RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
RUSSIAN POETS AND
FROM THE START TO THE PRESENT DAY
AND THEIR LANGUAGE
MADAME N. JARINTZOV
WITH AN INTRODUCTION
DISCUSSING THE PROBLEMS OF PRONUNCIATION
AND A PREFACE
Reader in Russian in the University of Oxford
PRF. cr:o VAT!ON
ORIGINAL TO BE
N* 2 2 1993
TO MY FRIEND
EDWARD STANHOPE KITCHIN, PH.D.
TO WHOSE KEEN INTEREST IN
THE PHILOSOPHY OF MY MOTHER-TONGUE
THIS LITTLE WORK
IS INDEBTED FOR ITS APPEARANCE
THE appearance of this volume at the present
moment is so apposite that any prefatory or
explanatory remarks are really superfluous, all
the more so that the authoress is already known
in this country by her excellent writings on Russia
which have appeared in the course of the last
few years. It has, however, been suggested that
something may be usefully said as to some purposes
which, amongst others, this book may serve. In
the first place, it is something really new, being an
exposition of Russian psychology illustrated by
examples of the Russian language. One often
hears said by those who have read translations
of Russian works, or books written in English
about Russia, that they do not yet understand
Russian psychology. To that it may be answered
that it is very difficult to understand Russian
psychology without knowing, at any rate, some-
thing of the Russian language. Translations of
Russian books are sometimes inexact, and books
about Russia are sometimes one-sided. The fact
that this book on Russia, Russian, and Russians
is written by a Russian in English endows it with
the authority of an original, and saves it from the
tedium and incorrections of a translation. The
authoress has lived long enough in England to
know what is both interesting and unintelligible
to English readers, and has lived long enough out
of Russia to be able to look at her country and
countrymen objectively and to appreciate fully the
value and beauty of her own language ; at the same
time she is still able to write sufficiently subjec-
tively to be inspiriting, and sufficiently broad-
mindedly to be convincing. In this way, with the
aid of the numerous quotations from such authors
as Gogol, Dostoyevski, and others more modern,
the book will appeal to those who are interested in
Kussian literature and psychology, but have no
time or inclination to study the language ; written
in an engaging and conversational style, it brings
certain interesting and illuminating aspects of the
Russian character and language to them in their
armchairs, as it were.
In the second place, the book will be directly
useful to the rapidly increasing number of people
in this country who are actually studying the
Russian language. The many aptly chosen lin-
guistic examples and their explanations and inter-
pretations which illustrate the book go a long way
towards providing a Russian syntax very attrac-
tively disguised, and will help to impress certain
remarkable characteristics of the Russian lan-
guage on the minds of students more effectively
and pleasantly than the arid pages of grammars
and textbooks are wont to do.
Although differing somewhat radically from the
authoress in certain points amongst others, of
pronunciation and the vexed problem of trans-
literation (and therefore it may be hoped not to be
suspected of collusion) the writer has no hesitation
in saying that for serious students of the Russian
language, literature, and psychology, the present
work, being, as it is, a sort of concentrated essence
of Russia, is equal in value to half a dozen of the
large books on that country which have latterly
been so plentifully showered upon us.
DISCUSSING THE PROBLEMS OF PRONUNCIATION
EDUCATED English people seem to be interested nowa-
days in Russian literature. Happily, there exist some
translations which convey the general meaning of the
originals very well indeed like those by Mrs. Edward
Garnett and a few others. But even they could not
possibly transfer the atmosphere of the Russian speech,
its beautiful subtlety, or its extreme analytical power.
These have no equivalents in modern English (nor in
other modern languages, but my little study partly con-
cerns the comparison between the Russian and the
English speech only). Hence the gaps in the best of
translations; and hence the appearance of these pages,
the aim of which is to show that those who want to
understand the Russian national character and to grasp
the beauty of Russian literature, should try and learn
the original Russian speech. Let not the difficulty of pro-
nunciation stop anyone. Firstly, we are not so particular
on a foreigner's pronunciation as a Cockney or an English
labourer are on the ' exact ' pronunciation of English !
I hope those who have visited Russia have had the
opportunity to notice that we are capable of ' catching a
word on its flight,' as we say. Secondly, it is chiefly not
the sounds themselves, but that logical flexibility of our
viii THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
language which we would love to introduce to all the
world but cannot, for the lack of a medium.
Much of the following in the main part of this book
will startle a casual reader as bad English but this is
just the point: there exists no good English for many a
conception which I want to convey from the Russian !
The only way I can suggest is for the reader to try and
detach his mind from the usual modern English and to try
and penetrate with it into the attitude of the Slavonic
mind. This may be worth while trying for those who
really want to investigate this mental attitude; because
the mechanism of thinking, the process of thought
itself, reflects of course the nature of a nationality just
as much as its politics and customs do. And a patient
reader will, perhaps, get an additional glimpse into the
national Russian mind through seeing the possibilities
which are open to the Russian speech.
What is discussed in this book beyond the preface is
not included in Russian grammar- and text-books. The
complexity of our syntax is naturally such a matter of
course to us, that the branching off of its nuances strikes
one only when one is confronted with the task of ex-
plaining them to a foreigner. If it were not for my
wonderful English friend to whom this book is duly
and gratefully dedicated, and who has a regular 'flair'
for tracing the beauties of every language and takes a
rare interest in it, I should never have been struck by
all the subtlety of the Russian one, notwithstanding all
my love for it. It is only thanks to our studies with him
and to his knowledge of the philosophy of the old and
modern languages, that the pearls of the Russian one
rose for me from its sapphire deep.
I hope that perhaps some of the Russian subconscious
mind will reveal itself in each of these little pearls to the
eyes of my English reader and will make him see that
learning our language in the original is worth the energy
it requires; especially for those who are really interested
in the Russian land itself: for I must repeat that this
little work is not a formidable theoretical essay in com-
parative philology, but a sketch of the Russian national
psychology as reflected in the language.
But I hope it will also be helpful as a character-sketch
of the language itself to all those who have already begun
studying it and may even arouse some interest in the
minds of those who have not yet considered this some-
what exciting occupation.
Meanwhile, the Preface itself is meant only for those
to whom the idea of learning Russian is no more strange ;
and all that follows in it should not be considered as
generally readable material, but only as an offer of some
help to the actual students.
The only way for an English person to really grasp the
quaint, characteristic beauty of the Russian literature is
to study the language in the original. But not through
grammars and text-books only: they suffice to frighten
anyone away ! These booklets with the pronunciation
authoritatively fixed by their non-Russian authors x drive
even a Russian crazy: what can, then, be expected from
the unfortunate English ' self-scholar ' !
There are enormous difficulties in conveying the exact
Russian sounds by means of the Western (Romance)
characters, and I cannot help making a big point of it.
The nature of the two alphabets coming from different
sources 2 is reflected respectively in the two spheres of
sound so different, that the two languages (English
and Russian) cannot be said to have a common denomina-
tor. Therefore the transliteration is rather like investi-
1 Like, for instance, C. A. Thimm and J. Marshall's Russian
2 The Russian alphabet comes from the Greek, via Old
x THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
gating the laws for prime numbers, subject of which is
full of pitfalls for the unwary.
These insurpassable difficulties account for the fact
that there exist no two persons one of them Russian and
another English knowing the two languages equally well
who would entirely agree on the details of trans-
literating Russian into English (or the other way round).
I think that only practical, careful oral instruction given
by genuine Russians can start the English ear and pro-
nunciation on the right road. There are a few excep-
tions amongst non-Russian people, of course, who can do
it almost reproachlessly and they should be admired !
Meanwhile, this little work is not meant to be anything
like a text-book, but one interesting for a general reader
though more or less philologically inclined; therefore I
prefer not to squeeze our Russian words into the exclu-
sively English spelling more than it can be helped: all
vowels in my Russian verbal illustrations are represented
by the Italian vowels, and not by the exclusively English
ones. Also, with the consonants, s always sounds an
original ss (as in sun, but never otherwise); again, z
always sounds as in zeal, and never as in azure, and is
never represented by an s; the / stands for the French
sound in je (instead of replacing it by the zh)\ and h
also stands for its sound alone, instead of using the
clumsy and unfair kh / I do so with the instinctive
Russian habit of putting one letter for one sound (as we
always do in our alphabet) whenever possible instead
of increasing the genuine number of letters in the Russian
words. When talking about the Russian language,
English people always exclaim: ' Oh, those awful endless
words !' But the fact is that they are made longer in
appearance by applying the English spelling, which does
not contain a sufficient number of single letters for
Ask some genuine Kussian to tell you slowly and dis-
tinctly the Russian words for: soap, dust, soap-bubble,
a far way, to be in exile, height (the poetical form of the
word), cod-liver oil, to climb, to howl, the decrease, a
white forehead, my dear (beginning with the letter M),
to wash, ripple, dismal life, wrath, etc. 1 He will find it
utterly impossible to write them down for you in English
letters, whilst you will find it equally impossible to pro-
nounce these words after him on the spur of the moment
unless Russian was the first language you heard round
your cradle, or unless you have spent many, many
years in Russia, or have a philological genius innate
in you (which is not often the case: personally, I
have found only one scholar-specialist of the last de-
scription in the course of many years of residence in
The cause lies in the close succession of very hard con-
sonants and very dark vowels, with consonants so soft
and vowels so light that almost no Western ear or tongue
seems to be able to master it without energetic practice.
Particularly unconquerable appears to be the hard, in-
describable vowel which is vainly represented in English
by i, and y, and w, and a, and what not ! It is pro-
nounced approximately as i in bit, only much deeper and
darker. Next in difficulty come the soft t, r and /, and
especially whole words consisting exclusively of soft con-
sonants and light vowels 2 : 'ep'er'=now, <fe^'=children,
= the green, r'att = ripple, t'em'en' = darkness,
1 Here are these Russian words transliterated in the nearest
S)ssible way, which is explained and suggested in this Preface:
ylo, pyP, m^l'ny puz^r', dal'n'i put', byt' v ssylke, vys', ryb'i jir,
lazit', vyt', ubyl', b'ely lob, m'ily, myt', zyb', unylaya jizn', zlost',
etc. For original Russian spelling see the list of Russian words
at the end of the book.
2 I am applying the now adopted system of marking the
soft (palatalized) Russian consonants by putting a small comma
at their top corner.
xii THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
vz ) at > =to take, ri'ed ) el'a=a, week, zcTes'=here, st ) ep=
steppe, rubdv'love, os'=ax, 'mf&=people 5 2'ecA'=a leek,
pr^el > est'=de\ight, c?'en'^=money, <f es'oZ'=ten, p'er'el'et'et?
=to fly over, dr'arf an untranslatable definition for every-
thing utterly valueless and wicked (the nearest to it in
English is rubbish, but it is impossible to call an English
person ' rubbish,' whereas this Russian definition clearly
condemns a person's wickedness : ' He is an awful
rubbish !' is the worst Russian characteristic one can
think of with the exception of podTetz, which stands
approximately for the English 'cad').
To express these sounds in English letters is an almost
insurpassable problem to us. That is why so many
Russian names now known in the West of Europe are
spelt in different ways; we ourselves cannot find exact
equivalents for our sounds even when we are well ac-
quainted with the groups of Teutonic and Romance
languages, and we are quite prepared to listen to our
names and to see all sorts of Russian words as disguised
by the foreign spelling and pronunciation !
And how could this be otherwise? With nearly all the
Russian consonants there exists another, a soft (palata-
lized) way of pronouncing them as well, which is com-
manded by the light vowels or by the ' soft sign ' follow-
ing them. It makes all the difference 'to the meaning of
certain words the way their final consonants are pro-
nounced, hard or soft : thus, brat means ' brother ' while
brat* means 'to take'; von/ means 'go away!' while
von 1 means ' stink ' ; mol means ' breakwater ' while moV
means ' moth ' ; krov means ' shelter ' while krov means
' blood ' ; pyl means ' ardour ' while pyV means ' dust,'
The soft consonants ef and t 1 can be found in Europe
outside the group of Slavonic tongues only in the Hun-
garian. The Spaniards, Portuguese, and Italians follow
us in their soft I and n but not at the end of the words,
which is constantly the case in Russian.
Our I, even in its hard form, is not the English I ; it is
not the gentle English I, but a richer sound : it is either so
hard that a Westerner breaks his patience against it if he
does not care to practise; or it is so elusively tender, that
at first hearing it he finds himself completely baffled.
There are 32 pronounceable letters x in the modern
Russian alphabet, for we not only have more sounds
than the Westerners have, but we also have a special
single letter for each different sound, and have there-
fore no need of the French, English, German, Hun-
garian (and even Polish) manner of grouping letters in
order to define one special sound like ch, sh, ts, ou, ai, ea,
eu, oo, ee, kh, tch, sch, cz, sz, etc. That is why our words
when spelt in English look as if they had such a number
of letters in them, simply because it takes two or three
ordinary English letters to give something approaching
one Russian sound. In fact, the general character of
the Russian spelling must be defined by 'one sound =
one letter.' 2
On the other hand, some of the Western sounds do not
exist in Russian; for that reason some of us cannot pro-
nounce them, and no one can spell them correctly in
Russian : the French oe, u, and nasal n, the English th, u (as
in ' but,' ' under,' etc.), ing and wh, the swallowed French
and unborn English r as these sound to us compared
to our clear and clattering rrrrr, whether hard or soft!
1 The 33rd and 34th are only the 'hard sign' and the 'soft
sign,' soundless in themselves; and another two characters are
the obsolete varieties of / and i, which represent a meaningless
survival at the bottom of our ABC; they enter into the spelling
of a few ecclesiastical words only, and should be neglected instead
of augmenting the difficulties for an ordinary student.
2 If anything, there are four Russian vowels and one con-
sonant which contain two sounds in one sign. This will be
xiv THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Nor do we have the Latin or Teutonic medium I. Natur-
ally, therefore, when it comes to a Russian trying to write
down in his own language the names of Underwood, or
Thomson, or Whithcombe, their owners have every right
to be dissatisfied. In fact, only few English words can be
transliterated into Russian without having their genuine
English sounds disguised. The difliculty is mutual.
We have no letters included in the spelling which are
not to be pronounced like the French endings for the
plural or the aient in the imperfect tense ; or the English
e as in the words note, rope, nose, etc. The only two
letters which are not pronounced in Russian are not
meant to stand for any sounds in themselves, they are
only the * hard sign ' and the ' soft sign ' specially to
indicate whether the preceding consonant is to be pro-
nounced hard or soft. And even then the hard sign has
been found superfluous, and many children are taught
now-a-days to omit it at the end of words ending with a
hard consonant. But the soft sign remains indispens-
able. Its influence especially with regard to the trans-
literation problem is so important that I must dwell on
it with special attention :
1. The soft sign b can be placed between two con-
sonants: MajieHbKift (small) maVeriki ; flajibmH (distant)
daVni; or in a number of shortened names: BacbKa (Bill),
IleTbKa (from: Peter), Kojitna (from: Nikolay), etc.
2. Or after a consonant which is the last letter in the
word: 6ojib (pain) boV ; ocb (ax) os 1 ; Kopb (measles)
kor* ; KOHb (steed) korf ; cnaib (to sleep) spat\ etc. In
each of these cases and their name is legion the soft
sign renders the preceding consonant soft (palatalized),
which makes all the difference to the nature of its sound
and thus may even alter the meaning of the whole word,
as has been mentioned before (p. xii). Yet this is simple
enough, and in all such cases the effect of the soft sign
can be easily interpreted by the adoption of the little
comma at the top corner of the corresponding consonant
of Latin origin, as it is done throughout this book This
little symbol is equally efficient, and should be always
applied for pointing out a consonant palatalized by, the
influence of the following light vowel: ne6o (sky) n'ebo;
nijTt> (to sing) p'ef ; Tenepb (now) t'ep'er : JHOJJH (people)
Vud'i : C'fecTb (to sit down) s'est\ etc.
Here I want to point out that the Russian vowels dis-
tinctly fall into two groups, each dark vowel having a
corresponding light one:
H or i
o | y | being the dark ones;
being their correspond-
ing light ones.
Well, everyone of the second set affects the preceding
consonant, rendering it soft and itself mostly turning into
its corresponding dark variety. Thus, if you pronounce the
Russian word for ' name ' HMH but go on voicing its
last sound you will find that it is an a ; but it has done
its bit, having turned the hard M into a soft one (while, if
you call out in that same way MEMB, you will notice that
the M has remained hard. The same thing happens in
numberless cases, such as: O^TBIH, T^TKecTL, T/WIO, 3/bJio,
c/bJTb, B'fcc'L, MCJTL, ejiKa, nect, 6jiaro#ap70, c/o^a etc.
The turning into the corresponding dark vowel does not
so frequently take place in the case of e, and never with
the H or i. But their effect on the preceding consonant
remains just the same, so that, for instance, -the letter
1 Many Russian words contain this variety of a light e.
There is no difference whatever in the sound between the
two. Grammatical rules command the choice between 1> and
e in the spelling of terminations, but a great number of words
contain a -fe in their stem, and in these cases can be learned
only through practice. A witty remark runs, that ^ exists
in order to distinguish educated people from illiterate ones !
xvi THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
T in TH (thou), ty, sounds hard, but in THXO (gently)
t'iho, it is palatalized by the H which is the light sister of
the dark H. Or, the Ji in Jiyna (moon) is still harder
and deeper than a good Scotch I, while in JHO^H (people)
Pudi, or in JiK)6jiK) (I love) Fu&Tu, it sounds, as it were,
on the opposite side of the medium Romance I which can
be taken as the central one in the little scale:
ji L Jib
(Russian) (Romance) (Russian).
Everyone who can master these three shades of I,
voicing them on the same continuous note and just alter-
ing the position of his tongue (from pressing its point to
his teeth only to pressing the whole of it close to the
roof of his mouth), is sure to master the Russian
pronunciation straight away ! . . .
Well, perhaps another little practice is equally efficient
as a test : namely, a parallel to the above scale :
BHTB Bit EHTL
(Russian (English) (Russian
for manners of life) for beaten)
Only, Russian proceeds in this case to a still further
degree of softness and winds up this scale by 6umb
The next exercise would be to repeat the two following
Russian words with the English one between them as a
JIorL Lot Jlert
(Russian (English) (Russian
for half-ounce.) for flight)
Really, you can start quite bravely, if your ear and
tongue will master these two hardest tests ! Now we can
proceed with the soft sign, and mention the third way
in which it can be applied.
3. When a soft sign following a consonant is in its
turn followed by a vowel.
It is only the vowels of the light set that can follow it
at all. Now, these light vowels, ivhen standing at the be-
ginning of a word, or when preceded by another vowel, by hard
sign or by soft sign, have the sound of an English y running
into them. Thus, in ejib (pine tree), "the Russian e sounds
as in yes ; the same in ?KapKoe (roast meat of any kind)
jarkoye ; in BHHMame (attention) vnimaniye ; in oS^eflH-
Heme (the uniting) obyed'in'eniye ; in Bapente (jam)
varenye. But, when preceded by a consonant, that same
letter e has no y -sound running into it at all, nor has the r fe.
Thus RTEJIB (chalk) m'el, or in TBJIO (flesh) felo, or in TGHJIO
(warm) t'epld, or in H'BTL (no) n'et it palatalizes the con-
sonants M, T, and H respectively (itself turning into its
corresponding hard- vowel-sound 9), but without getting
the y-sound, with which it does begin under circum-
stances just mentioned above. Exactly the same rules
refer to the rest of the light vowels: thus, JOHOCTB (the
time of youth), or MOIO (mine, in fern, accusat.), or nbio
(I drink), sound: yitnosC, moyu, pyu ; but TiojibnaHt
(tulip) has none of the ?/-sound in it which it has in
English and the letter K) only does its business in ren-
dering the T soft. So it does in piOMKa (wine-glass), in
#K)?KHHa (dozen), etc.
Only the H, amongst the light vowels, makes a slight
exception: there are only three words beginning with it
in which it has the ?/-sound to start it with; these are the
genitive, dative, and ablative cases of the Russian word
for < they' = OHH: HXT (of them), HMT> (to them), and
HMH (by them), yih, yim, yimi. In all the rest of the
Russian words beginning with an H the latter (against
the nature of other light vowels) has no y-part in it:
xviii THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
iirojiKa (needle) igolka ; HBa (willow) iva ; HATH (to go)
All this only leads us to my eventual aim namely,
the role of the soft sign when standing between a con-
sonant and a soft vowel: ceMbfl (family), CGMBH (families),
cojiOBbii (nightingales), ruiaTbe (dress). It is the joined
effect of this little trio that causes the last vowel to
assume its y-sound again, although there is a consonant
before it. In other words, when the soft sign stands
between a consonant and a vowel, the comma at the
top corner of that consonant is not sufficient as it
would not convey the idea of the ?/-sound running into
the vowel; and this effect, caused by the presence of the
soft sign, should be represented in transliteration by the
English y, distinctly pronounced as a y too. Thus,
words like the examples just given above should be spelt
semya, semyi, solovyl, platye, etc.
' This has been always done ! ' I hear the attentive
scholar exclaim. Yes but my point goes further.
This also has been always done where there is no soft
sign after the consonant and therefore no ?/-sound in the
Russian word at all and that is wherein the mistake lies,
because it makes all the difference between genuine
Russian pronunciation and a substitute for it. Russian
words having no b between their consonants and light
vowels (and therefore no ?/-sound), like 6aHfl, SanouiKa,
HJIM, Mope, JHOAH, TeSi and so forth, are always trans-
literated as banya, batyushka, ilyi, morye, tyebye, and so
forth. I can't help calling this entirely wrong whether
introduced by English or by Russian authors ! It either
indicates a lack of good hearing, or else, merely the
desire to save trouble. I am too keen in my desire
to help the English students to learn good Russian,
and therefore must draw their attention to this point,
which is overlooked in all text-books I know. This
omission gives no chance whatever to distinguish the
two different sounds in the Russian original: on the one
hand, the presence of a y-sound caused by the presence
of a soft sign, and on the other entire absence of a y-
sound where there is no soft sign. However difficult it
seems at first to an English ear and tongue to catch this
difference, it soon becomes clear (from good oral instruc-
tion) ; because the mere grouping of a softened consonant
with a light vowel (with no soft sign in between) repre-
sents an absolutely close succession of the two, shoulder to
shoulder, as it were, without any y-sound link between
them. Therefore the above-quoted examples (copied from
dictionaries and text-books) ought not to be spelt as they
are i.e., in a wrong way but: ban a, bdt'ushka, ili,
mdr'e, V ud'i, t'eb'e, and so forth.
Most unfortunately, the y has been given the task to
represent the darkest of all vowels H as well as H besides
being the only means to interpret the effect of the soft
sign. But this is not my fault, and I cannot invent an
absolutely new letter to stand symbolically for that
peculiarly Slavonic sound. For the same reasons no
manner of transliterating the terminations HH, He, HH
can be consistent.
Perhaps it will be of some use if I give here the Russian
alphabet as it will be transliterated in this book, and as
its sounds can be possibly conveyed to the ear of my
reader in the above-explained ways. Only, I shall not
strictly keep to its original order. I can see no help in,
and no necessity for doing so whatsoever; while a certain
grouping of the characters may turn out to be helpful
in memorizing them.
But just a few lines, first, about that wilful little imp
in the Russian language the stress, the accentuating of
one certain syllable in every word. There is no vestige
of a rule or uniformity about it ! It falls, Qn anv
xx THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
part of the word it will choose. There are not more
than a score of words in which the stress is not strictly
attached to one certain syllable and even then it is
mostly the difference between the beautiful pure speech
of the north and centre of Russia, and its horribly
corrupt variety of the far south, round the shores of
the Black Sea. (I do not mean the independent dialect
of Little Russia, Ukrayna; the latter is altogether as
different from Russian as Polish is.) The stress may
fall on the stem of a word, or on its prefix, or even on
the termination : zv uki= sounds; dfcwH= reflected sounds ;
mctto=a, little; mcdovdto= rather too little! vodd^ water;
vddy=wa,tQTs: > mor'e=sea; mor'a=seas.
So it flutters about in its own obstinate manner, like
a butterfly without leaving the foreigner much chance
to catch it on the ground of any theories; what is more,
we possess no nets to offer him for the purpose !
But once he has got hold of the stress in a certain word
he must hold it fast; because you may slide over any
syllables in speaking Russian except those with the
stress falling on them: they stand out high above the
rest, and our national dislike for monotony is distinctly
reflected in this characteristic feature of our speech.
One of the worst defects in the Russian as spoken by
the foreigners is, that they don't put weight enough on the
accentuated syllables ; whilst it is so natural and so essen-
tial for us to do so, that I know cases when babies, in
beginning to speak, started a somewhat extraordinary
language of their own: they picked out just those syllables
from the grown-up people's speech, which had the accent
on them ! Now, the Russian language has not as many
one-syllable words in it as the English by far less; so it
was for several months that these babies' monologues
could not be understood by anyone except their mothers.
Nevertheless, all these difficulties can be conquered by
English people who have a will to learn, a little
capacity, and some genuine Russian person to guide
them. But a really well-speaking Englishman who has
lived in the centre or north of Russia is a better teacher
than a Russian from the far south and, especially,
better than a Russian Jew. I must be fair to my sub-
ject and say that even amongst the well-educated, in-
tellectual Jews in Russia there are very few who speak
without a specific accent of their own guttural and
nasal which is decidedly absent from the clear, open
Russian speech. They speak Russian much worse than
they speak English.
The Armenians, too, can be detected by their first
phrase spoken in Russian: their manner is to put broad,
heavy stresses on each syllable, unheedful of any soft and
light sounds, and turning them all into a kind of good-
natured, deep barking !
The Finns produce a chain of short, dry, colourless
syllables, as if chopping meat and giving, somehow , the
impression as if the Russian were littered with millions of
tt-a and pp-s !
As it can be seen, all these accents rob the genuine
Russian speech of one of its characteristic ingredients:
the extreme delicacy of sound ; the melting softness.
The Poles have an accent of their own, of course. The
softness and delicacy do not baffle them (except, some-
times, with the palatalized r). But they take our hard I
and turn it into the sound of a w (as it sounds with their
By the way, I know a Polish girl in England who has
no accent whatever (although she speaks with half-closed
lips, unlike the Russians) and who gives excellent in-
structions in Russian; well, she tells me that she almost
begins her teaching each time by insisting that her pupil
should grasp the difference (discussed above) between the
xxii THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
sound of the soft consonants simply followed by light
vowels, and the cases when there is a soft sign between
Keeping all this in mind, an English student will soon
find out that the ' barbaric brute of a language ' is not
unsurmountable after all ! And I am glad to repeat that
English, or rather British, people take the lead amongst
all Europeans in the capacity of learning it.
A few introductory lines to our o, because this is the
letter that gets affected by the stress falling on it.
When there is no stress on it, the o is mostly pronounced
as an a: Xopoino (all right, very well) sounds harasho;
B0#a (water) vada; or6m> (fire) agon\ etc. But we think
of it as an o all the same, which corresponds in English
to the thinking of the presence of a g at the end of present
participles: without the speaker's thinking about the g
being there, the ' coming ' would turn into ' comin','
' writing ' into ' writin',' etc. Therefore, in transliterat-
ing Russian words, I prefer to keep the o wherever it
is spelt in Russian.
When the stress does fall on it, the o sounds particu-
larly distinct and pointed (there is never any admixture of
the sounds h or w to a Russian o); when the stress falls
elsewhere (maybe on another o in the same word), then
the unaccentuated o is pronounced quickly and lightly,
leaving the whole weight of the word, as usual, with the
accentuated syllable. Thus, the above-mentioned xo-
pomo carries the whole weight with the last o: the first
two o's can be run over entirely, if you are talking quickly !
whilst in words like onacno (dangerously) or yjKacno
(dreadfully), the last o is chequed at its very start. This
rule is quite easy to follow.
Now for the alphabet:
Dark vowels : a, 3, LI, o, y.
As in Italian. Cami (sledges) sani.
As in Italian ; or as in English in end.
BTO (this) eto; noaMa (poem)
As i in bit, but much deeper and
darker. There are no words be-
ginning with it. Mbi (we) my;
Bbi (you) vy; CbiHt (son) syn.
As in Italian or as in English in on.
OCH (wasps), osy; 66a (both), oba.
As in Italian. Yum (ears) ushi;
nyrb (way) put\
Corresponding light vowels :
H, e or "B, H or i, e or e, 10.
As in English in yard, when the y-
sound is present in the Russian
word, fl (I) ya; flflpo (shell)
yadro; MOH (mine, femin.), moya;
ceMBH (family) semya.
When the ?/-sound is absent.
(seed) sent* a; BpeMfl (time) vr'ertfa;
BOJIH (will) vol'a.
As in English in yes, when the y-
sound is present. EJIB (pine tree)
yeT ; GCTB (is) yesf ; 'fecTb (to eat)
yes? ; HTO Tanoe? (what?) chto
takoyel oSteAHHeme (the uniting)
obyedin'eniye; Bapenbe (jam) var'e-
nye; Cffejit (ate it up) syel;
xoponiee (nice sing, neut.) horo-
When the English y has already just
been used to represent the preced-
ing bi. XpaSpbie (brave in plur.)
hrabryie; MMJIBIG (dear in plur.)
xxiv THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
As in Italian, when the ?/-sound is
absent. Tenjio (it is warm) t'eplo;
Tenepb (now) tfep'er'; TBJIO (body,
flesh) t do ; fl-fijio (business, deed)
d'elo; irEMeirt (a German) n'em'etz;
eecejio (gaily) v'es'elo.
As in Italian. Hs6a (hut) izba.
The i stands in Russian only be-
fore the vowels, but sounds exactly
like H. Mojinifl (lightning) mol-
niya', AHFJIIH (England) Angliya.
As in English in yoke, when the y-
sound is present. EjiKa (Christ-
mas tree) yolka\ Moe (mine in
sing, neut.), moyo.
When the ?/-sound is absent. Be-
cejiLiH (gay in sing, masc.),
ves'oly ; A Jienia (shortened : Alexey)
AVosJia. This sound has the stress
falling on it always ; therefore the
in it sounds clear and brisk.
As the English word you, when the y-
sound is present. K)jia (spin-top)
yula; lOjiin (Julia) Yuliya-, noio (I
sing) poyu\ MOK) (mine in fern.
accus.) moyu; MOIO (I wash) moyu.
When the ?/-sound is absent. JIio^n
(people) Vudi ; JiK)6oBb (love)
Vubov ; JJJOEJIK) (I love) VuWu.
As in English in boy, represents an
independent vowel. There are no
words beginning with it. Eon
(battle) boy ; JOMOH ! (home!)
domoy ! Diphthongs iii and Liii
are usual terminations with the
adjectives (in masc. sing, nomin.).
Being too complex for detailed
transliteration they should be
represented by i and y respec-
tively. HaHKOBCKift, Chaykovski ;
TajiaHTJiHBHii (talented) talantlivy;
jnoSuMLiH (beloved) Vubimy.
Consonants hard and soft (palatalized) :
6, B, T, A, JK, 3, K, JI, M, H, H, p, C, T, <j), X, T(, H, III,
As in English. JIo6i, (forehead)
lob', pa6i> (serf) rob-, SLTTL (man-
ner of life) byt.
Soft: Pa6b (ripple) r'afc'; 6-EJiuii
(white) Vdy\ 6bio (I am beating)
As in English. 3oBt (call) zov.
Soft: EpOBb (eyebrow) brov' ; B-tTKa
(branch) v'etka ; COJIOBLH (night-
As in English in good. Fofl-B (year)
As in English. ^OIVTB (the home,
house) dom; pa^i, (glad in masc.)
Soft: Jloinajjb (horse) loshad" ;
flO?Kflb (rain) cZo^'; a^Jio (busi-
ness, deed) d*elo.
As in French (the Russian ear di-
vides the English j into d and ;').
/Kena (wife) jena ; POH^BCTBO
3 3 Z
As in English in zeo/. Bos-b (cart)
voz ; s^pacTByfiTe ! (a greeting at
any time of day or night) zdrast-
Soft: Bposb (apart) vroz 9 ; se-irenb
(the green) z'eVeri; 3HTb (son-in-
law) z'aC; siflTb (to gape) ziyaf \
s'eMJifl (land, earth) z'emVa?
1 I am not dealing with the variety of this sound, because
it is simply a bad southern pronunciation. The only word in
which a kind of a soft r is universally adopted is FocnoflH (O
Lord !), and then it sounds between a g and an h voiced
as it does in a few adjectives when followed by K; therefore the
usual way of transliterating it by a kh is quite wrong, coarse,
2 Unrecognizable in the * Nova Zembla.'
xxvi THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Characters. j sented by
K K k As in English. RjnoHt (key) kVuch.
JI ji I \ Much deeper than the Western I.
JIoJKKa (spoon) loj ka ; aajTL (gave
in masc.) dot ; 30Jn> (angry) zol;
coJiHbniiKO (the dear sun) solnyshko.
Soft, like in elusive, but still more
melted: ^ajib (a far distance)
daT; cojib (salt) sol'; Jiefli, (ice)
I'od; JIIOAHLIH (alive through the
presence of many people) I'udny;
najibio (I shall pour out) nalyu.
M M | m As in English. MHJIO (soap) mylo.
Soft: MHJIHM (dear)w'%; CM^Tb (to
dare) sm'et' ; epeMH (time) vr'em'a;
ceMbfl (family) s'emya.
H H ' n As in English. Om> (he) on.
n Like the Italian gn, but sounding
quite short at the end of the
words. Soft: Konb (steed) kon';
ITEMOH (dumbjn'ewoi/; COHH (short-
ened name for Sofya), Son a; RO
CBHftaHbfl (au revoir) do svidanya.
