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416                The Loom of Language
means I have written If you say zvnte to him (at once) you have
to use the perfective formnapishiyemu. If you say wnte better (in
future), you use its imperfective co-twin, pishi lushye
Britain has rehnquished the incubus of gender without discarding
the bishops' bench, and Americans who have no use for case-concord
still condone lynching So it goes without saying that shortcomings of
the Russian language reflect no discredit on the Soviet system, still
less on the citizens of the USSR themselves What they do signify is
the existence of a powerful social obstacle to cultural relations between
the Soviet Union and other countries The archaic character of the
Russian language is a formidable impediment to those who may wish
to get first-hand knowledge of Russian affairs through foreign travel
Because such difficulties beset a foreigner, it is disappointing to record
lack of revolutionary fervour in the attitude of Soviet leaders to the
claims of language-planning While the Kremlin curbed the power
of the Greek Orthodox Church, it made no attempt to bring itself into
line with Europe, America, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand by
liquidating the cultural handicap of the Kynlhc alphabet. That there is
no insurmountable obstacle to such a break with the past is shown by
the example of Turkey, which has replaced Arabic by Latin script
The task of reform was simplified by the pre-existence of illiteiacy in
Russia, as in Turkey
Russia has always been, and still remains, a Tower of Babel. Within
the boundaries of the Soviet Union we find representatives of the Indo-
European, the Fmno-Ugrian, the Turco-Tartar, the Mongolian, and the
Caucasian families of speech—all in all some hundred languages and
dialects, most of which are mutually unintelligible. The situation is
deplorable enough if we confine ourselves to the three Russian languages
Great Russian, spoken in the north-east, with Moscow as the centre,
Little Russian, or Ukrainian 5 and White Russian, current in the north-
west along the confines of the Baltic group These languages are separated
by such small differences that they are mutually intelligible Formerly
the written language common to all of them was Great Russian But
to-day the White Russians as well as the Little Russians have written
languages of their own.
The unequal decay of flexion in the Indo-European family does not
directly reflect the progress of avilization We can see this by con-
trasting Russian or Lithuanian with the Celtic languages. Celtic speech
is now confined to the western fringe of Europe It was once possible to