LH reader Mike Chisholm is a student of Russian, and he sent me a link to (“Add stress marks to Russian text”), saying he didn’t know “how accurate or reliable it is”; I wrote back:

It looks good! I inserted a chunk of text from the Rytkheu novel I happened to have open in another tab:

— Что я тебе скажу? — задумчиво проговорил Орво. — Чайки живут с чайками, вороны с воронами, моржи с моржами. Так положено природой. Правда, человек не зверь… Но тебе будет нелегко. Тебе ведь надо будет стать таким же, как мы. Не только стрелять, рыбачить, одеваться и говорить, как мы… А зачем ты меня спросил об этом?

[“What shall I tell you?” said Orvo thoughtfully. “Seagulls live with seagulls, crows/ravens with crows/ravens, walruses with walruses. That is what nature ordains. It is true that a person is not a beast… But it will not be easy for you [to live with the Chukchi]. You will have to become like us. Not just to shoot, fish, dress, and speak like us… But why do you ask me about it?]

and it correctly added the stresses; furthermore, when it came to “Чайки живут с чайками,” it wasn’t sure whether the noun forms were from чайка ‘seagull’ or чаёк ‘(a bit of) tea’ so it provided alternate stresses, a far better solution than picking the most likely, which might not be the one needed. [The same is true of “вороны с воронами” — if the stress is on the first o, it’s ‘crowsravens’; if on the second, ‘ravenscrows.’]

So I thought I’d pass it along for those who might find it useful. Also, in chapter 17 of the Rytkheu I came across a perfect illustration of the fact (not easy to assimilate at first) that the Russian phrase на улице, literally ‘in the street,’ can also mean generally ‘outside, outdoors’: “Джон вышел на улицу” [John went outside]. John is living in a Chukchi encampment of yarangas; there isn’t a literal street for hundreds of miles around.


  1. ‘in the street,’ can also mean generally ‘outside, outdoors’.

    When I was first learning English, the words upstairs and downstairs confused me for a similar reason.

  2. ‘in the street,’ can also mean generally ‘outside, outdoors’.

    Interesting to come across this, as only a couple of weeks ago I learnt that the Polish ‘na polu’ (in the field) can also mean ‘outside’ generally, and you can certainly use it even while in a city -although it’s apparently regional. Less striking than the Russian phrase perhaps. Is that general Russian or dialect? I wonder if there are equivalents in the other Slavic languages; I’ve never come across it in Czech, don’t know about the others.

  3. It’s general Russian; I don’t know about the other Slavic languages, but I’m sure other Hatters will weigh in.

  4. Сидит девица в темнице, а коса на улице.

  5. “вороны с воронами” — if the stress is on the first o, it’s ‘crows’; if on the second, ‘ravens.’

    It’s the other way round, though.

  6. ‘In the field’ or ‘in the courtyard’ meaning ‘outside‘ is also common in Estonian, Livonian, Latvian and Lithuanian.

  7. David Marjanović says

    equivalents in the other Slavic languages

    FYLOSC napolje (stress on the first syllable), both place and direction.

  8. It’s the other way round, though.

    Woops, you’re right, of course — I’ll fix it. That’s one of the things I hate most about Russian; it seems to be impossible to fix the difference in my head. What a stupid pair of words! (Yes, I know English has plenty such.)

  9. And then there is воронок and воронка.
    Now I’m interested what the voronok (Воронок (значения)) jar could look like.

  10. Чёрный ворон:

    The pied raven (Corvus corax varius morpha leucophaeus) was a colour morph[1] of the North Atlantic subspecies of the common raven which was only found on the Faroe Islands and has disappeared since the mid-20th century. It had large areas of white feathering, most frequently on the head, the wings and the belly and its beak was light brown. Apart from that, it looked like the black North Atlantic ravens (C. c. varius morpha typicus).

    I wonder if some Scandinavian dialect has ramn instead of ravn (havn -> hamn, navn -> namn).

  11. Lars Mathiesen says

    Swedish straight up has ramm/ramn for the inherited word, but it has been replaced by korp in the standard language so only the dialects (bygdemålen) have it. (And it’s only Swedish that does the funky word-final nasal assimilation of approximants — not shown in the spelling is regn, Central Sw /rɛŋn/, Da /ʁɑi̯n/).

  12. Thanks!

  13. January First-of-May says

    ‘in the courtyard’ meaning ‘outside‘

    Russian на дворе, surviving mostly as a (very common) fixed expression for “outside” rather than as a literal “in the yard” (which would probably have been во дворе).

    And then there is воронок and воронка.

    And of course вороной “(of a horse) black” (probably derived from “raven/crow” words in some way).