11 n ! p As in English. OKOITL (trench)
okop; nyxi> (down) puh.
p Soft: Tonb (swamp) top 9 ; Tenepb
(now) t'ep'er'; xpana (in snoring),
hrap'a; xjionbH (fluffs), hlopya.
P p r As in Scotch, rolling it; short. Cbip-b
(cheese) syr; pa66Ta (work) rabota.
r Soft: also with a momentary rolling.
Kopb (measles) kor'; Mope (sea)
mor'e; B3M6pbe (strand) vzmorye.
G c s As in JEnglish in sun. Cbim> (son)
syn; cnacnSo (thank you) spasibo.
Soft : GiiJia (strength) sila ; cijnb (he sat
down) s'el; c-L-BJit (he ate up) syel. 1
1 Just in a few cases the hard sign t is inserted in the
middle of the word; then it acts on the following vowel as
the soft sign does, i.e., adding to it the ?/-sound (without
palatalizing the preceding consonant but this is too subtle a
difference for a non-Russian ear!).""
As the English double tt. TOTL (that
one) tot; noTomb (deluge) potop.
Soft: XoTb (although) ho? ; THXO
(gently) t'iho; naTe ! (take this !)
naCe ! njiaTbe (dress) platye.
As in English. Oynrb (pound) funt.
As in English in home. Chehov
(name of the author); xaTa (hut)
As in English. L(apb (Tsar) Tsar ;
LJapCTBO (Tsardom) Tsarstvo;
(the Germans) N'emtzy;
(aim) tzeT; npnujiji'L (range,
in shooting) pritzel.
As in English in church.
(man, human being) chelov'ek.
As in English in shock. HlanKa
(hat, cap) shapka; niJinna (lady's
hat) shl'dpa; Kama (all sorts of
As in English in Ashchurch. HjH
(name of a national soup) shchi;
poma (a small wood) roshcha;
6opm'L (a name of another national
Soft sign: its influence being repre-
sented by a comma at the top
corner of the palatalized con-
sonant. Mbicjib (thought) mysF.
When it stands between a consonant
and a vowel, thus producing the
effect of a ?/-sound between them.
KptiJibH (wings) krijlya.
Hard sign, omitted in transliterating,
except where it stands in the
middle of a word, inserting a
?/-sound; CMHCJTL (sense) smysl\
nojrb'fes^'B (front porch) podyezd;
Bi/kxaTb (to drive into) vyehat\
xxviii THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Amongst the Russian words chosen here as examples,
there are some of the most difficult ones with regard to
pronunciation; keeping other considerations as main
reasons in selecting the examples, I nevertheless included
some difficult words quite consciously. Firstly, in order
that my reader couldn't suspect me in veiling over still
harder obstacles from his view with the purpose of luring
him on to a treacherous road ! And secondly, because
the whole of this Preface is intended only for those who
have already started learning Russian: to them it may,
perhaps, serve as a little compass. I must add, though,
that / don't for a moment consider this particular scheme
of transliteration as finally solving the problem. I shall
always consider it insolvable, because oral instruction is
the only means which can give an idea of the difference
between the two spheres of sounds, English and Russian.
In the case of those foreigners whose Russian is ' self-
taught ' it is almost unrecognizable ! Common de-
nominators are too scanty ! Instead of wondering at
the Russian words in their Romance disguise much
better come and investigate them in their genuine aspect
But the reader who is interested exclusively in the
Russians themselves, as reflected in the spirit of their
language, should begin with the book itself leaving the
' terrible stuff ' of my Preface alone ! Because, above all,
it is not the Russian sounds themselves that I would
mainly like to convey to the English public through this
little work, but the channels along which the Russian mind
works whether I am talking about the subconsciously
created single words, or about whole works by Russian
I am glad to avail myself of the opportunity and to
welcome the two books by Mr. Nevill Forbes: Russian
Grammar and First Russian Book. They show a wonderful
command of our language ! Obviously, the author feels
perfectly at home in the midst of its subtlety and com-
plexity; this is a delight to a Russian reader who is bored
and tormented by all the other textbooks written in
English about our Mother-tongue.
And just because I do think of Mr. Forbes's works so
highly (especially of the First Russian Book), I cannot
omit one point about them which does not satisfy a
Russian. It is this point that really has made me write
all the preceding pages about our sounds as these are
created and pronounced by Russian people who cherish
their national treasure; because it surprises me that
Mr. Nevill Forbes, knowing the structure and spirit of
our language so brilliantly, should still repeat some items
invented by foreigners items which really hurt a
Russian eye and ear. His main mistake is that absence
of difference in the transliteration of those Russian vowels
that have the y -sound running into them, and those that
have not got it. I shall not repeat the whole business
over again. Those who care, can look it up above
(pp. 18, 19). The second mistake consists in the advice
to use the English sound w in order to pronounce our hard
Ji. I also mentioned this before: there is no w-sound in
the genuine Russian language; it happens only as a
Polonism. And the third mistake is using the English
letters /, t, a, /c, s, p and * for transliterating the Russian
B, fl, o, r, 3, 6 and i (=v, d, o, g, z, b and e). In doing so,
Mr. Forbes allows no difference between the sounds of
these different letters in npafft and (Jjapjia^, roch> and
KOWL, Jiecfa> and nojiewb, Majia and Majio, Jiyzi, and Jiy/n>,
60 at and 6o*n>, pa3i> and pact, Jiofrt and KJICWB, B/bdb
and eumb, etc.
I can but repeat that it is all right for a Russian to
put a shade of <j), T, a, K, c, u and e into his B, #, o, r, 3,
6 and n, because we instinctively keep in our mental
xxx THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
vision the correct spelling and the genuine sound of the
words containing the characters of the last row; but for
a foreigner who has not got this original sight and sound
in his brain since early childhood, for him it is more than
dangerous to learn those words as if they really had the
characters of the first row in them !
I think I can make this quite clear if I say that it
would be exactly the same thing if we were taught to
pronounce in English: pensi/ and offensi/, instead of
pensive and offensive; or abstract instead of abstract; or
tolt instead of told. One can find a shade of /, p, and t in
these examples as much as in the above-given Russian
ones, but thinking of them in the right way makes all
the difference to the sound. And I really cannot help
insisting that it would be better for the English students
of our language if they were taught to think of all the
sounds in the right way. Again it comes to the same:
in teaching in an oral way it is quite right and even
excellent to point out the subtle shades of pronunciation
in certain cases; but to fix those cases as general rules
in print is quite different, I think.
Otherwise, the works by Mr. Nevill Forbes are not only
formidable, excellent and the only works written in
English that are bound to help the students of our language
to a very great extent but they also are works in which
the author's pleasure in dealing with his subject is obvious ;
and this is dear to a Russian reader, because one can't
enjoy writing a philological textbook unless one is carried
away by the inner spirit of the language ! Only then the
complexity of a foreign grammar can be explained with
such care as Mr. Forbes explains it.
All that complexity seeming as well as real is worth
an effort; this is the opinion of all those English people
who have made it. Because the structure of the Russian
language is still more interesting and beautiful than it is
difficult. The difficulties I do not deny. But I can
honestly say that, of all foreigners, British people alone
are capable of overcoming them. Of this I have had
ample experience in Russia, and I am glad to put it on
record for the encouragement of my friends in this
KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
AT the beginning of the War I came across the fol-
lowing expression somewhere in the English Press :
' However much has been recently written about
the Russians, they will remain to us " Russians "
just " Russians," that is all.' I find this rather
nice. Much better to be acknowledged as un-
known strangers than to be misunderstood. The
Russians have never taken the trouble to advertise
themselves when they might command deserved
respect. For the last two centuries they have
always expected the light to come to them from
the West, and in the meanwhile have developed in
their own way, with unexpected strides and in un-
expected directions wherever there was room to go
It needs absence from Russia for several years
in order to summon up sufficient courage to blow
her trumpets for her a little ! (The Russians are
always dissatisfied with themselves.) But she
really deserves it on some points, and just now,
2 TEE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
when one constantly hears that ' Kussia is in the
mind of all Europe,' I would like to share with
those who care for it some thoughts derived
from interesting studies and observations. These
thoughts concern the spirit of our land, which
is interwoven with its language to the highest
As long as national individuality remains an
unconquerable feature (however much modified by
the wisest cosmopolitanism), we Russians cannot
help loving our language passionately. Russia re-
presents a complicated interlacement of contrasts.
We feel in it like fish in water. But the mere re-
flection of that scale of contrasts in the very sounds
of our language puzzles every non-Slavonic student;
and I have tried, in my preface, to be of some help
by throwing light on the Russian pronunciation and
its transliteration as it appears from a Russian's
point of view. I must repeat that there are no two
persons who would entirely agree on these points if
one of them is English and the other Russian.
Therefore, I am brightly expecting any attack on
the part of English philologists ! My personal
conscientious effort was only intended to show that
the original Russian spelling contains no mystery;
on the contrary, it reflects the chief feature of the
Slavonic nationalities : a close combination of ex-
treme contrasts retaining most clearly the indivi-
duality of each item. Not a softly flowing matter
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 3
of amalgamated ingredients, but a sparkling, viva-
cious current of most contrasting substances. Not
a chemical compound, but a kaleidoscopic crystal-
I have left all the technical discussions on the
Russian sounds and on the problem of their trans-
literation to the preface, where they can be looked
up by the present, or intending, students of the
Russian language. The book itself is meant for a
broader purpose namely, to show the national
character of the Russians as reflected in their language.
This is my main ambition ! The secondary one is
to show the wealth, the sparkling colouring, the
warmth, and the flexibility of our Russian speech,
which are due chiefly to three factors: (1) The
youthful vigour caused by the ever-present ingress
of the child-young Old Slavonic and Old Russian
elements; (2) the all-powerful influence of the
' syllables of nuances ' and terminations, the scales
of which allow boundless subtlety in the rendering
of various shades and half -shades of thought;
(3) the freedom of arranging the relative order of
words in every phrase.
In adding these few paragraphs after the book
itself has been finished, I also ought to say that I
wrote it ' just as it came ' without keeping to
any theory or system myself frequently enjoying
the unexpected revelations, as the details and
varieties of examples came swarming to my mind.
4 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Therefore, kind reader, don't be surprised at the
following pages. You know the case when you con-
template a journey and find that you have to pack
so many things, that you think George, one of Mr.
Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, was right when
he suggested making out a list of articles they
would not want on the river as being the shortest.
Well, mine is just the^case. The luxuries of speech
which we do possess and you don't are so numerous
that they overwhelmed me for a moment when I
was starting on my interesting task ; and the alter-
native I involuntarily grasped at, to begin with,
presented itself in those few points where the
English language seems to beat ours.
English There are some English definitions which we
concep- - -- i
tions not either do not possess at all, or apply in somewhat
Russian, different circumstances. Such is, for instance,
1 kick.' Our equivalent for it (brykdtsa) is applied
exclusively to the manners of cattle ! Football
was not known in Russia till the end of last
century ; and since they have adopted it over there,
they also had to adopt the word ' kick ' with it
because no one would think of applying the Russian
definition for cattle's kicking to human beings.
But when we adopt a foreign word we treat it as
our own i.e., like a piece of wax; therefore, the
sound ' kick ' is treated with us as the football
itself is --and as all foreign words are. No English
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 5
man would recognize either his ' safe ' in the bank,
nor his ' flirt ' in their numerous Kussian aspects
commanded by the winding paths of the grammar.
The same is the doom of the English word
' shock.' But here I must add that the idea of
calling things ' shocking ' is so far from the Russian
mind that there exists no original equivalent to it
at all; and when we use the English expression,
' shocking ! ' we dt) so exclusively in a humorous
tone, and thus apply it very emphatically indeed
in its original form. But using it as a verb
(although also for fun only), we treat it as we do
our own verbs. I feel tempted to give in a foot-
note a sample scale of the terminations which are
similar with hundreds of genuine Russian verbs of
a certain group. 1 No school child or peasant
thinks them to be anything special, or, in fact,
thinks of their being there at all; it is only the
gerund which the working classes are apt to twist
1 INFINITIVE : Shokirovat.' (We need no c before the k.)
IMPERATIVE : Shokiruy (s.) shokiruyte (pi).
PRESENT TENSE : Shokiruyu, shokiruyesh, shokiruyet, shok-
iruyem, shokiruyete, shokiruyut.
PAST TENSE : Shokiroval (w.), shokirovala (fern.), shokirovalo
(neut.}, shokirovali (pi.}.
FUTURE : The complex future tense, as with the infinitive.
The simple future, which consists of one word only, does
not exist with this verb, because it has not the perfective
aspect granted to it. If it had, the following variety of
terminations might have been greater.
GERUND PRESENT : shokiruya. GERUND PAST : shokirovav.
6 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
a little bit in their own way but without being in
the least puzzled over it. ... ' He is vyshodsy '
is likely to be the answer of the general servant of
your friend's when you fail to find him in; it stands
for: ' He is vi/shedshi ' ' He is being out.' But if
you pensively remark: ' You must not say " vy-
shodsy," Akulina, but vi/shedshi^ she will answer,
utterly undisturbed : ' That is just what I say
But one mistake like this is not much amongst
the number thirty-two, is it ? I think this should
be rather encouraging, and not alarming.
But what may seem, perhaps, really alarm-
ing is the fact that we have no word for ' respect-
ADJECTIVE PARTICIPLE, IN THREE GENDERS AND
Masculine. Feminine. Neuter.
Nominative : shokiruyushi slichaya shcheye
Genitive : shokiruyushchago slichey
Dative : shokiruyushchemu
Accusative : shchuyu
Ablative : shokiruyushchim
Prepositional : shokiruyushchem
ADJECTIVE PARTICIPLE, PAST TENSE.
Isn't it fun !
The poor original '.
English ' sh
lost and deprived of all its withering power amongst the variety
of the all-important and indispensable terminations. There
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 7
ability ' and, what is worse, that we use this
English definition (just with a Kussian ending:
respectabel'nost') with a distinct touch of humour
too. We don't need this characteristic, somehow !
The qualities which go with us to build up people's
reputation are rather different. I shall mention
Nor are there any definitions in Eussian to cor-
respond with the ' bank holiday ' and 'week-end/
Bank holidays are so numerous in our country
(about a score of them or more x ) that we cannot
help a feeling of surprise when we first see the
national importance attached to them in England.
There is no universal rushing from one place to
another on the Eussian ( bank ' holidays.
are not two amongst them that would be similar, as I left out
all those that are duplicates. If you count them you will find
thirty-two different endings to the English four : shock, shocks,
shocked, and shocking. We couldn't possibly do with them
alone, although we have only three tenses.
But it is not at all as dreadful as it looks: for one thing,
please note that we have one letter for each of the English com-
binations that occur amongst these endings sh, shch, yu, ye,
ya. Therefore, our words are much shorter than their English
' backward-transliterations.' Besides, I am giving my reader
a glimpse into that seemingly hopeless labyrinth of the Russian
grammar straight away, with the conscious purpose of leading
him out of it on to a much wider road hereafter; then the
beauties of our language, which illustrate its inner spirit, will,
I hope, reconcile him with this undoubtedly difficult technical
detail. There is nothing more dreadful than this to come !
1 Saints' days and Royal Family birthdays and names'
days. They are holidays for the banks as well as for everyone
8 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIK LANGUAGE
It must be for that same reason that the expres-
sion ' week-end ' is absent as well : it would prob-
ably not have come into being with the English
people either if they didn't make so much of it.
The inner cause rests, of course, with the organiza-
tion of English life ; with us, people idle in the week-
days as frequently as they work like niggers l on
Saturdays and Sundays of their own accord. The
spirit of self-organization innate with the Eussian
masses lies not with the dividing of everyday life
into little squares generally, but only with organ-
izing certain public functions from the point of
view of national need.
We also have no ' job ' or ' business ' in Russian :
' deed ' and ' work ' (d'elo, rabota) cover these two
conceptions without which the English language is
unimaginable. Therefore, the expression ' a good
job ' translated into Russian by one who does not
know English life closely would run ' a kind deed '
which is not often the same thing !
Neither have we ' enjoy,' as understood in Eng-
lish. We enjoy Nature, love, work (not always !),
art, rest, fresh air, space, freedom but we don't
bring the idea of enjoyment down to cold mutton
or a cup of tea. In the same way we use the word
' happy ' very sparingly : it signifies too much with
us to be used in reference to a comfortable chair,
or a motor ride, or a couple of sandwiches, or the
1 We say ' like oxen.'
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 9
fire-side. But when we happen to see a really
good play in England we feel astonished and hurt
by the lukewarm reception of an English house.
In Kussia we almost decline to go home to bed
after having listened to a fine opera. We'll sit in
some square (when the lights are extinguished in
the theatre) and go on humming the captivating
tunes till the early hours. Or we shall wake our
cook (who is not easily surprised), have a hot
samovar, and go on enthusiastically at our piano.
Very funny and very unhealthy ? Quite so ! But
who enjoys, who really enjoys life most ? . . .
This remains an open question when it comes to An open
. . question.
Nature and Art. A Russian is more at one with
Nature around him; he does not constantly find
faults with her being now too cold, now too close,
now too windy.
We find that in England Nature is quite over-
shadowed by weather. Living even in the most
beautiful of English counties, in the country, we
realize that it is hardly polite to begin a conversa-
tion with anything besides weather. (It is like the
Belgians' ' Bonjour, madame ! Bonjour, mon-
sieur ! ' without which they won't let you off, even
if you come to tell them a bit of splendid news about
the war !)
In fact, a degradation from the proper subject
which is prescribed once for ever as a kind of greet-
ing and an opening paragraph to every imaginable
10 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
conversation is regarded in this country as in-
credible. I had to come to that conclusion finally
after my own naive departure the other day.
A side- It was raining to that extent when even a Eussian
would be likely to pass a remark that ' the swamps
of heaven have given way ' -Razverzlis' Wab'i
n'eb'esnyia! It seemed quite superfluous to tell
everyone you met in the flooded roads that it was
' very wet.' As I tried to distinguish through the
waterfall coming from my umbrella who was the lady
approaching me from the opposite direction, I made
a mistake, and took her for quite a different and
somewhat unpleasant person. Therefore, when she
turned out to be her real self, I rather rejoiced at the
revelation and, passing by her, called out cheerfully :
' Hullo, Mrs. So-and-So ! I had not recognized
you. Are you all right ? '
But, before I finished my ejaculation, she ex-
claimed in her turn :
' Isn't it ? Very wet indeed.'
She would not wait to hear what I was saying,
obviously crediting me with sufficient sense not to
talk about anything except the deluge through
which we were marching. Her answer was ready
for everyone whom she might meet along the three
miles' stretch of the road, and no frivolous flight
was expected from anyone's imagination.
I simply cannot understand how an English
postman can repeat pleasantly the same remark
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 11
about the weather literally at every door as he de-
livers the letters ! Ours always does (I once
followed him all along his tour round the village).
A Russian postman would have to do so if his
authorities had issued a circular for that end; but
he would vehemently complain, in privacy, that,
' Now it has come to dragging the soul out of a man
bit by bit.'
I don't think a single Eussian could do it leaving
alone the fact that it would never occur to him as
an interesting thing to do. We frequently burst
out with something that forms an interest in
common between us, omitting even the word of
greeting 1 ) ; but we don't say anything at all if there
is nothing to say.
We had once a Polish count staying with us here
one hot summer. After his first visit to the shops of
the little country town the poor elegant old gentle-
man returned quite upset and indignant.
' What on earth makes them all tell me that it
is very warm, when they see me almost melting
away ? . . . And they insist on my answer, too !
.... I call it perfectly inconsidered brutal.
Queer form of civilization ! . . .'
It really does seem that there is too much
' weather ' in England. Certainly, there is a sec-
tion of public who almost live out of doors but
1 Zdrastvuyt'e ! the same for all hours of day or night,
deriving from the ancient: ' Keep well !"
12 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
what a minority they are ! Those English people
who have visited Kussia reproach us for having
warm houses and no open windows in the winter
(they seldom notice the small opening pane in the
double winter-windows) but that is what we call
comfort: no woollen underwear (which we can't
stand), and yet no shivering; both of which are
inevitable in this country. And is there one
Englishman who would actually passionately love
snow and frost not for the sake of sport, but
for the sake of their own beauty ? For the sake
of wide, wide distances snow-covered from horizon
to horizon ? . . . To us they are full of silently -
suggestive beauty something of the kind you get
in a sleep when you are surrounded with distinctly-
felt fascination without being able to tell, when you
wake up, of what it really consisted. . . .
And we never see English people lying on the
grass for hours, and missing their meals for the pure
pleasure of it. As to midnight walks, and boating,
and bathing, they seem to be out of the question
in this lovely green little island ! Half of its
beauty is simply wasted. The only explanation
may be that we do not give up our afternoons to
enjoy Nature in a decent, organized way by means
of out-door games, and thus crave for her in the
evenings and nights. But in England, the moment
the lamps are lit the curtains must be drawn, and,
if you are a Eussian maybe choking in the at-
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 13
mosphere of a drawing-room after late dinner
you must not suggest to the party such a thing as
going out into the garden at this hour ! And if
you try to slip out on the sly, you will find all the
doors locked and bolted. It is simply hopeless
unless you have enough sense of humour to enjoy
Why, there are but a few amongst the beautiful
English gardens where there are any seats !
But so much for the weather.
Perhaps I have succeeded in trying to explain
that we are endowed with the capacity of enjoying
what, in our conception, is worth ' enjoying '; but,
nevertheless, we do not apply this word itself so
lavishly and so casually as it is applied in this coun-
try. One might think that we are spoiled by an
overflow of happiness to the extent of not appre-
ciating the blessings of the established everyday
comforts ; but it is not that. The fact is, we think
too highly of happiness and as one rarely gets the
happiness as understood by a Russian the two
words ' enjoyment ' and ' happiness ' (naslajd'e dye,
schastye) are left in their glorious heights.
For the same reason we don't use the verb ' to
love ' in the everyday English manner : ' I would
love to,' or, ' this is lovely.' The first of these ex-
pressions does not exist at all, and the second is
used (as an adverb) exclusively with reference to
actions resulting from serious profound affection;
14 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
whilst ' lovely hair,' ' lovely dinner,' ' lovely bit
of fun ' would sound in Russian absurd and comical,
and such expressions are never used.
1 ^ or ^ we use t ^ Le worc ^ ' lvers ' indiscreetly
tion. although, strangely enough, for quite a different
reason. In Russia ' lovers ' means, exclusively, man
and woman who live in intimacy out of wedlock with-
out necessarily being tied by bonds of true affection
or mutual moral obligations. There are many cases
in every country where people live like that, and in
Russia they are numerous too; but with us they
are considered as quite different and distinct from
the unions of beautiful, serious free love when
man and woman, though unwedded, live openly
and honestly together, cherishing their home and
bringing up their children: in such cases they are
called husband and wife, because, in our conviction
they are husband and wife; even the servants and
the police (!) call the woman bdryn'a, which means
a married lady, and not baryshn'a, which means
miss. This is done with the mere feeling of decency
and consideration, leaving alone the higher convic-
tions, simply because ' lovers ' is a very coarse
word, implying mainly casual, physical and in any
case not openly admitted relations. And again,
even when they are casual and not open, but are
guessed one does not apply the proper definition,
except in privacy, for the simple reason that it is
not the way with the Russians to interfere with,
THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 15
or to discuss, other people's private affairs, unless
they themselves make them public.
Then, on the other hand, Kussian boys and girls
are not given to ' outings ' with their arms round
each other's waists. This parading and passionless
kissing in the streets and gateways are not in the
Eussian taste. There is much frankness about the
Russians, which means conscious acknowledgment
of one's convictions but no nai'veness. What-
ever the reader will find in this book with regard to
the psychology of the Russians, he must not imagine
that they are naive ! Their ' warmth of heart,' as
we say, is much deeper than naivsness; we draw a
line a very distinct one, too between the latter
and the openness of mind and feeling. It is due to
this national feature that our boys and girls who
are in love with each other would hate to have any
definition stuck on to them like a badge. As to
the one of ' lovers ' well, I hope I have explained
sufficiently clearly that this word defines exclusively
that kind of intimacy which does not stand airing
very well, because it is on a different scale from the
open free unions. Therefore it should be clear that
our young people would not dream of calling them-
selves ' lovers ' when engaged, either. We have
genuine Russian words for fiance and fiancee, by
which we call them when they wish it. (But it
also ought to be remembered, by the way, that we
have nothing like the English showers of wedding
16 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
presents in our country: somehow we don't think
about the future household of those engaged.
It is not their friends' business in Eussia.)
Finally," I am quite ready to admit that, with us,
the definition ' lover ' (I'ubdvnik) is somewhat an
offence against its original meaning. But so it
may be here: with us it is too specific with you
too casual. We never know what to think exactly
when people in England are called lovers (with us
the definition is, at least, far from being vague !),
and when this is done in an English company it
makes us feel a little bit awkward at the expense
of the speaker's lack of delicacy !
The atti- It is seldom that you meet, amongst the educated
tudeofthe_ . . . ..
Russian Russians, people who are interested in the details
general, of everyday life. One goes into them as one joins
the unavoidable current of the crowd in the street,
but there is always, above and ahead of it, some
eventual aim, something much more important
which one follows consciously or instinctively,
which makes the surroundings of practical life
almost meaningless in comparison. This causes
the absence in Russia of spick-and-span households ;
it also causes, to a greater or smaller extent, dis-
orderliness in the arrangements of one's time; and,
what is worse, disorderliness in the home education
of children. But one of the worst criticisms that
can be passed by a Russian on another is the remark
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 17
that he or she is ' trifling ' (melochnoy), which
means attaching too much importance to a beauti-
ful household, to etiquette, to money, to dress.
On the other hand, devoting one's whole time
entirely to some altruistic and absorbing activity
(to the verge of foolishness from a practical point
of view) is sincerely respected as a contrast to
' triflingness.' By the way, this last word is almost
the same as the one for small change, coppers; the
additional syllable only conveys the conception
that triflingness is ' coppers ' morally, as it were :
For similar reasons, the word ' fool ' is a pro- and re-
found insult. One does not apply it to people in fools,
the way of a joke ! But, again, another syllable
added to it turns it at once into a term of compassion
for those who really are fools idiots, backward
children, religious maniacs. Thus, durak is very
offensive, whilst durachoJc is sympathetic.
A broad outlook, cleverness, and initiative are and
qualities on which a person's value is very largely ness,
established. If some one has a reputation for being
clever, one respects him without having seen him,
taking it for granted that a clever person is a nice
person, too. This last touch in the way of judging
people is typically Russian, because with us the
most brilliant cleverness without a good heart a
cold, practical, mercantile kind of cleverness weigh-
ing up the possible result of action beforehand
18 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
gives a person the reputation of ' a cunning business
man/ or ' a carryerist,' which calls forth the silence
of disapproval. That is why the Germans have
never been liked by the mass of the Russian people.
They were spoken of with a shake of one's head,
as ' those cunning Germans !' On the whole, the
Russians' drawback is of a diametrically opposing
nature : they are not sufficiently business-like.
The highest praise one can give in Russia to
and re- man or woman is to call them 'responsive,'
ness. otzyvchivy* and chutki : responsive to everything;
this means keeping one's heart and mind open to
other people's joys, sadness, dreams, sharing them
genuinely; and, above all, responsive to every
social call, to every bit of initiative, every vestige
of new thought. This is where we used to find
England so ' heavy to lift ' (t'ajela na podyom).
With us every new idea, plan or invention,
every change in the old routine, is welcome
and appreciated everywhere except the Govern-
ment offices; and even there one notices changes
taking place now. ... ' The New ' has always
1 In this case the tz must be pronounced as two separate
sounds a clear z following the t. This illustrates the draw-
back of the English alphabet not having a sign for the sound
if; because a tz stands with us for t and z, and not for ty-
But we have to apply the English tz or ts in order to convey
its sound because, again, the Latin c, which might do, stands
in English for a &-sound (a thing unthinkable in our alphabet),
and thus falls out from the scanty row of mediums,
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 19
been accepted with outstretched arms in all
branches of science, art, and literature, to say
nothing of the individualistic development of
social life. Even amongst peasants one never
sees the spirit of ' our parents did it this way, so
it must be right.' On the contrary ' to see light '
is their expression for learning new things. New
always new ! Ahead and ahead ! That is why the
Russians so closely follow the achievements of
Western Europe, ever expecting to learn new things
from outside, and not noticing that it is often
themselves who first step into the unexplored paths.
This is very notable with the Russian women.
They were the first amongst European women
to flock to Universities, to become scientists
and social leaders. And it is a Russian woman
who is the first aviator for * war reconnaissance '
in the official service of the Russian Government.
Now it looks as if all Intelligentzia were out equip-
ping and working the network of most efficient
private hospitals throughout the country and the
' Flying Detachments of Medical Aid and Nour-
ishment at the front.' Men and women of science,
late revolutionaries, aristocratic ladies, peasant-
students, clergy, artists, and atheists, all side by
side, as near the firing line as possible, whilst
several young girls have been given the Order of
St. George for their heroism in actual fighting, as
they joined the rank and file. Their presence on
20 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
the battlefield depends exclusively on the views
of their nearest chiefs, and these hardly ever send
them back when the secret of their sex is disclosed,
and a nursing sister, who has deliberately taken the
command of a battalion when she saw all its officers
fall in the course of an attack, was rewarded by a
St. George Cross. All this we call ' responsiveness ' :
' otzyvchivost' .
Quality Chutkost' deriving from the above-mentioned
respon- adjective chuiki is a very Russian word; it means
siveness, 1111 r
an extremely developed sense ot what a scientist
would call a flair for discovering the mood and
position of others; an extreme tact alive not merely
with diplomacy, but with genuine refinement of
feeling: not only thinking for, but feeling with.
It is reflected in the saying, ' One does not mention
ropes in the house of a man who has been hanged.'
The difference between chutkost' and the English
word consideration, by which it is usually trans-
lated, should be clear from the fact that ' con-
sideration ' refers to a mental attitude only,
whereas the root of this Russian definition is
chutyo, implying the instinctive capacity of
' scenting things.'
mustra- I have once seen a fine instance of chutkost' at
instance at an English school. . . . The staff and the elder
school. children (men and women, boys and girls) staged
for a school entertainment, ' H.M.S. Pinafore. 9
Everyone belonging to and connected with the
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIK LANGUAGE 21
school- world including the villagers, who worked
in the school grounds was present at the
performance. In the scene on the deck when the
Captain, Josephine, and Sir Joseph Porter, ' the
ruler of the Queen's navy ' are dancing, in turns,
to the sounds of their exciting strains, the master
who played the captain's part slipped and fell.
He was very nimble, although not young, and,
in another moment, continued his solo-dance as
gaily as before. But, beloved as he was by the
audience, there escaped loud laughter from the
younger boys and girls, who are used and free at
that school to express many things born of frank-
ness and naturalness which are not allowed at
many other places. In another few minutes, when
dancing solo in his turn, ' Sir Joseph ' fell too !
On the very same spot where the captain had
slipped, only much worse ! . . . The ' ruler of
the Queen's navy ' was a much younger master
than the ' captain,' and, besides, one who was the
children's usual comrade in all sorts of fun, so their
laughter burst forth this time with particular
vigour exactly what the little manoeuvre of the
' ruler ' was intended to produce.
Wasn't that manoeuvre prompted by true chut-
kost', both of a friend and of a master ? He
certainly never breathed to anyone about it;
but all amongst the children who possessed
some chutkost' in their turn guessed the little
22 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
trick, and it taught them something for the
It is a great pity that it is impossible to call in
English this master by what is such a nice term of
appreciation in Eussian.
TOO much With the Russians this chutkost' is sometimes
carried too far. The other day a Russian friend
of mine, descending from a taxi in London, looked
at the taximeter, and saw that it showed one-and-
tenpence. Nevertheless, he politely asked the
driver how much the fare was. The man looked
at the apparatus and said, ' Half-a-crown.' The
Russian pretended that he never noticed the
swindling, gave the man two-and-eightpence, and
silently went his way. He did so instinctively,
not wanting to make the man feel uncomfort-
To sum up the Russian epithets of appreciation
I must say that the whole row of those that build
up in our mind the most charming characteriza-
tion of a person is exclusively nationally-Russian.
Here it is: otzyvchivy, cliiitki, privetlivy, laskovy.
The first two of these adjectives have been just
explained; the third is derived from the definition
of kind greeting and means the spontaneous gift
of friendliness and sociability; a verbal translation
in English would be derived from salute: but this
word has no warmth emanating from it; again,
laskovy means ( caressive,' as applied to the nature
and ways of a person; it is our national variety of
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 23
the English ' goodness,' as it emphatically implies
not only being good inwardly, but letting other
people benefit by the visible and ' feel-able ' qual-
ities of a good heart. The Eussian language
would cease to be Russian without these four
adjectives. All of them rolled into one in English
(kind) does not satisfy us !
As far as we can judge from some new touches
now finding their way into the English life, it seems
that war is adding some Idskovost' and chutkost' to
the English kindness. If I may pass a Russian's
opinion on this evolution it is a beautiful one.
England is swarming with kind people, but they
sometimes fail to satisfy us. So many of the kind
English people are not at all interesting ! while
with us this is another quality essential as an in-
gredient of attractiveness. No one who is chutki
pan fail in being interesting, because a chutki person
has refined feelers in his mind and heart for every-
thing, near or far, as it were, and you cannot fail
being interesting in your turn if you take interest
in other people's interests. Whereas one can be
' very kind ' without emerging from one's own
castle and without listening to the vibrations of
the world around. ' Many-sided ' is a term of
great appreciation with us (versus the English
' specialist '), and always is understood to go along-
side with the definition ' chutki/
I knew an English lady shop-keeper of seventy-
five who used to tell me with immense satisfaction :
24 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
( I was born in this house, married in it, and
lived in it always, and hope to die in it ' (she did).
