I discover from Anatoly that the Словарь русских народных говоров (Dictionary of Russian dialects) is online, thanks to the Institute for Linguistic Research of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This immense project has been under way since 1965 (it’s reached the letter С [S]) [it reached У (U) in 2013]; the Resources for Russian linguistics page created by the Slavic and East European Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describes it as follows:

Entries supply grammatical information relevant to the part of speech of a word, a definition in standard Russian, stress, and citations for sources and dialects. Some entries excerpt passages to show usage. A list of geographical abbreviations is provided to help interpret in which dialectal area a particular term is found. An extensive bibliography of sources consulted for the compilation of the dictionary is included in the first volume with bibliographies of additional sources appearing at the beginning of various subsequent volumes. Sources include published materials and manuscripts.

(The Resources page shows an image from a page of the dictionary, as it does for all the works it describes—a very nice feature.) Anatoly says, “This is an unbelievably wonderful book—just download any installment and start reading at random. Just now I spent half an hour reading; I couldn’t tear myself away. What riches, what diversity, what beauty!” I agree; I downloaded “2. Ба-Блазниться” (pdf file) and was immediately hooked by the first entries:

Ба-ба-ба, междом. Слово, которым подзывают лошадь. Буин. Симб., 1897.
1. Баба, ы, ж. 1. Женщина, у которой первый ребенок девочка (в отличие от женщины, родившей первым сына и называемой молодухой). Оренб., 1849—1851. Казан. Казан.
2. «Мифическая облачная жена (ср. чешек, baby — облака), приносящая живую, целебную воду, т. е. дождь». Шла баба из-за моря, несла кузов здоровья (=живую воду), —· стар, погов., входящая и в состав народного причитания, произносимого в бане над ребенком, когда его моют». Слов. Акад. 1895. …
2. Баба, ы, ж. 1. Рыба Cottus gobio Linne; подкаменщик. Валд. Новг., Костром., Сабанеев, Берг. … 2. Птица Pelicanus crispus, Pelicanus onocrotalus; пеликан, кудрявый пеликан, розовый пеликан. Астрах., 1870. Толкуй баклан с бабой…

In the Simbirsk region in the 1890s, they said “Ba-ba-ba” to call horses; baba, alongside its standard sense of ‘married peasant woman’ and its colloquial sense of ‘woman (in general),’ was used in the Orenburg and Kazan regions in the mid-nineteenth century to mean ‘a woman whose first child is a girl’ (one whose first child was a boy was a molodukha), and it had a mythological sense ‘cloud-woman who brings live, healing water, i.e. rain’; in some regions baba was used for a kind of fish (Cottus gobio), in others for a kind of bird (Pelecanus crispus). And Anatoly gives the example of the unusual word щщи [shchshchi] ‘face’: it turns out there’s a dialect word сочь [soch’] ‘face,’ whose plural, счи [schi], is pronounced exactly like щщи. Mystery solved (though now one wants to know the origin of сочь).

Leafing through Dahl‘s dictionary has always given me (like everyone else who uses that masterpiece) a sense of the riches of the language, but Dahl is just a pond compared to this ocean. Language is so vast and various—how can people want to corral it and reduce it to a relatively few “approved” forms and usages? Don’t dig a cave and hide in it, embrace the universe!


  1. Speaking of “баба” as a name for Pelecanus crispus, I recommend: Michael Shapiro’s “Baba-Jaga: A Search for Mythopoeic Origins and Affinities.” International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics. v. 28 p. 109 (1983).

  2. kudryavui pelikan, like it much 🙂

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Is щщи really pronounced as written? It would difficult enough for a poor foreigner with a vowel between the two consonants, but without one you’d need to be Georgian or Abkhazian to say it!

  4. Oh, it’s not such a big deal. щ is usually pronounced as a prolonged palatalized “sh”, so you’d just prolong it a little extra is all.