  14. Trond Engen says

    Ramn is standard Nynorsk. I think it was universal before ravn came from Danish.

    Also famn, jamn, stamn (or stomn), the town name Drammen (< Drafn)., and quite likely some I can’t think of now.

  15. it was universal

    Where did hrafn come from, then?

  16. Trond Engen says

    Universal in, eh, Early Modern Norwegian.

  17. Lars Mathiesen says

    Sorry, I should have checked Nynorsk before I claimed the assimilation was restricted to Swedish. Does Nynorsk do the /rɛŋn/ thing as well?

  18. Trond Engen says

    8It’s not represented in writing, so not Nynorsk as such. Western Norwegian does assimilation only reluctantly at the best of times, so it’s also not a feature of the Nynorsk heartland. But it’s done in Northern Norwegian and Trøndersk. Eastern, strangely, assimilates g to n after every vowel but e. That could be Danish influence on phonology, though it does happen in a “Danish” form like ligne

    Edit: it’s not even universal in words with -egn-. Toponyms I can think of are pronounced with assimilated g.

    (Sorry for the premature “Save”. My fingers are too big for my phone.)

  19. @LH: “…it seems to be impossible to fix the difference in my head.”

    Perhaps memorizing a few lines of poetry would help. Since ravens are far more common in poetry and literary ravens are easy to tell apart from crows, I would suggest Pushkin’s take on The Two Ravens or Twa Corbies, “Ворон к ворону летит.” For the crow, try these two Brodsky lines:

    Русский орел, потеряв корону,
    напоминает сейчас ворону.

  20. For the crow, try these two Brodsky lines

    See, that makes sense to you because you already know that ворона = crow. But if you’ve got them mixed up, then it’s just another patch of Russian with that damned word in it.

  21. The question is, rather, whether the crow means an ugly, noisy and generally unpleasant (although smart) city bird to you and whether you normally think of the raven as a darkly Romantic or folk-song character. If the answer is yes, the Brodsky bit should help because he’s clearly comparing the decrowned eagle to a thoroughly un-Romantic, ridiculous creature, a common scavenger rather than a noble vulture.

  22. No, I think of ravens as big black squawking things. I’m not sure anything is darkly Romantic to me; that’s not my world.

  23. In The Hobbit, Bilbo does not not distinguish ravens from crows. The dwarves (being much more romantic in character) do, and Balin sets Bilbo straight on the matter.

  24. David Marjanović says

    Vultures are noble now? Ravens are definitely nobler on the Germanic side.

  25. PlasticPaddy says

    @david, alex
    Maybe alex is thinking of Russian khishchnik, which can be “vulture” (not noble) but also “bird of prey” (possibly noble).

  26. LH, my suggestion, think about raven as “he” and crow as “she”.

  27. I’ll try it!

  28. Poe’s Raven is unquestionably male (“Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he”), so that will help.

  29. It’s much easier to distinguish crows and ravens in Sweden, since the crows are grey and black, while the ravens are black all over. I see crows mostly in the countryside, near roads, and ravens I only know from nature documentaries and stories. Sometimes the crows show themselves in the city, to my joy. The black crows I haven’t seen, but perhaps I simply didn’t notice them, some people do see black crows in Sweden now and then. From my internet search it seems like the American crow is black (like most European crows) and don’t have any grey colour.

  30. I’m aware that vultures are simply scavenging birds, and both ravens and crows eat dead flesh. I was deliberately pointing out a distinction without a technical difference, an issue of register. In everyday Russian usage and literary tradition, ravens (vórony) are mythical and symbolic while crows (voróny) are nothing special. The ravens of myth and legend are noble in the sense of highborn, as lions and wolves are, even if ruthless or treacherous. They feed on carrion and sense death because their livelihood depends on it. This is why they are prophets of demise and carriers of bad omens. They exist in between the dead and the living.

    I realize now that the difference between ravens and crows in the Anglophone tradition is not nearly as stark or as meaningful. I should add perhaps that ravens seem to be rare in Russia while crows are ubiquitous. I doubt that I’ve ever seen a raven in Russia or in Western Europe.

  31. In everyday Russian usage and literary tradition, ravens (vórony) are mythical and symbolic while crows (voróny) are nothing special. The ravens of myth and legend are noble in the sense of highborn, as lions and wolves are, even if ruthless or treacherous. They feed on carrion and sense death because their livelihood depends on it. This is why they are prophets of demise and carriers of bad omens. They exist in between the dead and the living.

    Thanks, I hadn’t realized that.

  32. Andrej Bjelaković says

    FWIW, in BCMS, crow is vrana (f.) while raven is gavran (m.)

    To make matters more complicated, vran exists as an archaic adjective meaning black. So in epic poetry you’ll encounter the omen of “dva vrana gavrana” (two black ravens).

