Gasan Guseinov (in Azeri, Həsən Hüseynov) is a Baku-born classical philologist who teaches at Moscow State University and writes not only about ancient literature but about contemporary culture and politics (he has, for example, an article about “the anthropology of the Russian internet”). I had never heard of him until the Russian Dinosaur (whose new book I am enjoying greatly and will be reviewing soon) sent me a link to this piece for the Russian version of Radio France Internationale, which made me laugh harder than anything has in a while. I imagine you all know that Gerard Depardieu has gotten a Russian passport in his quest to avoid French taxation; Guseinov has nothing to say about the financial, political, or ethical aspects of the situation, but he has much to say about how the name should be naturalized in Russian: депардьё [depard’yo]? депардье [depard’e]? And how will this new Russian word be used? If you press the white triangle in the red circle above the text, you can hear him read the piece, which is well worth it. And I’ve already added his blog to my Google Reader.

For those of you who don’t know Russian, here‘s a squib about what happened when they tried to teach Watson the Urban Dictionary. (In the end, they had to wipe it from its memory.)


  1. As discussed here recently, ё “yo” has gone semi-extinct in Russian spelling, and therefore депардьё [depard’yo] has no chances against депардье [depard’e] (no matter what is the pronounciation).
    The comments on the FRI blog bring up a more interesting linguistic development: what’s the “de” in “depardieu”? A commenter suggests that the prefix de- should be understood as “loss or removal of something”. And so, the antonym “pardieu” is expected to emerge in Russian, perhaps for immigration into higher-tax, better-rights countries, or even for gentrification of higher-tax localities (while “depardieu” would stand for the opposite, like for moving to low-tax countries with poor civil rights record)

  2. marie-lucie says

    Thank you for linking to the audio. I have been wanting for some time to brush up on the little Russian I learned years ago, and listening to this guy on RFI makes me want to continue to do so. Russian sounds great spoken by a gravelly-voiced man. I listened while looking at the print, trying to follow the text at the same time and succeeding in picking out a word here and there matching something I heard, and vice-versa. This sounds promising for a first attempt.
    As for the name Depardieu: in some areas of France there are locally common last names including the name Dieu, a custom established in more pious times, and Depardieu is apparently typical of Central France where the actor is from. It analyzes as de par Dieu, which recalls the old saying par Dieu ‘by God!’. But here the additional de is the preposition meaning ‘of, from’ or ‘by’, used as a reinforcement of the meaning of par ‘by’. At one time, royal announcements conveyed to the masses by a document read by public criers were preceded by De par le roi ‘by/from the king’, so De par Dieu is ‘by/from God’. Nothing to do with the negative prefix dé- ‘un-, dis-‘, in spite of the clever Russian folk analysis.

  3. how (a French) name should be naturalized in Russian
    Or how a Russian name should be naturalized in French without conjuring up damsels of the dusk: Владимир Путин comes out as Vladimir Poutine. Under no circumstances to be confused with poutine.

  4. I guess the name will continue to be spelled Депардье as it has been for years now. Some people will pronounce it with something like ё in the first syllable and a ё-ю cross in the last, but only to show off, just like others say Ляйпциг or Майорка. In print, Депардьё looks ugly and Депардью pretentious or folksy (“Постой-ка, брат мусью”). Note that adieu never quite made it into Russian though in wide use once.

  5. Happening to watch a streamed top US tv news show, I was surprised at the presenter saying de – par – dough. I would have thought they had a pronunciation guide like teh BBC.

  6. marie-lucie says

    Poutine doesn’t mean anything to the average person in France. The food is a Canadian invention.

  7. I’ve had long discussions with my fellow Canadians back when I was a part of a History and Classics department (with a large contingent of Eastern European historians) as to what exactly should go into a ‘Vladimir Poutine’. We’ve agreed that it must have some kind of борщ component, but little idea what else.

  8. But there is no ‘pute’ sound in ‘Putin‘, hein?

  9. The Depardieu story – as well as its Brigitte Bardot travesty – was, of course, a source of much mirth in Russian-speaking Internet community. The best joke I came across was, I believe, the newly-coined verb депардировать – as in ‘был депардирован в Россию.’
    Seriously though, transliteration may be a big problem for Russians abroad who have to use papers issued by Russian authorities. I for one have had two different versions of the Latin-script spelling of my names (both first and last) in my passports – the MID (Russia’s Foreign Office) transliteration rules were apparently changed a few years ago – not to mention a third, completely different one provided in my supposedly international Russian driving license courtesy of the MVD (the Home Office).

  10. David Marjanović says

    ё “yo” has gone semi-extinct in Russian spelling

    Isn’t it pretty consistently used on Wikipedia?