  5. if you say just s-she it would sound nice щщи i guess

  6. John Emerson says

    “Baba” is one of those human universals. In Chinese it seems to be the common affectionate reference for one’s father, in Bulgar the ruler is Baba, there’s a Sibno-Malay ethnic group called the Baba in Singapore, and there’s Ali Baba, and Baba Ram Das…..
    Stay away from comparative baba studies, that’s all I’m saying. That way lies madness.
    As for the Dravidian Baba…..

  7. John Emerson says

    So in the original human language, “baba” meant father, mother, or baby. Being primitives, the Ur-babas avoided fine distinctions and weren’t fussy about nitpicky detail.

  8. I call my grandmother “Baba” — baby talk for “Babushka” which stuck. I wonder how common that is.
    The Dravidian Baba link is broken. Which is almost a relief, Baba having been quite a character in my life — Dravidian Baba, too much…

  9. Dravidian Baba. At your own risk.

  10. John, Baba Yaga protiv!

  11. Oh, I see your game. First you traumatize me with a Dravidian Baba, then you brainwash me in my fragile state with your conspiracy theories. Nice try.

  12. You people will thank me for this, many years from now.
    My work is done here. I have brought the Dravidian Origins Theory to the West.

  13. Baba Crown says

    Don’t forget rum baba or baba ghanouj (or Baba the Elephant, or Baba O’Riley).

  14. Lukas is referring to “Баба-яга против!”

  15. Russian video cartoons are wonderful. Read over at Unfogged links one from time to time. Damn, I wish I knew Russian.

  16. A.J.P. Crown says

    A Resolved Question.
    ba ba ba ba ba beran,
    ba ba ba ba ba beran,
    oh ba beran
    take my han

  17. eh, common roots you say
    so from JE’s first link
    Scythian iti ? =father is close to our etseg Shumerian abba is also close to our aav imo
    Hungarian ba-chi i can guess our bagsh, teacher, utsir? i don’t know, but uchir is cause, true
    maybe he read from old Mongolian script and it’s difficult to guess when it’s d or t, u or o etc coz they are interchangeble

  18. A.J.P. Crown says

    88% of voters said it was Barbara Ann, by The Beach Boys. 12% said it wasn’t.

  19. i found more similarities
    Turkic timur = iron (smith>>?), iron is tomor
    Turkic Er-dem-pasa =head of righteusness?
    Hungarian Er-dem =virtuous,praiseworthy,
    Erdem is virtue, knowledge, righteousness
    Sumerian ding-ir =god, tenger is sky and used as a synonym of god, there is another word for god and buddha, burkhan
    Akkadian abu =father >> Semitic languages
    Dravidian apa,apu,apan =father,
    Hungarian apa,apu =father,
    so it’s similar to our aav(father)
    Sumir dub =mound,hill, Hungarian domb =mound,hill, sounds like our davaa which is mound, hill

  20. Read, that kind of thing leads to craziness. Seriously. Unfortunately, you can prove almost anything with that kind of linguistics, so we mostly joke about it here.We had something up by a guy from 1600 or so who proved that Dutch was the original human language.
    Links between Turkish and Mongol and Manchu are regarded as real, though, even without borrowed words. Some add Korean and Finnish, IIRC. But doing that kind of work is unbelievably difficult, and it’s hard to come to a firm conclusion.

  21. “A resolved question:”
    Not quite.
    Ba ba ba ba ba meeran.
    by Dick Cheney.

  22. marie-lucie says

    Baba …
    The trouble with baba, mama, dada, nana for parents and sometimes other family members is that because the sounds are among the first ones that babies are able to make (and repeat), such words are found in huge numbers of languages (though not all) as forms of address for parents etc, so they are not reliable at all for proving or even suggesting a relationship between languages.
    JE is right that other resemblances between Mongolian, Turkish and a few others originating in Central Asia are not coincidences, and the languages probably belong to the same overall family (as demonstrated by correspondences between many words as well as by the overall structure of the languages). But calling a family member Baba in different languages (even if the term is applied to the same person, eg the father, or the grandmother) does not prove anything about the relationships between those languages. (In addition to the sounds being easy to say, family words are often adopted from another language when there is frequent intermarriage between persons of different language groups).
    (JE, judging from the one page you link to, the Dravidian-IE site is either a riot or a nightmare for a linguist).

