Here’s a passage from Brown’s Mandelstam that strikingly illustrates how presuppositions can affect a translation. He’s discussing the poem “Silentium” from Mandelstam’s first book; here’s his translation and discussion (pp. 165166):

It has not yet been born,
it is music and the word,
and thereby inviolably
bonds everything that lives.

The breast of the sea breathes tranquilly
but the day is brilliant, like a fool,
and the pale lilac of the foam
lies in a bowl of cloudy blue.

May my lips acquire this
primeval quietness
like a crystal note
congenitally pure.

Remain foam, Aphrodite;
and return to music, word,
and heart, be ashamed of heart
when blent with life’s foundation!

The first word is something of a problem, though it never was until a friend of mine, Richard McKane, presented it to me in a translation different from the one I had always mentally been using. The word is a Russian pronoun that can mean ‘it’ or ‘she’ depending upon the antecedent, which is of course the problem. The ‘it’ of my translation means ‘silence’; the ‘she’ of his meant ‘Aphrodite.’ I discover from this provocative conflict what provocative conflicts are best at disclosing, namely, the assumptions that I had made without being really aware of them. ‘Silentium’ is a neuter noun in Latin, but its Russian equivalent, tishina, is feminine, to which one refers by the feminine pronoun. That is one assumption, that Mandelstam had named his poem ‘Silentium’ but had thought of its subject, ‘silence’ or tishina, in his native Russian. The other assumption is much broader and involves my whole conception of his image of silence as something that pervades and unites everything in existence. That seems to me fundamental…. McKane evidently thought that the reference was to Aphrodite, who is after all the principal feminine person (and noun) in the poem and who has in fact, in the poem’s chronology, not yet been born, for the speaker asks her to ‘remain foam.’ But is she the other things represented by those predicative nominatives? Is she both ‘music’ and ‘the word’? Is she that which connects all living things? Love?

Finally, I am not sure, nor do I believe that anyone ought to be. The argument from the gender of a word that remained merely latent, tishina, is not, now that I am aware of having made it, unassailable. It is — I hesitate to say, knowing that some readers detest even innocent puns — the argumentum ex silentio, a feeble one at best. But the problem, if it is a problem, lies more in the translation than in the original, it being one of the penalties of speaking English that one must resolve an ambiguity of which the Russian reader may hardly be aware. In English the Russian ona is either ‘it’ or ‘she’; it cannot, as in Russian, be both it and she.

(I don’t know which version is better, but I enjoyed the argumentum ex silentio pun.)


  1. I suppose you could use ‘they’.

  2. Here it is in Russian:

    Она еще не родилась,
    Она и музыка и слово,
    И потому всего живого
    Ненарушаемая связь.
    Спокойно дышат моря груди,
    Но, как безумный, светел день,
    И пены бледная сирень
    В черно-лазоревом сосуде.
    Да обретут мои уста
    Первоначальную немоту,
    Как кристаллическую ноту,
    Что от рождения чиста!
    Останься пеной, Афродита,
    И слово в музыку вернись,
    И сердце сердца устыдись,
    С первоосновой жизни слито!

    Whatever it refers to, it’s not Aphrodite. Look at the structure of the last stanza: Aphrodite is on the same level as “heart” and “word,” she’s clearly not the subject of the poem.
    What I do wonder, though, is what exactly is “blent with life’s foundation” (“С первоосновой жизни слито”). The way the last two lines are structured doesn’t permit the subject of that sentence to be “heart” (otherwise it would be “слитого”). Am I misreading?

  3. Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it is Aphrodite. Because in “Insomnia. Homer. Taut-stretched sails…” he says “все движется любовью” (“everything moves by/through love”). Damn. But that reading still seems strange to me.

  4. While I’m uncertain whether the first word means Aphrodite or not, she’s clearly not equal to heart and word. It seems clear to me she’s being apostrophized in the final stanza; that imperative вернись is addressed to her.

  5. Hmm. I don’t know about that. In “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins,” the last two phrases clearly refer to Lolita herself. But what if it was “Lolita, and the light of my life, and the fire of my loins”? Probably not, right? It’s same here with the conjunctions.