' We were so happy ! Neither my dear husband
nor myself ever wanted to go anywhere else, and
I have scarcely been on any other road in this
place than that between our gate and the church.
We had no children, you see, so there was no need
to bustle about, and I never had any trouble with
our servants, because we were always kind to them.
I feel so thankful for my happy life !' she would
add in perfect sincerity.
Well, that woman was always called ' Dear,
kind old soul P But I wonder whether this war
would have given her a beneficial shock, if she had
lived now. Certainly, her example is an extreme
one, but extremes very often are the best means
of explaining an idea, and I would just like to show
the difference between the English conception of
kindness, or good heart, and our conception of
laskovost' (caressiveness), jrbzyvchivost' (respons-
iveness), and chutkost' (?! . . .) all of them being
absolutely essential features of a good heart, as
we understand it. A fine violin-string answers not
only to the touch of its master's fingers, but to a
breeze sending its whisper through the open
window, to the light step of a butterfly that rests
on it for a second, and to every mellow voice
ringing in the house. . . .
THE EUSSIANS AND THEIB LANGUAGE 25
Another very Russian word, a noun, is prostor The be-
(thereis another one, mzdolye, for the same idea), sian con-
It breathes of the distinctively Slavonic passion Prostor.
for yet another aspect of freedom. It bursts from
Russian lips at the sight of space, far vistas, broad
rivers, blue seas, steppes, golden corn-fields waving
from horizon to horizon. . . . Beautiful scenery
which has no prostor about it is certainly admired
and enjoyed, but after a while one longs for places
where one can see wide, wide distances even if
these are but flat valleys with ' a few birch-trees,
a few pines, some moss, some sand, some clay,
some marshes . . . .' I knew of an ordinary
priest from the district of Kaluga, in the centre
of Russia, who was once sent with the staff of a
Grand Duke to Abass-Tuman a place of almost
fantastic beauty in the heart of the Caucasian
mountains. Being somewhat plump and simple,
the man did not trouble to make any excursions.
He stayed the whole summer in the magnificent
glen where the palace was situated, and he very
nearly pined away.
' Well, Father Vasili, did you like the Caucasus ? '
people asked him on his return.
1 Couldn't see any of it,' he answered indiffer-
ently : ' Mountains on your right, mountains on
your left. Nothing to be seen at all. What a
difference here, in our Kalujskaya Gruberniya !'
and he stroked his large beard with profound relief.
26 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
The Kalujskaya district is as flat as a pan-
This typical incident came home to me when I
was showing an excursion party of Russians the
beauties of Oxford. They enthusiastically went
into all the details of historical architecture, but
an afternoon on the winding tree-sheltered Cher-
well failed to impress them, and seemed to rob them
of all their vitality. So next morning I took them
to the riverside, beyond Port Meadow.
' A-ah !' they breathed deeply, many of them
throwing out their arms, ' here is a bit of prostor /'
The word vastness exists in English, but it does
not convey anything like so much to the English
mind as prostor conveys to a Russian one. The
longing for prostor is ingrained in the Russian
heart. That is why our smallest towns are leisurely
spread over ground which might hold ten times
more houses; and that is why no one would think
of building a house more than one story high
which is intended for one family only: one likes
to feel room, space all around one, before anything
else. That is also why our ceilings are built con-
siderably higher than those in the English houses
of corresponding size.
Prostor suggests to us endless possibilities; it is
the seed-bed of creative impulse; it pours into
Russian art its power of witching charm, and fills
the Russian heart to overflowing with the power
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 27
of love. The sense of size and space impels a Rus-
sian to throw out his arms e to embrace Nature,
brothers, foes and friends. . . .' These are the
words of a wonderful poem by Count Alexey
Tolstoy. . . .
At this time embracing foes does not particu-
larly appeal to the Russian mind, but it needed
much appalling cruelty to weaken this character-
istic of all-forgiveness. Besides, prostor is a call
for free-thought, for activity, for throwing one-
self open, not merely physically, but spiritually,
developing the mental receptivity. That is why
every new idea, social or religious, is absorbed so
speedily all over the immense land.
I understand that, coming out on a fine morn-
ing, feeling ' full of beans,' an Englishman some-
what approaches the feeling which a Russian
experiences when his mood is blending with the
surrounding prostor. If I am right, then the
following simple verses by a modern poet, which
are translatable almost literally, must carry the
atmosphere with them :
' The day of spring is hot and golden,
The town is blinded by the sun.
I am myself again ! I'm merry,
I'm young, and happy, and in love !
My soul will sing, will fly to meadows,
All strangers look akin to me !
What a prostor ! What boundless freedom !
What songs to sing ! What flow'rs to see !
28 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Swing noisily, Springly-daring forest !
Grow quickly, grass ! Come, lilac, bloom !
Evil is dead, all worship justice
On a halcyon day that's come so soon ! '
There is no Kussian writer, warrior, Tsar', priest,
or peasant who has not used the word prostor over
and over again in his life lovingly. Why, even
hopeless bureaucrats and police are sure to love
the prostor physically, at least, if their spiritual
longing for it has been atrophied !
# # # # #
Mr. Pearsall Smith, in his book, The English
* The progress in English is due, not to the pros-
perity of the nation, but to the national disasters
the Danish invasion and the Norman Conquest.'
Foreign Now, we had no such beneficent invasions !
the' Vus- Russia was coming into existence through her own
" turmoil. Peter the Great brought the first series
of Latin-rooted and Teutonic words with his
organization of the States-machinery and intro-
duction of scientific technique into the land. A
good many of these Western words are still in
constant use, and some of them have no equivalent
in the original Russian. And here the Russians
ought to be blamed for their ever-present passion
for ' the new light from the West ' ; for in most cases
pure Russian words could be brought in by merely
thinking of them, owing to the creative elasticity
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 29
of the Slavonic roots. It is a perfect shame that
numbers of Latinisms are used by some modern Rus-
sian journalists as a kind of literary chique; while the
French ' merci ' is used by nearly all the town popu-
lation (particularly so by the half -educated ones),
though we have two genuine expressions for ' thank
you ' : the latter in Russian, once upon a time, meant
' I give you the gift of good ' (blago-dar'u) ; and there
is also another word, just as Russian, although it has
lost its ancient form by having dropped the last
letter: this word for ' thank you ' used to mean:
' God save you ' (Spassl Bog. Now it is spasslbo).
The logical analytical subtlety of the Russian
grammar is boundless. I know two ardent English
philologists who say that it beats both Greek and
Latin, and needs a knowledge of several Western
languages to follow its precise but winding paths
and its creative power.
For one thing, the syllables of nuances have in
Russian a magic power. Those few that exist in Syllables
English (-unlimited, bespeak, speeches, trespass, Nuances,
overcome) will explain to the reader what I mean
by this denomination. But with us the nuances
are ever so much more numerous and various:
they include all prepositions (to beat through, to
come out, to come in), which are, for the purpose,
inseparably attached to the beginning of the word;
and, besides, there are many syllables of nuances
which mean nothing in themselves, but make all
30 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
the difference to the verbs. One of them, for
instance, consists of two consonants vz or vs
and is never used as a preposition separately, but,
joined to the beginning of a verb, it gives it a dis-
tinct idea of suddenness. Thus the verb br'esti
means to wander about; razbr'estl means to come
across something; but vzbr'esti is used exclusively
in connection with a thought which has sprung up
in the brain unaccountably; while t'zobr'esti means
to invent : rather a subtle derivation !
Or, ' to fly ' is altered by the addition of vz into
' spurt up ' (I 9 et 9 et 9 vzZ'et'et'). Speaking of a
bird we use mostly the first of these two varie-
ties of the verb amongst a few others, I must
say. But speaking of rockets and fireworks, we
always apply the second. We say rvat' about
tearing paper or cloths; but vzorv&t 9 means to
The verb used for indicating the winding of a
brook, or of a path, is transformed by the same two
letters into one that pictures the spiral masses of
smoke and flames suddenly bursting from a burning
building (vitsa, pzyitsa). More means sea; but
vzmorye means strand i.e., a kind of place which
runs right up to the sea.
A beautiful new word has been recently intro-
duced by the young writer, Count Alexey Tolstoy,
for indicating a hilly district : he called it a vsliolm-
lennaya district: holm meaning hill, he makes it,
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 31
as it were, a ' vs-hillied ' district. It makes one's
thoughts fly back for a moment to the days when
the crust of the globe was undergoing the stage of
being vs-hillied !
Bif means to beat, but dbit' means to kill;
there is an in-between meaning, too, created by a
different syllable of nuance >obit': it means to
give an extra vigorous beating; w/bit' means to
fight someone to the effect of driving him out
of his position, and therefore is also (quite logi-
cally) applied to knocking and beating moths
out of old furs or blankets. But rabbit' has an
opposite meaning: it is a verb applied to filling
a pipe with tobacco, or stuffing one's head with
A quaint transformation happens to the word
stol : it means table, but in the ancient days prob-
ably meant stool as well, because, with the addi-
tion of one little nuance prestol it turns into a
' throne ' : this particular syllable conveying here
the idea of ' What a table ! Such a table ! A
Again '^.vrat 9 means to tell lies vigorously (Igat*
stands for doing the same moderately); pnvrat'
means just to add a dose of fiction to cold truth
with the longing for effect, maybe ! Again,
trus means coward ; and tiMsovat means not quite a
coward, but one who does not like to expose him-
self to ' unnecessary unpleasantness.'
32 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
The syllable na often adds to a verb a nuance
of great gentleness : thus, the verb ' to press '-
with na preceding the root means that sort of
pressure which a doctor would put into his fingers
when examining the aching body of an invalid;
(jat\ najat'). ' To sing/ with that same adjoining
syllable, means to sing as gently as one sings a
lullaby, or to hum unconsciously while working
(p'ef , wap'evat'). The verb ' to feel ' (slichu-
pat') with one's fingers is quite a different one
with us from the verb conveying the idea of feeling
with one's heart (chuvstvcvat')} well, the syllable
na added to the first one, meaning to feel with one's
fingers, makes a verb which is now used in the
description of searchlights moving in the dark
(nashchupaf). ... On other occasions the syl-
lable na adds a decisive touch to the action: Zvat 9
= to call someone; ra&zvat'=to call someone a
certain name. Brat' =to take; ra&brat' =to take
a lot of something. L'et'et' =to fly; wal'et'et' =
to fly against something, etc.
What transformations various syllables of nu-
ances can do when preceding the same verb can be
seen from the column below : the top word consists
of the one-syllable root only; each of the following
ones has a different nuance joining on to it which
changes the meaning of that one-syllable root
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 33
To come into
To get up
To get tired
To stick to
To find (some-
To pass on
To give a task
To deal (cards,
or to pass ex-
Or, here is one of the cases of a transformation
of a noun; the root of this particular one meaning
' go ' in any manner except on foot.
$yezd A conference in general. Also the time
when people have begun to assemble for a certain
Razyezd The time when people are dispersing
after some meeting.
Podyezd The front porch (the place which one
drives up to).
Fyezd A drive leading into some place. Also
the moment of the arrival of some prominent
person or party.
Priyezd The arrival of ordinary mortals !
Fyiezd A drive leading out, or the moment of
departure both on ordinary and special occasions.
06yezd A drive round a place, or ' being on a
round of -
Proyezd A drive through a place. N'et 'pro-
yezda /=No thoroughfare !
34 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Nayezdy (plur.) Casual visits from time to
The char- The one syllable that makes the verb ' to be'
andflexi- (but') is transformed by different preceding syl-
biiity of : y ' J * y
the verb lables of nuances into :
To be By?.
To stay at or in Probyt'.
To get rid of Sbyi'.
To do one's part of Ozbyt'.
To fall out (of the ranks,
of a list)
To arrive Pnbyt'.
To forget Zabyt'.
The example, by the way, is^the case when a
whole English expression is necessary to convey
the meaning of the two-syllable word for each
conception. But this is not often the case. We
could not write stories of one-syllable words like
those written for little children in English.
The last transformation of the verb t r > be is very
quaint: the syllable of nuance za which does it,
means, originally, behind, or beyond. Therefore,
to forget really means in Kussian ' to be beyond
being.' ... A certain termination turns it into
forgetfulness (zabyvchivosf), and another into
unconsciousness (zabytye). This is rather fine, I
think. Corresponding with this, the Russian for
' faint ' (obmorok) carries the ancient idea of being
made a fool by means of witchcraft.
Some unique points about the verb to be in
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 35
Russian are worth mentioning. For one thing it
is never, never used in the ordinary way i.e., in
the present tense as it is in all other European
languages. We never say, ' I am ill,' ' we are here/
'you are kind,' ' the children are in the house,' 'they
are in the garden,' 'he is in town,' etc. The verb
is omitted entirely.
' How do you say, then, " I am " ? ' the English
people ask me.
But we don't find any need to say ' I am ' ! Not
just by itself. When we want to say, ' I am
hungry,' ' I am glad,' ' I am here,' ' I am at home,'
etc., we simply say, ' I hungry,' ' I glad,' ' I here,'
' I at home ' ; the special short termination of the
adjective expresses in itself a state of the object,
and stands as a predicate, whilst a long termination
expresses only a quality. It is only when a special
emphasis is needed that ' is ' is used but only ' is '
in the third person singular never in any of the
others: 'There is money in my purse,' 'there is
time to do it,' ' there is a chance of winning the
war, ' etc. It is also used in questions : ' Is there time
to do it ?' ' Is there a chance of winning the war V
But even here this third person singular (is=yest')
is applied to convey exclusively the idea of posses-
sion : I have time=w men' a yest' mem' a. This is
done because the verb ' to have ' is hardly ever
used either, as the idea of something or other being
there replaces in Russian the idea of possession.
36 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
We don't use the verbs to have or to be as
auxiliary verbs, either, because we need no auxili-
aries, having no complex tenses (except one, for
the Imperfective future).
Thus the verb byt' (to be) is altogether in a very
unique position ; it is not at all needed in the ordin-
ary way; but its importance comes in where it is
non-existent in other languages: namely, it is rich
in suggestion, and certain definitions are derived
from it which are exclusively Kussian. For in-
stance, there is the verbal noun byloye which stands
for ' things which really happened long ago.'
There is a touch of poetry in it, of thoughtful
reminiscences. Or here is another definition (a
pure noun) byl\ which is used in direct opposition
to fiction. To some one's query, ( Is this a fib ?'
you answer, ' No ! it is byl' \'=N 9 &t, byl' ! It is a
thing which really has been, has taken place.
The future tense in the Old Slavonic of this verb
is bud'e ; well, quaintly enough, added to the
beginning of a phrase it means ' in case if ' ; whilst
the past tense, bylo, added to the end of the same
phrase, means ' was about to.'
Or here is still another noun from the same verb :
the byt. (The only difference in the spelling of
this word, from the same three letters representing
the infinitive, consists in the letter t being hard
instead of soft.) We use this noun to define, en
masse, the manners of life, the code of existence
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 37
of any class of people. We say the byt of pro-
vincial actors, the byt of courtiers, the byt of a
farmer, of a peasant, of students, of the soldiers
in the trenches the general routine of their life,
as it were. This definition leads, in its turn, to
the adjective bytovoy, which is applied to char-
acter roles, to character sketches, to national
features. Again, the future is called, in Russian,
budushcheye, an adjective participle of the verb to
be. Thus the latter is interwoven in the Russian
speech closely enough, but in quite a different way to
the purely grammatical and even the auxiliary one
in which it runs through the Western languages.
Or here are a few columns of words built round
the same root, as it were, through the addition of
various terminations and different syllables c
nuances. They make some remarkable series of mations 01
conceptions, all of them threaded together quite
Spirit, breath Duh. 1 (Root: duh or doh.)
Closeness (of air) Duhota.
To rest Otdyhat'.
1 The substitute in this root of an o or a y for the u in
some of the words makes no difference, being commanded by
38 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Simplicity of mind Prostodushiye.
Good nature Dobrodushiye.
Last will Duhovnaya.
There is a verb belonging to this set of deriva-
tions which is applied to the dying of animals
izdyhdt' or izdohnut'. It conveys the idea of a very
solitary, painful death, just 'letting out breath/
and is applied to human death only in the way of
a curse. (There is yet another definition for the
animals' dying, but it has nothing to do with our
present case.) The translators never know what
to do with this izdohnut'. Sometimes they put
e choking ' for it, which is not very far from it
grammatically, but gives none of its rudeness. In
one of Gor'ki's passages, the whole power of the
gloomy situation is lost, as the author uses two
verbs of the same root. ... It occurs in the
bitter reminiscences of a Volga-burlak, who is
telling of his youth, when he was towing heavily-
laden, huge barges up the current of the river,
month in and month out: ' One suddenly tumbles
down with one's face buried in the sand. . . . Even
this comes as a relief. . . . The strength has
whizzed out, and only two things remain possible
at all: either otdyhat or izdyhat. . . .' Glancing
at the column above, my reader will see the differ-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 39
ence which the little syllable ot makes in this case,
and will realize the bitterness of the Russian sen-
tence which means that the only alternative to
resting would be dying like a homeless beast.
Here are some other examples of what I would
call ' logical twisting ' :
Crossing (of a river)
To wind up
Belt (of an engine)
Code (of laws)
Company (of a battalion)
Formation (in army)
Mode (in music)
Pravda. (Root: prav.)
Vodit'. (Root: vod.)
Stroy. (Root: stroy.)
I hope it is also clear from these groups of words
that they are quite different from casual likeness,
40 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
such as in cab and cabbage, or pen and penguin,
or pot and potato, etc. In English, a parallel
to the logically-threaded sets of Kussian nouns
would be, for instance :
Pedlar. Or Appointment.
Some interesting examples like these do exist,
but not so many and not so rich as in Kussian,
because the syllables of nuances in English are
considerably fewer in themselves, and, what is
more, not applicable to so many nouns and
verbs, 1 while the eloquent terminations are quite
Altogether, we could not do without a choice of
terminations. They make a world of difference.
We like a word to obey the minutest vibration of
our thought. This flexibility is quite different to
the English manner of stringing different nouns
like beads on a string as in: War Office Harvest
Women; or, Lake Asphalt Pavement Company;
Red Cross Subscription List, etc., etc.
The power For instance, different terminations added to
inations, the root which means ' old ' give the noun, at your
desire, any of the following meanings :
1 For instance, in the second of the groups given above only
three of the English definitions, correctness, correction, and
direction (one could add director), are derived from the root
rect, the equivalent to which in Russian prav goes for build-
ing up a much greater variety of conceptions.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 41
The times of yore Starina.
Old age Starost'.
Old man Starik.
A fine old man Staretz.
A dear old man Starichok.
A miserable, shrivelled,
haggard, little old man Starikashka.
A nasty, disgusting, little
old man Starichishka.
Or, similar metamorphoses happen as most
ordinary things to the words ' boy ' and ' girl/
which, like nearly all Eussian nouns, are beauti-
fully soft wax under the powerful chisel of the
Boy (derivation from the
adjective ' small ' (maly) Mal'chik.
A rough boy Mal'chishka.
A nice, regular boyish boy Mal'chngan.
A dear little boy Mal'chonka, Mal'chugashka,
A little girl D'evochka.
A nice little girl D'evchdnochka.
A young girl D'evushka.
A rude, nasty girl D'evchonka.
An unmarried lady D'evitza.
A spinster, a virgin D'eva.
A wench D'evka.
Young son Synok.
Dear little son Synochek.
Nice great big son Synishche.
Daughter Doch', Dochka.
Dear young daughter Doch'en'ka, Dochurka.
42 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
The root which means small and rests with all
the ' boys' words ' (mal) changes its one vowel
(mol) to serve the formation of the word youth,
and of other conceptions akin to it. Molodost*
means youth. Molod'etz is the heartiest homely
word of praise for both sexes, at all times and on
all occasions. It is distinctly national, and used
in all classes of the population. It conveys the
idea that the person has achieved, as it were, all
that youth can achieve. It is often translated as
' brick,' but this word has not a breath of the heroic
folk-lore about it which the Russian has.
One of the prettiest sayings imbued with the
old Russian heroic spirit, both in sound and mean-
ing, translated literally runs thus : ' The past must
not be thrown as a reproach at a molodetz.' This
is conveyed in Russian by the four words: ' ByV
molodtzu ne ukbr' The definition of byl' has
already been given (page 36) as ' things which
happened long ago ' ; the remaining nouns also
belong to the Old Russian, and the whole phrase is
buoyantly alive with intense dislike of hurling
reproach at a young fellow for the wild oats of his
past, now that he is really a molod'etz !
There is one more popular word coming from
the same nucleus, which is constantly applied in
Russia: it is molod'oj, a noun used only in the
singular a general definition of the younger genera-
tion, but never applied otherwise than in a nice
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 43
sense. Here is an expression from a recent news-
paper article which describes, in a few words, the
masses of the younger generation ' just behind the
lines ' : 'All this molod'oj, with lovable, bright
faces, longing to breathe, to work and to love. . . .'
# # # # #
A new word has now entered into the vistas of A new
the Russian language. Politically and historic- the Qer-
ally, the Germans are called in Russian Germantzy.
Yet there has always existed another name for
them which has absolutely acquired ' all social
rights,' and has been very widely used even in
official nomenclature: this name is N'emtzy (in
plural). Absolutely independent of any ethno-
logical or philological sources, this word must have
come solely from its own root, which means dumb,
and nothing else but dumb n'emoy. In the olden
days the Germans must have been thus christened
by a simple Slavonic population to whom they
were just as good as dumb. (There exists an
idea, though, that the name of the river N'eman
has helped to foster it.) This theory is backed up
by another, which states that the definition of the
Germans as of ' dumb ' people came as a natural
contrast to the definition Slavs = Slav' an' e, the
root of the latter being derived from slovo=woid.
But now, when a mass of Germans have risen as
an obstinate power of greater importance than
ever before, the instinctive wit of the soldat'ik
44 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
(soldier) has promptly accommodated itself to
trie demands of the moment: the official word for
a German, Germartetz, is taken, its last syllable is
altered in a way never before known, and a new
definition is ready ! Its nuance is absolutely dis-
tinct, and makes everyone smile who knows the
riches of the language: the name is germanchuk.
As can be easily seen, the biggest part of it fully
acknowledges the German birthright, so to speak.
But that ending chuk well ! I wish it were pos-
sible to interpret the seeming elegance of the word,
the humour of its condescension !
But there existed, even before now, a special
twist to the word n'emetz, which distinctly con-
veyed an attitude of neglect: it sounds n'emchura.
It is a word that needs pulling up one's upper lip
in order to pronounce it in its intended tone: it
alludes to ' those Germans !' whose greatest power
does not surpass making sausages. ... It is very
likely, therefore, that this shape of the word is not
used any more now, unless it has acquired a nuance
A new The word soldat'ik itself was not used at the time
an old when regiments were ordered to shoot at revolu-
tionary crowds, and when soldiers were, therefore,
regarded with bitter reproach and painful astonish-
ment. No ! The creative power of the language
gives an absolutely different aspect to the soldier
as a man, as compared to the soldier as a weapon
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 45
in the hands of a reactionary government, simply
through applying to him now this slightly altered
name, which has lost all its Western flavour,
although coming from ' soldat.' The quiet hero,
the soldat'ik, now no more made unnaturally
brutal, has his name on everyone's lips and
in everyone's heart throughout the vast land
while he is fighting the n'emetz, who, according
to a mockingly-respectful saying, has invented the
It may be of interest, perhaps, to say a few words T . h ^ s
about the manner in which the Eussians address th <>d of
each other. Many times I have heard English
people say that it seems as if we had ever so
many names, and that one could not make out
in the translations who was who, for each person
was addressed in at least three different ways.
The explanation can be made quite easy by a
parallel. Suppose English people had, like our-
selves, only one name given to them in baptism;
and added to it the father's name which in
former times was of the nature of a genitive and
placed after that the surname, the result would
be, for an English brother and sister: Kichard
Edwardovich Hodgkin and Dorothy Edwardovna
Hodgkina. Well, they would still retain their
personalities if they were called Dick and Dora by
those who addressed them with a ' thou,' or Richard
46 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Edwardovich and Dorothy Edwardovna in the
customary social manner of all classes, or simply
Hodgkin or Hodgkina in the third person. In the
same way, the Kussian APosha, or Alexey Feo-
dorovich, or Karamazov, all stand for the same
person in Dostoyevski's great novel. And so it
is always. If people have titles you call them:
Prince Nikolay Vasilyevich, or Count Pavel Petro-
vich, or Princess Ol'ga Alexeyevna, or whatever
they are. Old servants, without waiting for any
permission, often address their masters as: Barin
(master) Vladimir Sergeyevich, or bat'ushka (father)
Sergey Vladlmirovich, or baryn'a (mistress) Ol'ga
Ivanovna, or matushka (mother) Vera Vasilyevna,
or whatever their case may be.
On attaining, with the growth of love or friend-
ship, the intimate state of addressing each other
with a ' thou ' in the place of ' you,' we drop the
full Christian name and father's name, and call
people by their shortened names, which, it is true,
have no end of varieties. The richness in the
numerous shades of meaning which the choice of
terminations adds to the language is brilliantly
illustrated by these various shortened names.
You only have to select this or that ending from
all those which a certain shortened name possesses,
and your feelings, your attitude at the given
moment towards the addressed person is sun-clear !
Thus, if you usually call a boy (whose Christian
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 47
name in full is Dmitri) Mit'usha, Mit'ushka, Mlt'ik,
Mit'en'ka, Mit'unchik, Mit'un'a (or something else
in that line, all of it conveying much love and
' caressiveness ' through the mere forms of the
endings, while simply Mit'a is indifferent) and
then he suddenly hears you calling him Mit'ka,
he knows that something is wrong ! Mit'ka, as
well as Kol'ka, Van'ka, Sashka, etc. (instead of
the corresponding affectionate forms Kol'usha,
Vanichka, Sashurka, etc.), carry in themselves
your vexation, even anger, without any further
explanation. Only one certain very Russian in-
tonation of the voice gives them a humorously-
tolerant aspect : between country boys this aspect is
very popular, and the touch of rudeness disappears
from those brisk endings; but, when given to girls'
names (Natashka, Mashka, Matr'oshka), they in-
variably convey disrespect. The peasants' various
forms of addressing altogether present a feast of
But when we are first introduced to each other,
and commence to talk, we immediately ask each
other, ' What is your name ?' and, on learning
the Christian name and father's name, we proceed
to address each other by them. It takes away the
formality of Mister and Madame So-and-So which we
dislike (gospod'in, gospojd), and which we use only
in business or at formal introductions (very often
employing for it the French ' monsieur ' and
48 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
' madame '). The essentially Kussian manner is uni-
versally employed as the most sociable one; there-
fore the name is often given in full at the first intro-
duction, e.g., Nikolay Petrovich Kolosov, or Elena
Nikolay evna Kolosova. A homely, respectful way
of addressing each other amongst the peasants is to
use the father's name only: Petrovich, or Stepa-
novna, or Alexeich, or whatever the case may be.
Peter the Great used to call his statesmen in
this super-homely way ; but all the Tsars' rescripts,
whether bringing to the man favour or disgrace,
always begin with an address in the universal
way: ' Much esteemed Nikolay Ivanovich,' or
6 Ivan Nikolay evich,' or whatever the man's name
We are quite unable to appreciate the English
expressions of intimacy : ( Lucky dog ! You lucky
devil! Dear old duck!' We can hardly discern
any sign of friendliness in them. Not because
they are slang : some English slang is magnificently
expressive, and we regard it with amused admira-
tion; but our sense of humour fails us here, and
we should look upon these forms of address as very
impolite in fact, quite offensive !
Our favourite birds, whose names make very
poetic Old Eussian terms of admiration and friend-
liness, are less placid and useful than a duck. They
are the * steel- winged eagle,' ' falcon-bright ' and
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 49
pigeon. The last has entirely lost its connection
with the idea of a pigeon, but it still remains the
most popular and national term of sociability in
Kussia. (Pigeon is golub'; and this favourite
term is golubchik.) I am purposely calling it a term An ordin-
of sociability because that is where its main char- sociability,
acter lies. It is not by a long way a term of en-
dearment used exclusively by lovers. It comes
into any lively conversation, and is used by, and
for, man or woman, prince or beggar; what is
more, it enters our everyday speech not only as a
kindly form of address, but also as a humorous one
or one of sympathetic condescension. It is seldom
translated correctly, simply because it has so many
shades, and because it needs all those numerous
intonations with which the Eussian speech is per-
meated. Sweetheart or pigeon, which are mostly
used in translations as its equivalent in English,
are both of them far too sentimental.
The gravest statesman, discussing and arguing
over most serious matters, will now and again put
in the ' golubchik,' unless the discussion is very
formal. Drivers will encouragingly call out, * Hey,
vy (you) golubchiki!' to their horses, when starting
them on a quick, long run. A nice, simple old
woman will address every gentleman in a respect-
fully-familiar way as ' golubchik barin ' practically
equivalent to ' darling sir ' even if he has merely
stopped her to inquire his way. A devoted old
50 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
servant, as a matter of course, calls her master or
mistress golubchik-barin or golubushka-baryn'a.
A fair-minded official, when hurriedly dismissing a
petitioner whose request he could not grant, would
say: ' Well, golubchik, what is to be done ? Such
is the law !'
It is also very often used in a friendly reproof :
1 But, golubchik !'
What is more, it is used without hesitation even
in unusual circumstances: when Dmitri Karama-
zov is being cross-examined, the old colonel of the
police, who does not believe that he has killed his
father, addresses him with the golubchik in the very
midst of the official inquiry.
It is an essentially Eussian word.
Misunder- The way of addressing people as father, brother,
terms of and even mother, is another very Kussian feature.
It is high time to explain that the famous ' Little
father ' does not mean ' little ' father at all ! The
Old Kussian word for father, bdt'ushka, does not
suggest an atom cf the tone in which ' little father,'
or the German Vaterchen, is pronounced. This way of
translating it is sickly- sentimental ! No, bat'ushka
is used either in a grave, deferential way and that
is how it came first to be applied in the olden days
to the Princes and later to the Tsars, and is still
the habitual form of addressing the priests; or else
it is used in a very argumentative tone, essentially
Russian, called up in quick discussion, which one
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 51
never hears in English society, and therefore is
hardly explicable : it carries some familiarity, some
respect, some rebuke, some humour, some surprise
very often all of them at the same time !
For instance, the simple-minded small land-
owner Korobochka (' little box ') in Gogol's Dead
fcouls, admitting the hero into her cottage on a
wretched, stormy night, and seeing him smothered
with mud the result of his having been just over-
turned with his vehicle in a ploughed field asks
him, a perfect stranger to her: ' But where didst
thou be-filth thyself like a boar, bat'ushka ?'
When the investigation lawyer most artfully
sounds Raskol'nikov (Crime and Punishment)
throughout his Machiavellian diatribe, he con-
stantly addresses him as bat'ushka, or golubchik,
although he is sure of his listener's guilt from the
' Mother ' is used in a similar manner, with a
similar twist to the word matushka ; and, what is
very quaint indeed, men sometimes use it in address-
ing each other, when the tone of the argument
gets somewhat hot : ' Well, matushka, that's a bit
of that!' which stands for, 'Well, sir, that's a
bit far-fetched !'
But here I should add that it would be altogether
impossible to converse in Russian, using so few
forms of address as are used by the English. On
coming to live here, we sometimes, feel quite awk-
52 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
ward in being spoken to as if we were nonentities,
without any names or personalities. With us, the
usual form of address is the one just discussed
above (see p. 43), or a shortened Christian name
in one of its numerous shapes, or golubchik, or
brother, or father, in one of their previous applica-
tions something or other is always there, be-
sprinkling the speech, so that you feel sure that it
is you whom the speaker keeps in his mind and not
the general public.
' Ladies and gentlemen ' is used on occasions
similar to those in English; only literally it runs
' gracious sovereigns and gracious sovereignesses '-
which sounds still more quaint in English than it
does in Eussian. It is that same word, sovereign
Gosudar' which is a homely-loyal manner of
speaking of and to the Tsars, a very ancient word,
too, coming from the times when a prince would
be regarded as the chief of his land, just as every
man was the chief of his household. Therefore,
the old expression Gosudar'-bat'ushka (sovereign-
father) would be applied in the olden days equally
to a monarch as to a master of any house, convey-
ing an equal amount of respect and of homeliness.
Nowadays, of course, it has lost its popularity
with the Tsars as well as with ordinary mortals,
the equipoise having become less balanced in both
cases: the Tsars being now less accessible than
the ancient princes, and the modern householder
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 53
less lord of all he surveys than his ancient proto-
But ' gracious sovereigns ' (mllostivyie gosudari
i mllostivyia gosudaryni) still is the proper
customary official way of addressing a society
of men and women, though only at the com-
mencement of a meeting. When the meeting is
in full swing, or unofficial, the speaker addresses
* able Rus-
it with ' q svoda /' This is a word which formerly sian form
was only a plural form of ' master,' but now in-
cludes anyone in any company. It means ' gentry,'
as used by domestic servants about their masters;
but it is also the most natural and sociable manner
of addressing a company of one's equals, without
which we could not live in Kussia one single day
(unless one was a hermit). With us the conversa-
tion is usually a general one, shared by most
persons in the room, and one constantly addresses
a whole group of people. The only time when
one must not address them as ' gospoda ' is when
all around you are officially of a much higher rank
than yourself, which is rather a contrast to the
handling of the same word by servants. But if
you regard your audience as ordinary mortals like
yourself, you cannot avoid this form of address.
