Ludwig Kabanow from Berlin was so upset by a visit to a concentration camp near Gdansk, Poland, that he threw away his passport and said he did not want to speak German again. This story comes to us courtesy of kaleboel, who says “I haven’t yet encountered a language so permeated by hate that I couldn’t contemplate using it (with the possible exception of Visual Basic).”


  1. Mordechai Vanunu ( reportedly ceased speaking Hebrew after his abduction and imprisonment by the Israeli government.

  2. I have some vague memories of seeing a TV interview with some Congolese (ex-Zairians) after the fall of Mobutu who claimed they would no longer speak French as a protest against France’s support of the dictator. Whether they were just saying that to please their anglophone interviewer, I couldn’t say (and, of course, French probably wasn’t their first language in any case).

  3. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s renunciation of English is worth mentioning in this context.

  4. He’s got a Russian last name, and one that every Russian schoolchild is supposed to know from his/her literature classes. 🙂

  5. I don’t speak Kikuyu, so I haven’t read Ngugi’s recent books. A Grain of Wheat, one of his earlier ones in English, is a must-read!

  6. Alexei, would that be the unforgettable Mrs. Kabanov of Ostrovsky’s “The Thunderstorm”? Are Russian schoolchildren required to read that?

  7. Michael Farris says

    Warning OT: Isn’t Ostovky’s “Thunderstorm” (Bura?) the source of the libretto of Janacek’s Katya Kabanova?
    Would the unforgettable Mrs Kabanova be frail, unstable Katya or her dragon mother-in-law (Kabanicha in the opera)

  8. gluepot: I was thinking of that lady’s weak-willed son, Tikhon Kabanov, Katerina’s hubby. That play was in the standard school curriculum 15 years ago, and I don’t see a good reason why they would have crossed it out.
    Michael: Janacek apparently did use Ostrovsky’s plot for his opera. Technically speaking, either woman is Mrs. Kabanova, but Kabanikha is the mother-in-law’s colloquial appelation (a pretty standard way of calling married women, btw). Ostrovsky didn’t exactly paint Katerina frail and unstable–she’s more of an uncompromising, independent woman who’s bound to lose her fight with the world. Oh, and Burya is The Tempest in Russian; The Thunderstorm is Groza.

  9. …Although there exist, indeed, at least one more literary Russian title with the name “Burya” – a novel by Erenburg.
    “Thunderstorm” is a great play, I’d read it even if it wasn’t a required reading in my 6th grade. OT thought: hey, “women studies” departments in American colleges: unbeatable item for your required reading lists!
    Michael F: I hope I didn’t step on your toes with my last.

  10. Michael F: I was thinking of the “dragon mother-in-law.”
    Alexei & Tatyana: This is even further OT, but I’ve always wondered why Russians address each using two names (given and middle names?)such as “Pavel Ivanovitch.” It appears to have some formality, but I also thought, secondly, that there may some affection involved, as in reciting the names of those one is named after. (I feel I haven’t made myself clear.)

  11. gluepot:
    I’m sure Alexei will give you full article on Russian honorifics; from my modest native-speake/ non-linguist point I can only tell you it’s a formal form of addressing people respectfully. And it’s not strictly speaking middle name in American sense; Ivanovich in your example means “son of Ivan”. It’s more casual than to call somebody Gospodin Semeonov, f.ex. (Mr.Semeonov), but there is no ‘affection’ or familiarity involved, as in Sacha (calling somebody by their first name).
    Teachers in school, f.ex., are called in this manner (Maria Petrovna), and not Gospozha Ivanova (Ms.Ivanova) by the pupils. Implies more respect than formality.

  12. Thanks, Tatyana.

  13. Kobi Haron says

    My mother’s family are Polish Jews who have been through concentration camps. They were old enough to have fluent Polish when the war, and their awful travails, started. One of my uncles, now more than 50 years in the US, wouldn’t speak Polish at all. His younger brother, also many years in the US, is a fan of the Polish language and its literature. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to speak Polish and to hunt for Polish books.

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