  11. marie-lucie says

    Treesong, the English spelling “Putin” is not used in French, where it would suggest a pronunciation homophonous with that of putain ‘whore’. Instead the name is spelled Poutine, according to the usual way of adapting Russian names to French spelling and pronunciation habits. But poutine also happens to be the name of a Canadian fast-food combination of French fries topped with cheese curds and brown gravy. This is a filling food but hardly haute cuisine.

  12. I’ve written several pieces on Depardieu for Russian press using the ё at the end. And the changed them all to e! On radio and TV the -ye at the end is consistently used.
    At least Gerard is transcribed as Zherar. There is another well-known Russian Gerard, an actor and singer Gerard Vasiliev, pronounced Gherard with a distinct – at the end. One of his famous comic opera roles is Cyrano de Bergerac in Kara Karayev’s ‘The Fiery Gascon’.

  13. marie-lucie says

    Paul: I was surprised at the presenter saying de – par – dough
    I wonder if the pronunciation guide had de-par-due, where due to an American would suggest “doo”. But the presenter might have been confused by Bardot keyed as bar-dough, since BB got involved in the story. Of course, in French the two names have little in common.

  14. The food is a Canadian invention
    Purely a Quebec invention, I would say. Even 10 years ago it was hard to find poutine in Toronto from what I remember. I believe the dish has acquired a hip cachet in the meantime – you can now get gourmet poutine with truffles in upscale Montreal restaurants, and there was a new poutine shop in Boston last time I was there.

  15. A couple of trendy gastropubs in chicago have put poutine in various dressed up forms on their menus, but I haven’t dared try it. yet.

  16. Maybe if the weather gets a little colder, it’ll start to appeal.

  17. Garrigus Carraig says

    There is a Montreal-style deli steps away from my erstwhile Brooklyn apartment where poutine is served. I never got around to trying it there, nor on any of my visits to Montreal, but it’s on my list.
    Not far from the deli is a Tim Horton’s.

  18. marie-lucie says

    Last year I went to Montréal for the meeting of the AAA (American Anthropological Association). Among other freebies they gave each participant coupons for poutine, a typical item of Canadian culture! Around lunchtime, outside the convention center was one of those big kitchen vans, which redeemed the coupons for poutine in French fries containers, so I had some for the first time. It was better than I expected, and actually a good choice for a winter lunch outdoors, but I would not go out of my way to eat poutine. However, yesterday I saw in our local alternative paper that there is a place in this city that makes a lot of different kinds of poutine, some of them very fancy. I don’t know if they would go as far as truffles though!

  19. All: as a Montrealer I suppose I should reveal the true reason for the success of poutine:
    Granted, it is filling, and something nice and warm in winter (yes, it isn’t exactly diet food. However, considering the weather in these parts -we just had a cold wave: the temperature was in the minus twenties by day- that is understandable).
    However, poutine is very popular for a different reason: it is perfect, and unbeatable, anti-hangover medecine.
    After a night of heavy drinking, a good bowl or two of poutine just after your drinking and before going to bed means that you will wake up very thirsty, with a very dry mouth the next morning (all that salt and mashed potatoe absorbs liquids in your stomach very effectively)…but with nothing more than the mildest of headaches as a (barely noticeable) reminder of your drinking.
    I can attest that it works: as an undergraduate discovering alcohol (already the scholar, seeking to verify things empirically, you understand) for the first time, I once drank a little too much beer one fine evening on the eve of a computational linguistics mid-term (yes, the timing for my experimentation was terrible. Let’s move on with the story, shall we?)
    On the advice of a charming nursing student I had met on the dance floor that same evening I had two large bowls of poutine before going home (yes, alone. Dear me, what were you thinking?).
    The next morning the first thing I did after waking up was drink several glasses of water…and I found that I was mentally and physically pretty much able to function normally, much to my surprise. As a result I wrote and passed said mid-term.
    So s/o, Garrigus Carraig and others who have immediate access to poutine: if one fine evening you end up drinking a lot when you need to wake up the next morning without a hang-over, well, you now know what to do.

  20. marie-lucie says

    Very useful information, Etienne! Here in Halifax there are lots of students because of the several universities. Perhaps their presence explains why the poutineries seem to be gaining ground over the pizzerias!

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    Trendy gastropubs in Chicago? Say it ain’t so, Joe.

  22. Etienne – I’ll keep that in mind.
    JW Brewer – One of them even has a Michelin star (but not poutine): (For the next time you find yourself in Logan Square…)

  23. J.W. Brewer says

    Even in Logan Square? You move away from Chicago, 20 years passes, and the whole damn place gentrifies. (Although exotic whiskeys for $3/shot suggest gentrification at a lower price point than in Brooklyn, so that’s good, unless they’re cheating on portion size.)

Speak Your Mind