Thus, even Dmitri Karamazov, facing the authori-
ties who came to arrest him at his orgy (suspecting
him of the murder of his father), adds to every few
words of his : ' Come, gospoda, it is a terrible accu-
54 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
sation. . . . What a pity, gospoda !' because lie
speaks sincerely, and the usual way of address-
ing these people as equals comes naturally to
' Gospoda ' is not exactly ' gentlemen,' because
students of both sexes, school children, ladies,
girls, are all addressed as gospoda in speaking.
Al'osha Karamazov uses it even when speaking to
small school boys. A girl stretcher-bearer carry-
ing in on her shoulders still another wounded
soldier into an already over-filled dressing-station,
will call out to the doctors: 'Gospoda, gospoda,
one more; we must make room for him !'
But the wounded men would feel more at home
with her if she addressed them as ' bratzy. 9 This
word is translated usually in that same sentimental
manner as ( little brothers.' I cannot help putting
it in this way, because these English expressions
(little father, little brothers, little mother) sup-
posed to be equivalent to the Kussian expressions
really make us turn up our noses ! There is no
littleness whatever about bat'ushka, bratzy, or
matushka. Big boys do not address their little
brothers as bratzy in a patronizing way; on the
contrary, it is the small, business-like boys, who
will address older fellows as bratzy, when talking
in the grave way the Kussian mujlk has about him
Another from the age of six or seven. By the way, one of
mos t striking contrasts between the English
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 55
and the Russian peasant children is this: an English
boy seems to me to try and be as funny and rowdy
as possible from the age of six up to sixteen,
whereas his little Russian confrere of seven or
eight presents quite a different picture: he puts
on his grandfather's top-boots and old, huge
fur gloves, his own sheepskin tulupchik, and walks
for days on end at the side of a sledge-load of wood,
leading the horse between the house and the forest
his sole ambition being to express all the dignity
of labour in his mien and gait.
Bratzy, applied by the nurses and officers
talking to their men, conveys sociable apprecia-
tion. All peasants and workmen address their
crowds as bratzy (which is nice and simple) and
not bratya (which is biblical and puritan unless
it stands for real brother). There is warmth,
caress, and respectful comradeship in the expres-
sion bratzy. Mrs. Constance Garnett translates
bratzy as boys, fellows, or gentlemen. This is
better than ' little ' brothers. It should be made
clear that there is no vestige of belittling in these
Russian nouns of affinity, despite their seemingly
The 'little father,' 'little mother,' and 'little
brothers ' ought to be banished from the English
translations by fire and sword ! They are un-
bearably sentimental. There are no parallel
forms in English to the Russian shades of these
56 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
nouns, so let them, at least, remain simply ' father '
and ' brothers.'
As it is, all the varieties of the words son,
daughter, and even children, remain necessarily
untranslatable. You cannot say anything differ-
ent in English except adding to them that old,
monotonous epithet ' little, 5 while in Eussian
there is a variety of terminations meaning neither
this adjective nor ' brat ' nor ' kid.' For instance,
symshche means a big, nice syn (son), with a touch
of humour in it; while synlshka is exclusively
Russian caressive. There is a selection of varieties for
words for < c hildren': fftj (the plain, original form of the
word), d'etki, d'etishki, d'etochki, and d'etvora, the
last being a very appreciative collective definition,
implying the idea of the little folks with all their
own interests included as it were a parallel to
molod'oj (see p. 42).
Not that we object to ' kids ' or ' brats.' The
Eussian slang applied to children is equally unique,
only we use it with more condescending humour,
I think. We call them ' bubbles,' or by a special
humorously-caressive word, ' karapuz ', which
means a round, solid, comically-grave little figure.
' Bubble ' puzi/r' is also very pretty, conveying
much love, and should not be translated as e kid.' I
think English readers would appreciate the parallel
of a nice, full-cheeked fatty to a bright soap bubble.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIIi LANGUAGE 57
It would be only fair to say a few words about* rich-
the Russian expression n'ichevo, which has acquired
much misleading fame abroad. This is about
the only Russian word which is widely known
and it is misunderstood. It is always quoted with
a smile, as it means ' never mind, this is nothing !'
and is supposed to be the main characteristic of a
nonchalant people. But one should thoroughly
know the Russians to estimate this expression of
theirs fairly. True, with us it is ' n'ichevo ' when
people walk into the room without knocking; or
come without invitation at any time for the simple
reason that they wish to see you; or men don't
walk on the outside of the pavement (which they
have never been told to do), or get up from
their seats and pace the room up and down,
in the heat of a discussion during the course of
a meal; all this is certainly 'n'ichevo,' because
these points are but trifles to a Russian mind,
and the Westerner may smile with disgust or
condescension at the thought of such manners !
It is certainly ' n'ichevo ' for a young girl of
good family and the best education to go about
with one or many male friends wherever she
wants to because no one hurries to suspect
immorality hidden by social interests, nor to build
up a scaffolding of inevitable matrimony around
them. It is a universally adopted custom result-
ing from a sensible, interesting, natural, and useful
58 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
equality of the sexes. With the French and Eng-
lish this is rather far from ' n'ichevo !' and they
smile, unless they are actually shocked.
But one should be far from smiling at a Eussian
man who says seriously and whole-heartedly,
' n'ichevo !' as he marries a girl with a tragic past
who is left with a child. Nor is it improper when a
young lady utters a sincere, gentle, encouraging
n'ichevo !' whilst doing unpleasant work in assist-
ing a shy and helpless man whom she sees, perhaps,
for the first time in her life. Nor is a ' n'ichevo '
funny when uttered with a smile by a solddt'iJc,
who is creeping towards the dressing- station
wounded in his shoulder, side, and leg.
There are indeed very different occasions on
which the Russians will say ' n'ichevo.'
True, again, a Russian will fly down a long,
steep hill in his sledge, cart, or brougham, and will
say ' n'ichevo !' if the vehicle happens to go into
the ditch at the bottom of the hill. But in ninety-
nine cases out of a hundred it would not do so,
because rushing down a hill is a universally beloved
thing, to which generations of horses have been
used since the time when the Russian land
first ' began to be.' And if a driver did not rise
in his seat, and let all the reins loose, and shout
words of love and encouragement to them, at the
sight of a steep road downwards, the horses would
think that something had gone unmistakably wrong.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 59
There is, amongst many others, one certain A very
series of nouns, which have all of them grown out word for
of the same root. However quaint it may look at
the first glance, we can easily find that they are
threaded together by the idea lurking in that root.
The latter is rod, which means kin, kind. The
other nouns are: nature, relationship, people, har-
vest, birth, homeland, Christmas (priroda, rodstvo,
narod, urojay, rojdeniye, rodina, rojdestvo).
Amongst the numerous adjectives which, in their
turn, have grown out of these nouns, there is one
which I cannot omit. It is impossible to speak of
the Eussian language without mentioning the
word rodnoy. Mr. Eothay Reynolds, in his book,
My Russian Year, says that he found the Russian
language one to make love in; and an American,
who has stayed in Russia during sixteen months
of the war, wrote the other day that the Russians
' love to love.' This is very true but, please, in-
clude all rays of love ! All her numerous, wonder-
ful rays ! And then you will understand, perhaps,
why the most caressive and beautiful of all Russian
love-words is derived from that root. You call
rodnoy your beloved one (only mind the gender !) ;
you call rodndya your mother, and your land
(which is feminine); you apply the same adjective
to your really beloved friends ; you say that a song
is rodndya to you, and then it means that it brings
home to you everything that makes your heart
beat warmly; whilst to a South-Russian ' a pond,
60 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
a cherry-garden, and a windmill/ on the face of the
step' make a rodnaya picture. A poor peasant
woman, with large tears standing in her eyes as
she hands a pot of milk to the wounded in a passing
train, calls them rodnyie under her breath, for
each of them is as much rodnoy to her heart as the
one boy who is righting somewhere far, far away.
The nearest to it in English is ' kindred,' but it
is not used in the same homely way for expressing
the warmth of the purest love and tenderness.
The order I must point out yet another important feature
of the Russian language. In English it IP neces-
sary to keep the nouns in their exact places, in
order not to confuse the object with the subject.
' The English beat the Germans,' is one thing,
whilst ' the Germans beat the English ' would be
quite another ! Now, in Russian we purposely
group the words in various orders because each
order usually gives a different shade to the tone.
We are free to avail ourselves of this richness of
choice because we can leave the primary distinction
between object and subject to the obvious indi-
cation of the inflections (one of the nominative,
the other of the accusative case). Thus the most
enthusiastic phrase to be repeated one day all over
Russia, I hope, may be ' Beat the Germans the
English !' using the past tense of the exclusively
Russian perfective aspect of an infinitive.
In English this sounds rather alarming. Yet
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 61
it is the result merely of the lack of inflection (in
this case of an accusative for ' the Germans '),
and of the trespass on the formal arrangement of
words. We can also say ' the English beat the
Germans,' of course, but this sounds only formal.
For the same reason, another order in wording
would sound in English absurd, but does not in
Russian, because exact terminations in declension
make all the difference: ' The Germans the English
beat; Wilhelm the Allies exiled; the Americans
the truth showed.' This, if put in the required
cases (nomin, and accus.) would mean in Russian
a very intensively expressed state of things for
which we all of us wish. Again, we can easily say
it in the other way : ' The English beat the Germans,
the Allies exiled Wilhelm, and the Americans were
shown the truth.' But that would not sound nearly
so victorious. 1
The optional way of placing the verbs at the
beginning of the sentence makes a great difference
to the graphic power of a phrase ; it raises it several
degrees higher. Our writers do it constantly, as
we do it in ordinary speech as a matter of course,
without any preconceived idea of being at all
flowery. The music of the Russian speech is as free
as a composer when he arranges his little black
1 Here are the two varieties of the phrase : N'emtzev Angli-
chan'e pobili ; Vilhelma soyuzn'iki izgnal'i; Am'erikantzam
pravdu pokazal'i. Or (the same meaning but far less vic-
torious): Anglichan'e pobil'i N'emtzev; soyuzn'iki izgnal'i
Vilhelma; pokazal'i pravdu Am'erikantzam.
62 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
words, hooked and tailed, in this or that special
Nothing can give more vivid motion to a descrip-
tive paragraph than placing the verbs at the be-
ginning of each short phrase. Here is one from a
story by the young writer, Al'exey Tolstoy, giving
a picture of the breaking-up of the winter in the
st'ep' district. I must mention that this author
takes Old Russian roots and makes new words
of them with the majestic liberty of the beating
of an eagle's wings :
' Stirred the winter roads; lay dirty crusts of
snow; made naked themselves the hills showing
last year's thistles. Bustle the sparrows, coo the
honey- voiced doves; scent the walls of the huts
perspiring with golden tar; do not rush the officials
tinkling the bells of their sledges: soon will the
spring floods break away from their leash.'
Here is another nice example from the new
pearl in Russian literature, Gor'ki's Childhood :
1 Square, broad-chested, he would come in, trim
in his golden x silk shirt, velvet trousers, and con-
certina boots. 2 Glittered his hair; shone his gay,
1 In Russian it is ' goldeny,' like silvery.
2 Smart top-boots are made in Russia, with a number of
horizontal crisp pleats meeting each other under even angles
right around and up the upper part of the boot. They are
known as sapogi garmon'ikoy, or harmonica-boots = concertina-
boots, while the plain top-boots are called sapogi butylkam'i,
which means bottle-boots.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 63
somewhat squinting, eyes under tlieir thick eye-
brows ; sparkled his teeth under the black stripe of
his young moustache; glowed his silk shirt, softly
reflecting the light of the ever-burning lampadka.' l
It seems almost incredible to a Eussian ear that
this order of words could fail to draw a vivid
picture as on a film, even in its English garb, but
then, perhaps, it does need the additional help
which a Russian reader gets from his knowledge
of the rest of the scene. In reading Gor'ki's lines,
we also see the dim interior of a solid, warm log
hut, the cosy light ' twinkling warmly ' before the
lampadki lit in front of the ikon-corner where they
are suspended on thin chains, their flickering light
dancing on the gilt settings of the ikons. . . . The
huge white-washed bread-stove, the wooden benches
along the walls, mostly suggestive of a night rest
for any casual wanderers. . . .
Few of us belonging to the Intelligenzia keep A
. , C6nC6.
ikons in the rooms of our flats or houses, as was
still usual some fifty or sixty years ago; but also
very few of us have not known the enjoyable, quiet
moments in the nursery where our old nurse keeps
her own set of ikons. In those days of wonders,
one likes to watch her lighting her lampadka on a
1 The lamps that are made for the purpose of burning before
the ikons are little bowls in glass or china in a metal setting.
They are called lampadka or lampdda, as distinguished from
ordinary Idmpa. There is a special verb applied to them,
t'eplitsa, which means, approximately, ' twinkle warmly.'
64 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Saturday night. She takes out of a small box
several tiny little wicks drawn through weeny
little coloured paper stars, lets them float on the
oil, and lights one of them. . . . You stand on
tiptoe and hold your face so close to it that you
smell the sunflower oil and it leaves its impression
in your nostrils for ever afterwards. . . . You
watch the little paper stars float slowly, slowly,
on the oil till they stop. These simple proceedings
have the magic power of toning down your exu-
berant energy, and you gently ask your friend, the
nurse, to present you with a gift of several little
wicks from her box of treasure-trove (price three
kopeks = three farthings). She does so, and you
play quietly, placing the precious weeny stars on
your blanket in front of your nose till your eyelids
fall as a screen between them and the still more
wonderful world you enter.
* * * * *
There are numberless ordinary cases where the
verb beginning a phrase comes as a natural demand
of the Russian speech while it would sound ridicu-
lous in English. For instance, the whole meaning
of the phrase is emphasized in the following ex-
amples through having the verbs in the first place :
1 Stilled everything. Sleep the mountains. Sleeps
the green sky. Died the air. Am dying I. Love
I this willingness of yours, prince ! Frightened
thou me. (To) Arrest you (is) too early.'
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 65
This twist gives a different touch to the phrases
than the one which is acquired by the English
' there ' placed at the head of a sentence, and could
not always be conveyed through the latter. You
couldn't add ' there ' to any of the above lines
taken at random from Turgenev's Poems in
Prcse and from Dostoyevski. Any part of speech
placed first in a Russian sentence draws the reader's
attention to it.
For instance, if you want to lay stress on the
word ' money,' where you would have to say in
English, ' it is money that is wanted,' we simply
exchange the places of the two words which make
this phrase, instead of adding any more: Nddo
d'en'eg means simply ' money is wanted ' (nado
= wanted); but d'en'eg 'nado means: 'It is money
that is wanted not anything else.' If you go with
a friend to a shop merely to accompany her, and
the assistant asks you what you would like, you
would say: Mn'c n'ichevo n'e nado (I want nothing),
the first word being the personal pronoun, thus
indicating that you, yourself, want nothing; but
if the assistant bothers you and begins to
show you goods with the obiect of tempting
you, you would be quite justified in ejaculating:
N'ichevo mn'e n'e nado ! meaning : I don't want
anything as much as to say : Leave me alone !
Yet it is only the special succession of the same few
words that makes all the difference.
66 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Dmitri Karamazov, writing his last letter to the
girl whom he had adored, but to whom he became
false through his passion for another woman,
writes: Nogi tvoyi tzeluyu = Feet thine (I) kiss.
These three words arranged the other way round
might be banal, and could be found in many love
letters. But placing Nogi (feet) at the head of
the sentence conveys the idea that Dmitri would
not dare to kiss the woman on her lips, but mentally
kisses her feet only; all his self-humiliation is re-
flected in the order of this wording alone.
There are some other reasons which make a per-
fect translation of many Russian authors an impos-
sible task. There is no wonder that Gogol's genius
is very little known and understood abroad ! He is
almost untranslatable; his essentially Russian speech,
especially in his passionate, uplifting enthusiasm
blended with poetical feeling, is a feature which
cannot be conveyed through any other language.
He is as exclusively Russian in these as Dosto-
yevski and Nekrasov are Russian in suffering, and
Shchedrin in dissecting the evils of Russian social
life. Turgenev and Tolstoy, with all their Russian
mind, were nevertheless generally human, super-
national, as it were: the first one chiefly an artist,
the second a thinker. This is reflected in their
speech which is the most translatable and there-
fore more often translated. But already in Dosto-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 67
yevski, Chehov, and Gor'ki there are those gaps
in translations which cannot be filled, or which
are sometimes filled with unrecognizable material ! x
whilst at least one-half of the poet Nekrasov,
the satirist Shchedrin, and the colossal suflerer-
humorist Gogol' will lose in translation a world
of their national beauty and character.
In the midst of that brilliant bitterness with
the natio* 1 -
which Gogol' has slated Kussia for her shortcomings aiist.
he has written the most inspired pages that love
for country has ever called forth. He has suffered
persecution from censorship, misery, and deadly
illness, whilst being a nationalist in his genius, a
nationalist more honest and more enthusiastic than
a writer has ever been.
By the way, it was the prostor that has made
some of his pages like living creatures that breathe
of Russian passion for immensity. . . .
Just as the Russians themselves do not withhold
their enthusiasm for fear of ridicule, so does their
language remain fearless and spontaneous, freely
using all that can graphically carry depth and power A term of
of feeling. There is with us even a second, a more mentor
ancient form for the very name of Russia, which ' Russia/
we use when we feel particularly in love with her !
1 It is a relief to see whole pages omitted in the English
translation of G6r'ki's Childhood. If ' translated,' they would
unavoidably be a painful disappointment to every Russian.
It is sufficient to see mistakes here and there in the English
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
The ordinary, less enthusiastic, name is Rossiya ;
but it has come into being only since Peter the
Great, who invented it in his zeal to do away with
all the past of his country. But in this case he
failed (as in some others more sensible ones !).
The original name, Rus\ still breathes of something
beloved and beautiful, more genuine and more
crystal-like than * Rossiya ' does.
The name Rus' consists of an R, a Russian u,
and a soft s a very, very soft one. ' Thou, Rus' '
sounds lovable ! . . . Rus', vastness, troyka,
speed, prostor, we address them all with a ' thou,'
ty, for they are such intimate conceptions that
they verge on personification almost like the old
Olympians were to the Greek.
I feel bound to commit a sacrilege and to ' trans-
late " into English some parts of those paragraphs
in which Gogol' reflects our passionate love for
Gbgor on ' Rus', Rus', I can see thee from my beautiful
Far. 1 ... All seems poor and scattered and
bare about thee. No bold marvels of nature
startle one's eye. ... No wealth of wild roses,
ivy-covered rocks, no grapes, no silvery moun-
tains lifting their summits to the skies. All is
open and empty. Thy towns are like small dots
1 This was written in Italy. (We have a beautiful noun
which is akin to the adverb far, and which does not exist in
English; it means, as it were, the far end of a distance: dal\)
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 69
which fail to charm the eye. But what is that
unaccountable, mysterious power that draws me
to thee ? Why doth thy melancholy song, soaring
from seas to seas, ring constantly in my ears ?
What is in that song ? What calls me, what seizes
my heart ? What are these sounds that kiss so
painfully and wind themselves around my heart
and into my soul ? Rus' ! What desirest thou
from me ? Why dost thou gaze at me with eyes
full of expectation ? In awe I stand before thy
vastness while the clouds over thee are heavy with
coming rain. . . . What is the prophecy of this
unembraceable prostor ? Is it not in its arms that
limitless thought should be born, in thy arms,
Rus', which embrace all ? Is not this the place
for thy folk-hero here, where there is prostor for
him to unfold himself ? The power of vastness
embraces me and reflects itself in my innermost
depth. . . . A-ah ! . . . What a sparkling,
glorious infinity. . . . Rus' ! . . .'
May it be, I wonder, this very sense of size that
endows the Russian mind with that fearlessness of
individual action which is typical of the Russians ?
This reminds me of another set of words which Concep-
are absolutely untranslatable and yet are so without
. . ... which a
essentially Russian that we simply could not live Russian
without them ! Our land has given them birth live,
and our self-expression commands our making
use of them constantly, daily. They all commence
70 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
with the syllable of nuance raz (pas) whether nouns
or verbs. Now that my reader has got, I hope,
the conception of prostor clear in his mind, it will
be helpful to introduce this other typical Eussian
idea via the word razdolye: it is almost a synonym
to prostor. Its root (doF) comes from doVa, which
means one's part of something; in this case it is
one's part in this world that is suggested and the
syllable raz distinctly attaches to it the nuance of
having that part lavishly spread, thrown out wide
and far !
This raz is no preposition, no conjunction; it
is nothing in itself, 1 and yet it contains a world
of meaning. When asked by foreigners ' What is it
then ? ' all that a Russian usually does is to throw
out his arms vigorously to his right and left, to smile
as if he suddenly visionized something loveable and
to callup: ' It is this ! . . . Just this ! . . .'
I cannot help this primitive manner of explana-
tion either being the only possible one and am
delighted to see that it does make English people
grasp what we mean by it. One of my delightfully
impressionable English friends proved this to me
by remarking instantly and gaily : ' Then it is
not equivalent to the French elan, because elan
1 Except when it makes a whole separate word (past)
a noun, with a hard sign at the end, which stands for ' one '
(besides the proper number odin), or for ' once ' ; it is
always used for marking time : raz-dva ! raz-dva ! (and not
odin-dva) or raz-dva-tri (one, two, three) !
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 71
is this! 9 and he made a movement forward,
lifting his arms up. Just so ! This is an exact
illustration of the difference. If you want to feel
the meaning of the nuance raz vigorously throw
your arms out horizontally, as wide as you can !
Now attach this feeling of raz to the conception of
space as if there were, say, prairies all around you
and you get the synonym to prostor: razdolye.
It is a definition of an abstract idea.
Then attach it to the idea of No ! Here I am
caught again because you haven't got that idea
either, so I must explain its Russian meaning.
The root m.ali suggests a vigorous physical move-
ment of one's arms not a waving like the gentle
waving with one's wrist, which is practised in
England from babyhood, but one broad gesture,
a swing. Now try to attach the nuance of the
raz to the meaning of the mah and you get the
razmah without which no Russian could find a
way for expressing another beloved abstract con-
ception. Razmah of one's spiritual power is a
fine thing, and it comes into Russian prose, poetry
and ordinary speech constantly.
Razsv'et means the morning dawn, the break of
day; and this will perhaps make things clearer to
my reader if I tell him that sv'et means light: thus
the word conveys a picture of the ' light throwing
There is no wonder that the word razgul dees
72 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
not exist in English: its second syllable, the root
gul, refers to ' walking out ' (gul'anye = a walk,
an outing, an entertainment out of doors; guVat'=
to have a walk); well, with the nuance of raz
attached to it, it conveys such a kind of ' outing '
as is not tolerated in England ! Razgul does not
imply a certain limited time given up to a casual
debauch, but one's whole mode of life saturated
with it. An excellent illustration is Dmitri Kara-
mazov : his life was all of it a razgul.
In the form of a verb, razgul'atsa, it is much
milder and carries the idea of a wholehearted
sparkling gaiety by which a Kussian is swept away
whenever it inflames him.
The raz attached to such verbs as to speak, to
make merry, to walk, to sleep, conveys the idea
expressed in English by ' To let oneself go ' : if you
let yourself go in speaking, merry-making, walking,
or sleeping to such an extent that it becomes
difficult to prevent you from going on with it
you fall under the Russian definitions razgovoritsa,
razv'es'elitsa, razoytls\ razospatsa, etc. There are
dozens of them. One can do anything to the
extent of raz-doing it ! Only, English people
seldom allow themselves such luxuries, so there
exist no definitions for them.
Aa im- 1 must take my chance on this occasion to make
portant . .
digres- an important digression. I am bound to fire some
shots at ' The English ' throughout this book
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 73
due to the lack of definitions in the English lan-
guage, corresponding to the blank spaces in English
life. With us, instead of those blank spaces, are
the most breezy, passionate, natural, warm, cares-
sive things (and definitions for them). But I
always remember the remark of a young Russian
fellow who had received his school and university
education in England :
' Take care, don't mix them all up together: the
present younger generation in England has mostly
got the gift of spontaneity and uvlecheniye ' (we
were speaking in Russian) ' They are not afraid
of showing what they really feel. They hate the
old stodginess, and dryness, and artificial reserve
of the Victorian era.'
Now, asking my reader to remember this too,
I feel justified in continuing my investigations in
our two languages: after all, it is the younger
English generation that has got the new sap-
resembling the Russian one flowing through it,
but not the English language yet.
They say that a Dutch tourist, after having
stayed in Russia for some sime, was asked by his
host how he liked our country.
' I like it very much,' said the Dutchman. ' The
only thing which strikes me is why do you throw
out your arms so often ? One does not see this
gesture in our land at all. We don't do it.'
' I should like to know how could you possibly
74 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
do it over there ? ' tlie Russian remarked with
a humorous smile.
To the sense of size should be added the sense
of motion. . . . True, a few years ago Eussia
had been thrown by force of reaction into a state
of marasme. There was almost a stagnant stand-
still in the one-time keenness for social interests.
Russian society (compared to the one in the be-
ginning of the century) seemed to be dozing off,
tired to the verge of indifference with regard to
our place in the world in the future. . . . But
here comes the war, and all is awake and throbbing
with genuine, intense love: for homeland, to be
freed from the at last realized German yoke, for the
people represented by the soldatik, that wonderful
grey hero, for the prostor of Russia that gives
the chance to the unsophisticated heroism of old
folk-lore to ' unfold ' itself (razvernutsa) again
for a great cause. . . . And, instinctively, one's
mind returns to Gogol' : who but he, in the thirties
of the last century, spoke about Russia in those
allegorical pages which everyone of us has learned
almost by heart for their beauty, but to which
no one has ever attached any prophetic mean-
ing ? If anything, one felt somewhat ashamed of
those lines where he boasts of Russia with the
daring frankness of a genius ! I have already
mentioned that self -advertising is not a Russian
feature; and in our private life it has always been
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 75
sufficient for any ordinary person to express any-
thing approaching Gogol' 's admiration for Eussia
to be suspected of chauvinism. The now almost
extinct, but formerly aggressive, ' Union of True
Russians/ has taught us to be over-conscientious,
and we thought it almost a crime against our own
country to express our love for her openly.
But this is changing now ! And, speaking
here chiefly of the Russians as reflected in their
language, I cannot omit those pearls in the realm
of that language which have become the expression
of the idea growing nowadays in many European
minds (with the exception of those of German
origin!) . . . I have never seen a translation of the
pages I am thinking of, and I would not follow one
if I had met one. I stand breathless before my
task, like every Russian would. And yet I must try
and ' translate ' these pages as I did those above-
not into classical English, no ! but keeping to the
original as literally as possible : because my purpose
is to try and show to a literally inclined reader
how the mind of a Russian genius works (if this
can be called ' work '), what are its national ways
These inspired pages are addressed to a troyka, Tr6yka.
which Gogol' compares, in his heart, to Russia
herself. Perhaps it would be better to explain to
some of my readers what a troyka means: it is
the national Russian team, three horses abreast.
76 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
The middle one is a powerful ' trotter ' who steadily
keeps to his action, while the two horses at his
sides are trained to bend their necks away from
him, so that the persons in the vehicle (which may
be of any kind, just as any kind of vehicle may be
drawn by horses driven tandem) can see their pro-
riles all the time. The part of these two pri-
st'ajnyia (' attached ones ') is not the pulling itself;
they are attached very lightly; their business in
forming two-thirds of a troyka is the so-called
playing : the element of beauty, the graceful, flying
motion, the elegance, the gaiety. . . . Try to
imagine the musical chord of the little bells tink-
ling under the duga (bent wood high over the neck
of the middle horse), the power of the broad-
chested trotter (korennoy), throwing his legs out
far, in that ' rare ' Eussian trot, try to imagine the
vitality and beauty, and especially the elegant, com-
plex rhythm of the troyka flying along the broad
roads in the open country and down every hill. . . .
' Eh, Troyka ! Troyka-the-bird ! Who has in-
vented thee ? Thou must have been born with a
quick-thinking people, in that land which means
no joke, but which has flung itself out, 1 vast and
smooth, half over the world. . . . Go, count the
mile-stones till they dance in your eyes ! It would
seem there is nothing complicated about thee,
1 The Russian verb is razm'etnulas'. The adverb following
it (pOBHeMt-rjiaflHeM'L) is absolutely unattainable in English .
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 77
troyka: just a few strokes of the axe and chisel in
the hands of a quick peasant and there thou art !
No German leggings about the driver just beard
and gloves and the devil knows what he is sitting
on ! But there he leans forward, and swings his
knut, and starts his song and the steeds are like
a hurricane, the spokes in the wheels are one
smooth circle, and the road gives a shudder, and
an involuntary shout escapes the startled passer-
by. ... And there she flies, she flies the troyka !
Already one but sees in the distance something
swirling and dust eddying in the air.
' Art thou not, Rus', flying like a lightning-swift
troyka, too ? The road is a whirlwind of dust
under thee, the bridges tremble, and all remains
behind. . . . What is this awe-inspiring motion,
like a bolt thrown down from the skies ? What
unknown power is there in these unseen horses ?
. . . Eh, horses, horses ! What horses ! . . . Is
there a storm hidden in your manes ? Is every
little vein of yours throbbing with responsiveness ?
. . . There comes the song you know and
hardly touching the ground with your hoofs you
are like arrows flying through the air. . . .
' And there she soars, inspired by God ! . . .
Rus', whither fliest thou? G ive thine answer ! . . .
There is no answer. Bewitchingly goes the little
bell, the air torn into fragments rings in your ears
and becomes wind. . . . All flies by and remains
78 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
behind. . . . And, looking askance, other peoples
and countries stand aside and give way to thee. . . .'
This sounds awful ! (I don't mean Gogol' 's pre-
mature vision, but his speech in the English attire.)
It is robbed of all its winding, throbbing beauty.
It is like a photograph as compared to the photo-
graphed landscape itself: no colours, no breeze, no
vivifying warmth ! only the skeleton. Because the
genuine colours and breeze and warmth of the
philosophy and of the syntax itself of the Kussian
speech reaching their climax in these pages have no
Perhaps this statement will become clearer if I
say that one can easily translate this English
Gogol' back into the Eussian, but if one closely
follows the English ' original ' it will not be the
Russian Gogol' ! Very far from the genuine one
indeed. Because there are many ways to say a
fine Eussian sentence within the limits of a given
idea, but giving it each time different half-
shades, whilst there will be but one certain correct
way to say that sentence in English, or in any other
language. 1 The very exclamation by which Gogol'
hails Eussia as represented by troyka (and which
1 Since these lines were written I have made a special study
of the English translations of the Dead Souls and Inspector
General on their republication ; and I find my suppositions
fully realized. Gogol' 's quiet humour in Dead Souls can
more or less find its expression in using a rich English style
(with the exception, of course, of the killing names he gives
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 79
is usually wrongly spelt in English with a k Ekh)
always carries with us a certain attitude in itself;
in ejaculating 9x-B! = M/ we mean: 'Here is a
thing (or situation) about which one could say a
lot! ... But I am unable to. . . .' There is
a touch of longing in it.
I cannot omit at this convenient occasion that
putting the artificial kh for a Russian h not only
makes this word look like a caricature and takes
away its long sound, but it even alters its mean-
ing: because there is another exclamation, BKB !
consisting of the same deep e and a k (in the place of
an h), but it conveys quite a different atmosphere:
it carries astonishment and reproach with it and
stands for the quintessence of, ' Just look at it !
Did you ever !' Thus, transliterating both BX-L
and BKT, as ekh, the translators kill the meaning
of both substituting for it something like an old
* * * * *
Now, my patient or impatient reader, allow me The pos-
to dwell for a moment on the idea itself of these fulfilment
lines of Gogol' 's, leaving form alone. vision.
to his characters, in place of which we see blank spaces or
meaningless substitutes, to which we shall return later); but
as a passionate lover of his country, he will remain untranslat-
able for ever. The unknown translator of Dead Sauls must
excuse my saying that he has approached the original beauty
of the Troyka-pages no nearer than I have myself. We are
both equally tied by the entire absence of an equivalent mode
of speech in English.
80 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
This idea should not frighten any Englishman.
The fear one still meets amongst the British public
with regard to Russia as the foe to be fought
next is due only to the lack of thorough acquaint-
ance with the country. I have mentioned already
that the educated Kussians have always expected
the light to come to them from the West. An
obvious proof of this was the encouragement, both
private and official, but always spontaneous, with
which the German colonist and the German accur-
ate official used to be met all over the Russian
land. It was only the peasantry and the working
classes that permitted themselves the attitude of
frank, although inactive and humorous distrust,
whilst the most advanced Intelligentziya was
naively trying her best to sow the Western Culture
on the Russian soil wherever the seeds could be
got from. Even our revolutionaries were fre-
quently too Western in their whole-hearted efforts
to raise our village population from its ' un-Euro-
pean ' darkness. The war has brought the sudden
revelation that there exists Western culture and
Western culture ! And England should rest as-
sured that now our educated society will be most
keen and conscientious to rectify its mistake.
The psychological attitude from the very beginning
of the struggle has acquired a serious, steady form.
There is no hysteria, no rushing and dashing about
it; none, even, of the old nonchalance expressed
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 81
in the narrowly-patriotic saying: ' We can bury
the foe under our caps r=Shapkami zaJciddyem!
