

  9. (I didn’t quite understand David’s Kirshenbaum, but I happily have a converter to hand, so here it is for anyone else that understands the IPA but not all the details of that particular transliteration: ‘commonly pronounced [ʃʲ] or maybe [ʃʲː] these days … my dictionary gives both [ʃʲtʲʃʲ] and [ʃʲʃʲ] … (most commonly [stn] [zdn]) … Bulgarian has [ʂt], as in щорк “stork.”)

  10. Might the stress on the second syllable not be an acceptable alternative? I remember our class translating a short story called Den’ Salabona which dealt with Dedovschina and a native speaker indicating the pronunciation thus.
    Fascinating story if difficult to understand because of the heavy use of slang military terms.
    It listed several of the common punishments the Dembely (those about to be demobilised) inflicted on the Salabony. Stealing their uniforms didn’t even count as a punishment!

  11. komfo,amonan: Thanks for that BBC site! I’m pretty sure you didn’t see it here, because I don’t recall having come across it before (and it’s only existed for less than a month, so it’s not one of those embarrassing situations where I repost something from three years ago). This is a nice bit of information:
    Today’s pronunciation is for the English town Chester-le-Street.
    “Our recommendation, based on the advice of people who live there as well as published sources, is CHEST-uhr-li-street – the first part rhymes with ‘westerly’. Most English placenames with ‘le’ in them are pronounced in this way, rhyming with ‘me’ rather than the French-sounding ‘luh’.”

    The very first one is on Hezbollah, and they say “”Our recommendation for Hezbollah is hez-buul-AA (stress on final syllable). We’ve arrived at this recommendation by considering the original Farsi pronunciation, the Arabic pronunciation and anglicised pronunciations in published sources.” It hadn’t occurred to me that the word was originally Farsi, but that makes sense, since it’s an Iranian-sponsored organization, and if it’s true, then the final stress works for me.

  12. I was puzzled by the Farsi too. It could be, but only the vowels show it to be, if so. The Classical Arabic is [X\izbu lla:hi], stress on the long penult. In MSA the case ending [i] drops off, giving final stress in [X\izbulla:h]. In modern Arabic dialects the [i] and [u] could become [e] and [o], but it would depend on the dialect. In Persian the short [i] and [u] do automatically become [e] and [o]. So the spelling Hezbollah could represent either Persian or some modern Arabic dialect; whereas Hizbullah is Classical/Standard Arabic.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Thanks for the IPA, but I can’t see it. The font used here is not a Unicode font.
    I suppose you don’t use Internet Explorer? Other browsers, when they come across a special character, use a Unicode font for it (always the ugliest one possible, it seems); IE sticks to the font that is specified, so everything that doesn’t exist in the font the webpage is in gets displayed as a square.
    Well, I can see them, but only by copying them into Word, where they usually arrive in a Unicode font. This is how I can tell that [ʃʲ] is a transliteration of the Kirshenbaum I wrote, but the IPA has an extra symbol for it: curly-c, which you should be able to see here but I won’t see: [ɕ].
    Wikipedia gets around this by putting special characters into templates that explicitly assign Unicode fonts to them. For most IE users that means Arial MS Unicode, which is fine.

  14. LH: Thanks for the link, for which I was quite unprepared!
    nw: Without knowing much about the idiosyncracies of the Arabic dialects, I ask if the vowels are possibly dialectically Lebanese. A note in the English Wikipedia FWIW claims penultimate stress and the ‘e’ and ‘o’ vowels are of the Lebanese dialect.

  15. Michael Idov says

    Brighton beach have their own worries, far removed from academic matters (which is wholly understandable, or should be, to somebody with your name).
    Excuse me?!

  16. They were headed for Murmansk and I’m doubtful they were philologists.
    I recall hearing that the Murmansk dialect has some stress-oddities – in the pronunciation of Murmansk in particular.

  17. On Hezbollah, again:
    A note in the English Wikipedia FWIW claims penultimate stress…
    Aha! I made that addition to the note in question (note 2, in the present version). I did so after putting a question here, researching the BBC pronunciation site, looking in SOED, and finally consulting a native speaker of Farsi. Someone had to do something, I thought. Here is my text:
    In English the stress is most commonly placed on the final syllable, as suggested in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (this is in accord with the Farsi pronunciation, of Iran); in the Arabic of Hezbollah’s theatre of operations it is most commonly placed on the second syllable.
    If anyone takes exception to that, or can improve on it, I’d be grateful for advice.

  18. Yes, Murmansk is pronounced differently by locals and the rest of the country. My college friend moved there with her husband who was in the Navy and he always said MurmAnsk. I’m not sure is it geographical or “nautical”, so to speak.
    MI: what do I have to excuse you for? For mocking Russian of Brighton Beach’ Jews, being a Jew yourself? For your choice of examples? For stereotyping? Please clarify.

  19. Well, I hate to throw a monkey wrench into the outrage, but… I’ve heard it as dedOVshchina. I’m out at my dacha without all my books, but a few text messages to other dacha-ing philologists indicate that the preferred pronunciation is dedovSHCHINa, but stress on the second syllable may be a regional variant.
    Steven Lee Meyers in based in Moscow, I think, so either 1) he heard it wrong (possible with foreign languages); 2) the person he was interviewing said it the way he transliterated it or 3) the office translator says it that way. I suppose I could make myself truly annoying and call the NYT office here and ask…
    BTW, in the odd words department — I wrote on this a couple of times, most recently when the Sychev story broke. Hazing did exist in pre-revolutionary Russia, although in very different form. Then it was called цук with the verb of цукать. But these words are really obscure these days.