  6. But that reading still seems strange to me.
    Me too, but I’m not sure why.

  7. I took слито to refer to the first сердце. Is there a difficulty with that?

  8. “Why can’t these the meanings of poems be unambiguous?” Josef Stalin asked Alfred Tarski, I. A. Richards and William Empson. No good could possibly have come of this question.

  9. If “слито” referred to the first “heart,” it would be “слитое” (and even that would be uncharacteristically awkward). I guess it could be a deliberate archaism, like “красно солнышко” or something, but that doesn’t make much sense in this context.

  10. Yeah, I guess you’re right. Damn that inscrutable Mandelstam!

  11. mollymooly says

    I suppose you could use ‘they’.

    I don’t think so. For me, singular ‘they’ can represent ‘he’ or ‘she’ but not ‘it’. You could use ‘this’ or ‘what’ or ‘which’ for a gender-neutral pronoun, but that might be taking a greater liberty.
    ‘Blent’ is a favourite word of mine. I think it is almost only ever found in poetry, when the meter may favour it over ‘blended’. My mission is to reintroduce it in prose. Weak verbs rule!

  12. If “слито” referred to the first “heart,” it would be “слитое”
    i think ‘slito’ there is used like ‘vozbujdeno, proizvedeno itd’, the verb form or how it is called, forgot,
    so if delo can be vozbujdeno, serdtse also can be slito s pervoosnovoi jizni

  13. i vote she, coz silence, tishina and as if in philosophy the subject referred to as she

  14. Bill Walderman says

    Doesn’t the title “Silentium” link this poem to the poem of the same name by Tyutchev?

  15. Yes, Tyutchev was sort of the patron saint of the Acmeists, and Mandelstam certainly had that poem in mind.

  16. read, you would normally be right about the similarity to “vozbuzhdeno.” However, because the imperative is there, that doesn’t work–it would be right only if it were “сердце, сердца устыдившееся.”

  17. it would be right only if it were “сердце, сердца устыдившееся.”
    why is that? i don’t know any rules saying that prichastiya and deeprichastiya should be used only this and not any other way, so it’s like (s)delai to sdelav(delaya)eto construction
    v ustnoi rechi it sounds perfectly okay imo

  18. I don’t know the technical grammatical terms, but it doesn’t look right to me, because the object of that phrase is the second сердце.
    It sounds okay orally because you’d often (depending on dialect, I guess) swallow the terminal е in слитое.

  19. И сердце (the subject) сердца (whatever) устыдись(chto sdelai),
    С первоосновой жизни (s whatever) слито(chto sdelav).

  20. Сделав? You mean as in “having done”? Then it would be слившись or something.

  21. well, then slito like in ‘nadeto, prostoyano, sdelano, govoreno, rasskazano?(made, done etc)’, maybe the question should be not sdelav chto, but chto (s)delano

  22. It would need a “которое” or a “что” in that case.

  23. serdtse kotoroe sdelano kak? then (serdtse kotoroe slito s pervoosnovoi)
    i mean i’m stubborn and think i’m right
    but whatever, i’m not Russian, you should know better i guess, which still means i’m and M was right

  24. Bill Walderman says

    Isn’t “silentium” better translated into Russian as neuter “molchanie,” not feminine “tishina?” “Tishina” is “quiet” or “stillness,” not the withholding of speech, which is what the Mandelstam and Tyutchev poems are about. Tyutchev’s injunction is “Molchi!” And the “birth” referred to in the first line of the Mandelstam poem is clearly the birth (or, in this case, rather the non-birth) of Aphrodite out of sea-foam.

  25. I just called my mom, and she thinks it’s just a shortened adjective like “красно/красное,” or like read said, an elliptical “что сделав.” She’s not sure which, but it definitely refers to the first сердце. I stand corrected.

  26. And Bill makes an excellent point. I would definitely read it as “молчание,” which is specifically the absence of speech–since the poem refers to the “original muteness” (not quietness!) of his lips.