Every person and every written page that now
comes from Kussia is full of something new. The
nation is awakening to the consciousness of her
serious, quiet power. She will presently find her-
self within herself. In that new coming era there
will be room enough for Western influence and for
Western aspirations only inasmuch as these will
entirely correspond with the Slavonic ones. The
element with which will probably rest the approach- The new
ing shaping of Kussia will be a perfectly new one : national-
radical nationalism. Because, formerly our nation- ism<
alists were the reactionaries, and our radicals were
thus opposed to them voluntarily and involun-
tarily. But the new type of a true Eussian cul-
turist will come forward in masses, and will present
the accounts to all debtors. These will have to be
There is room for hoping that, next, Eussia will
make her greatest stride ahead.
Therefore England should not for a moment No danger
doubt the good of helping her : she is helping the
new Eussia, that Eussia which is becoming con-
scious of all that is best in her, and who means to
foster that best. One ingredient of the latter is
love for peace. And as long as there is plenty of
prostor for us to unfold ourselves (razvernutsa)
physically and spiritually in our immense land,
82 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
there is no vestige of danger for anyone. Our
Shchedrin, satirist as he was, said : ' Prostor calls
forth a limitless, unconquerable thirst for love.'
Aggressiveness has never been a feature of the
Slavs, and one could not repeat this too much to
those who hesitate: Kussia will now find means
to develop within herself; she will find ample room,
ample raw material, and ample spiritual power to
do so without troubling anyone.
Atypical In returning to the Kussian language I would
Russian . i i r i
word for like to mention now a typical word ot a less grave
quick wit. ,, ,, T. T . .
nature than the preceding pages. It is a noun,
sounding, approximately, sm'otka ; it means the
capacity of thinking very quickly on the spur of
the moment, or, initiative plus speed. For in-
stance, sm'otka is priceless in this war against the
Germans to upset their splendidly-planned theories.
It has been proved now that they are helpless
before the Unexpected. It blinds them. Here is
an example of sm'otka.
Three Russian infantry soldiers managed to
penetrate in their reconnaissance expedition so
far that they suddenly found themselves right
amongst the enemy: there they were, in a large
field, almost enclosed by Germans within earshot.
Of course, the first thing they did on realizing this
circumstance was to scratch the back of their heads
(no Russian in perplexity can do without this ges-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 83
ture !) ; after which, obedient to Fate, they re-
marked quietly that ' their hour has evidently
come.' At that moment there came a noise of a
propeller, and a German aeroplane, gracefully and
in full confidence, landed quite near them.
' Look here, brothers,' said one of the soldatiki,
smiling, ' we are lost all the same, so let us try a
joke. Come along and take them prisoners.'
Said done ! as they say in Russian. 1 Up walk
the three fellows to the aeroplane, and approach
face to face the slightly-surprised airman and his
pilot, before these have time to stretch their
limbs. A bullet in the temple finishes the pilot
on the spot, after which the soldatiki quietly but
clearly explain to the officer, by means of ges-
ticulation, that he is to pull the machine along the
field. That German officer had certainly no atom
of sm'otka in him, for he obediently did so; partly
screened by the aeroplane the three men led their
prey through the perilously narrow space between
the lines of the enemy to the Russian lines, whilst
the Germans must have been looking on with that
same slow - working surprise (the opposite to
sm'otka !) at that airman of theirs, who was
steadily pushing his machine towards the Russian
Another case of sm'otka is no less historical,
though peaceful. When Catherine II. was erect-
1 CKaaano cfl'fejiaHO !
84 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
ing the monument to Peter the Great, she was dis-
pleased with the solid rock of granite which had
been brought as a foundation for it, with immense
difficulties, from Finland.
' I will not have it,' she said, glancing at it from
her carriage. ' It is ugly in shape.'
This time it was many men in the enormous
crowd in the vast Winter Square who scratched
their heads : To take the huge thing away ?
After all the trouble . . . ?
Several courtiers dared to approach the Empress,
explaining that the task of removing the rock
would be as enormous as fetching it.
' Dig out a hole close by and push it down !'
came a voice from the crowd.
The peasant was richly rewarded for his sm'otka;
and the granite rock, which did not pass the in-
spection of an artistic taste, lies buried close to the
Of course, that capacity for quick-thought takes
at times comical forms. A Eussian general who
was very keen on broadening the outlook of his
men, told me about his experience at the Soldiers'
School of which he was in command when a young
officer of nineteen. The chief characteristic of his
men all of them country fellows was that they
were never given to doubt or hesitation: their
brains worked as fast as possible, in some direc-
tion or other ! One day the general in command
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 85
of the district came to inspect the school at work.
Taking some pride in the advanced nature of his
teaching, the youthful ardent officer suggested to
his chief that he might put his pupils some ques-
tions in ancient history.
' Oh, indeed ?' Pleasantly surprised, the general
addressed one of the keen -looking fellows : ( Dost
thou know anything about Socrates V
' Yes, sir !'
'Well? What about him?'
' He is the left forward horse in the second
troyka with the sixth gun in the third battery
who wants shoeing, sir !' came as quick as
The young scholar forgot for the moment who
Socrates was, but he would not be non-plussed,
and quickly thought of the ' Socrates ' of his battery
called so by the men in honour of the interesting
* * * H *
There are some rather interesting points about ' Man ''
the conceptions concerning man and marriage. a .nd * mar
In the olden days man was called muj, and the same
word stood for husband. Nowadays muj means
husband only, whilst the new word defining man
has grown out of the same root through the addi-
tion of the sound china : muj china. This addition
is not meaningless; already, in those days when
muj meant man, the word chin meant rank: thus
86 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
the newer word, muj china, means really a creature
having the rank of a man.
Similar promotion has been granted to woman.
The old word jena meant both woman and wife,
whereas now jena means wife only, and the newer
word jenshchina has come into being for defining
woman a creature having the rank of a woman !
The English expression ' to marry ' is strictly
divided in Russian according to facts. Speaking
about a girl who is going to marry we say ond
vyhodit zdmuj ; note the last two-syllabled word,
which means ' behind man,' and you will get the
original meaning: ' she is going out, or leaving her
parental home, to place herself behind a man ' ;
isn't this an exact definition of what marriage
meant for a girl even not so very long ago ? Whilst
speaking of a man about to wed, we say on jenitsa
which means, as it were, ' he be-wifes himself.'
This/a0'2 de parler indicates much more independ-
ence in comparison with the meaning of marriage
for a girl : it is just the same grammatical form as
' soaping oneself ' (mylitsa) or ' steaming oneself '
in a bath-house (pdritsa) !
The words fiance and fiancee are with us defined
thus: jenlh stands for the man who obviously
has involved himself in some way with a jena
(wife), as the stem of the word clearly indicates;
whereas the word for fiancee is derived from the
Old Slavonic ' not know ' (n'e v'edat' ; n'ev'esta),
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 87
which suggests the state of mind of a young girl
who is about to be married. Both frank and
To return to the old word chin (rank) : besides ' Chin '
the definitions for man and woman it has formed nik ' and
a nucleus for rather a curious set of conceptions. Great.
Obviously, in times of yore, chin conveyed the idea
of a dignified, imposing personality, because the
old word bezc/mistvo meant every scandalous or
rowdy scene : its meaning is quite plain, as its first
syllable, bez, stands for ( without ' ; thus things
' without chin ' were things deprived of dignity,
as it were deprived of the atmosphere which
should go with rank. It is a word which is still
often applied to disorderly crowds or drunken
Again, since Peter the Great's effort at putting
Russia in order there has appeared the word
chinovnik, deliberately created from the same root;
that is to say, a man of a certain rank in Govern-
ment service, as opposed to a private individual.
Unfortunately, the word chinovnik soon acquired
the additional characteristic of callousness and
greediness, and thus turned into a distinct defini-
tion of a type opposed to all big-hearted, generous
altruistic work for the people. There exist
Memoirs of a French aristocrat who visited
Russia in the times of Alexander III.; in them
88 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
' II y a en Eussie un espece de canaille qu'on
Apropos of the word chinovnik, one's thoughts
involuntarily approach the question which the
Eussians are often asked in this country: 'How
is it that your charming nation produces such
horrible creatures as your bureaucrats ?'
This problem has always been instinctively felt
even in Eussia herself, although we do not actually
call ' charming ' everyone who is not a chinovnik
(bureaucrat). Looking backwards now, at this
hour of re-valuations, one can attempt an historical
solution of the question. Ever since Peter the
Great undertook the enlightening of Old Eussia
by means of wholesale import of Germans into the
land, there began a continuous inoculation of
utterly un-Eussian aspirations, alongside with the
technical machinery of State life. The Tsars and
Tsaritsas after Peter, right up to Alexander I.
(1725-1800), were of German flesh, blood, and edu-
cation. They and their helpers took great care
to fill up all the ruling Eussian institutions with
Germans. The only exception was Catherine II.,
who did not exclude Eussians as a matter of prin-
ciple. Well, is it not logical to suppose that, with
the adaptability and flexibility of the Eussian
nature, those of the Eussians who did form the
minor proportion of the officialdom, were gradually
influenced and saturated with a hitherto unknown
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 89
spiritual narrowness and dryness ? Would they
not, having the pompousness and greediness
grafted on to them from generation to generation,
gradually degenerate into that type which indeed
stands apart from the rest of the Kussian nation
and which even now is trying to stop the wheels
of a national spiritual upheaval ? Now it seems
to be a likely conclusion that Peter the Great,
however wise his eventual ideals were, has made
the usual mistake of a self-made man (which
he was) in using without discrimination those
means on a large scale which impressed him most.
' Kussia is large and abundant, but there is no
order in her.' These words are attributed in the
earliest Russian legend to the North Russians, who
went (about the eighth century) to seek for rulers
abroad and brought with them three wandering
warriors from Scandinavia. Nevertheless, no order
resulted from it, and Peter the Great, in trying
to introduce it himself, almost repeated the mistake
of the aboriginal Russians ! Worse still, he overdid
it. If he could return again, he would certainly
rise to the full height of his seven odd feet, and
deliberately apply to the German backs his famous
Russian dubmka (" the dear cudgel "), which he
invariably carried about with him two centuries
ago in his busy work of Germanizing the Russians !
Such are the jokes of the old dame History.
90 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
An ex- The Eussians find that toothache is different
of trans- from all other pains, and they indicate this differ-
ideas. ence by a special word which means the pain of a
recurrent, grinding nature, entirely different from
the pain of a burn or a cut. The verb indicating
that sort of pain consists of three letters : first, n ;
then the exclusively Eussian hard vowel which
has got to be defined in some way or other, and for
which the English y has been adopted; and a soft
t : nyt\ The conception of toothache conveyed by
this verb includes a subtle idea of a monotonous,
incessant sound. . . . Well, the Eussian mind
has transferred this word to indicate those persons
who possess the unfortunate capacity for getting
on your nerves by constantly airing their own
grievances as well as finding that ' the times
are out of joint ' altogether. For instance, if a
friend visits you evening after evening and goes
on till midnight with the same old grumblings
and complaints, you exclaim at last, if you are
Eussian: 'Stop your nyt-mg !' (Da brcs't'e vy
We make this little phrase very intense without
possessing the auxiliary verb do. One of the
numerous ways of intensifying the meaning of any
sentence consists in applying the conjunction yes
(da) in one of its various shades : thus the above
exclamation literally runs in Eussian, ' Da stop
you nyt' !' (We need no preposition to before our
THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 91
infinitives.) Thus being addressed, the most annoy-
ing melancholic will mostly become silent.
Kecently, on hearing this, a bright English girl
asked: ' But isn't silence the normal state of
melancholies ?' This remark brought home to me
an additional point of difference in national indivi-
duality. A Kussian melancholic even a melan-
cholic ! is apt to go on pouring his melancholy
out, so to speak; and that is just what is called
' nyt '-ing (nytyo). Undoubtedly the English
variety of a melancholic is more attractive. Here
the tendency of locking up one's thoughts and feel-
ings from other people certainly greatly adds to
There is one more Kussian word of the same class A very
which makes every good translator stop short : it concep-
is toskd. They usually end by giving for it the
English words depression or despondency but it
is not the same thing. Toska is a very poetical
term, used throughout the folk-lore; and in its
form of a verb, toskovdt', it is equally popular.
We even apply this verb speaking separately of
our thought, heart, or blood: for instance: My
heart toskuyet ; my thought toskuyet ; my blood
But the most popular way is to use it quite alone.
Therefore the English ' yearning,' as well as ' de-
pression ' and ' despondency,' cannot compete
with the independent power of the to ska, either.
92 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
If a chum walks gloomily into your study, throws
himself on to your couch, and remains motionless,
his eyebrows and lips alone expressive of pain,
and you ask (if you are not chutki enough !) :
' What's the matter ?' he is sure to say the one
word: ' Toska !' Then you will remember that he
had lost someone he loved, or simply that lately
the man ' couldn't find a place for himself on earth.'
Or you may overlook, by chance, a young girl
painfully clasping her arms in some lonely wood or
garden, and overhear her repeating to herself the
only v/ord, ' Toska, toska !' and you will know
what she feels like. ... ' Eh, toska has gnawed
me up r = Eh, toska zayelaf is a very Russian ex-
pression; and none of the suggested English words
can be used with that same independence and all-
explaining power. Such English expressions as
hump, spike, needle, or being in the blues, don't let
the tragic and poetical element of the situation ap-
pear, thus being no good either. Could the English
mind be so severe as not to permit any tragedy or
poetry into the feelings of a person who is pining
away with the longing for his homeland, or his
beloved one, or for the spring and sunshine ?
' Homesick ' is no good either, as it serves one
purpose only; ' longing ' requires a definition of
what one is longing for, whilst the Russians are
apt to experience the toska without any strictly
defined cause ; ' yearning ' cannot stand as an
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 93
independent, all-explaining ejaculation. We often
are overtaken by toska under circumstances when
a well-balanced Englishman would simply refresh
himself by giving way to a strong expression.
Therefore, perhaps, the hump, the spike, etc.,
are just the right sort of definitions for the
English. But even then, they are labelled by
the literati as slang and are not admitted into
high-class literature, whereas toska is a classical
Eussian word. There is not one Russian poet who
wouldn't have used it in a number of his works !
The Russian word for ' weary ' (tomit') has a form
of an active verb with us which suggests the idea
of exhaustion, like the one caused by a long waiting
for something, or by anxiety, or even by the
' singing ' of a solitary gnat in your bedroom in
the heat of a summer night. But a Russian mind
finds a poetic element even in weariness. A
modern poet, Feodor Sologub, amongst a quantity
of very complicated matter, drops a few very simple
little triolets which speak direct to every Russian
heart. They are exactly the kind which draws
for every lover of the north a rodnaya picture :
' My heart doth leap with former joy: The ' sad-
North once more, and rain once more ! gives i '
Once more the moss is thin and tender.
Once more the sadness that gives joy,
And weariness that is so sweet,
And once again the dreamy woods.
Beloved North ! Beloved rain !'
94 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
' The moss is sighing under foot,
The silver birches tremble sweetly,
The forest hid his face in fog
There is but forest, moss and fog,
A song that's moan, a word that's sigh,
Mirage of earth and dark of sky. . . .
Ye loved forest, tender moss,
Ye silver birches trembling sweetly !'
I had to use the adjectives ' loved ' and ' be-
loved/ as being nearer to the original mlly than
the ordinarily given translation ' dear.' Mily has
more meaning in it: it indicates not only your
attitude towards someone or something, but also
that he (or she, or it) is nice in himself although
it has nothing to do with the idea of value, as
6 dear ' (dorogoy) has. One applies this term to a
nice person, or a nice deed, whereas one does not
say in Kussian, ' a dear person.' At the same time
it is a word which one wants to whisper hundreds
of times into the ear of the loved one.
The lines above, in which the North is called
' mlly,' and the rain too, only show what a power
of loving there is granted to the Slav. Nature's
weariness itself fills him with ' sadness that gives
joy,' and he is one with her in whatever mood she
is: for doesn't she suggest that she too enjoys in
a special kind of way her autumn with its trist-
ful, grey, poor-looking, monotonous attire ? . . . A
Russian seldom gets the hump through bad weather.
If he is responsive he attunes himself to it without
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 95
This attitude of responsiveness, of oneness with Tfa e one-
Nature's moods, is reflected in a number of poems Nature,
by various authors. Some clumsy English, but
one closely interpreting the Kussian flow of thoughts
may be, perhaps, allowed here for the sake of
pointing out this very Russian feature of which
a little has been already shown in the autumnal
triolets. The Russians are not contented with
flowers for table-decorations (in fact, there is no
such item in the Russian life), not even with a nice
little flower garden (we hardly do any gardening
for ourselves, which is a great pity). It is again
the atmosphere of prostor, a mood on a large scale
that draws them. . . . The beautiful poet, Al'exey
Tolstoy, expresses it for us :
' The sea is not foaming, the waves do not splash,
No stir in the fir-trees' dark branches.
Reflecting the world in itself as a glass
Pellucid the sea lies quiescent.
' I'm sitting on a rock. O'er me fleecy clouds
Hang motionless high in the azure. . . .
My soul is at peace with itself and profound
The still sea and I are at one.'
' Breaking and splashing the wave throws its tear-drops of
salt in my eyelids.
Spellbound I sit on a rock while new courage flows into my
Endlessly forwards and backwards the surges are beating my
Foam on their crests rolling snow-white and gleaming.
' Whom shall I challenge to fight, mighty sea ?
On whom shall I try coming power ?
96 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
My heart now has learned the beauty of life,
Oh, waves, ye have washed out sorrow !
Your roar and your splash have awakened my soul
The turmoil and I are at one.'
The folk-lore expresses this strong bond with
Nature in a slightly different, but, if anything,
still more poetic way. Numbers of folk-songs
begin with a statement about some apparition of
Nature and then simply pass on to the corres-
ponding mood of the singer, placing the two as
obvious parallels. For instance :
' Why growest thou misty, lucid dawn, now covering earth with
Why growest thou pensive, stately girl, tears rising to thine
' The green blade of grass was growing in the field.
But they have cut me down and have laid me to dry in the
Oh, thou bitter, bitter lot of mine !'
' The white fog is rolling heavily over the lake,
Grief and toska have overpowered the young fellow,' etc.
All Russian poets follow this national manner
of self-expressing as a matter of course. But the
quaintest of such parallels comes in one of the latest
short poems by Igor' S'ev'er'anin:
" A gnat is circling above the duck -weed of a pool, fascinated
and unable to penetrate it.
I cannot take my eyes off thine, unable to penetrate their
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 97
I hear our postman, the man I mentioned before Looking
(see p. 11), knock at the door as I am writing this.
... I wonder what lie would think of such
things ? !
To return to the point of the f lack ' of spiritual
fire with the Kussians: one must be just, and say
that only our exacting poets, upset by the sight
of a few men in the state of an objectless toska,
could generalize this accusation !
Chehov, the profound national psychologist, said
(also in the eighties) in the words of one of his
... If a Eussian does not believe in God it A main-
means that he believes in something else, and this the
he does not inactively, not like a German doctor character,
of philosophy, but so that every one of his beliefs
makes a duga of him ' (which means that each
leading ideal bends or sways his every action).
... ' As a small boy I was told that soup was
the main thing in life, and I stuffed myself with
it to the state of stupefaction ! When a schoolboy
I devoured books and believed in every one of them.
I ran away to America and lured other boys into
joining me. . . . Then came Science. . . . Eeve-
lation ! I thought that I had grasped the solution
of existence from its first pages ! I gave myself
up to Science passionately, headlong, as one gives
oneself up to a beloved woman. Afterwards I
98 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIE LANGUAGE
found out that the beginning of each science does
this with every man. ... I went ' back to the
land ' and ' to the people ' . . . I toiled with the
burlaki' on the Volga. ... I came to love the
Eussian folk, their speech, their creative spirit I
loved them to the verge of suffering. . . . Then
came the abdication of property. . . . Then the
non-resistance to evil. . . .'
The man does not say what is his worship at
the moment of his telling the story of his life to
the author, but the latter easily finds out that
his latest faith is the faith in Woman. These
lines are typical of the Kussians, very typical
Difference Here I want to point out that there exists in
the English Eussian only one word for the two English ones
and the .
Russian ' belief ' and ' faith.' This is a case where, appar-
tions ently, Eussian is poorer than English, but I think
that it has its explanation. The English believe
with their minds and have faith with their hearts.
But the much more emotional Eussian tempera-
ment is satisfied with what comes from the heart,
often without subjecting it to the criticism of the
intellect. Now, in English, ' belief ' implies en-
tirely an intellectual attitude, and therefore gives
a touch to that conception which is strange to a
Eussian mind. Therefore, again, Chehov's sketch
of a typical ' believer ' (briefly given above) shows
the most national Slavonic feature of putting one's
THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 99
heart and soul into whatever one believes to
Believing in the sense of thinking only is incon-
ceivable to him. That is why religious faith with
the Russians is either passionate to the degree of
an almost aboriginal fatalism, or it is absent alto-
But then, we have two words for truth : prdvda Two words
1 for ' truth.'
implies truth as applied to facts themselves, where-
as Istina rather expresses the existence of truth as
of an abstract idea. For instance, the English for
Pontius Pilate's query, ' What is Truth ?' is given
in Russian not by means of the word prdvda, but
runs, ' What is Istina ?
In brief, it is Istina who inhabits the bottom of
the well, and not pravda. Therefore, the English
expression, 'God's Truth' runs in Russian Istin-
naya pravda, the first of the nouns being tuined
into an adjective; but one could not possibly say
it the other way round (pravdlraya islina) no more
than you would say ' truthful God.' *
My mind wanders to one more definition which '
is lovable to a Russian mind, but which would be ness.
1 Mrs. Edward Garnet t, whose translations approach the
Russian originals nearer than any one else's, translates istina
now ' truth,' now ' justice ' and it is not her fault that
the subtle, deep distinction between these English words and.
the istina cannot be conveyed.
100 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
ridiculous in translation because the conception
itself is strange to the English. The word means
' one behind the soul ' (zadushevpy) or a quality
which dwells in the deepest recesses of one's spirit.
Thus, the man who is endowed with ' behind-the-
soul '-ness is very deep and sympathetic, and at the
same time very straightforward, so that one feels
that one can talk to such a man as one would talk
to oneself. A beautiful example of this nature is
' The Stranger ' in Mr. Jerome K. Jerome's Passing
of the Third Floor Back. A conversation in itself
between fellow-thinkers can be a ' behind-the-soul '
one; also a voice, or a manner of reciting and of
acting. The last two must be of the ' behind-the-
soul ' quality to reach a Russian listener's heart.
That is why, again, Mr. Forbes Robertson's manner
of speaking in itself appeals to us, whilst the one
of the late Sir Henry Irving seemed to us painfully
artificial in its almost intoned monotony.
We call our best-beloved friend a ' behind-the-
soul ' one. . . .
But I understand that the best friends amongst
the English people seldom like to share between
them what is ' behind their souls,' so there is no
wonder that the English speech lacks the described
Yet Mr. Garstin very sympathetically describes,
in his little book The Friendly Russia, how often
we make thorough acquaintance in the course of
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 101
the first conversation with a stranger who appeals
to us, telling and asking each other with equal
straightforwardness dozens of things of a personal
nature. The lovable personalities of Dostoyevski's
Idiot and Al'osha are the best illustrations of a
behind-the-soul nature, and I am glad to notice
that they appeal to the most interesting and edu-
cated type of the English people. The General
gladly calls the Idiot ' a behind-the-soul ' man in
the course of their first meeting, when the young
man, not at all reluctant, tells him of his cherished
principles. (Mr. Jerome's Stranger doesn't but
he is an English variety!)
This reminds me of a case in this country when
a young English fellow made the whole of a dainty
party at dinner roar with laughter simply by telling
them how a casual Irish fellow-traveller told him on
the route between Liverpool and Manchester how
many children he had, what sort of children they
were, how splendid his wife was, how much he made
of his farm and what were the items of that par-
ticular year, what he thought of life in general, etc.
I must say that, although the vital, outspoken
Irishman was somewhat simple as compared to the
1 Idiot ' or Al'osha, my Russian sympathies on that
occasion were entirely with him who was neither
shy of the society youngster, nor so proud as to
keep to himself what was to him the whole meaning
of existence, when there was a chance of conversa
102 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
tion with a human soul instead of an alien silence
in the course of a whole hour.
The soul has altogether a prominent place in a
Kussian conversation. It is one of our terms as a
friendly form of address (dusha moyd). Also, if any-
thing suits our tastes and principles exceptionally
well, we say that it is po duslie i.e., ' alongside
our soul ' ; whereas everything that is ' against the
grain ' in English is ne po dushe, ' not alongside
our soul ' in Eussian.
some BUS- The above-mentioned Irishman was just the
ings. " opposite type of a man to the one which is suggested
by the graphic Russian saying s'eb'e na um'e : it
gives the idea of a miniature of Mr. So-and-So
sitting on the edge of the actual Mr. So-and-So's
brain, listening to it attentively, and granting or
not granting egress to the teeming thoughts. . . .
Many sayings are fine in that rich suggestiveness.
One of them I heard recently from a Russian who
applied it to the manners of German warfare: ' If
not by washing, then by mangling !' Rather good
is the one stating that ' There is enough stupidity
to be got in the world to go round for all sage.' 1
Most graphic is the saying used by the peasantry
TOO indicate a state of absolute safety : to convey its
meaning I must first say that our peasants and
workmen very often keep their money, or a thick
slice of bread (krayuha) for the next meal, or alto-
1 See list of Russian words and phrases.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 103
gether something of value, next to their skin,
under their shirt. This place of safety is called
' za pazuhoy,' which, in itself, is untranslatable.
Well, then, when anyone finds himself in a state
where there is no grief or worry, one says about
him: ' He is like za pazuhoy with the Christ !' i.e.,
as if Christ kept him next to His skin ! . . .
We have no word for 'slang'; we simply sayNosian?'
J in Russian.
' the speech of the labourers,' ' the speech of
peasants,' ' of fishermen,' ' of tramps,' ' of old-
believers,' etc. All of these are acknowledged
and admitted by the writers, because the ' slang '
of our peasantry is often most wonderful, both in
its poignant definitions and poetical vein. Some
of it is rude, but this doesn't make us discard it
altogether. One can learn beautiful expressions
from our simple folk who create them on the spur
of the moment.
' Pardon,' says Gogol', suddenly breaking up one
of his humorous descriptions : ' words seem to have
escaped our hero which are heard only in the streets.
But such is the position of a writer in Russia: he
is bound to reflect the life in which there are things
not tolerated by higher society. . . .' Happily, such
is the position of a Russian writer as established
by Gogol' three-quarters of a century ago ! Whole
stories by Gogol', by Shchedrin and L'eskov, whole
pages by Ostrovski (our Moliere), by Nekrasov,
104 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Maxim Gor'ki and Chehov, whole paragraphs by
Tolstoy and Dostoyevski will never be interpreted,
even if they are seemingly ' translated ' : they will be
like an even, silvery moonshine as compared with
a crackling bonfire fragrant with burning twigs and
sending cascades of sparks into the pitch dark quiet
of a night. The same can be applied to national
wit of every language as soon as it has a local
character: Dickens, Bret Harte, Kipling, Jacobs
have no more chances to have their local collo-
quialism interpreted irreproachably into another
tongue than have in parallel circumstances L'eskov
or Gogol' ; although I must add that almost every
expression the sense of which does not depend on
some local topic easily finds its equivalents with us,
due to the pliancy and freedom of our language.
For instance, the bewitching, subtle humour of
The Cricket o)i the Hecvrth sounds beautiful
when rendered in Kussian. All the warmth in it
remains intact, yet wholly conveys the English
atmosphere. Very few expressions in it are un-
translatable. This applies to the whole of
Dickens's works (even his Pickwick Papers), to
Shakespeare, Meredith, Arnold Bennett, Jerome K.
Jerome, Birmingham, or Oscar Wilde. This does
not mean that all Russian translations from the
English are excellent: unfortunately, with the
absence of literary convention between our coun-
tries, too many Russians who do not possess a
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 105
perfect knowledge of the intricacies of English
translate and publish English works. But what I
mean is that the atmosphere, the style of English
speech with the rare exception of unique col-
loquialisms finds its equivalent in Russian and
can be translated beautifully. Whereas it is just
the style, that something essentially Russian, which
cannot be expressed in any other tongue owing to
the lack of technical mediums.
Can it be that the local English atmosphere is
conveyed more readily to our minds, and that the
colloquial English is more easily translated into
Russian than vice versa because we know England
better than the English people know Russia ?
We have studied English literature so long (at
school and ad libitum) that English characters are
not strangers to us, and therefore even their typical
expressions can be translated literally when they
happen to have no equivalents in our character-
speech; they do not baffle or alarm us, but, on the
contrary, make the English types stand out the
more clearly. Whereas it is quite improbable that
an average English reader could vividly imagine
the surroundings and the types of Gogol' 's In-
spector General or Gor'ki's Childhood ! How, then,
could he stand a close translation of their
speech as a natural, human thing ? In giving to
my English friends the exact meaning of various
Russian manners of speech throbbing with poign-
106 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
ancy and humour, I constantly hear the intolerant
remark: ' Oh ! but you mustn't say that in
S?lbie S ~ I am tnan kfril to see that the anonymous trans-
names. i a tor has tried all ' permittable ' English to convey
Gogol' 's humorous style in Dead Souls ; but in
the I/ispect^r General his most conscientious en-
deavours were bound to fail. The names alone,
for instance, of the Governor and of the Judge are
to every Russian mind inseparable from their
owners who have been living characters to us ever
since they were created. Yet, naturally there are
blank places corresponding to them in the English
version. The chief aim of my book is an attempt
to show that the Russian brain works along differ-
ent channels from the English one and its manner
of doing so therefore I will try and explain the
present instance technically, as it were. For that
purpose my patient reader will have to return to
that Russian root of many conceptions which
means breath, spirit duk (see page 37). Well,
with a consonant slipped into it, this noun acquires
a comical character: dmuh sounds as funny as duh
sounds serious ! Gogol' takes this dmuh and turns
it into a kind of adjectival name: Dmuhanovski.
But that is not all: he brings forward the wicked
stupidity of the big, fat old Governor by doubling
this surname : he makes it Skvoznik-Dmuhanovski,
which means ' A draught of a Dmuhanovski ' or
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIB LANGUAGE 107
' a - draught - of - an - empty - headed - pooh - poohing -
No wonder, a footnote in the English edition
says that ' in order to simplify for the English
readers the somewhat formidable caste, the sur-
names of the first eight characters are omitted.'
But that footnote should not run on as it does,
explaining ' as they would not be used in familiar
intercourse.' They are not in real life, that is true,
but Gogol' 's characters are such vivid, living per-
sonifications that the beloved classical comedy, In-
spector General, when shorn of them, is unimagin-
able and ridiculous ! The translator ought to try
and explain them, I think. But anyhow, as he
has not done so, I must try my best. Therefore,
a few more lines about Gogol' 's names :
The Judge is in Kussian Z'dpkin-T'dpkin; the
first syllables of the two words through their very
sound convey to the Russian mind a rude, clumsy
gesture of snapping something greedily. Isn't
this, then, a splendid name for a provincial Russian
Judge of seventy years ago who swears that
he takes no bribes except in the form of borzoy-
Hl'estakov himself (the young and silly rascal
taken, from fright, for the official Inspector) means
a slashing, swaggering strut. The Warden of the
Charity Institutions is ' Strawberry ' pure and
simple. The primitive brute of a policeman is
108 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Eerjimorda, wliicli conveys the idea of ' Catch hold
of his dial ' (face) ! and indicates the simple way in
which the representatives of public order used to
follow out their duties. Again, the simple-minded
old land - proprietress in Dead Souls, who has
upset the hero's knavish plans entirely through
her simplicity, is called by Gogol' merely Koro-
bochka which means nothing more nor less than
' a little box ' ; and there was no logical need to
turn her in the English version into a ' Koroboch-
kina.' The humour vanishes like a puit of smoke
with this ' improvement ' on the original name.
The most characteristic current English expres-
sions often lack the half-shades of colouring neces-
sary to meet the demands of the Russian language.
It is not only the speech of the lower classes that
is acknowledged by our literature to its fullest
extent; the same thing has been done by the above-
named English writers when speaking through
their characters; the difference between their
writings and those of the Russian authors lies in
the fact that ours enjoy the perfect freedom of
Croatin? applying and creating expressions when speaking
for themselves. Hundreds of these would not pass
in England as ' good style,' because, although
Tennyson and Carroll, amongst others, have actu-
ally invented special words to meet emergencies,
nevertheless it does not follow from this that
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 109
special twists of expressions of the Eussian language
which is teeming with them in humour, grief,
poetic feeling, and enthusiasm, would all find their
equivalents in English; nor would the English
translators be permitted to invent any equivalents
on the spur of the moment.
With us the power of graphic rendering is an
essential quality of art. Turgenev managed to
command it without being exclusively Russian in
his style, but all the rest of our writers could not
help being so, in various degrees. They are given
with us a carte blanche for creating, as it were.
Every kind of definition, every new word is allowed
as long as it is born of the atmosphere of the dis-
cussed subject and is, therefore, natural before
everything else. It is the natural that goes home
deepest, after all. Recently this carte blanche has
acquired enormous proportions. Some of the new
words and expressions startle one who has been
brought up on L'ermontov, Turgenev, Tolstoy,
and even on the extra -richly-coloured Gogol',
L'eskov, and Shchedrln. Some of these new words
and twists of expressions will fall out; but many
are throbbing with real new power for they are
natural outcome of a free and creative Slavonic
mind working through a most flexible medium.