  23. JE, about craziness, i didn’t suggest anything about those words originating from Mongolian ot something, i just told what similar sounding words are in my language, though i’m not surprised to find similar to Mongolian sounding words in Scythian, Hungarian, Turkish etc, Shumerian is maybe too far fetched? i don’t think i suggested anything crazy there
    just wonder why it turns out always us borrowing from other languages, can’t it be the other way around, how do you know what originated from what like for sure
    sure, i’m not a linguist, don’t know what techniques they use to identify language roots

  24. I wasn’t criticizing you, read. Just sort of warning you.
    People at this site are always pretty suspicious of that kind of word-by-word language comparison. Nothing personal.
    There’s a whole book about Mongolian and Turkish words in Persian, I know, and the word Ba’atur (something like “hero”) is in some of the Indian languages meaning something like “bully”. Language meanings shift when they cross boundares, the way one language’s word for “god” will be another language’s word for “devil”.
    There’s also a book listing the borrowed words in Mongolian as cited in Lessing’s dictionary. Chinese, Russian, Tibetan, and Sanskrit provided the most, but there are rarer one from Tokharian, Persian, and Greek.
    “Dalai” in “Dalai Lama” is well known to be of Mongol origin. Mongols and Tibetans have been closely allied since the time of Genghis Khan or shortly after, IIRC.

  25. only Dalai is originated from Mongolian
    /very unsatisfying explanation for me, baatar is hero in Mongolian btw, baabar – tiger’s pup
    well, turkic words we always dispute, and believe they borrowed those from us, just who is louder/or present more in numbers wins in that dispute i guess

  26. marie-lucie says

    read, when there are similar words in different languages, there can be different causes, such as some words being adopted from one of these languages by another one, or even several other languages, but this is only one reason. There are ways to decide whether the resemblances are because of “borrowing” (adopting words) or because the languages in question have the same origin: but people can’t just look up words in various dictionaries and say “these two words look a lot like each other, and they mean almost the same, so they must have the same origin” (sometimes it is true, but usually it is not). Finding language “roots” is very complex and a lot of study is needed, with comparison of many, many words, not just one by one but in whole series, and also comparison of how words are put together (nouns, verbs, with plural, etc) in the various languages. This cannot be the work of just one person but many, over a long period. Not all linguists are really trained in this part of linguistics, the ones that are are called “historical linguists”.
    By the way, what do you mean by “Scythian”? This word is not often used in the West, at least not for languages. Do you know the names of languages in the “Scythian” group, or where they were spoken?

  27. marie-lucie says

    turkic words we always dispute, and believe they borrowed those from us, just who is louder/or present more in numbers wins in that dispute i guess
    It could be that those words have not been borrowed between one language and the other but have the same origin in the ancient language which was the “great grandmother” (in a way) of both, or they could have been borrowed from a third language by both Turks and Mongols. Shouting louder will not resolve the problem, linguistic study might (often people are surprised by the results).

  28. “Scythian” in linguistics is called “Northern Iranian”. Historically “Scythian” means a specific steppe people during a certain period, but sometimes is used as a cover word for these people plus others such as Sarmatians, Alans, and more obscure groups. (Western and Russian terminology is different, and most of the archeology is in Russian or ex-USSR areas). The Osettes in the Caucasus are thought to be the last survivors of the Scythians (in the broad sense).
    During the Hunnic period after 200 AD or so the Alans were trapped between the Huns (who were probably Turkic) and the Goths. Some were probably absorbed by these peoples, and some entered the Roman Empire and were absorbed there. Alan troops in Roman service left relics in Iraly and in Brittany; the Alans entered Brittany about the same time as the Bretons and the two groups united. There is an argument that aspects of the Arthur legend were Alan on origin, for example the sword in the stone. This seems far-fetched but I don’t think so.The name “Alan” is also thought to be Alan in origin, along with many French place-names.
    In the Mongol Empire Alan units served in the Mongol forces as far as China, where Marco Polo met them.