  20. Liz Trabulsi says

    I am vaguely remembering from my Russian studies, a book, that I didn’t read, called Zadonschina, with the stress on the DON. Certainly don’t recall it as ZadonSHCHIna.
    As to Shchi, all I can say is “Shchi i kasha; pisha nasha”.
    I have no idea how you all get the cyrillic letters in here. If someone can tell me in short words with all the steps, I’d be interested.

  21. I hate to throw a monkey wrench into the outrage
    No, no, I love having monkey wrenches thrown into my outrage! Much as I enjoy tweaking the Times, I enjoy learning things even more. And I did mention the possibility of an alternate pronunciation in my original post.
    Liz: Words ending in -shchina have unpredictable stress, which is just one of the perverse joys of studying Russian. As for Cyrillic, try, supplied to me by Tat; you type English letters and the corresponding Cyrillic appears, and then you just copy it and paste it into wherever you want it to appear.

  22. michael farris says

    Very cool link to transliterator (sort of). Has it been on the front page? If not, then why not?

  23. Good question. I guess I might as well post it for those who can use it.

  24. A similar criticism could be levelled at Russian editors, though here it would concern transliteration rather than stress. Some Russian newspapers and journals make a point of providing the Latinitsa original of foreign names in brackets. Problem is, most editors never bother to find out the correct spelling. Thus e.g. I’ve seen Gregor Gizi for the German politician Gregor Gysi in Kommersant (incidentally, it seems this would be the correct spelling in Serbo-Croat and Albanian). Not to mention French names, where a final ‘eau’ is very often rendered as ‘o’. The transliteration of foreign names is often totally unpredictable: for some reason editors of sociological journals insist on writing Bruno Latour’s first name with a u rather a iu in Russian, and Bourdieu with a final e rather than io, which explains why many Russians writing in foreign languages will spell the latter’s surname Bourdié.

  25. Bourdieu with a final e
    But isn’t that the “correct” transliteration, assuming the final e to represent yo? The problem is that, since they almost never print the dots for yo, people don’t know it’s supposed to be yo and read it as e (I believe this is a problem with Кенигсберг [Kenigsberg], the former name of Kaliningrad, which is supposed to be Kyonigsberg = Königsberg but these days is often pronounced as spelled). That being the case, it makes more sense to render it as ю [yu], but that should really represent “Bourdiou.”

  26. There is something like an unwritten convention that you do write the yo when it’s necessary do disambiguate pronunciation. Everybody knows that Zhuravlev is pronounced Zhuravlyov and Fedorov is Fyodorov, but in foreign names and ambiguous cases it’s considered good style to indicate the yo, although not many people apart from the odd prescriptivist such as Marina Korolyova seems to care about good style anymore :-). In the case of Bourdieu, people now actually pronounce his name Bourd-YEH. Latour is an even more obvious case — there is no general reason why one write u instead of yu in Bruno. Interestingly, Diderot’s name used to be spelt DIDEROT rather than DIDRO in Russian, so for decades people pronounced the e and the final t.

  27. The standard stress in дедовщина is on the penultimate syllable but I have heard a general stress the first syllable. Syllable two is out of the question anyway.
    LH, the Bourdieu and Koenigsberg cases are two opposites. Бурдьё is not very euphonious; no wonder people prefer Бурдье, dropping the pseudo-umlaut. On the contrary, the Кениг- in Кенигсберг was more often rhymed with денег during WWII and shortly afterwards (likely in earlier times, too). Nowadays, it always rhymes with донник.

  28. Цук referred to a form of hazing (or, generally, a system of informal relationships) in pre-1917 military academies and schools, especially elite ones — not the army in general. Cadets could opt out of цук but those who did would not get accepted into good company or prestigious regiments.
    Дедовщина, on the contrary, seems like a near-universal pattern among the conscripted soldiers in the Soviet Army (excluding “ethnics”) that evolved from hazing into brutal abuse over four decades or so.

  29. Syllable two is out of the question anyway.
    Whew – so I can mock the Times freely! Thanks, Alexei! And thanks also for the Кенигсберг information. But I’m suspicious of the argument from euphony, which is obviously in the ear of the beholder and tends to get directed against pronunciations one doesn’t use: is Бурдьё really less euphonious than Кёнигсберг? I suspect people just don’t realize it represents an original -eu.

  30. Bourdieu, no matter how rendered into Russian, reminds one of бурда. The word means slops, or more broadly a terribly tasting concoction, or figuratively a long, boring, “deep,” complicated but essentially meaningless text. Another obvious association is бурдюк “wineskin,” sometimes applied to unpleasant fat persons. Ё having a somewhat indecent flair (a standalone ё is a euphemistic ejaculation: ой, ё! is basically “oh shit!”), would only makes things worse for the Russian ear when placed prominently at the end.
    Compare Montesquieu, rendered and pronounced as Монтескье or (dated) Монтескью. The latter makes sense because the ending “eu” is not that far from “you”.

  31. Good point, Alexei. That may also be the reason why many people prefer to transliterate another French sociologist as Лоран Тевено rather than Тевно, which would be phonetically more ‘correct’ but perhaps slightly reminiscent of another word ending in -вно. (I hadn’t realised I could used Cyrillic letters here, that obviously makes things easier.)

  32. PS I just came across your old blog entry mentioning my own essay about translation. The nationalist writer I meant there is Prokhanov, and you can read a transcript of the interview in a collection published last year that is based on the TV show. I even have a video recording of the interview, though unfortunately it’s on good ol’ videotape, so I can’t e-mail it. Apart from that, I actually think Tolstaya is a very good writer (as are many Russian nationalists, however you define the term). And I was very surprised to read Alexei’s gratuitously aggressive comments about myself, but I guess that’s what you get in blogs…

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