It is not considered essential that each new word
or expression should be of a sufficiently universal
importance to stand the test of time. Any amount
110 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
of words have been created by Gogol', Tolstoy,
L'eskov, Chehov, Dostoyevski, Gor'ki, and several
writers of the younger generation, for a special
purpose and some of them will, perhaps, never
be used again; but they are just splendid in their
own places for which they are invented ! They
are, naturally, absent from the dictionaries, and
the translators will vainly struggle to find out
their meaning and to see their essential beauty.
Since 1914 there has been published in Petro-
grad a formidable periodical. Each volume con-
tains nothing but the newest prose and poetry
distinctly reflecting the searching for truth (for
istina, in this case). Bart Kennedy would have
had a chance in it to find by and by his bit of
Truth, instead of being bovcotted by means of
mockery and laughter.
The periodical is called S'ir'in, the Kussian
equivalent for Bird of Wisdom. It welcomes to
its pages the most gloomy satire as well as the most
mystic, or fantastic, or realistic poetry. As to its
nationalism, it allows the quaintest examples of
verses that ever existed being, as it were, cries of
the old Eussian land, frank to the degree of primi-
tiveness and uncanny in the nature of their
poetry. I hope I will not give a start to my reader
by giving one of them (by a well-known mystic
woman-poet, Zinaida Gippius) in closely follow-
ing both form and meaning:
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 111
Russia speaking to her Singer. A charac-
I have pleased thee with my meadows green, poem.
With my herbs, and tall, white hemlock,
With my waving corn spreading far and wide,
With the golden hearts of my daisies ;
Thou mak'st poems of them, thou sing'st joyfully
Of my playful self as thou lovest me :
But who will love my ugly wounds ?
Who will look at my sins ail-forgivingly ?
Come ! Love also the evil fogs
That rise from my poisonous stagnant pools,
Love the huge weeds alongside my walls,
Love my poor, drunken peasant. . . .
But if fear and contempt are all thou find'st
In thy heart for my evils so painful
Then go ! Lose thy way in my forests' mists !
Get burnt with my stinging-nettles !
I shall not lift the veil from my face
For those who seek me the beautiful one,
Who can not love me to bitter end,
Cannot stand me the ugly one, cannot bear me the
dirty one. . . .
The name alone of this periodical indicates the
idea that the most ancient in the artistic tempera-
ment is not a hindrance, but a help in the search
for the New. The name of the bird S'ir'in is equiva-
lent to an Old Slavonic adjective by which it is
often replaced and which means ' the one knowing
and giving out the Truth.'
The Old Slavonic, which is the cradle of the T , he *
Eussian language, continues to exist in all its 01 ? Slav -
purity and is absolutely independent as our lan-
guage of the Church. Every Kussian can under-
112 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
stand it, nevertheless, even without learning.
The Bible is usually printed in two columns, Old
Slavonic and Russian, and one gets to know the
first of them quite well, even without being a
church-goer. One says one's prayers in it in early
childhood without being told that it is not Russian :
one does not think of it, somehow, as being a
language in itself, and it is a great mistake to state,
as it has been stated in the English Press, that the
Russians don't understand the language of their
Church. The roots of the words are in an over-
whelming majority the same. Just in the same
way as Modern Russian, the Old Slavonic has no
grammatical articles whatever, neither the nor a.
This degree of simplicity does not exist in any
other modern European language. Slavonic is also
free of auxiliary verbs, as there exists the same
three tenses as in Russian, and the only gram-
matical difference is, that the verb 'to be ' is used
in the Slavonic in its present tense. All these
similar features between the fountain-spring of
the Russian language and its modern form also
serve as links of close kinship, besides the simil-
arity of roots. Altogether, the likeness is so great
that simple-minded church-goers and devoted
Bible-readers are quite unconscious of knowing,
after all, two languages. To them the ancient
manner of speech appears to be simply a more
' heavenly ' one than the modern ! In my child-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 113
hood I knew a very old great-granny who used to
shed touching tears of delight when the boys
would purposely read to her: ' And Judas begat
Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat
Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; and Aram begat
Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and
Naasson begat Salmon. . . .' ' Why are you cry-
ing, granny ?' they would ask mischievously.
' It is so heavenly !' she would answer with
profound joy. The Kussian word bojestvenno !
is all that is wanted for this English answer and
means, literally godly ! The highest praise.
A great many genuine Slavonic words are in
constant use, interwoven with the Kussian speech
to such an extent that they only intensify the
' very Russian ' colouring of the conversation and
literature. 1 This obviously forms an additional
difficulty for the translators I mean for those who
know our language sufficiently to realize the fact.
This fact is that there exists but one French, or
English, or any other word now in use in the foreign
languages where we often have the choice between
the two definitions for the same conception:
Modern Russian and Old Russian (or Slavonic)
being equally familiar to us. And of these
1 For instance, we often use the Old Slavonic instead of the
Modern Russian without thinking of its being Old Slavonic
even for the following conceptions having absolutely different
roots from their modern equivalents: the eyes, the future, because,
call, strength, confession, good, fate, wounds, if, depth, shame,
114 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
two it is the second that carries the essentially
Russian spirit with it, without being out of date.
How, then, could one possibly interpret the dif-
ference between a purely Modern Kussian speech
and the one which is intensified by the use of the
familiar Slavonic equivalents, when using the
current Modern English only, as even the best of
now. to rest, grief, this, lips, kiss, temptation, other, ceaseless,
the thought, etc., etc.
Here are the parallel columns of these definitions, in order to
show the difference between their aspect in the modern Russian
and the ancient:
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 115
translators do ? The choice which is at our disposal
seems not to be at theirs ! Meanwhile, remove
just that very Eussian i uance de genre from the
pages of Dostoyevski, Gogol', L'eskov, Chehov,
Sl'eptzov, Gor'ki, Pushkin, Tolstoy, where the
tone of the speaker is to any extent elated, or
religiously-poetical, or sarcastic, or humorous
and the characterization will vanish.
It is rather a puzzle to me why those translators
who can see this characterization in the Russian
originals do not use the beautiful Old English ex-
pressions. Quite a quantity of them serve the
purpose. There seem to be ample equivalents
amongst them to that Old Russian style of speech
which we instinctively continue using when we feel
' very Russian,' and fondly describe something very
Russian. It surprises us that those features of
the Old English speech which should be a parallel
with the Old Russian, and should serve for parallel
purposes, seem to be effete in modern English life;
and this in spite of the English insularity and self-
respect ! Do the translators not care even for
those equivalents that could be found in the Old
English ? Why ? Wouldn't their readers under-
stand them ? Or is it because they cannot them-
selves see the difference these expressions make in
the Russian original ?
Of course, I mean those cases where an essentially
English old word could be found as a parallel. In
116 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
most cases, I am afraid, they would not correspond
exactly; but perhaps a masterly admixture of
Chaucer's, Spenser's, or Shakespeare's expressions
might at least in some cases suggest the beautiful
old element in the current Eussian language. I
even heard a remark from a well-educated English
person that the Old English expressions would
make the speech pedantic. This is very strange.
With us, everything Old Russian brings with it
the atmosphere of warmth and humour and caress,
as well as of dignified homeliness, or of the national
heroic spirit reflected in the folk-lore. We have no
The keys to need to dream any ' Dreams of John Ball ' in order to
talc, child- enjoy the beauties of the olden speech. The fountain-
head of our language is blended with its steadily-
increasing modern forms in perfect harmony. The
language, a k ove _ men t;ioned passion for the searching of the
new in the realm of the language is a proof of this
in itself: every newly-introduced Russian word is
essentially Russian, i.e., always founded on a
familiar old root. Thus one can force an endless
growth of the Russian language, a growth by expan-
sion, without necessarily breaking up and casting
away its original individuality. The genuine age-old
element is just the one which in a fairy-tale way-
keeps the artistic Russian nationalism child-young.
There is an English volume of translations
of our wonder-tales. The translator, Mr. Post
Wheeler, has rightly called them wonder-tales:
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 117
there exist no fairies in the mind of the folk who
created them, and all the wonderful achievements
narrated in those tales are accomplished by human
heroes, peasants or princes sometimes aided by a
fire-bird or a frog (transformed ' Tsar-girls ').
iiut the translator never mentions in his preface
what difficulties he has been forced to contend
with ! Mr. Kasso, the late Kussian Minister of
Education, sent him a letter of congratulation on
this volume, but the Russian Ministers of Educa-
tion have seldom taken a keen interest in Russian
enlightenment, especially in the Russian peasant's
unique speech, and Mr. Kasso least of all ! His
letter, published next to the preface, carries more
weight as a diplomatic than a literary document,
for Mr. Post Wheeler's signature is followed by,
' Secretary of the American Embassy at St. Peters-
burg.' This letter does anything but minimize
the deplorable fact that the ancient, genuine
facon dc parler of the Russian tales is entirely
lost and unrecognizable in the English version.
This is inevitable, and could not be helped. But
what I wish to point out is the obvious indifference
of the translator towards the most precious part
of those folk-lore creations: their unique, superb,
Old Russian style ! He seems to be quite uncon-
scious of it; otherwise he should have made it
clear in some form or other.
If the paintings of our Vasnetzov, Surikov,
118 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
An ex- Vrubel, and Nesterev had been known in England,
via other my reader would be able to understand me better
from a parallel: because these artists give in their
colours and in their compositions that same un-
translatable element of the Slavonic with which
the characteristically-Russian literary style is teem-
ing. Their paintings are not supernationul, not
generally-human. Most probably their meaning
would remain hidden from the mass of the English
public. Yet everyone could feel in them that some-
thing which is their spirit. Bobbed of that touch of
their very own lines and colours, the greatest paint-
ings of Vasnetzov would turn into nothingness.
Being unable to show them to my reader, I
would like to point out to him the Eussian peasants'
carved wood and toys as the next typical examples.
These are rather well known in England by this
time. Well, would they remain ' Russian ' if you
washed away from the woodwork the golden
cupolas, the heads of hermits, the ancient palaces
built of logs, the rich Byzantian ornamentation,
the design of stars, the immense hedges and weeny
windows, the ancient head-wear, imposing boyars,
the troyki, the folk-lore subjects ? No. The whole
industry, so rich in artistic imagination and char-
acter, would vanish if anyone had the power to
check the springs of its inspiration. The genre
would disappear, even if the fir-trees and village
roofs half buried in snow and the modern village-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 119
types were left to it. Because it is, again, that
age-old element which is an inseparable part of
the Russian art and which lives on alongside with
the newest and most daring in it. Those who had
the chance of seeing the Russian ballet and opera
at the Drury Lane, in 1914, will clearly follow the
current of my thoughts. The striking blend in
both colour and sounds of their ancient nature
with the most daring New is the keynote of that
child-young sincerity and is its fascination. It is
obvious to those who have seen the chords of colour
and heard the harmony of sound. But neither of
these could be ' translated ' ! The Russian speech
deprived of its fundamental and essentially Russian
element, would sound the same as ' Boris Godunov '
or ' Petrushka,' if these were rendered in C major
from beginning to end !
A simpler illustration would be an Irishman's
English shorn of its national character. Well, the
rich colouring of the Russian literature (not sub-
divided into little squares of ' slang ' and good
style) is further away from the correct English
than from Pat's. Thus a typical Irish story would
lose less by its translation into the Russian than
by being retold in pure English.
Here are a few examples of interesting deriva- Some sim-
,. i i ,, , . , Pie deriva-
tions which are at the same time very simple. tions.
' Work ' in English is an independent definition,
120 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
so to speak, and why it is just so, and nothing else,
no one can explain as one cannot explain the
origin of thousands of words in any language.
But in Russian work is rabota, the first three letters
of which mean serf. This does not point to a
specially industrious spirit in our ancestors ! But
most likely they were poetical lovers of Nature
before everything else; and when, in the course of
their development, a definition for work had to
be created, it appeared in this strikingly frank
form. ( Rob = serf ; rabota = work ; rabstvo = serfdom.)
The Russian word for excitement comes from the
noun wave (vo?nd=wave; volneniye = excitement).
It is applied to the high seas as appropriately as
to the state of a person whose voice, expressions,
looks are ' waving ' like the surface of a rough sea.
This noun, volneniye, has, of course, a correspond-
ing verb, which literally means ' to wave oneself '
(tioJnov&tsa). Thus when we want to say, ' Don't
get excited !' we say ' Don't wave yourself !'
This is an everyday, simple expression, but we
use it without the mocking, humorous touch of
voice which so often goes with the English dis-
approval of excitement. If anything, volneniye is
a state of mind which attracts sympathy. And we
never think of excitement, either, as the cause of a
child's ' liver ' three or four days after a Christmas
party ! It is we who smile here.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 121
There are two ways of saying in Russian, ' I
want to.' One of them conveys the idea of con- ^fleeted in
scious will and decision, yd hochu = l will (which
has nothing to do with the formation of the future
tense, as it is not wanted for that purpose);
while the other, with the personal noun in the
dative (mn'e in the place of ya) is expressed by the
impersonal form of the verb: mn'e hochetsa. The
latter form of saying ' I will ' conveys a vague
desire for something, as if commanded by some
power from without, and even the dative of the
personal pronoun is usually omitted: Ne hochetsa
rabotat' /=! don't want to work. Hochetsa otdoh-
niit' f=I want to rest. Spat' hochetsa != to sleep I
want. Hochetsa molodost *i ! = one wants to be youn g !
(p. 42). All these are amongst the numerous
everyday expressions when we subconsciously
acknowledge an involuntary desire, as it were.
Hochetsa Vybv'i one longs for love often comes
into poems and songs.
It does not matter which of the two aspects
(personal or impersonal) of this expression you use
about wanting or not wanting a cup of tea, or
about going to bed. But it makes a difference
whether you say about yourself, Ya hochu jenitsa,
or Mn'e hochetsa jenitsa! Both mean in English
that you want to be married, but the first suggests
that the choice of a girl has already been settled,
and you have finally decided to see the business
122 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
through; while hochetsa jenitsa means generally
that you are tired of a bachelor life and you would
like to settle down. In olden days, a young Rus
sian girl living in strict seclusion and seeing no
alternative to her endless embroidery would
wearily murmur, half -abashed at her temerity:
' Zdmuj * hochetsa /'
The author of the Idiot says about his man of
society, Totzki, that he wanted to marry well; in
this case the impersonal form (in the past tense:
hot'elos') is applied as the only logical one, because
the man's desire was a general, vague idea which
took hold of him.
Altogether, the impersonal form of the verbs
winds its way throughout the language and pre-
sents one of the characteristic points of the Kussian
manner of thinking ; a whole volume could be written
about our verbs alone ; and the all-important subtlety
of their two ' aspects ' of the infinitive greatly
accounts for the deficiency of most translations.
NO com- But then we have no exact expressions for the
ever-present English verbs ' to like ' and ' to mind.'
I must acknowledge that here the palm for subtle
differences in the definition of degrees of feelings
belongs to the English language. I can offer only
one explanation of this, namely, that we either
love a person or a thing, or we don't. There isn't
much room for compromise in the Russian heart,
1 Pages 85 and 86.
THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 123
and the only alternative is ' this pleases me,' as in
French, which is rather a different thing. The
English language can claim the verb ' to like ' in
A very good example of no compromise in the
Russian taste is the absence in our language of the
eternal English answer, ' I don't mind.' To mind
is in itself a very English, a very mild and civilized
way of remonstrating; and the not minding is
essentially so in consenting to something. There
is no vivid wholeheartedness about it, and we very
often stop and think after such an answer: * But
does he (or she) really approve of it ? ' A few months
of life in England are necessary to put a stamp of
English manners upon us, and then we say a hun-
dred times a day, in quite an English intonation:
' I don't mind.'
Only I reserve to myself the right of doubting
whether many of us really begin to feel in this half
and half way. In expressions and intonations we
get acclimatized very quickly, that's very true; but
in our innermost, inherent attitude towards things
it is not so easy to have one's nature rolled out
smoothly. There is a risk of being impolite ? . . .
Oh, yes, very often so. Lack of politeness is the
natural result of feeling wholly one way or the
other. That is why there is such a lot of arguing
and debating going on in Russia. If I may touch
on the seriousness of to-day, there were very few
124 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
advanced people hitherto in our country who
' didn't mind ' things as they were and there
are none now. The not minding and not caring
has never existed before, nor has this indifferent
state so far appeared. But people of enlightened
views and Opposition parties have, for the time
being, left behind their opinions, habits, and
fashions, as soon as they realized that by retain-
ing them they would impede the nation's achieve-
No, the polite and lukewarm indifference will
never become a national Mature of the land of the
Eussians. They do mind and they do care very
much so, although they appear to be able to put
their personal feelings on one side while their
country's freedom is at stake.
An every- With this Slavonic capacity of yielding oneself
city, wholly to one's ideas and emotions, it is not sur-
prising to find an everyday Russian definition very
seldom used in England; here people are more con-
servative and refuse to be swept off their feet
which, at times, must be more effective in the long
run than a hearty yielding to that fascinating sensa-
tion I This definition is uvlecheniye, 1 and it means
' the state of being carried or swept away ' ; the
verb is uvlekatsa, and means the action of carrying
oneself away. Living amongst Russians one per-
1 Mentioned before, p. 73.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 125
petually hears that someone is being carried away,
and you would see proofs of this with your own
eyes. You would see people glued to their work,
which they are not in the least bound to do not
merely for hours, but day and night for many
months on end. That is why Kussians wear
themselves out physically much sooner than the
British. It is as though the sap of life were with-
drawn from the Russian body to feed the emotions,
whereas with the British the reverse is often the
case. With us there are no persons of fifty and
upwards presenting that healthy, glowing, youth-
ful appearance which one constantly meets in
people of a corresponding age in these isles. Dos-
toyevski and Gogol' used to work in that exhaust-
ing Russian manner. It results in great, inspired
work, but it certainly also mows down and carries
those people away too far and too early !
You would hear that someone is carried away
by this or that philosophy or system and you
would have to endure the result of it each time he
meets you ; another by his passion for enlightening
the masses, and then you may be sure that that
person will not leave alone any servant, or work-
man, or peasant he comes across for the first time.
Yet another is carried away with the arts the
drama above all and these number legion. Again
you will constantly hear a good-natured statement
that So-and-So is carried away by So-and-So,
126 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
which, needless to say, no one regards as humili-
ating. It is a tribute to any artist, musician, or
social worker to say that he or she is painting,
playing, singing, or working with uvlecheniye; be-
cause everyone who is spontaneously swept away
by his work is sure to sweep others along with him.
The nearest to it in English is abandonment,
but the Russian uvlecheniye does not include any
suggestion of the unpleasant side of abandon-
If you feel that you are being carried away by a
marriageable person of the opposite sex, you can
safely tell him or her, ' You are carrying me
away!' Vy m'en'd uvlelcayefe! This will sound
lovable if you are sincere, but it will not give
the other party an opportunity of beginning to
weave a network of matrimonial schemes. We
possess no Breach of Promise Act, and we would
never think of passing such a law. It makes
Russian people roar with laughter, or thunder
with indignation, when they read instances of it
in English books or daily press.
* * * # *
Baba' There is a Russian word baba, which is usually
RSn translated into English as countrywoman. This
cjmcep- j g p ar ^ a n;y right, but not altogether. Every
countrywoman is a baba, it is true, and is called
so without the least disrespect, in spite of the
touch of contempt it originally implied, and which
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 127
can be revived when occasion requires. Now-
adays, the peasant says in highest praise:
' Molodetz 1 baba ! Boy baba !' ' boy ' literally
meaning a fight, a battle which is an obvious
proof that the Eussian peasant rather admires
vigour and strength in his mate. But the original
shade of contempt is distinctly conveyed by the
same word, baba, if you choose to apply it to that
special purpose. Both men and women of the
educated classes will use it when mentioning some
gossiping woman or a company of plain females
exclusively absorbed in the sex attraction; and
then the denomination baba fully implies con-
tempt for the hackneyed prerogative of woman.
Probably due to the English horror of slang in
literature, even this tone, when suggesting first
and foremost the sexual element, is invariably
neglected and replaced by the respectable defini-
tion ' countrywoman,' whereas female would be
very often nearer the mark. ' Countrywoman '
emphasizes class distinction rather than sex, where-
as, in the original, the word baba embraces both
at will. I want to point it out again that in speak-
ing about countrywomen, the word baba suggests
nothing but a natural wholesome idea of the sex
as the word grandmother in Eussian, babushka
(derived direct from baba), shows. No one says in
Eussian ' mujiki and countrywomen,' but ' mujikl
1 See p. 42.
128 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
and baby ?1 Yet baba directly suggests the idea of
sex in a more pointed way than jenshchina (woman)
does, when the distinction is all-important. Thus,
trying to guess the sex of the dirty, stingy old person
wrapped up in rags, the hero of Gogol "s Dead
Souls repeats to himself, ' Oy, mujik ! Oy, baba !'
the exclamation oy conveying much wonder.
An An historical anecdote will further illustrate the
anecdote, word baba when it means accentuating the dis-
tinction of sex. When Catherine II. usurped her
husband's throne on the momentous night in 1762,
the men in one of the regiments stationed in Peters-
burg declared that they would not swear allegiance.
Their officers vainly tried to persuade them.
' We won't we shan't !' they shouted.
' But why ?'
' Because she is a baba !'
A very energetic colonel appeared quickly to
put the matter straight.
' You won't swear allegiance to our Mother-
' No-o !'
' Why ?'
' Because she is a baba ! We won't serve a
1 In plural. Please don't for a second imagine that this
word sounds as an English ' baby ' does ! Eemember the
Italian a and the dark Eussian vowel for which y stands only
as a symbol. (See Introduction.)
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 129
' Won't you ?' and the energetic man of the hour
briskly walked up to the men and proceeded to
box the ears of each man. As he continued this
steadily, the men gradually fell in, the noise
stopped, and the hands went up to salute; but
he continued until he was tired.
' Well ?' his panting voice thundered again,
' won't you swear allegiance to our Empress now T
' We shall we will !'
' Why, you fools, 1 then why didn't you want
to before ?'
' Because,' they cried unanimously, ' no one had
explained it to us properly !'
Certainly the expression 'to explain properly'
would not be applied in this sense by any soldier
nowadays; but the word baba certainly would.
Obviously it was not used in order to call Catherine
a countrywoman but with the distinct intention
of expressing contempt for her sex.
This characteristic of the word baba is clearly
reflected in the critical saying, ' Quite po-babyi /'
Men use it at the sight of women's wiles to which
they (men) 'would never resort' themselves:
tears, coaxing, proverbial cunning, etc.
Altogether it seems to me that the word baby
for the Russian peasant women deserves exactly
the same popularity as the word mujikl has already
1 In this case the word for fools, duraki, was surely applied
in its intensified form, durachyo, which conveys boundless
130 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
won. This would, perhaps, also help in sketching
the mental picture of a Russian peasant woman as
being so different from an English one: she does
not possess or dust a mantelpiece; she does not
make dainty little cakes with baking-powder at
five minutes' notice, for there is no baking-powder
in Russia and she kneads her yeast-made black
bread thrice the night before; she does not
' change ' in the afternoon, and does not walk
about till then with paper curlers sticking from
her head like a porcupine in utter ignorance of her
ugliness. (If a Russian baba should encounter
such an apparition, she would be likely to stop
short in amazement and to cross herself for safety.)
She often lives through her life without knowing of
a hat or a corset, or even of other underwear; very
often goes about barefooted. But she vigorously
cleanses herself with boiling-hot water and steam
each week in the village public bdn'a, as every
moujlk does; 1 neither of them would call an
English bedroom-bath anything but a saucer; she
makes her own linen chemises from the home-
grown flax; she embroiders all her table-cloths and
' A-ah ! Nice ! . . . Now we feel Russia heart and soul
with us ! . . .' say the Russian soldiers as they emerge from
the bath-trains behind the trenches. An hour weekly in the
hot steam of a ban'a (Turkish bath-house) is the same as daily
bread to a Russian moujik. ... ' We now feel Russia behind
us !' . . . By the way, the ban'a is an ancient genuine
Russian institution, not at all introduced by the Turks,
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 131
towels, to say nothing of chemises and shirts; and
she looks after the cattle and works in the fields
with the strength and vigour of an unsophisticated
aboriginal. This work is a matter of course to
her, side by side with man.
That is what a baba is versus the probably
wrong vision of an English reader who is likely
to imagine a Russian countrywoman wearing a
' best hat ' and corsets. On a Sunday she looks
very trim and bright without possessing these,
and spends, if possible, her Sunday afternoon and
evening in sociable merry-making, often with a
touch of art in her uvlecheniye.
Each of the two types, if they met, would
mutually regard each other with compassionate
* * * * 4
The English reader will be surprised to learn TWO im-
that the universally-known expression, ' Ivan the finitions
Terrible,' for Ivan Grozny, is not correct. Being translated,
an epithet meant for a special definition of a Tsar's
personality and one of Ivan's nature, too ! it
would be surely translated correctly if there existed
an equivalent for it. But grozny is just one of
those Old Russian terms which seem to have no
equivalents in the West. There is a different
word which stands exactly for ' terrible ' with us
(ujasny). But grozny is an adjective derived
directly from the nouns ' thunder-storm ' (gr^za)
132 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
and 'thunder' (grom)\ not simply 'storm,' for
which we have several other nouns, but exactly
thunder-storm. Thus grozny carries a more pic-
turesque idea with it than ' terrible.' We apply
the term grozny for everything that is silently
dark and menacing and frowning, like the advance
of a thunder-storm when you don't know whether
it will leave you alive or not. If William the
Silent were a Kussian Tsar' he would be probably
called Grozny. With the additional syllable of
nuance po which gives a touch of finish to the idea,
the same root makes the world-renowned word
pogrom ; another twist and it is transformed into
' fulminating mercury,' one of the most terrible
explosive substances known (gremuchaya rtut').
Equally untranslated by the historians and
grammarians remains the term applied by us to
the times of Dmitri and his few successors. In
English this period of the Russian history is mostly
called ' The Stormy Times.' But with us it is not
' stormy ': the idea of our adjective in this case is
the same which we apply to the state of water
when something has rendered it turbid; or to the
outlines of a landscape made undistinguishable by
mist; or to an unaccountable feeling of foreboding.
. . . There is an element of heavily-weighing
unaccountability in that adjective (smutny) which
is absent in its translations.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 133
In Russian a special twist is given to some nouns special
through the addition of the termination shchina. the nouns.
It implies the whole atmosphere of ideas, feelings,
and actions which have grown around a certain
person, or a set of people, which forms its original
centre, as it were. It is parallel to the Western
1 ism/ e.g., Sheridanism, Voltairianism, Bismarck-
ism, etc. So Biionovshchina stands for the most
cruel officialdom, such as Biron, the German
favourite of the Tsaritsa Anna (1730-1740), first
introduced in Russia ; Hovanshchina is more or less
known in England as the title of the beautiful
opera given in Drury Lane in 1914, in which the
whole world surrounding the Prince Hovanski
forms the plot of the drama. Dostoyevshchina
would be easily understood by every Russian,
although it has just occurred to me on the spur of
the moment: every student of Russian literature
will realize that I mean the everlasting exaltation
of suffering or of love, and the eternally throbbing
nerves of Dostoyevski himself and of all his char-
acters, with which they intensify the weight of
every moment, of every passing word or thought. . . .
Sometimes the all-embracing quality of the end-
ing shchina is attached not to a person, yet keeps
its power of giving a bold character sketch and
that is where it is particularly popular and
graphic : so, Dostoyevski himself constantly uses in
the Brothers Karamdzov the word ugolovslicliina :
134 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Mrs. Constance Garnett translates it by ' crime '-
the only way it can be translated approaching the
original; but, being an excellent student of both
languages, she is sure to know what I am going to
say here, namely: that crime in Eussian is quite
another word, prestupleniye ; but that Dostoyev-
ski uses ugolovshchina purposely, as a word con-
veying a much stronger flavour of something gross
about it. Every crime is prestuplenie, whereas
ugolovnoye prestupleniye means specially a crime of
homicide, and the courts dealing with it are called
ugolovny sud (the root of the word, gol ,va, means
head). Now this adjective, ugolovny, is twisted
by Dostoyevski into a noun by the special termin-
ation, \igo\ovshchina, on purpose to suggest the
whole gross atmosphere of Karamazov's crime.
' . . . There is the scent of ugolovshchina about
it ' is an expression used not only by Dostoyevski' s
characters, but often heard in the practice of the
judicial circles when a guess at some appalling
criminal affair is made.
A quite familiar, everyday word with us is
kaz'onshchina, which conveys our scorn of official
routine. The root of this word is kazna, and means
Government funds; the adjective from it, ka-
z'onny, means everything belonging to the Govern-
ment, and is applied to service in civil or military
circles, to schools and institutions, to buildings and
all sorts of property belonging to the Government;
THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 135
officials live in a kaz'onnaya kvartlra; there is a
whole ocean of kaz'onnoye ink and paper used in
the offices; a soldier wears kaz'onnyie boots and
clothes, etc. But, due to Russia's past history,
this adjective has acquired a distinct meaning of
dryness and stiffness, and therefore is used with
irony or sarcasm as an epithet directly defining
these qualities. Thus, a Russian peasant speaking
of some official who refused to listen to his requests
or explanations, will wave his hand and say:
' Kaz'onnaya dusha !' thus implying that he gives
up hope, because what can be expected from a man
whose soul (dusha) is not his own, as it were, but
merely an appendage of the Government ? . . . Or,
a style of writing devoid of vivacity and freedom is
universally called kaz'onny stiF. Again, Russian
schoolboys people possessing the strongest diges-
tion in the world ! are often laughingly spoken of
amongst themselves and by their elders as having
' kaz'onnyie ' stomachs: nothing can possibly upset
This characteristic of immovable stiffness is
still further accentuated by the ending discussed
above, which turns it into a noun kaz'on-
shchina. This is the word which the old cynic
Karamazov uses in speaking of the monastic life,
and which is translated merely as routine or con-
vention. The poignant, flippant flavour is all gone
from the original word. I repeat, this is not the
136 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
fault of the translator in this and similar cases,
but the impossibility in other languages of making
all these telling, all-important twists.
Very interesting is the fact that various term-
inations used ad libitum for nouns, adjectives, and
even other parts of speech, not only carry very dis-
tinctly different shades of meaning, but suggest
the attitude of the speaker, indicating the various
tones of voice in which all these definitions would
be uttered. For instance :
The expression of old Karamazov, ' Jidy, Jidkl,
Jid'lshki, and Jid'en'ata,' does not mean ' Jews,
Jewesses, and Jewkins,' as it is translated: they
convey, through this assortment of terminations,
nothing but the speaker's contemptuous attitude
to the Jews, whilst their wives and children are not
implied at all. It would be nearer the tone of the
original to translate it ' all sorts of dirty, wretched
Jews.' True, Jiden'ata is often used for defining
Jewish youngsters; but, along with the other
diminutives, this word stands here solely to under-
line Karamazov's tone of contempt, and this is
clear from the next phrase in the original, in which
Karamazov says, as an antithesis : ' but I ended
by being received by Hebrews.' Mrs. Constance
Garnett translates this : ' received by Jews high
and low alike.' But in this paragraph she has
not understood the original (an exceptional case).
May I explain that it carries distinctly all the differ-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 137
ence which, in Kussia, rests with the choice be-
tween the words Jew and Hebrew. Strangely
enough, in other languages, even in Yiddish itself,
the people of that race are called Jews, and they
accept it as a matter of course; but in Russia the
Jews are bitterly offended when they are so called
(Jidy). In fact, no one does it, except with in-
tentional insult. One takes great care not even
to pronounce this name (even in the form of an
adjective) in the presence of Jews at all: it must
be Hebrew (Yevrey). Thus, saying that his busi-
ness ended by his acquaintance with Hebrews,
whilst it began with Jidlshki and Jid'en'ata, old
Karamazov obviously uses the selection of con-
temptuous terminations with the purpose of dis-
tinguishing the Jidki from Hebrews, whom he
thus classifies as a better type and is prepared to
That same attitude of the speaker towards the
object winds its way throughout the numberless
endings expressing, ad libitum, love, contempt,
fear, respect, etc. The old cynic Karamazov him-
self is called by his philosophical son Ivan a
1 st&iishishka ' a twist of the word for old man
which breathes of nothing but disgust; while
starch is used by everybody as a term of profound
respect for the other old man in the book, Zoslma,
although both forms of the word come from, and
mean, old man.
138 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
In the Western world one does not meet with
characters like Al'osha, Zoslma, ' Idiot/ Platon
Karavayev, Tsar' Feodor loanovich, Gor'ki's
' Granny,' Son 'a Marmeladova, and other such
outstanding characters in Kussian literature and
Tender- history. Naturally enough, the style of language
love wind- surrounding these types can be nothing else but
way essentially Russian. They are living embodi-
ments of utterly selfless love, and therefore the
language. ^^ wor ^ o f their language and of the lan-
guage surrounding them the Russian language
of love is unimaginable and non-existent in any
other language. It is essentially Russian in many
features. To begin with its terms of endear-
ment, for instance: my falcon bright, my bright
light, my red sun, my rodnoy (see p. 59), etc.
But this is far from being all; the order of
the words itself commands various degrees of
' caressiveness ' the latter in itself being a char-
acteristic feature, without which the Russians
could not live. To return to the order of the
words, ' my dear boy ' in Russian carries with it
considerably less ' caressiveness ' than ' boy thou
mine dear '! It sounds ugly in English, but beau-
tiful in Russian. It is placed by Dostoyevski in
the mouth of Zosima when addressing Al'osha,
and is inevitably translated in the only one correct
There is a passionate love for the soul of Nature
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 139
and soul of Man which radiates human warmth
and sympathy winding its way throughout the
whole of Russian literature : through Tolstoy's and
Dostoyevski's classical characters in prose, through
Nekrasov's poetry, Ostrovski's drama and comedy,
through the modest types of Chehov and Gor'ki.