  29. “Italy, Britain, and Brittany”.
    At my link should be one example of an Alan-Breton myth, but at the moment my site seems to be down.

  30. marie-lucie says

    Thank you, JE. I thought “Scythian” might have something to do with Indo-Iranian but was rather vague about the details. I understand that those were the builders of the funerary mounds called “kurgans”: I have two books about superb Scythian gold objects which were exhibited in museums in the West (on loan from Russian museums), and came from kurgans excavated by Soviet archeologists.
    What you say about the Alans makes sense – some details in the Ossete myths collected by Georges Dumézil are amazingly similar to the Arthurian ones, and the sword in the stone (and also thrown into a lake) is such a striking motif that it is unlikely to occur twice by pure coincidence. I had never heard of the Alans being mixed up with the Bretons, but the French name “Alain” (the same as that of the Alans) is considered to be Breton in origin. I had always thought that the Alans having the same name was a coincidence, but in the situation you describe the Alan warriors would have been prestigious, hence it makes sense that their tribal name was adopted locally as a male name (like British men still being named “Norman”).

  31. This book is by an American Dumezilian, and argues the Arthurian case.
    This book talks about the ALans in Rome and Brittany.
    I should say that the Scythians were the founders of the steppe nomad way of life. While they were on the border of the Roman and Persian Empires, they were continually under pressure from both sides (the empires before them and the steppe behind them), and eventually almost disappeared even though they had ruled enormous areas at one time.
    The Turks behind them adopted the Scythian nomad way of life and absorbed many individual Scythians, whose descendants became Turks. Later the Mongols can from the rear and conquered the Turks, though they did not absorb them. But in general it’s one way of life developing from 700 BC to 1300 AD and later, even though different languages were spoken by nomads of different races.

  32. I remember something about genetics and the Sythians too, there was something about redheads in it.

  33. I’m surprised no one seems to have mentioned Baba Black Sheep yet …
    One curious fact about the Ossetians, aka the Alans, is that they brought the word “ale” to the Caucasus, picking it up, presumably, when they lived next door to the Goths, and giving it to the Georgians. The Germanic root word for “ale” is *aluth, in Ossetian it’s aeluton, and in Georgian it’s ludi or, in a couple of mountain dialects, aludi.

  34. In Japanese “Pirru”, as it sounded to me.

  35. I just spent 20 minutes on Amazon correcting some abusive reviews of Littleton’s book. Celticists can become extremely irate.

  36. i maintain that the Huns are our ancestors

  37. were

  38. Nobody knows what language the Huns spoke, but they’re generally thought to be Turks, probably with a language related to Chuvash, but not closely related to other Turkish languages. These are difficult questions.

  39. we are taught at school that we built throughout history the empires: Hunnu, Kidan, Jujan, Syanbi, Mongol
    Tureg, Uigur, Manj, which were also the steppe empires, are taught that they were closely related to us people, culturally, but not Mongols
    i wrote all in our transliteration

  40. Are Tureg the Toba in N. China (also called Tabgatch in some languages)? Or maybe Jurchen (who were related to the Manchu)? I recognize all the others.
    On your list of Mongol ancestors all but the Huns are generally agreed on as Mongol or proto-Mongol. Hungarians (especially Szekler Hungarians) also claim to be descended from Huns. Non-Huns carelessly call all steppe peoples Huns.