  33. John Cowan says

    I’d say it is Bilbo who is Romantic here, basing what he says on what he sees, whereas the dwarves are Classical, organizing the world according to Aristotelian distinctions.

  34. David Marjanović says

    think about raven as “he” and crow as “she”

    der Rabe, die Krähe, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    Black vs. black-and-gray crows in Europe. There’s a hybrid zone; Vienna and Berlin are in its eastern fringe.

    Always black: the rooks that come in in winter.

    Ravens are endangered.

  35. January First-of-May says

    the rooks that come in in winter

    Russian грачи (singular грач), as in Грачи прилетели.

  36. I was going to mention that before I saw January First-of-May’s comment. I seem to be turning into a Russian.

  37. I wouldn’t say ravens and crows aren’t distinguished much in anglophone culture – to me, at least, ravens have associations with wild places and with death while crows are just… crows. I see crows out of my window most days, and while they are big and black there’s not much romanticism to be found there. I know ravens from walking in the Lake District and North Wales, where they tend to circle overhead, making the occasional ominous rattling sound and generally giving the impression they’re waiting for you to die, or at least become sufficiently incapacitated that they can make a start on you. I suspect many (most?) English speakers know them only from stories, and they’re barely more real than unicorns, which in itself makes a big difference to how you think about them.

    It’s not that difficult to tell the difference between carrion crows and ravens though. General rule (works in Britain at least, and for rabbits and hares too): if you’re not sure if something’s a crow or a raven, it’s a crow (or, quite possibly, a rook). If it was a raven, you’d know.

  38. My associations with ravens are the Tower of London and the Lonely Mountain, therefore both pretty positive. Of course, they are birds of prey, but then again the Yeoman Warders have perfectly modern weapons and are trained to use them.

    Crows are more ambiguous: the caucus of crows in The Water-Babies are unmistakably wicked, as are the “crebain out of Fangorn and Dunland” that are, or may be, servants of Saruman. Crebain (sg. *craban) is a Sindarin name for this particular kind of large, ‘evil’ crow; the general word is corch.

    Indeed, *crebain may actually mean ‘ravens’, though it’s odd that Gandalf would not use ravens in that case, as he did in The Hobbit when Bilbo expresses his detestation of what he took to be crows. But it is suggestive that raven < Proto-Germanic hrabanaz (cf. corvus, korax), as it is known that Elvish is an IE language family, though of no particular branch.

  39. Anyone who has trouble distinguishing a raven from a crow hasn’t been to the Tower. They’re massive, the size of a large dog and with a wingspan of one and a half metres, some of them. As big as the warders. And even for corvids they’re very intelligent by human standards. Apparently they can discuss objects that aren’t in the room (displacement) and call wolves to come and break apart an animal carcass. Actually my dogs can do both of those things, maybe even Trump could.

  40. David Marjanović says

    Trump could – if only his attention span were long enough.

  41. In the Company of Crows and Ravens
    John M. Marzluff and Tony Angell; Illustrated by Tony Angell; Foreword by Paul Ehrlich

    From the cave walls at Lascaux to the last painting by Van Gogh, from the works of Shakespeare to those of Mark Twain, there is clear evidence that crows and ravens influence human culture. Yet this influence is not unidirectional, say the authors of this fascinating book: people profoundly influence crow culture, ecology, and evolution as well. Examining the often surprising ways that crows and humans interact, John Marzluff and Tony Angell contend that those interactions reflect a process of “cultural coevolution.” They offer a challenging new view of the human-crow dynamic—a view that may change our thinking not only about crows but also about ourselves.

    Featuring more than 100 original drawings, the book takes a close look at the influences people have had on the lives of crows throughout history and at the significant ways crows have altered human lives. In the Company of Crows and Ravens illuminates the entwined histories of crows and people and concludes with an intriguing discussion of the crow-human relationship and how our attitudes toward crows may affect our cultural trajectory. As the authors state in their preface: “Crows and people share similar traits and social strategies. To a surprising extent, to know the crow is to know ourselves.”

  42. January First-of-May says

    John is living in a Chukchi encampment of yarangas; there isn’t a literal street for hundreds of miles around.

    I’ve recently been reading a travelogue about a big-city woman’s adventures in a Chukchi deer-herder camp, and stumbled on a parenthetical remark [in part 18] on exactly this subject:

    “В своем дневнике я все время писала «на улице дождь» 😉 или «на дворе слякоть». Привычное словосочетание в этом контексте так смешно читается!”

    (Very roughly: “In my diary I always wrote “in the street it’s raining” or “in the yard it’s muddy”. The habitual phrase reads so funnily in this [street-less and yard-less] context!”)

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