  27. Slawkenbergius’s mom shall henceforth adjudicate all such discussions.
    Had she rule din his favor, however, I might have filed a protest.

  28. My mom shall be vested with adjudicatory authority only so long as she can beat up your mom. Like in the Golden Bough.

  29. Languagehat Thunderdome! Two moms enter, one mom leaves!

  30. What a lot of Russian. I hope it all goes into the book.
    Now that everybody’s taking a break from that, I have to interrupt to wonder what the poem is actually about. The “water” and “word” symbolism reminds me of Christian/Neoplatonism creation stories. In the gospel of John, “in the beginning was the word” Likewise in the Old Testament, God says let there be..stuff. Sound is a very basic addition to the cosmic soup that changes everything.
    The “take from my hand” poem fell into place very neatly (eventually), but this one is not of a piece for me yet. I noticed in Slaw’s translations from the website that Mandelstam used a lot of Greek mythology symbolism in other poems. Maybe this was just the result of a “classical education” of a different era? Would it have been a parallel of Christian/Jewish thought–but maybe religion was already the “opiate of the people” when this was written–or was this just a well-known literary convention?

  31. He was very much a classicist, more than most of his contemporaries. His references are mostly too obscure for me, but they’re all over the place. The reference to “ship pine” (корабельный лес) in “To Cassandra,” for instance, is an allusion to Catullus 64. I don’t get it either.

  32. Catullus 64. The “ship pine” came from Pelion, a mountain in Greece where the centaurs lived. the poem’s got a lot of lust in it, and betrayed damsels, and divine retribution but…what was the question again?

  33. Mandelstam is one of the most difficult poets I’ve ever gotten hooked on. I basically let the poetry carry me and trust that as I think about it over time and read more background stuff and criticism, it will make more sense.

  34. Bill Walderman says

    “It” in the first line is wrong–“ona” should be translated “she.” “Primeval quietness” is wrong, too. “Primeval dumbness” or “primeval muteness” would be better.
    Like the Tyutchev poem, this poem urges the withholding of speech or utterance, which destroys the essential unity of the world. Aphrodite in her unborn state as sea-foam represents the oneness of all things, both word and music fused together. Word should remain music, Aphrodite should remain foam, the heart should remain in a state of unselfconsciousness, at one with the essential unity of nature.
    Just my thoughts about this beautiful poem, but I’ve destroyed it by trying to explicate it.

  35. “I’ve destroyed it by trying to explicate it.”
    Don´t imagine that you possess the power to do that.

  36. Bill Walderman says

    With all due respect–and I’m no expert on Mandelstam–the translation and discussion in the Brown book quoted above, in my reading of this poem, fail to capture its essence. Translating “ona” as “it” rather than “she” misses the myth at the center of the poem: the birth of Aphrodite out of sea foam (she was born out of sea foam after Zeus castrated his father Cronus and threw the severed genitals into the sea). The birth of Aphrodite is equated with speech–the separation of word and music–and the disruption of the essential unity and interconnectedness of all life. Translating “nemota” as “quietness” fails to make the connection to the Tyutchev poem, which bears essentially the same message: shut up! Brown is misled by equating “silentium” with “tishina” rather than “molchanie.” Silentium is imperative, not descriptive. The poem is the fusion of word and music and attempting to explicate it as I’ve done disobeys its message.

  37. Bill Walderman says

    The heart should be ashamed of itself: it should remain unconscious of itself as an individual entity but instead should remain fused with the totality of all life.

  38. Bill Walderman says

    Does anyone know whether Mandelstam read Schopenhauer? This poem seems akin to Schopenhauer’s rejection of “will” and the individuated self.

  39. I can’t find any indication that he did.

  40. slawkenbergius and read, you were both wrong, but slawkenbergius’ mother was right. Слито clearly refers to the first сердце, and it’s the short form of the adjective слитое. It is a fairly mainstream use: short forms are the norm when the adjective is a predicate. What makes it sound unusual is that the subject is omitted.