  41. i forgot Toba and the order was not chronological
    our history

  42. we call Tureg Turkic people, Toba are Tabgach, yes

  43. That should have been easy.
    Rashid ad din, who wrote a world history in Persia under Mongol rule, seemed to be totally confused as to who was a Turk and who a Mongol. It’s in Russian and Chinese Translation, but not English. (It may possibly be be in English, but I can;t find it anywhere).

  44. A.J.P. Crown says

    Beer or ale is øl in Norwegian.

  45. When I was trying to fake my way through a Norwegian crime novel (without a dictionary), I wonder why the guy kept ordering glasses of oil.
    I also had the hardest time with “at”, which I assumed was a preposition but which mad no sense at all. ( = “that”).

  46. A.J.P. Crown says

    Now what is the harm with using a dictionary, Emerson? You’re too fucking smart for your own good. Not that Eng-Norsk dictionaries are any use, they’ll tell you how to translate ‘Permanent Under-Secretary of Colonial Affairs at the Foreign Office’, but there’s nothing for ‘Dover Sole’ or ‘contour’.

  47. It was a game. Crime novels are so stereotyped that you can guess a tremendous amount. I’ve done it in Dutch too. I used to know how to say “Do with me what you will” (from Zane Gray) in Dutch. The phrase hasn’t proved useful so far.

  48. David Marjanović says

    When words in different languages have similar meanings and similar sounds, that can have five causes:
    – Common inheritance.
    – Borrowing — not necessarily from each other.
    – Linguistic universals, like papa-mama words or onomatopoeia.
    – Coincidence.
    – Complicated combinations of some or all of the above.

    well, turkic words we always dispute, and believe they borrowed those from us, just who is louder/or present more in numbers wins in that dispute i guess

    There are many words that were borrowed from Turkic languages into Mongolic languages (before the 13th century). There are also many words that were borrowed from Mongolic languages into Turkic languages. And there are also words that both inherited from Proto-Altaic.

    the Huns (who were probably Turkic)

    As mentioned, nobody knows. Starostin Sr. has found similarities of Chinese transcriptions of Xiongnu words to Yeniseian words, but that seems to be all.
    Of course, steppe empires and Migration Time peoples weren’t 20th-century nation states in the first place. The definition of “Hun” was more like “anyone who accepts the authority of Attila, has figured out how to ride, and goes plundering with him”. Indeed, the Hungarians brought the (meanwhile extinct) third dialect of Ossete (…Alan…) with them, as well as apparently some Turkic tribe or other with a name like Ongur. That, and the h of “Hun”, is where the name “Hungarian” comes from.

    In the Mongol Empire Alan units served in the Mongol forces as far as China, where Marco Polo met them.

    Did he? Did he really get all the way to China…?

    they brought the word “ale” to the Caucasus

    Wow! I had no idea.

  49. Hun is man, human in Mongolian,btw, if i didn’t mention is previously here
    i rest my case, so to speak

  50. it

  51. Maenchen Helfin was uncertain about the Hun language and doubted that it was Turkish, but more recent people seem to assume that it was. I’ve seen the Yenisean theory, and my feeling is that, if you don’t know much, it’s just a lot more fun to argue for Yenisean. (The Qyrqyz/Khirgiz of Genghis’s time, unrelated to todays’s Qyrqyz were also supposed to have a second, non-Turkish language.
    De Rachelwiltz’s review pretty much destroys the arument that Polo never reached China, IMHO.

  52. A.J.P. Crown says

    “The phrase hasn’t proved useful so far.”
    You never know when you’ll meet a gorgeous Dutch terrorist. I’d start learning it in more languages, though, if I were you. You’ll be kicking yourself if she turns out to be Icelandic and you only know the Dutch.