In one of his brief sketches, Chehov brings out a
vivid figure of a quiet monk who takes people
across a ferry to his monastery for the Easter
midnight service: he is in an ecstasy of love and
worship. Being also a born literary artist, he
speaks of the subtle beauties of expression to be
found in the Old Slavonic psalms ; he mentions the
Akaphist to the Virgin, and says : ' The shortest
line addressed to her should breathe of sunshine
and wind, of the beauty of God's thunder-storms
and of the little field flowers. . . .'
Diminutive forms more than often do not mean
' little ' at all, but suggest something else charac-
teristic of the moment. 1 For instance, when
Dmitri Karamazov observes a responsive spark in
the eyes of his brother Al'osha, he calls them
' cjlaz'onld ' : neither simply glazd nor glaz/a, both
1 There is an excellent example given in Mr. Nevill Forbes's
Russian grammar: lie says that when a guard on a Russian
train, asking you to show your ticket, uses the word bU'rt'ik
instead of saying it in its original form, bil'et, it means that he
will not decline a tip ! This is perfectly right, and beautifully
illustrates the attitude of the speaker, expressed in one little
additional syllable !
140 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
meaning eyes, but gl&z'onki : this is because Dosto-
yevski wanted to convey to his reader the exact
manner in which Dmitri Karamazov was struck by
the responsive flash in his brother's gaze. It needs
a whole paragraph to carry it in English; the ter-
mination chosen by Dmitri (glaz'owH) conveys
approximately this : ' Ah ! those dear, serious eyes
of yours; they, too, can sparkle with the ecstasy
of passion ! . . . You understand me I can see
it in their gleam, and I love you the more for it. . . .'
Dmitri's discovery of a weak spot in his pure-
minded brother, and of loving him the more for
it, is all expressed in that ending of the word which
he has chosen from amongst several other ter-
One of the latter, for example, is glaz'ishche, used
on fantastically uncanny occasions; thus, in speak-
ing of the meeting of a child with a witch, the
story-teller will describe her eyes, in a voice of
horror, as ' green gl&zishche glittering with a bane-
ful light.' Or, the vacant gaze of a half-witted
street-corner philosopher would inspire his com-
rades with the desire to shake him and say: ' Gey,
wake up ! Why are thy gl&zlshche coming out of
thine head ?'
That same termination goes beautifully with the
boots (ordinarily, sapogl) of a man who steps into
your house from a muddy road without having
wiped them; we dislike dirty boots intensely, and
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 141
the first thing you will call out on this occasion
(instead of remarking politely that ' it is very wet
indeed ') will be :
' Vytri (wipe) s&ipojishchi-to ! Ish, natoptal !'
Well, in this short phrase the termination added
to the ordinary word for boots makes one instantly
visualize the glance of disgust which the speaker
has cast on those clumsy boots, heavy with mud
sticking on to them; to is one of the eloquent par-
ticles that form no part of speech at all, but are
bits of various words; it stands here for further
intensifying your demand to see those boots wiped
first of all ! Ish is another of those particles, and
stands for ' There, just look at him !' While
natoptal (the past tense, in singular, masculine,
from the verb toptdt' = to tread, with the addi-
tional syllable of nuance no) means : ' Hasn't he
made a mess on the floor !'
Total: Sixteen English words necessary to con-
vey the meaning of the three words and two
' particles ' of the Russian original.
Sometimes a diminutive ending conveys bound-
less mockery. For instance, the piskdr'iki (in the
scene of the scandal at the monastery, Brothers
Karamdz v) is translated by Mrs. Constance Garnett
as ' gudgeons ' and couldn't be translated as any-
thing else, because piskar'fe' are gudgeons as well
as piskar'i ; but there is a world of difference in the
tone of the speaker, who is using the first one in-
142 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
stead of the second : Karamazov selects it to express
a world of scorn and most emphatic defiance. 1
various There are caressive terminations given even to
tions con- adjectives and adverbs. For instance, Dostoyevski,
exact atti- in describing the grey hair of the elder Zoslma, calls
tude of the .
speaker, it not simply s'edyie (grey) hair, but a'&d'e
which every Kussian would also do, because the
old man whose appearance is described is good and
attractive and sweet and small. One could not pos-
sibly say s'ed'en'kiye about the hair of a man if
one hated him ! Yet in another language it can be
nothing else but simply ' grey ' (s'edyie) unless it
is ' greyish,' which is a different thing; and thus the
lovable attitude of the speaker is not conveyed here
any more than it is in hundreds of similar cases.
(By the way: s'edyie stands for grey hair only:
grey mice, or donkeys, or coats, etc., are s'eryie.)
If you speak of a far distance without specially
objecting to its being far, you make the adverb
daTeko (far) into a daVokon'Tco ! Or, in trying to
persuade your friend to come with you to your
destination, you say it is Uiz'ohon'ko, in a coaxing
tone of voice, instead of saying simply Uizkc,
although both mean ' near ' in English a word
which could not possibly be distorted. Or ' early '
is in Eussian rdno. To express unpleasant antici-
pation at the thought of compulsory early rising
1 I allude so frequently to this special book, being under the
impression that it is the one Russian novel which has really
attracted attention amongst the English public.
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 143
you would say ranavdtof Whereas, speaking of
rising to enjoy the beauties of the dawn, you would
say, with keen appreciation, ' It was so beautiful
this morning that I got up mn'ohon'ko /' This
latter twist to the adverb is also used in a tone of
childish complaint, as in the opera ' Rusalka '
(Mermaid) when the forsaken heroine complains
that her husband wakes her up very early for the
sole purpose of telling her that he will be absent for
the day as usual !
Even some conjunctions carry different degrees
of the same meaning with a partial alteration of
the word; thus, otchevo means ' Why ?' but if the
question is asked in a rude tone, it is expressed by
the absence of the first syllable. Thus, you would
affectionately reproach your friend: ' Otchevo did
you not come and see me when I expected you !'
But, if an old comrade thrusts himself into your
private den at an inconvenient moment, you are
sure to exclaim with irritation: ' Chevo hast thou
come at this hour ?' Or, in a crowd in which every-
one is eager to get to the front, you will not infre-
quently see a fellow who is elbowing his way
through, stopped by the none too polite query:
' Chevo dost thou push ? 51 The Russian crowd is
1 It is this sort of ' why ' that would be used in the above-
quoted remark addressed to a street-corner philosopher.
It should be noted that it is a different word to the genitive
of the pronoun ' what ' (chto, chevo, etc.). The rude half of the
conjunction ' why ' goes exclusively with verbs, not nouns.
144 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
rougher than an English one, and the same people
who will show great depth of feeling in matters of
importance remain insensitive where mere polite-
ness is concerned. To us politeness does not neces-
sarily indicate goodness of heart.
Numerous adjectives defining shapes, colours, or
any other qualities are given that twist of caressive-
ness if the speaker is in a gentle, appreciative mood.
So, b'ely means white; but b'&'ea'it means nice and
white. Speaking of a pretty white kitten or puppy
you are most likely to apply the caressive form of
the adjective, b'ePen'ii; but a snow-covered land-
scape or a white elephant could not be possibly
called otherwise than b'ely! Well perhaps with
one exception : if you did wash and scrub a white
elephant or a white hippopotamus with your own
hands, and took rather a pride in it, you might
say, in admiration : ' Look at him ! Isn't he
VeVertki now V
Likewise, you would call a blue sky golubdye n'ebo ;
but a baby's blue blanket would be more likely to
be called goluben'koye. (Again, these examples do
not mean whitish or bluish at all: in that case they
would acquire stiJl different terminations.)
Don Quixote was thin, huddy ; whereas a frail,
meek boy is Imd'en'ki in the conception of his
mother, and simply hud in the definition of a
Sancho Panza was a jirny fellow, fat ; but when
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 145
the Kussian Easter markets are teeming with nice,
fat, pink poros'dta, sucking pigs, their owners,
the shopkeepers, in inviting the crowds of buyers
each to his stall, call out in an appetizing manner
twisting both the name of the tasty subjects and
their desired quality in an admiring way: Poro-
s'atH iim'en'kiye! Poios'onochki prejirnyie ! . . .
Pojaluyt'e (be welcome) gospoda, pojaluyt'e ! . . .'
Only the adjectives depicting qualities of power,
beauty, alertness, as well as those dealing with
abstract and wider conceptions, or those defining
unattractive qualities, keep their original forms
always quite logically, too: because they com-
mand respect, admiration, serious thought, or dis-
pleasure, and not a merry, lovable or humorous
attitude. Such are, for instance, moguchi=powei-
ful, pr'ekrasny= beautiful, bystry= quick, lovki=
alert, v'echny = eternal, sm'ertny = mortal, po-
b 'edny victorious, mlrny= peaceful, etc.
Effectively balancing the caressiveness of the Poignancy
T> i J.-L -A. A A. of ex P res -
Russian language there is its poignancy. A great sions.
deal of poignancy has been lost (or perhaps purposely
omitted ?) in the Russian works by the translators'
dropping almost all the graphic, pointed expressions
which are labelled ' slang ' in English. I have
already mentioned that our authors do not hesi-
tate for a moment to use slang, not only in the
mouths of their characters, but in speaking for
146 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
themselves. For instance, the words quoted in
the footnote below 1 and taken at random from a
standard English translation are incomparably less
cutting, less sarcastic than they are in the Russian
original. And again, greatly trusting and admiring
Mrs. Constance Garnett's knowledge of the Russian
language, I can only suggest that she must feel
cramped and limited by the non-existence of many
equivalents in English as well as by the ostracism
exercised by English literature over everything not
comme ilfaut, even when it is the very expression
which would put the spark of life into a bookish
phrase. There certainly exists some splendid Eng-
lish slang which cannot be translated even into the
Russian ; but we feel it a very provoking and very
disappointing thing to be at a loss on these rare
occasions ! We would never think of improving an
author by polishing his language. And it would be
exceedingly interesting to know what makes the
translators deprive Gor'ki and Dostoyevski of the
1 For instance: Puny weakling, fantastical fellows, to
attach himself to a good family, on the slightest encouragement,
greediness, orgies of drunkenness, had thrown herself into, he
gets rid, father, not over scrupulously, blackguard, telling lies,
run at your father with a knife, the piano, uttered his foolish
tirade, it was a nonsensical idea of mine, I want to pass for a
man, that is what pulls him through, they don't smell it, un-
clean, get up ! thou liest, thrashing, girls, drunk, emasculate,
dirt, regular fright, quite, what is this to do with, nice looking,
etc. These phrases and expressions are not at all slang in
English, which they ought to be if they were meant to convey
the author's tone in his narrative.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 147
colours which should remain inseparable from their
palettes: is it their entire absence from amongst
the English paints ? Or have they no passports
into English literature ?
# * * # *
Talking about slang, I would like to mention Some
something about Russian swear-words and expres- swear-
sions of anger in general. We are not goody-
goodies. There seems to be room for everything
in the Russian nature and Russian speech. A
very popular manner of swearing in Russia is the
one summed up in wishing all sorts of uncomfort-
able things for the victim :
1 Mayest thou feel empty !' (suggesting both
material and spiritual emptiness, hunger and lone
' May crayfish trample thee flat !'
' May It blow thee up as large as a mountain !'
' Mayest thou have no top or bottom P
' This is enough to carry the Saints (the ikons)
out!' Or : ' Carry away my grief !' . . . These
two exclamations escape us when we hear giftless
singing, or playing, or some utter nonsense.
There must be a kind of instinctive competition
in imagination in this case in every language, I am
sure. The more boundless the imagination the
better ! I don't mean that there exists no swear-
ing or cursing in Russia which is not fit to be ac-
knowledged by any language. Gor'ki calls it
' idiotically mean,' and says that it remains dark
148 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
even to the minds of those beasts who utter it.
But I would like to say, by the way, that there are
many curses centring round dogs, which would cut
to the heart those English ladies who call themselves
the ' mothers ' of their pet dogs. . . . This, in its
turn, jars upon us ! There exist no households in
Russia where the dog's outing or food would form
a recurring topic of conversation even at meals.
The old English expression ' Scratch a Russian,
find a Tartar ' ought to be forgotten for more than
one reason. Firstly, because a Russian does not
need any scratching in order to get at his inner-
most self. Really, of our two nationalities it is
not the Russian that does need it ! ... It is
the best part of a Russian that you always know
where you are when you have to deal with him.
Secondly or rather consequently it is not the
Tartar at all that comes out with (unnecessary !)
scratching, but the true, real Russian himself.
Because his next best quality is many-sidedness:
he allows himself to be openly angry when he feels
angry, just as he allows his heart to go out to
people when they do appeal to him. We are not
capable of concealed fermenting, whether with
wrath or exaltation. Therefore the expressions
chort voz'mi! (devil take it!) and chort znayet!
(devil knows) are much more homely with us than
they are in this country, especially as we have
two words for devil: b'e<$ is a sinister, right-down
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 149
wrathful personality, while chirt is a spirit of mis-
chief unpleasant, but understandable ! When
angry, a Russian does not search in his pocket for
words, as we say, but he has no need, either, to
search for them when he is delighted with you.
The things that make a Russian angry most are :
injustice, stupidity, cruelty, narrowness, and gift-
less rendering of art's creations.
Just another few lines before I close this topic. A unique
. term to
There exists one very quaint and very Russian depict
word not exactly a swear- word, but an expression
of neglect and of distaste for someone. Please
remember the respect with which intellect is re-
garded in Russia ; but if I succeeded in making that
point clear at the beginning of the book (pp. 17,
18), you will not feel surprised for more than one
moment that the term of contempt I am about to
explain is derived from the noun meaning brains !
Yes, mozgl is brains, and is often used for intellect,
just as in the English phrase ' he has got brains ' ;
but the adjective mozgl'dvy, or, still worse, moz-
gl'aven'ki is a most unpleasant characteristic. Its
nature is very subtle, though, and I wonder whether
I shall be able to explain clearly. Again I must
look for help in Dostoyevski: the old father Kara-
mazov was a mozgl'avy starichlshka the last word
meaning in itself a nasty, objectionable, little old
man. He had brains, yes : but he had brains only,
and the other characters in the book call him moz-
150 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
gl'avy with disgust. The word carries an idea of
dry-as-dust brains, of a large skull over a shrivelled
body, of a leering smile ; on the whole, of an intellect
not supported by the blood of the heart, nor even
by a healthy physique. Thus the Eussian defini-
tion is as unique as it is poignant. We do not use
the adjective ' brainy ' with respect, as it is used
in English; we do possess it (mozgovoy), but it
goes only with medical and anatomical definitions.
We do say ' this business needs brains ' ; but the
moment the noun is turned into the adjective
mozgl'avy it goes with people's characters only
and means brainy in a wretched, withered, blood-
less, warmthless way.
* # * * #
I wonder whether the word nadryv contains its
exact meaning in its English aspect, ' laceration.'
This is one of the beloved words of Dostoyevski,
simply because it conveys the atmosphere of that
typical Eussian spiritual suffering. Laceration, in
English, means not only tearing something which
still remains intact as a whole, but also a rending
into two distinct parts. Now, nadryv means ex-
clusively a rough, but not final rent whether in a
substance or a situation: the syllable nod being
there distinctly for the purpose of conveying this
nuance; because a complete laceration is razryv,
and not nadiyv. Both of these words are applied
in Eussian to concrete as well as to abstract sub-
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 161
jects. A nadryv in one's faith, or love, or friend-
ship, is a universally acknowledged pain. It causes
efforts to mend things where a final blow (laceration
=raziyv) would be more logical and more bearable.
Dostoyevski's ultra-Kussian characters torture
themselves with their ultra-noble efforts to do
things which are superhuman, but which they
regard as essential, highest and purest. Therefore
they do not attempt to attain the relief which a
final laceration (raziyv) would give them, but go
on painfully enjoying a nadryv: i.e., that half-rent
which makes them continually try and persuade
themselves that their superhuman efforts are not
only just and beautiful, but attainable as well. 1
So, Katerina Ivanovna is trying with all her might
to love the reckless Dmitri when she loves Ivan.
Or, to take a modern example, if a girl engaged to a
soldier at the front tried to continue loving him if
he lost both his arms and legs, this would be a
typical love with nadryv as Dostoyevski means it.
Nadryv may also mean a ' breaking- point ' in
people's relations; but this English definition would
not convey any more than ' laceration ' does that
1 Parallel to the nouns nadryv and razryv, in connection
with tearing, there are:
Nadl6rn and raslom in breaking;
Nadr'ez and razr'ez in cutting.
In each case the first definition conveys the incomplete
action; whereas the second means that things are completely
rent, finally broken and divided.
152 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
particular painful effort moral effort in one's
own heart which, is typical of the Kussian nature
as illustrated by Dostoyevski. I wonder whether
there is a perfect absence of that supernatural
effort in the English nature ? Or what is it else
that accounts for the absence in the English
language of a definition for this subtle human
I must make haste and reassure my reader
that not all Russians live at such a red-hot pace !
But Dostoyevski himself did, and therefore instinct-
ively made his heroes do likewise. Bits of their
personalities are scattered all over the land, if I
may say so ; but they do not appear very frequently
in their entirety. It was Dostoyevski's vocation
to pick them out and to show them to humanity,
enveloped in his great love. And the Russians
recognized their weak brethren, those great suf-
ferers, and made them live in their hearts for ever.
But my English friends, after they have read
Dostoyevski, ask me with a sincere, guileless smile :
' Do Russian men cry ?'
I hope Englishmen would cry, too, if they ever
lived in their inner lives at the rate Dostoyevski's
men do. They would be unhuman if they didn't.
But I cannot very well imagine Englishmen con-
fessing even to their most cherished friends, and
in moments of superlative excitement, anything
resembling Dmitri Karamazov's frank avowal:
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 153
'. . . When I do leap into the pit, I go headlong
with my heels up, and am pleased to be falling in
that degrading attitude, and pride myself upon it,
and think it to be beautiful and in that very
depth of degradation I begin a hymn of praise. Let
me be cursed, and vile, and base, but I too kiss the
hem of the veil in which my God is shrouded.
Though I may be following the devil, I am Thy son,
Lord, and I love Thee, and I feel throughout me
that joy without which the world could not be
there. . . .'
Or like Ivan Karamazov :
'. . . Though I may not believe in the order of the
universe, yet I cherish the sticky little leaves in
spring. ... I know that I am going to a grave-
yard, but it is a most precious graveyard : precious
are the dead that lie there, every stone over them
speaks of such burning life in the past, of such pas-
sionate faith in their work, their truth, their
struggle, and their science, that I know I shall fall
on the ground and kiss those stones and weep over
them; though I am convinced in my heart that it's
long been nothing but a graveyard. And I shall
not weep from despair, but simply because I shall
be happy in my tears, I shall steep my soul in
emotion. . . .'
The graveyard thus alluded to by Ivan is the
world of his education abroad. The Romance
' precious dead J might be surprised with such a
154 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
passionate attitude towards them of a man of
twenty-three ! He is not shy to express it.
A few lines further on, Ivan adds :
' I love the sticky leaves in spring, I love the blue
sky. ... It isn't a matter of intellect or logic
one loves nutrom, chrevom. . . .'
These last two words are translated : ' With one's
inside, with one's stomach. . . .'
I cannot let this pass. Chrevo is not the
Modern Eussian, but the Old Slavonic, for
stomach, which makes all the difference to the
colouring of this sentence in the original. The
first of the two words, nutrom, is not an every-
day definition for inside, either. I understand
that the English of the Authorized Bible pre-
sents some luxurious choice of beautiful ancient
expressions; and, in the given instance, the Old
Russian expression corresponds to the lines ap-
pearing in the old version of the English Bible
twice (1 Kings iii. 26 and Genesis xliii. 30) : ' For
her bowels yearned upon her son,' ' For his
bowels yearned upon his brother.' The only subtle
difference being that ' yearning ' is nearer to the
Russian conception toska (p. 91) than to the
overpowering thirst for loving which Dostoyevski
saw in Ivan's heart. Nevertheless, the quoted
biblical expression does convey the idea of the
immense difference it would make if adopted in
translating, and the justice it would do in that
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 155
way to the original. As it stands now, how an
English reader must laugh at the way of ' loving
with one's inside, with one's stomach !' How
common it sounds in modern, everyday English !
Yet, we apply the definition nutrom not only to
loving in an intense, instinctive way, but even to
acting in a beautiful manner. The most beloved
of our greatest actors and actresses are always
those who create their parts, not merely with the
help of refined mentality, but also by living in them
with every fibre of their bodies and all the inner-
most particles of their egos. That is called playing
nutrom. Certainly not one genius of the Kussian
stage would be able to understand how to follow
the minute instructions which English dramatists
shower on English actors. It would be utterly
impossible to him to play nutrom, i.e., actually
living through every moment of the play with the
highest intensity of which a human creature is
capable, while handicapped by the author in every
step and gesture.
Thus the expression to love with one's inside,
with one's stomach, must look to the English eye
' funny;' it does no justice to the feeling which in
this country is usually well screened by decorum.
Here is again the same old difficulty the differ-
ence in national characteristics. The dislike of
the English for mentioning their feelings leaves
them unable to invent words to define these
156 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
feelings. As to actually experiencing them, I
cling to the bright hope that ' perhaps a hundred,
perhaps ten, perhaps one . . .' amongst refined
Englishmen has cried for once in his life with exalt-
ation, or with the complexity of his spiritual
..." I am vile, and I am pleased with myself.
Yet I suffer with being pleased with myself ' . . .
' One lives in his books; Dostoyevski makes one,'
writes one of my brilliant English friends; ' but I
feel physically exhausted after having been for an
hour or two in company with the Karamazovs. Is
it the even tenor of my English mind rural and
philosophic which refuses to be disturbed by the
intensity of their emotions ?'
It is inevitable that a great writer like Dosto-
yevski should arouse a sense of disturbance in all
equable philosophic minds, and although I feel
sorry to see my beloved friends exhausted, yet
... I think Dostoyevski may do them a little
As it is, I have been pleasantly surprised to hear
many a time another English remark on the same
author : ' It is most extraordinary : he shows you
the vilest situations, describes the darkest crimes,
and yet you don't feel indignant with his char-
acters. You feel just sorry for them.'
This leads to the gist of Dostoyevski's command-
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 157
ment: . . . ' We are all the same. . . . We may
be better where we are, but we would have been
just the same in their places. . . .'
I met one Englishman (just one, labelled by his
friends as ' quite mad ') who said :
' I realize that Dostoyevski is undeniably right
in stating this.'
I have been obliged to use the word command-
ment just now because this is the nearest to the gjj which
Kussian meaning. There is a blank space in English Russian
for the exact conception which every Russian would woui a
apply here. Commandment in Russian is zapov'ed* ; Russian.
but there is a word somewhat akin to it, yet im-
plying less of the authority of the law and more of
the wholehearted willingness to obey: it is zav'et.
We apply it to a dying person's last words in which
a wish is expressed for something to be carried out
after his death; we call a parting wish of our be-
loved one a zav'et ; a wish of our mother, or dearest
friend, is also a zav'et to us: in fact, everything the
fulfilment of which we regard as our cherished,
sacred duty. Literature and art especially
dramatic art have also the fascination of their
zavety l to us. The theatre is regarded in Russia
not merely as a pleasant pastime, but as an edu-
cational factor in our lives, from which we expect
material for profound thought; the stage is our
1 In plural.
158 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
beloved school of life. Therefore, the word zavety
is constantly applied to our stage, poetry, and even
music to art in all its branches. The zavety of
Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Shchedrin, Ostrovski, Gogol',
Pushkin, Chaykovski, Vasn'etzov, Nest'erev, Be-
1'lnski, are concrete, vivid conceptions to us, per-
fectly clear and beloved commandments : Tolstoy's
zavet is spiritual peace; Turgen'ev's virgin love;
Pushkin's nationalism ; Dostoyevski' s all-for-
giveness; Shchedrln's, Ostrovski's enlightenment;
G6gol"s, Chaykovski's love for Kussia's vein of
art and sadness; Vasn'etzov's and Nest'erev's
love for Russia's mysticism; Chehov's and Gor'ki's
present problems of her social life; and so on.
Therefore I have instinctively tried to define Dosto-
yevski's leading idea as his zav'et to us. It is one
of those definitions without which the Russian
language would cease to be Russian.
The nearest English parallel is ' watchword/ but
one never hears it applied so often and so lovingly
as the zav'et is applied with us; here the same old
national difference in the hue of the definitions
stands out clearly: In pronouncing ' watchword '
you imagine a strict, strong, unyielding fighter
defending his ideas, almost a warrior; in pronounc-
ing ' zav'et ' we imagine a grave idealist repeating
his dreams on his death-bed, his very eyes asking
those who remain after him to continue the message
to the world, for which he has already travailed.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 159
The adjective zav'etny is a dear one, and is applied
to a cherished memory, to a sacred longing, even
to some certain little nook in the world, which, for
some personal reason, has become secretly precious
The latest pearl in Russian literature is decidedly A new
J pearl of
Gor'ki's Childhood. In it he describes his early Russian
experiences in a dark corner of Russian life, amongst
the industrial artisans at Nljniy Novgorod some
forty years ago. That corner was full of ' leaden
viles,' as he calls them.
' It was that virile, mean truth which is not yet
dead. That truth which should be exposed down
to its roots in order to be pulled, with its roots,
out of our memory, out of Man's soul, out of the
whole of our hard and shameful life. . . .
Although these viles are disgusting, and have
crushed a number of beautiful hearts to death,
yet the Russian is still so healthy and youthful
in his spirit that he is overpowering them, and will
finally overpower them. It is not only this which
is extraordinary in our life that the layer of
beastly viles is so rich and so fertile but also the
fact that through this layer the Light, the Healthy
and the Creative, still victoriously force their way
and grow, good and humane.'
Even in this very corner of drunken cruelty, a
whole world of the people's beautiful speech is
160 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
again revealed to us. Gor'ki's own masterful chisel
creates genuine Eussian words at the need of the
moment, and they correspond to the similar
genuine art of his characters in beautiful harmony.
Even before, Gor'ki wrote in a style which was a
fascination in itself even to those who were not
carried away with his subjects. But his Child-
hood is acknowledged as his chef-d'osuvre. It is
no wonder that The English Review hastened to
produce some of it for the English public 1 ; and
also, it is by no means wonderful that the trans-
lator was obliged to leave out whole pages ! As
I have already mentioned, one feels grateful for this
consideration on the part of the English translator
towards Gor'ki. If Gor'ki does not know English,
he must be surprised at these abbreviations; but
if he does, he is sure to be thankful in his heart.
Even comparatively small alterations hurt the eye
and ear of a Russian who reads this translation. . . .
With the very first phrase of the book Gor'ki
plunges into the present tense, which obviously
' wouldn't do ' in English (as it is replaced by the
imperfect tense throughout) :
' In a half-dark, shut-in room, on the floor near
the window, lies my father, dressed in something
white and extraordinarily long. The toes of his
bare feet are strangely erect, the fingers of his
caressive hands are folded on his chest, and are also
1 It has been since published in book form.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 161
crooked; his gay eyes are tightly covered with
copper coins; the kind face is dark and frightens
me with its uncanny grin.'
And so on. Gor'ki keeps to the present tense for
several pages, and they lose half of their graphic
power in the quiet English past tense.
Here is one of the differences between our The
two languages : the present tense is decidedly our Russian
favourite. So much so that we sacrifice to this
weakness even our grammar ! If you want to
give a vivid picture of what you have seen or heard,
you invariably say it in this way :
' Yesterday I walk along the street and I sud-
' Last week I meet So-and-So and I hear
' Three years ago I am crossing Europe on my
way to England when I suddenly come across
We cannot help this form of narrative. It dis-
tinctly vivifies our speech. Of course, this theoreti-
cally-absurd combination of the past times with
the present tense is not so striking when those
times are not defined: thus, although the picture
of Gor'ki's dead father lying on the floor refers to
some fifty years ago, the narrative runs smoothly,
without mentioning the time at all as if it were
all happening now beneath the eyes of the reader
which is the purpose of the author and which
makes him instinctively apply the national style
162 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
of telling a story. All our heroic epos, whether
repeated or written, is given in the present tense.
You can drop into it at any place of any of your
narratives, too. A very popular modern novel is
written in the present tense throughout its nine
volumes and the author makes you live in it. So
here is already a big though seemingly inevitable
drawback in the English version of Gor'ki's Child-
Another The rays of love shining through the pages of
Russian this wonderful book are different from those of
of love. Dostoyevski's. They are equally Kussian, but they
emanate from types less complex. The wicked
passions in the atmosphere of this book are un-
bridled and cruel in a more primitive way; but so
are the joys. Everything is haul-relief without
having the arabesques of refined complexity worked
in their surface. And in the place of painful love
' with nadryv ' (p. 150), like Kat'erina Ivanovna's,
or Grushen'ka's (for the Pole who left her), we find
here those rays of love which bring warmth and
sunshine unmolested. Such is also the love of
Dostoyevski's Al'osha, Idiot, and Zosima; but then
they are far from being simple natures, whereas
Gor'ki's Granny stands out as a nugget of gold in
her joyful readiness for self-sacrifice and forgive-
ness, without a trace of nadryv in her heart: they
are born in it as a matter of course. Her large,
plump, round-backed figure, with an extraordinary
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 163
mass of jet-black hair falling down to her knees,
and her shining black eyes enwrapping you with
an almost physical sensation of pulsating, boundless
love, will, from now on, remain like another symbol
of that only true joy the joy of loving given to
humanity. Her funny appearance does not stand
in the way. Her powerful spirit emanating it
shines from every page of Gor'ki's Childhood ; and
one likes to leave oneself exposed to those warmth-
giving rays of Granny's, whether she is inspiring
her grandchild with the beauties of ancient folk-
lore, or abating the quarrels between her drunken
sons, or ' swimming out ' in a spontaneous dance. . . .
' Lord, Lord ! . . . How beautiful everything
is ! ... Just look round thee how beautiful !'
' This was the cry of her heart,' says Gor'ki ' the
motto of all her life,' although even the boy himself
was wondering what there was so beautiful in the
appalling surroundings of their home ?
An artistic vein was one of Granny's charms,
which filled people's hearts with exaltation; and
Gor'ki's description of her spontaneous dancing in
the hut at the dye-works will give perhaps a
glimpse of her outstanding personality.
' Granny seemed to be not dancing, but telling
a story. There she was, moving slowly, as if deep
in thought, looking round from under her lifted
elbow, her big body swaying hesitatingly, her feet
cautiously feeling their way. Then she stopped,
164 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
as if frightened by something. A momentary wave
of anxiety, of discontent, flashed across her features
and suddenly they were lit up again by her good,
friendly 1 smile, as if she were greeting someone.
She swayed to the side, seemingly making room
for someone, bent her head, became quite still, as
if listening to something, her smile growing brighter
and brighter. . . . And suddenly as if some
power swept her of! her feet she plunged into wild
dancing, like a hurricane ! In an instant she be-
came taller, slimmer, and it was quite impossible
to take one's eyes off her.'
Granny To judge by the simple manner in which Granny
God. spoke to her little grandson, God seemed to be
quite near to her life. Telling him about the
cunning of her sons (each of whom was going to
establish dye-works of their own and therefore
wanted to lure the best workers from their father's
establishment), she explained their tricks with
perfect simplicity and chuckling gently:
' They only make God laugh at them !'
On another occasion, she tells her little friend
and admirer, Gor'ki, that she had had eighteen
children born to her:
' Eighteen !' she repeated joyfully; ' they would
have occupied a whole street full of houses if they
had lived ! I was married before I was fourteen,
1 Caressive ' smile is the usual Russian definition for a
good smile, which stands in the original.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 165
you see, and I bore the first child a year later.
But God came to like my blood and kept taking
my babies to join his angels. It was a pity,
but it was joyful. . . . He took the best ones for
Himself, and left me the worst ones. So I was very
happy to adopt a foundling. I love you so, you
little ones !'
Her mind found a connection between God and
her favourite horse, the mischievous, spoilt Sharap,
who would pretend to bite her shoulders with his
white teeth, would drag the silk shawl off her
head, and would look at her slyly, shaking the rime
off his eyelashes, expecting to be treated by her to
something which would please his sweet tooth.
1 What, my child ? What, kitten V Granny
would say to him, unharnessing him after his long
run in the sledges ' up to mischief, art thou ?
Well, well, come on, God's toy !'
She would speak of her God even to cats and
birds and trees and flowers ; and believed that when
' wandering to see the sufferings,' 1 God's Mother
visited all Russian provinces her native E'azan',
The nightly prayers of this Granny are exquisite !
Gor'ki says that, as a little boy of ten, he found it
most interesting to listen to them. She would
1 There is an akapliist in the Greek Church under this title,
a poetic allegorical description of human sufferings and of how
the Virgin wandered all over the world to see them and pleaded
for the sufferers before God.
1G6 THE ftUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
detail to God everything that had happened in the
house during the day:
' Thou knowest this Thyself, Lord, that everyone
wants to get the best of everything. Well, that's
why Michael wants to remain at his father's dye-
works. Going over to the other side of the river
to the new works he considers unfair to himself;
the business over there is untested, the place is
new. Meanwhile, his father l prefers Jacob to stay
with him. Well, is it a nice thing to like one child
more than another ? The old man is obstinate
that's what it is. Wouldst Thou not explain all
that to him, Lord ? Send him a dream such a
one as he may understand how he should decide
the business between his children.'