  41. Regarding languagehat’s original question, the problem with the initial Она being тишина is to ne that silence is not born here; quite on the contrary, word is born, music is born. Now I don’t think it’s Aphrodite either, because come on, the goddess only appears three strophes later! I know it’s Mandelstam, but still.
    Personally, I’ve always assumed it was песня (song), because that’s what “и музыка и слово” (music + word) is, and also because in Russian tradition песнь is a very well-known euphemism for ‘poetry’. I concede that I’m reading it as a simple charade; of course, Она could be любовь (love), or поэзия (poetry) itself, or any number of other things.

  42. Bill Walderman says

    The myth of the birth of Aphrodite out of sea foam seems to me central to the poem and that’s why I think that “ona” in the first line must refer to Aphrodite. The second stanza describes the state of affairs before Aphrodite’s birth: a brilliant day without mind (bezumny) — without the mental activity associated with speech and thought — just the foam in the basin of the sea, where all things are still one and haven’t been separated by mind or speech. Aphrodite still in the form of foam is both word and music; in being born she disassociates the two. The poet calls for her to remain foam, and for word and music to remain fused together.

  43. Does slawkenbergius’ mother have a blog? i can’t find her on google, but maybe she’s using another name.

  44. Bill Walderman says

    Did you remember to change -ius to -ia?

  45. I have the Academy of Sciences edition of Камень on my shelf (Leningrad, 1990), and the author of the commentary thinks that the feminine pronoun in the first two lines of the poem refers to немота: “Silentium (лат.) — молчание, безмолвие; в ст-нии в значении “немота” (см. ст. 10), отсюда женский род местоимений в ст. 1, 2″ (p. 290).

  46. bezmolvie is maybe the best

  47. the problem with the initial Она being тишина is to ne that silence is not born here; quite on the contrary, word is born, music is born.
    I don’t think you can throw severed genitals on a foamy sea and get a goddess just like that. Don’t you need an incantation/poem/song/abracadabra–like the Word? You know, Logos? And isn’t Aphrodite the same as lust? Maybe he’s having some problems with his love life and wants to go back to a simpler time.

  48. Maybe you can’t, Nidge.

  49. From Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets: “Anchises, her lover who begot Aeneas and then was castrated, had a name meaning “he who mates with Isis.” The footnote is to Graves, G.M. 1, 71-72. [The Greek Myths (2 vols.). New York:Penguin Books Inc., 1955.] Sorry I don’t have that particular Graves, but it’s written after Mandelstam’s time anyhow. Any chance he would have had access to some version of William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (originally published 1844)? Apparently the text is online.
    Your foolish Minnesnowtan thugs don’t scare me, Immersohn.

  50. marie-lucie says

    From Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 1, 71-72:
    Aphrodite Urania (‘queen of the mountain’) or Erycina (‘of the heather’) was the nymph-goddess of midsummer. She destroyed the sacred king, who mated with her on a mountain top, as a queen-bee destroys the drone: by tearing out his sexual organs. Hence the heather-loving bees and the red robe in her mountain-top affair with Anchises … Anchises was one of the many sacred kings who were struck with a ritual thunderbolt after consorting with the Death-in-Life goddess … In the earliest version of the myth he was killed … His name identifies Aphrodite with Isis, whose husband Osiris, was castrated by Set disguised as a boar: ‘Anchises’ is, in fact, a synonym of Adonis. [who was killed by Ares disguised as a boar] …
    If the Barbara Walker book is the one I think it is, I found it quite unreliable on many points, not a good source unless confirmed by others. (On the other hand, many people will say the same thing about Robert Graves).

  51. Aphrodite on google books. (Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets)

  52. If the Barbara Walker book is the one I think it is, I found it quite unreliable on many points,
    On the subjects where I have the sources she references (mostly Scandinavian medieval), over and over again I have looked at what she wrote and said “no way, that’s just too over the top”. Then I pulled the book off the shelf, and sure enough, whatever she was talking about was down in an obscure footnote. She has a point of view, for sure, but so does everyone. Her details pile one on top of the other so amazingly that a coherent story emerges. I personally don’t think history is quite so neat or coherent, but I find her intriguing and the ideas as worth considering as any others. Graves also does the thing with piling detail on detail to tell his story. Compare that with the “Language in prehistoric Europe” thread that is so esoteric you don’t even know the timeline they’re talking about unless you are an insider to their special language. How many people do you know personally who own that Walker book (or for that matter Graves’ Golden Bough)? I know a few–some that surprised me. That’s the one that shapes the way people think.