  53. I’ll just offer her lingonberry pancakes.

  54. Preachy Preach says

    More of a random observation (and a product of my very limited skills in Russian) – I’m reading Orlando Figes’ The Whisperers, and one of the things I’m noting in passing is that many of the stories told involve long distance migrations – both geographical and socio-economical (i.e up and down the class ladder). What’s interesting is that people were able to disguise their origins quite successfully. Is there less stratification of Russian accents than in (more specifically British) English?
    It’s quite hard to imagine, for example, the daughter of an Edwardian English merchant from Kensington successfully managing to hide her origins in a Liverpool slum. Given that pre-Revolutionary Russia was a much more-geographically sprawling nation with an elite that literally affected speaking a different language, this surprised me…

  55. Is there less stratification of Russian accents than in (more specifically British) English?
    Yes, considerably less (as I understand it).

  56. Somewhat peripherally related: Musorgsky used Ukrainian in one of his works (probably Zhenitba, which I haven’t heard), and was disappointed to hear the audience immediately bursting into laughter. It was a comic opera, but he had meant the Ukrainian to be characterization, not a cheap laugh, whereas the audience thought of Ukrainian in terms of ethnic jokes, like Amos n Andy).

  57. A.J.P. Crown says

    It’s quite hard to imagine, for example, the daughter of an Edwardian English merchant from Kensington successfully managing to hide her origins in a Liverpool slum.
    I think you’re overestimating the difficulty. Think of George Orwell, or (a few years later, admittedly), the great Vivian Stanshall.
    From Wiki:

    Although his origins were working class, Stanshall’s father wanted his sons to go to public school, or at least behave in public as if they did, and pressed them to perform well in sport. Young Vic, however, was uninterested in such pursuits, preferring — to his father’s horror — to devote his energies to art and music.
    Consequently, he grew up living a dual life: at home, he would have to speak “properly” or face a berating; on the street he spoke with a broad cockney accent in order to avoid a beating from his peers.

  58. Did someone say Russian dialects? I thought I heard someone say Russian dialects.
    In Soviet Russia cat lols you?

  59. EJ: When I was trying to fake my way through a Norwegian crime novel (without a dictionary)
    Firefox has a very nice translation toolbar. It can tell you that the Norwegian for Permanent Under-Secretary of Colonial Affairs at the Foreign Office is Permanent Under-utenriksminister Colonial saker på Foreign Office, Dover Sole is Dover Sole, and contour is konturlinje.
    I think the lingonberry pancakes would be very effective. A guy who knows two or three languages always gets my interest, even if they’re weird languages (unless it’s German), but if he cooks for me, it’s all over.

  60. PreachyPreach says

    Aside from the obvious fact that the British state didn’t want to arrest, let alone shoot, George Orwell, I seem to recall that he never managed to shed his rather patrician accent – there’s plenty of anecdotes (not that I can remember where I’ve read the bloody things right now) about how he stuck out like a very tall sore thumb in Wigan.

  61. A.J.P. Crown says

    I’m quite sure George Orwell never ‘managed to shed his rather patrician accent’, as you put it. That would have been an anachronism as well as being totally out of character: why would he have tried?

  62. A.J.P. Crown says

    And if you are so interested in people shedding their accents (rather than disguising their origins, which is what you said) you’d be better off looking into the life of Vivian Stanshall. You great pillock.

  63. David Marjanović says

    I’ve seen the Yenisean theory, and my feeling is that, if you don’t know much, it’s just a lot more fun to argue for Yenisean.

    Eh, who would doubt that!

    De Rachelwiltz’s review pretty much destroys the arument that Polo never reached China, IMHO.

    Interesting, I’ll ask Google about that sometime.

  64. De Rachewiltz
    Most of the arguments presented in this paper are discussed in detail (with supporting references) in my review article in Zentralasiatische Studien 27 (1997). A short list of Additions and Corrections appeared in Zentralasiatische Studien 28 (1998), p. 177.
    de Rachewiltz’s 2-volume Secret History of the Mongols is a classic. He’s one of those guys who does research in twelve languages, like Pelliott.

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