  53. marie-lucie says

    I don’t mean that Walker’s book is not documented, but her documentation does not necessarily come from good sources. An obscure footnote from a source other than the one we are reading, which we have no means of verifying, can be very misleading. Also, as you say she has her own point of view which biases the way she presents the material or draws her conclusions, without discussion. I don’t own the book but borrowed it at one point along with other books on similar topics which I found more serious.
    The Golden Bough is by Frazer. Robert Graves is best known for The White Goddess.

  54. Yeah, right, I am so fatigued. I have heard so many swear by White Goddess, but I found it obscure. The Scandinavian sources are from medieval literature–eddas, sagas. I don’t see how you can get more primary-source than that. I already have them on my bookshelves, so they are ones I can verify. The bias is probably in what is left out. Oh, and there’s Merlin Stone’s “When God was a Woman”–seems totally plausible and unverifiable. But that’s closer to the Dravidians than it is to Mandelstam.

  55. A.J.P. Crown says

    Robert Graves is best known for The White Goddess.
    Graves is much better-known for for the wonderful book he wrote in the twenties, Goodbye To All That’, about his life on the Western front during WW1, but his best selling work, according to Wiki, is ‘I Claudius’. He subsequently lived, on and off, in Majorca, enduring more than a decade in the company of the appalling Laura Riding.

  56. The footnote is to Graves, G.M. 1, 71-72. [The Greek Myths (2 vols.)
    Graves was a fine poet but a terrible scholar; The Greek Myths is a handy index to the myths and a bunch of obscure sources but you should never take anything he says seriously without checking it against a real work of scholarship (say, Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion). The White Goddess is completely worthless except as a guide to Graves’s personal mythology (as Yeats’s crackpot writings about gyres and whatnot are a useful guide to his poems), and citing it is a sign that a person shouldn’t be taken seriously. (The problem isn’t that it’s “obscure,” the problem is that it’s bullshit.)
    Graves is much better-known for for the wonderful book he wrote in the twenties, Goodbye To All That
    I don’t know about that. Both The White Goddess and Goodbye To All That are extremely well known, but in different circles, and I’m not sure how you could find out which was better known (stopping a hundred people on the street at random would get you a 99% “Who’s Robert Graves?” response).
    Any chance he would have had access to some version of William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (originally published 1844)?
    Believe it or not, the Russians have their own excellent tradition of classics studies, and didn’t need to go scavenging in English books (if they went to a foreign source, it would have been the Germans, who were the universally acknowledged masters of the field—I don’t know about Smith, but many English reference works were translated or “adapted” from German originals). Mandelstam studied classics at St. Petersburg University (though he wasn’t any good at Greek), and would have had a wide range of sources (as well as personally knowing experts in the field)—none of which means that the classical allusions in his poems are necessarily “accurate” or coherent, since he was a poet and not a classicist.
    The first stop for a Russian wanting information on any subject, including classics, would have been Brockhaus and Efron, the Russian equivalent to the 1911 Britannica; I often consulted it when I was in NYC and had access to the Slavic Reading Room at the NY Public Library.

  57. the appalling Laura Riding.
    I have never been able to understand the appeal of Laura Riding. She seems to have been a horrid person, but never mind that, many writers are. But reading her “poetry” is like chewing cardboard. There’s no there there; it’s a bunch of dictionary items strung together in unpleasing ways. She doesn’t even seem to have liked poetry. But there are many things in this world I don’t understand.

  58. A.J.P. Crown says

    i only said he was better-known to be argumentative, but it is a good book.
    I have never been able to understand the appeal of Laura Riding.
    I didn’t know Laura Riding had any appeal, but I’d be (mildly) interested to know what the feminist view of her is. She was a terrible poet, but she had a ruthless, unrelenting and successful strategy for furthering her own career. The single redeeming feature of her life seems to be that she ‘renounced’ poetry.

  59. The full Brockhaus and Efron is online and searchable in Russian. I’m impressed.

  60. Kenneth Rexroth admired Riding a great deal. The time I looked at her poems I was not able to understand why. On the other hand, I only recently came to understand why people liked H.D.

  61. marie-lucie says

    Robert Graves is best known for The White Goddess.
    I wrote this in the context of my response to Nijma, which was about mythology and about who was the author of The Golden Bough.
    LH, thank you for the reference to Burkert, I will try to get it.

  62. I find ambitious theories of myth virtually unreadable. They all seem to consist of enormous piles of detail united by a few simple basic concepts which are repeated over and over again. I’ve tried to read Campbell, Frazer, Jung, and Eliade with no success. Levi-Strauss is a little different because his basic ideas are more complex, but to me unconvincing. Freud is still more unconvincing, but seems to have become an integral part of our own stupid mythology (cf. hundreds of horrible Fifties movies).
    But for whatever reason I find Dumezil interesting. Studies of individual local clusters of myth can be interesting too.
    While I was reading Rilke I tried to look up the Orpheus myth. Apparently it’s really pretty sketch — a collection of about 20 or 30 memes that appear here, there, and everywhere in various versions, but no rich mother lode consisting of many stories.

  63. I should know who wrote the Golden Bough, my copy sits less than a foot from my computer, but at 3 in the morning, after my all night adventure the night before, it slipped my mind. Of course I had to call the landlord and apologize for calling the police on one of his tenants, but they really have violated their lease by having 5 adults and two children living in a two-bedroom apartment instead of two adults and two children as is on the lease. There ARE housing ordinances here. At the same time I apologized for putting a hammer though the wall last week when I was banging on the shared wall and yelling “clueless” after several unsuccessful attempts to get them to be quiet. It seems I am not the only tenant who has been disturbed and the latest is that I am told they will receive 30 day notice. I’m not going to hold my breath and I’m not getting out the Spackle until they’re gone.
    After work I happened to run into my Arab neighbors in the supermarket/supermercado and couldn’t get out of dropping over to meet their daughter who is here from Jordan and will be returning next week. The hospitality was coffee with cardamom, delightful stuff, but always keeps me up half the night when I drink it.

  64. what the feminist view of her is
    My unscientific sampling, based entirely on what I stumble across, is that there are two contemporary perspectives.
    First, in the context of literary woman of the early 20th century, with Margaret Sanger, Stella Browne, etc. as background, she’s in with H.D., Marianne Moore, and Mina Loy, for both their writing and personal lives. For instance, American women going to Europe and vice versa.
    Second, a separation without the strong gender distinction, of the mainstream moderns from the “difficult” ones: Laura Riding (and (Riding) Jackson), Mina Loy, Gertrude Stein, but also the Objectivists Zukofsky and Oppen, as postmodernists ante litteram, anticipating L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and so on.

  65. I think part of the appeal of Frazer and Grimm is all the details.

  66. Yes, Frazer is lots of fun to dip into and think about; you can see why the early modernists were besotted with him.

  67. A.J.P. Crown says

    Yes, M., i was thinking of the former. I can see how there are things to be admired. Particularly, because of the suicide attempt, in contrast to the extent to which she has been reviled for ‘breaking-up’ or intervening in Graves’s marriage.

  68. Wow.
    I remember reading something by Graves about his theory of poetry which seems like it traces to riding. It was in the general “object made of words” modernist vein, which I have never liked wherever I find it.

  69. A.J.P. Crown says

    This isn’t right: Her origins could hardly have been more humble: and then her parents were poor Jews named Reichenthal who emigrated from Germany to New York. By that time, German Jews in NY were well connected, and they either looked down on or looked after Russian, Polish and other groups of emigrating Jews, depending on how they felt about philanthropy.

  70. Shouldn’t someone try to keep this thread alive in case Slawkenbergius comes back? There’s still the matter of trying to figure out what meaning Mandelstam placed on Aphrodite by plugging “Афродита” into the Brockhaus and Efron Russian
    search engine Hat found.

  71. Bill Walderman says

    I see that my newly arrived edition of the complete poems of Mandelstam (Eksmo, Moscow 2008) glosses “Silentium” as “molchaniye,” not “tishina.” If this is correct, Aphrodite is the only potential antecedent to “ona” in the first line. “Silentium” is a command: a word that a German professor might shout at a lecture-hall full of unruly students before beginning the lecture. “Be quiet!” “Don’t talk!” And that’s the message (in a slightly different way) of both the Tyutchev and the Mandelstam poem.

  72. Isn’t “silentium” better translated into Russian as neuter “molchanie,” not feminine “tishina?” “Tishina” is “quiet” or “stillness,” not the withholding of speech, which is what the Mandelstam and Tyutchev poems are about.

    I’m reading Leonid Andreev’s 1900 story “Молчание” [Molchanie], and I just got to this helpful passage:

    Со дня похорон в маленьком домике наступило молчание. Это не была тишина, потому что тишина — лишь отсутствие звуков, а это было молчание, когда те, кто молчит, казалось, могли бы говорить, но не хотят.

    Since the day of the funeral there had been molchanie in the little house. It was not tishina, because tishina is only the absence of sound; it was molchanie, where those who are silent, it would seem, are able to speak but do not want to.

  73. At least in Bulgarian, тишина is the absence of sound, while мълчание is silence — the latter implies there is an actor that refrains from making sounds.

    EDIT: languagehat: you already explained it. The former is stative while the latter implies agency.

  74. Yes, exactly.

  75. David Marjanović says

    Stille : Schweigen

    The Silence of the Lambs is Das Schweigen der Lämmer: they’ve been shut up.

  76. Trond Engen says

    Norw. stillhet “absence of sound” vs. taushet “absence of speech”.

    (Eng. ‘silence’ is generically translated with stillhet, but taushet is often better, e.g. in Simon & Garfunkel’s song.)

  77. Hey, taushet looks like it could be related to тишина! (I’m not going to look it up; se non è vero…)

  78. >Stille : Schweigen

    >The Silence of the Lambs is Das Schweigen der Lämmer: they’ve been shut up.

    The Muteness of the Mutton?

    It gets the stative/agent thing. It expresses another important characteristic of those referred to.

  79. Trond Engen says

    Norw. taus is < Da. tavs < *þags-. A native Norw. cousin is tagal “prone to silence”. Both are related to the verb NBm. tie, Nyn. teie “not speak” < ON þegja.The conjugation seems to have been partially reshaped after the “say” verb, ON segja, but the Germanic root is *þah- ~ *þag-. There are no certain IE cognates except our friend Tacitus “the silent one”.

    There’s a similar adj. tyst “silent, not speaking” (as in Bergman’s Tystnaden), with a much wider set of IE cognates, but there’s no straightforward way to unite them.

  80. Stu Clayton says

    The lambs fall silent because they’ve been killed. Both novel and film make that clear. This is not about mute, inglorious mutton.

  81. John Cowan says

    Hey, taushet looks like it could be related to тишина!

    Proto-Slavic tix-ina < Proto-Balto-Slavic, but no PIE source in Wikt. On the other side, taus(het) < No Da tie, Sw tiga, said to be “probably” cognate with taceo, but no firm PIE source given. The only WGmc cognate is OHG dagen, though there is Gothic þahan. In short, nobody knows.

  82. Das Schweigen der Lämmer: they’ve been shut up.

    The Muteness of the Mutton?

    That would be Das Schweigen der Schweine.

  83. Gothic þahan, Latin taceo
    This is one of several isoglosses between Germanic and Italic that is generally taken as an indication that both subfamilies were neighbours, probably somewhere in Central Europe, before they moved to their later attested homes, North and South, respectively.

  84. David Marjanović says

    That would be Das Schweigen der Schweine.

    …die Stummheit der Schafe?

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