' She bows to the earth,' continues Gor'ki, ' knocks
her brow against the bare floor, then, raising herself,
again speaks in a persuasive tone full of meaning :
' Wilt Thou not send some joy to Barbara ? In
what way has she made Thee angry ? Why is she
a greater sinner than the others ? It won't do : she
is young, strong, yet has got to live in sadness.
And, Lord, remember Gregory : his eyes are getting
worse and worse. Why, if he goes finally blind,
he will have to go a-begging quite a wrong thing !
He has wasted all his strength on grandfather, but
grandfather won't help, will he ? ... Lord,
Lord. . . .'
1 Granny's husband.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 167
' She remains silent for a while, obediently bending
down, looking as if she were asleep or frozen, then
'What else?' And she tries to think, knitting
her enormous brows : ' Have mercy, Lord, and save
all orthodox people me, too, the wretched fool
that I am. Thou knowest, I sin not with wicked-
ness, but because of my stupid brain !' Finally
she adds lovingly, with perfect satisfaction : ' All
is known to Thee, rodnoy. . . . Thou knowest
everything, Bat'ushka !'
By the way, the reader will see here that this
special twist to the word ' father ' (bat'ushka) is
applied by simple-minded people even in address-
ing God, as well as the favourite caressive adjective
rodnoy (see p. 59)
Really and truly there exist no intonations in
the English speech for such a prayer. It needs
the nuances of a Russian voice, and then it may be
appreciated even by a foreigner's ear.
Nearly every morning Granny would find new
words of touching admiration for the Virgin. . . .
' Thou pure beauty, source of joy, heart of the
heavens, dear golden Sun, blossoming apple-tree !'
No wonder a powerful creative impulse of speech
was implanted in the young brain of her grandson,
who grew up at her side during the impressionable
years of his boyhood.
Grandfather's God seemed to be of a different
nature. Sometimes the old man used to come into
168 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Granny's bedroom before she had finished her
morning prayer. He would listen for a while, and,
later on, grumble sarcastically :
' Haven't I taught you over and over again,
you oak-head, how you should pray ? But you
keep to your own silly way like a heretic ! I am
astonished God can stand you.'
6 He will understand,' Granny answered, with
perfect, smiling conviction. ' He will make it out,
whatever we tell Him.'
God was so near and human to her mind that
once or twice, as the constant quarrelling between
her old husband and his sons grew to an appalling
extent, she even asked Him :
' Lord, Lord, has Thy clear mind failed Thee in
the case of my children ?'
And, in her usual talks with her grandson, she
once thoughtfully remarked, helping herself from
her snuff-box : ' Methinks, there may be cases when
even He can't make out whose fault it is. He
must be looking and looking down at the earth,
watching us all, and at some odd moments He is
sure to burst into sobs: "Men, men! My dear,
beloved men ! . . . How sorry I feel for you !" . . .'
And she would shed tears, making that God of hers
still nearer to the future author.
But that same dear old funny fat Granny was
the same person who stopped the great disaster of
the fire which broke out at the dye-works. Being
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 169
interrupted in the midst of her night prayers, she,
nevertheless, never lost her presence of mind, and
instinctively took charge of the whole business.
She, herself, brought out of the flames a bottle of
copper-sulphate with her own hands, and made
everyone work likewise, at the same high pressure.
When the fire was finally extinguished her husband
was for once proud of her, and, stroking her big,
round shoulder, said: ' Sometimes God is merci-
ful to thee, and gives thee a great understanding
for an hour or so.'
Kecent letters from Russia describing the excel- * i3Q for
lent work of the nimble, strong peasant women Russian
in our cornfields and hayfields which they take as
a matter of course remind me of the praise on the
part of this coarse man two generations ago. The
attitude of the peasant men towards their women
has entirely altered. Their efficiency is heartily
appreciated, and men praise them nowadays in a
way which is crisp and snappy :
Molod etzbaba ! l (See p. 42).
Or'eh baba ! Nut of a baba !
Pul'a baba ! Bullet of a baba !
Ogon' baba ! Fire of a baba !
Bogatyr' baba ! (Bogatyr' being the Old Russian word for
a hero, and meaning one ' rich of,' i.e.,
endowed with wonderful qualities.
Nowadays the expression ' grey bo-
gatyri,' meaning modest bogatyri, is
frequently and lovingly applied to the
1 In the case of an unmarried girl the word baba is replaced
by d'evka (p. 41).
170 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
This point takes me back for a moment to
Gor'ki's Granny it is very difficult to part with
her ! the only thing she was afraid of in the
veritable hell of her husband's home was black
beetles. She could discern the approach of one
even at a distance, in the dark; and many a time
her grandson had to get out of their bed at her
ardent request, and creep about the floor on all
fours, whilst she was waiting breathlessly with the
blanket right over her head.
' Why art thou afraid of black beetles ?' the boy
would ask her.
And she would give the clear answer :
' Why, because I can't understand what they are
made for. All they do is to creep, creep, creep
all over the place ! Good God has given every
moth its task; wood-louse is there to indicate that
the place is damp; the bug to show that the walls
are unclean ; if lice attacks someone it means that
he is going to be ill. Everything is clear, but these
beasts tarakany who can explain what kind
of power there is within them, and what do they
come for !'
In concluding my pages about Gor'ki's speech
and that of his characters, I must give the literal
translation of some extracts from a book of his, so
bold and natural in their definition. I wonder if
they will find their way to the innermost hearing
of my reader. . . .
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 171
' The stillness of the night stroked (my) heart
with her warm, hairy hand. Somewhere flared up a
human voice. Everything was lovingly intensified
by the responsive silence. ... A drunken shriek
boiled up in the street.'
Or: ' The Works became sick of chewed people,
and they flowed in a black stream through the
opened black mouth (of the Works). 1 A white
dishevelled wind (of a snow-storm) was flaring up
and down the streets, driving the people into their
Or: ' Grandfather bristled with his golden hair
And here is a paragraph in the words of the
grandfather of Gor'ki's, who was in his youth a
burldk on the Volga, towing with other harnessed
men immense barges for thousands of miles against
' One of the fellows would let his song come The
soaring out of his heart. The others would join speech as
in with him and one suddenly felt as (one does
when) the frost gives thee a good slap on the back
and the whole river seemed to flow faster and faster,
as if it were going to rear and rise on its hind legs
right up to the clouds !'
' What nonsense !' is very likely the impression
of a literary English mind, but our peasant has
1 The explanatory English words which are not needed in
Russian are given in brackets.
172 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
boundless imagination, our writer a carte blanche
for depicting it, and our reader the capacity for
The evoiu- Dostoyevski finally moulded his zav'et (p. 157)
Dostoyev- as he neared the end of his literary career which
look, was really an incessant torment of inward searching.
At its beginning, when his life was granted to him
at the last moment on the scaffold platform, 1 and
he was sent to the Siberian mines, his attitude
towards life was a sweeping revolt against humanity
and its destiny, as he then saw them. He lived
through that period of spiritual despondency
(toska), which branched off into Karamazov-
shchina (see p. 133):
1 Man loves destruction and chaos to the verge
of passion. . . . Man needs exclusively the free-
dom of his own willing. . . . He will curse the
whole world which is his only prerogative amongst
living creatures and, doing so, he may perhaps
achieve the consciousness of being more than a
piano-key. . . . Life is pain, life is fear. . . .
There can be no solving of problems, no final
achievements for humanity, because these would
mean the end of pain and of struggle which are
man's only reason for existence. Achievement
would be like two and two makes four, and two
1 He gives a marvellous description of these moments by
the mouth of the ' Idiot.'
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 173
and two makes four is certainly the beginning of
death, gospoda, and is not life !'
But the years in ' The House of the Dead '
(Siberian miners' prison) and further insight into
life have gradually brought the torture of Dosto-
yevski's searching spirit to the conclusion that
' Man can love not welfare alone : he can equally
love suffering.' ... ' All that is left to man is to
love his pain and his suffering.' Here is the gist of
Dostoyevski's religious mysticism on the waves of
which he has finally launched his soul on its way
to Eternity : the joy of suffering. Hence his char-
acters throbbing with the reality of such joy: the
Idiot, Son'a Marmeladova the Queen of Suffering
Father Zoslma, Al'osha, Shatov. In them Dos-
toyevski is essentially Eussian.
In the first phase of his evolution the one of
burning revolt against the gloom of everything
he may be called the forerunner of Nietzsche.
Nietzsche's ideas can be seen as though at the
farther end of a telescope through the conviction
of Ivan Karamazov that ' everything is permitted.'
Also through the striking pages of Ivan's
trying to explain to the idealist Al'osha that no
one has the right of being beautiful when all the
world is drowned in filth. But in Nietzsche there
are no traces of the extremely Eussian childlike
faith of Dmitri Karamazov, expressed in the lines :
' There (in prison) we shall rise up to joy, without
174 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
which neither man nor God can exist, because
God gives joy, it is His prerogative. . . . We
underground creatures, we shall sing glorious
hymns to God from the bowels of the earth.'
Wholesale repudiation is as utterly Kussian as
this capacity for wholehearted mystic joy. Both
result from passionate ' searching for Christ ' and
from the Russian incapacity for compromise.
Even Smerd'akov, a type of concentrated mean-
ness, cunning and vulgarity, says : ' No one in our
day can shove mountains into the sea except
perhaps some one man in the world or, at the most,
two, and these most likely are saving their souls in
secret somewhere in Egyptian desert.'
At this the old cynic Karamazov cries in delight :
' Stay ! so you do suppose that there are two who
can move mountains ? Ivan, make a note of it:
there you have the Russian all over.'
Again, Dostoyevski's aristocratic atheist and
individualist to the marrow of his bones declares:
' If Truth 1 existed outside Christ and not within
Him, I would stand up by Christ and not by
All this Russian mystical philosophizing, from
the singing of hymns by the ' underground crea-
tures ' to the ' contemplating of precipices,' has
been instinctively laid down by Dostoyevski as
the foundation-stone for all modern Russian phi-
1 The Old Russian istina in this case not prdvda.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 175
losophy, poetry and religious aspirations. His
titanic creative power is calling forth the inner-
most voices of revolt, of nadryv (see p. 150), and
of religious individualism. All three are essenti-
ally national, and that is why the zav'ety of Dos-
toyevski's go deeper with us than even Turgenev's
and Tolstoy's. The literature of this century is
throbbing with them. It is often called the litera- A dreary
ture of podpolye which is Dostoyevski's title for tion.
one of his gloomiest creations saturated with
despair. It has been translated as Notes from the
Underworld and Notes from the Cellarage. Neither
is quite correct. Both cellarage and underworld
allow the conception of some sort of animal or
vegetable life in them ; but podpolye literally mean-
ing under the floor stands for depicting the state
of mind and of breath, as it were, which would be
the only possible one between the two layers of
the floor, as floors are built in Eussia. One can
well imagine that state. Breathing in it would
be unbearable torment physically; thinking
spiritually. Well, the works by the latest Eussian Dosto-
authors really are unconscious seedlings of Dos- influence
toyevski's first phase of evolution, when he felt Russian
himself in a podpolye before arriving at an outlet
by way of the joy of suffering. But what these
modern authors write they write with the blood
of their hearts. To quote a very lucky expression
' There is no bourgeoisie about the Eussians' reli-
176 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
gious aspirations. ' The whole of Andreyev's literary
Self clings to the question once laid down by Dos-
toyevski : ' Is it possible that I am created as I am,
with the only aim of leading me to the conclusion
that creating me was but a cheat ? '
Andreyev has come to the conclusion that there
is no way out nothing but a dead wall placed
before him and the rest of humanity.
' Andreyev ought not to be a writer,' says a promi-
nent modern critic. ' A writer is a priest of art,
and art's aim is to retouch, to paint, to screen life's
cheating in most artful ways. That is why art is
eternal: it will go on striving for its aim for ever
without being able to attain it.'
From this point of view a group of the latest
Kussian writers are not artists at all ! The idea
which took even Dostoyevski many pages of throb-
bing sentences is flung into the face of the content-
and-sleek humanity in the one phrase of Andreyev's
' It is a shame to be good !'
Her life is an eternal mental agony which bars
the whole world from her sight- and Andreyev
comes with her to the maddening conclusion that
being pure, clean and good is a prerogative of only a
few, and therefore they should not allow them-
selves that luxury. All must go to the fatal wall
and be crushed against it.
' If there is no Paradise for every one, then I
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 177
reject it for myself. It would not be a paradise,
but merely piggishness. . . . Come, relief and bliss
of realized helplessness ! Welcome, inevitable
darkness, which will come to replace the deceit of
life ! Let us drink for the extinction of all lights !
. . . Drink, Dark People, 1 drink for the Dark-
ness to come to all alive ! . . .'
Nothing could have a greater extinguishing
power than such ideas, but the balance between
them and ' the sleek majority ' still rests: the world
rolls on ! And even the vehement Kussians are
not driven to wholesale self-extermination by the
fire of a genius of despair ! One suffers for him,
one admires his power of frankness and the spon-
taneity of his spiritual searchings but they do not
kill the second ingredient of a typical Eussian
mind: idealism. These two extremes must needs
go together because they replace the balance of
It seems a relief to dwell for a while on the power
of Andreyev's speech alone. He is another eagle
creating definitions with the beating of his wings.
To quote a few lines of his :
' A whisper of silence penetrated to his brain. . . .
Delighted Sleep grinned happily, placed his hairy
cheek against his, gently put one arm round him
and tickled his knees with his warm hand, then
1 In the original ' dark people ' are addressed as Darkness,
which adds to the power of the phrase.
178 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
put Ms fluffy head on his breast. . . . Hairy
Sleep gave a victorious whoop, embraced him in a
hot embrace and, in deep silence, with abated
breath, they floated out into the bottomless, trans-
parent depths. . . . There was the emptiness of
Dostoyevski's love of suffering is absent from the
minds of younger writers, and therefore they do
not conquer our hearts altogether. They are
priests only of the dark altar of Seeking.
Feodor Feodor Sologub finds his religion in Death.
the She stands sweet before him as the only clear goal
of death, and solution, the only entity that can be achieved
and the only knowledge. This religion permeates
the whole of Sologub 's creations. He makes
Death the only beauty and succeeds in giving her
a fascination. The sweet triolettes about ' beloved
north, beloved rain !' given in this book (p. 93)
are his. It suffices a Kussian to repeat these lines
to himself, giving him a chance to visualize them
and he begins to feel as if the sighing moss, the rain
and the dripping, trembling birches were really
the most loveable of all Nature's charms.
But Sologub goes much further than Gogol' and
Chehov in his love of sadness. There is a sweeping
gloom about Sologub's philosophy:
' The imperfection of human nature has caused
the mixing in one goblet of the sweetest joys of
love with the base fascination of lust and thus has
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 179
poisoned the drink of life with shame and pain
and with the longing for shame and pain.'
He cuts the knot by worshipping death, but this
philosophy is not typically Kussian. It is only his
freedom of deciding for himself on an individual-
istic religion which is Russian indeed.
As compared to the rejection of everything, a A typical
T .11. T sacrament.
much more universal and instinctively beloved
sacrament of the Russian soul is confession:
pokayaniye. We don't necessarily mean by this
definition a confession of one certain crime, but
the readiness to admit all one's faults and evil
thoughts altogether the absence of shame in
doing so and the willingness to be scrutinized and
judged by others. The best illustration of this
psychological point is the Russian word for good-
bye. It literally means forgive me, and nothing The fc 5 ue
else but forgive me. In one of the aspects of the
verb it is prost'i or prost'lt'e (singular or plural),
and in the other proshchdy or proshchdyt'e (singular
or plural). The so-called lower classes invariably
use this expression for good-bye when parting from
their beloved ones, from their parents or masters,
or even from their helpers. It sounds grave and
elating, in spite of its seemingly humiliating nature.
Russians put quite a different note into their voices
compared to the English when they say good-bye
whether it is prost'it'e or proshcJiayt'e. It is much
more serious; and people involuntarily use the first,
180 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
being the gravest of the two forms, when the cir-
cumstances are in the least grave. The departing
cook or nurse, whether she feels herself in the
wrong or not, will usually say to her mistress,
'prost'it'e, baryn'a.' The ' prost'l, bat'ushka
barin ' l is altogether devoid of its nature in 'Good-
bye, sir': in Russian it is extremely natural in
its affectionate patriarchal tone. 2 To this is very
often added between equals, too another typical
expression: N'e pomindyt'e llhom ! which means
' Don't remember me by the wrong I have done
you.' Man and woman at the moment of parting
after years of mutually painful intimacy and mis-
understandings are sure to tell each other with a
feeling of gratitude for what there had been beautiful
between them and with a feeling of sorrow for having
hurt each other: ' Prost'l ! N'e pominay lihom !"
The youngest of Alexander II. 's assassins, a
fellow of nineteen, when being driven to the place
of execution, stood up on the dreary and clattering
high vehicle and, moving along the streets of Petro-
grad, bowed low to the crowds many a time, re-
peating: ' Prost'it'e !' It instinctively combines a
final good-bye with a pleading for forgiveness.
That is why we more often say at an ordinary
parting, do-svidanya, au revoir, than proshchdyt'e.
The distinction here is still more acute than between
1 See p. 50.
2 Literally: Forgive, mistress. Forgive, father -master.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 181
the French au revoir and adieu : there is little hope
of seeing each other again in the word proshchayt'e.
The usual reply amongst the peasantry (and on
grave occasions amongst all classes of Russians)
to the prost'l said at parting is Bog prost'ti=God
will forgive you ! Here again is the typical
abstinence from passing judgment on other people.
Even when asked for forgiveness the Russian
doesn't consider himself in the right to judge
another at all; and this truly national answer
means: God will forgive you: it is not my busi-
ness to judge even in the case of your having done
I wonder whether I have made it clear that there
is no humiliation in all this, but rather a quiet
courage of admitting one's unavoidable demerits
and mistakes. There is something characteristi-
cally breezy about the Russian psychology ; along-
side with this modest demand prosfife there exists A praise
for one 's
a definition which is perhaps the most striking foes,
of all : it is lihoy (adjective), and llho (adverb), which
are never conveyed in the translations by any-
thing approaching them: nothing under a whole
explanatory sentence could convey the distinct,
sharp outlines of this most Russian definition.
In South-Russian the noun llho means wrong or
misfortune ; in Russian proper it is not in use now,
although originally it also must have stood for
' wrong ' pure and simple. But the point is, that
182 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
at some time in the depth of the ages the adjective
deriving from that noun, lihoy, has acquired an
additional meaning: the latter stands for the
acknowledgment of elegance and smartness in
inflicting wrong of a courageous way of doing
harm ! It is really a praise for those who are
doing cruel things brilliantly, although with the
intention of harming you. . . . There the foreign
writers who like to speak of Russia with their
hands clasped piously are bound to shut their eyes
and ears: there is much in the Russians beyond
their mysticism and even beyond the human
warmth of heart; it is just this complexity that
makes them interesting, because the complexity
itself comes from the gift of seeing things from ever
so many points of view. To those who really
know them, the Russians are much more interesting
than they appear in Mr. Stephen Graham's de-
scriptions. He profoundly admires them, but his
point of view is growing narrower and narrower
with each of his books. I have heard many
Russians who have read them apply to him, with
good-natured condescension, our adjective pr'a-
molineyny which means ' running along as
straight as a straight line ' ; it does not imply the
idea of deep, many-sided observation.
Yes, lihoy is an essentially Russian epithet, and
a most breezy one too ! It makes you visualize
a foe whose art commands involuntary admiration
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 183
lihoy vrag (vrag=foe). With the kazaki ( = Cos-
sacks), it is a fine praise : it is the ambition of every
one of them to be a lilwy kazdk ; and the combina-
tion of these two words instantly draws a picture
of a slim, wiry figure on horseback, as if chiselled
with his animal out of one piece of steel one who
will not be moved either in warfare nor in less
dignified forms of struggle (the latter of which,
we hope, will never take place again ! . . .). But
there is a distinct touch of something aboriginally-
poetical, aboriginally-handsome in this praise for
a war-like attitude, and probably this is the reason
why I have not once come across the epithet lihoy
attached to ' a German ' (n'emetz) as yet, in spite
of the very richly coloured, very local and very
national Russian war-literature: somehow the
Germans, as a foe, do not call forth ancient poetical
conceptions even in inflicting wrong !
With a shade of bitterness added to it, the same
adjective is applied to merciless Fate lihaya
svd'ba (fern.) ; or to a brilliantly executed (!) cruel
act lihoye d'elo : again there must be the element
of aboriginal daring in it, pure and simple, to
make that brilliancy fall under this definition;
for instance a murder or a pillage, when no traces
of the criminals can be found. This reminds me,
by the way, of another expression defining the
art in crime, however horrible that sounds ! It
refers solely to those wicked deeds, the authors of
184 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
which cannot be found out, despite any research
and investigation; in such instances one says:
tut komdr vosa n'e podtochit I It means ' there
is nothing here on which a gnat could sharpen his
nose !' i.e., not even a weeniest thing that would
show itself on the beautifully-smooth surface.
The adverb liho goes mainly with the ' diable-
m'emporte ' kind of manners, conveying the idea
of a smart dash-and-go before anything else; for
instance, to sing liho means to sing so that every-
one is bound to listen whether one wants it or
not; liho sMchet troyka means a troyka is flying
headlong in a magnificent way . . . and the foot-
goers should look out sharp !
The same adverb is gaily applied in homely
matters: a bright Eussian fellow, brimming over
with un-used strength and ready to challenge
laughingly the whole of the world, is very much
apt to shift his cap to the back of his head, side-
ways : this, combined with his mood reflected on his
young face, and with the front tufts of his hair
sticking out from under the cap with that same
roguish challenge, sends for a second through the
mind of those who meet him, the expression:
shdpka liho na-b'ekr'en' ! There is no verb in it,
only the noun shapka ( = cap), and two adverbs
which must need go together on this occasion,
because the liho means the very spirit with which
a fellow would shift his cap na-b'ekr'en' ( = hat
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 185
a-cock): you wouldn't do it unless you felt liho,
would you ?
We meet lots of them who do, in our town and
* * * * *
Before finishing with the dark colours in the The mystic
writings of our youngest authors, I must mention poet.
Zinaida Gippius. This woman certainly has a
more marked stamp of a genius on her brow than
any of the other modern writers. Despite her un-
Kussian name, she was born for that Kussian
vehemence which brings her, alas, nothing but pain.
The brightest of all her poems is the one previously
mentioned (p. Ill), ' Kussia speaking to her Singer.'
It is not only quaintly poetic in its form, but
typical in its spirit, akin to Dostoyevski's spirit:
* Who will love my sins ail-forgivingly ? . . .
Love the tall weeds alongside my walls,
Love my poor drunken peasant !"
But it is her uncanny nationalism which makes
her speak thus; here she yields herself wholly to
her love of country, almost uncanny in its inten-
sity; because her general attitude towards human-
ity's existence in this planet is all-round helpless-
ness and condemnation itself.
I feel inclined to startle my reader straight away
by a literal translation of the most extraordinary
of her poems ' Reality ' ; in other verses of hers
he will undoubtedly trace what is called a poetic
186 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
vein, while ' Keality,' I think, would be called a poem
nowhere on earth except in Russia ! It needs the
Russian passion for exploring the new; and fear
of novelty is the last thing that could be expected
from Zinaida Gippius.
An extra- REALITY.
poem. Sticky and filthy, fraudulent, horrible,
Densely-stupid, ghastly, terrible,
Slowly-cruel, void of honesty,
Shameless, slippery, mean and stifling,
Shamming happiness, hiding misery,
Vulgar, hollow, sensual, cowardly,
Sodden and stagnant, slimy and obstinate,
Death or life undeserving equally,
Slavish, contemptible, dreary, decaying,
Glutinous, selfish, infernal, monotonous,
Still in its impudence, dismal in quietness,
Sleepily-heavy, wickedly artful,
Cold like a corpse, worse than nonentity,
Worse than unbearable false false deceitful !
With an impressionable mind it may bring one
to the verge of wiping cold perspiration oil one's
brow ! And it does now and again with the Rus-
sians. But I am not anxious about my English
reader. He will either laugh or pucker his nose.
I here feel tempted to ask a solution to the prob-
lem Why do the English find a ' charm ' in the
Russians ? Our ever-searching, ever-analyzing
national character, ' sadness which is joy,' joy
which is exaltation, burning the candle at both
ends and melting it in the middle, ever longing
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 187
for prostor, headlong plunging into Karamazov-
shchina including both torment through God and
torment through no God all this must be per-
fectly strange to the well-balanced British mind.
But it is possible that while you outwardly apply
the epithet ' charming ' you inwardly substitute
for it ' amusing ' ? ....
N'ichevo ! This does not hurt us. We make
sincere friends all the same, wherever we meet
something rodnoye (p. 59) in the English.
I wonder whether a picture of the slowly-falling
masses of snow, and its impression on Zinaida
Glppius, will attract those who are used to the ever-
lasting green grass of this snug little island :
Again it falls, miraculous and silent,
Soaring, circling, settling gently down. . . .
Its painless fall delights my thirsting spirit,
It comes reborn of nothing, to exist awhile.
It re-appears, a stranger sweet as ever,
Oblivious and tempting in its cold.
I always wait for it expecting miracles,
I feel it near to me, akin in unity.
It will depart, entrancing, soundless, stealthy;
Its loss does not depress me : as before
I'll wait. ... I love thy touch, my gentle one,
My only one, my longed-for !
And still it falls soft, powerful, unhurried,
Its conquest filling me with boundless pride.
Of all the mysteries of earth, thou, Snow the wonderful,
It's thee I love, thou Master of my mind !
188 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
There are not many people who are disturbed by
the stillness of a moonlit night, but it invariably
upsets our woman poet. My object being to convey
as clearly as possible the psychological keys of the
Eussian speech, I hope the English reader will allow
me another one or two close translations of her
poems in spite of their lack of classical English ; I
can follow only the sense and the rhythm the lilt.
What is What is lacking in the moonlight,
thfmoon- In that dim-blue midnight secret ?
light ?' In the stringless, silent music,
In the sparkling shine of desert ?
Gazing at it leaves me longing,
Love in moonlight does not soothe me,
Beams of moonlight sting acutely,
Hurt so coldly, ever wronging.
'Midst the rays of shining power
I am powerless and dying. . . .
Oh, if wings could grow from moonlight
That I could go flying flying ! . . .
The Eussian language allows a repetition of the
words freely. The English reader must have
noticed it in the everyday speech of Dostoyevski's
characters. True, with him they repeat more than
a Eussian under ordinary circumstances does.
But then, you cannot meet whole families composed
of or whole drawing-rooms filled with Dosto-
yevski's people. In the Eussian original, they
speak still more intensely than even the repetition
^ English words and sentences can convey: be-
cause W e have several conjunctions quite unknown
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 189
in the English speech, which carry half shades of
meaning (for instance, a, which is exactly half-way
between the meaning of the ' and ' and of the
'but'; also vprochem, v'ed', odndko, razv'e which
do not exist in English at all, and are always trans-
lated as the same old ' but '! Also a number of
what we call particles, one-syllable little bits of
words, which serve the same purpose. 1 They all
come in with the repetition of words constantly,
and the difference they make can be here explained
only graphically. When the English translator
is reduced to repeating, ' But you thought so ?
You thought so ?' the Russians, and especially
Dostoyevski's and Andreyev's Russians, say:
' But you thought so ? V'ed' you thought je so
All these je, da, to, li, by, v'ed', a, d'e, an, chay,
znay give whole chords of colour in Russian, sug-
gesting doubt, obstinacy, sarcasm, conviction, etc.,
on the part of the speaker which are not depicted
in any other words and therefore, meeting no
equivalents in English, inevitably remain untrans-
Without dwelling on this additional technical
difference, I just want to point out the manner of
mere repetition of words, which does not actually
emphasize or twist their meaning, but adds quaint
1 They exist to some extent in Greek, as well as some
parallels to our syllables of nuances.
190 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
music to the poetry. The prolific poets of the last
two decades, Bal'mont and Val'eri Br'ussov, drop
into that manner frequently; but I shall try and
translate another little poem by Zinaida Gippius
in which she does the same. In Russian it sounds
transparent, lucid, and delicately, daintily tristful:
My window is high above the ground,
Above the ground,
I see but the setting sun large and round,
So large and round.
The sky looks vast and indifferent,
It takes no pity on my heart,
On my poor heart.
Alas, I'm dying with sadness that's gnawing me,
Longing for things unknown to me,
Unknown to me.
Where has it come from ? I cannot grasp it. ...
Cannot grasp it.
I am drawn by things which have not passed yet,
Not passed yet.
My heart is praying for miracles,
High above earthly pinnacles,
Pinnacles ! . . .
A It is easy to notice that with all her Russian
longing, vehement mentality, Zinaida Gippius knows not
the other end of Russian nature: she is not
given the joy of prostor, the delight of razmah
and razdolye all those glorious qualities which
make a Russian one with the land and which
find for him a way out from his toska through
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 191
this very responsiveness and exuberance of vitality.
Even Dostoyevski's love for the ' underground
creatures ' and an atheist's tenderness for ' the
sticky little leaves in the spring,' as well as Son'a's
ardent desire that the man whom she loves should
go out on a crossing and kneel and kiss the earth
which he had insulted by his crime and confess
about it aloud even these sad passions result from
breadth of spirit. It is this breadth which has
created the expressions prostor, razdolye, razmah,
udal' ! (pp. 25, 70, 71) ... Openness! Freedom!
Not in the name of narrow personal comfort, but in
the name of acknowledging each of one's aspirations
without shrinking, without shirking, without fear of
ridicule, without false shame. The mind of Zinaida
Gippius and her contemporaries finds its way only
into the darkest corners of reality. They are blind
to the rays of light. Their chutkost' is used up
exclusively in one direction sharing people's
sorrows. After speaking about them an average
Russian feels inclined to take a deep breath of
fresh air, to stretch out his arms and to call up
in his memory the visions of G6gol"s Troyka,
Gor'ki's Granny, Al'osha's and the Idiot's lovable
personalities, Chehov's Monk, Tolstoy's Pet'a and
Natasha and the soldier Platon Karavayev, Alexey
Tolstoy's foaming sea, Igor' Sever'anin's ' halcyon
day of spring ' well, even the folk-lore heroes
standing out in the fascinating vigour of their
102 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
primitive ' dear strength ' (the absolutely un-
translatable sllushJca bogattyrsJcaya), etc., etc.
some It is all these which keep unwavering one's
thoughts, trust in Eussia's future: not Andreyev's kind of
dead- wall future, but the future in which there
will be room for sadness and even for joy or
suffering because the effects of a sad history
cannot be finally effaced but which will throw
open wider than ever Kussia's gates to the innate
power of loving, the freedom of thinking and the
sense of art. These have come up intact from the
depth of aboriginal national spirit. The sense of
art is a plant that has been growing uninter-
ruptedly from the heart of the Kussian soil. Its
bloom is rich. And amongst its daintiest flowers is
the one which seldom stands plucking and cannot
live in any atmosphere except its own without
losing its fragrance: and this is the Russian
A The other day we were discussing the Russian
parallel, language with Mr. Nevill Forbes, who knows it
wonderfully well the only Englishman, in my
knowledge, who is actually able to appreciate ' the
flavour and luxury of the Old Slavonicisms in
it,' to use his own expression.
' It is certainly more magnificent than English,'
said he, and added : ' I should say, the difference
between the two is like that between the robes
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 193
of a Russian Bishop and those of an English
This is a witty remark. But, being Russian, I
feel inclined, for justice sake, to dwell for a
moment on that lucky comparison.
It is not only the robes of our Bishops. . . .
However agnostic or atheistic we may feel, the
scene surrounding the Bishop, or even the look of
a small log-built church in the course of a service,
makes a quaint impression on us. I am not
talking of any religious elan or of the moral
influence of our clergy ! Far from that. . . .
But, once that the outer appearance of a Russian
Bishop (as compared to an English one) is taken
as an item to convey the idea of Russian language
(as compared to the English) graphically, I want
to be fair and to include in the comparison the
surrounding atmosphere as well. In every church,
at every service (except in Lent) the Russian
clergy's robes are of that same gorgeous style as
those of a Bishop's, only on a smaller scale. Very
well they stand for the ' flavour and luxury ' of
our language. But the long-haired and golden-
robed priest is surrounded by a crowd of naive,
childlike believers, who do not all sit down or
all kneel at the same time (in fact, they never
sit because there are no seats in the Russian
churches at all), or all read from the same prayer-
books (because prayer-books are not brought to
194 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
church in Kussia), or all sing (because there is
always a choir of nice voices only), but who repre-
sent a rare picture of frank individualism and
absence of self-consciousness. Everyone prays
as his own heart dictates him at the moment
some kneeling a long, long time, some remaining
standing, with their look fixed on the golden gate
shielding the altar and, probably, unaware of
anything around them; others, again, involun-
tarily yawning with (perhaps permittable) fatigue
but hastening to cross themselves vigorously and
to make several ' earth-bows ' (touching the
ground with their foreheads) to make up for their
weakness ! . . . And on various occasions hun-
dreds of little wax-tapers flickering in the hands
of the people in that motley crowd where everyone
finds various ways for self-expression including a
frank knock on a neighbour's back, with a one-
farthing-taper and a message finding its way from
the back of the crowd to light it at the altar's
gate ' To Nicholas the Wonderworker who pleases
God.' The Saint gets it duly, together with the
firm belief of those present that their little lights
will eventually lead them to the gates of Heaven.
Well, if they don't, they certainly envelop the
crowd in a warm glow. And, to my mind, the
distinct touch of this warm, picturesque light
enwrapping the scene forms the other half of the
graphic parallel : the warmth and ' caressiveness '
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 195
of the Russian speech, (it is impossible to do with-
out this word when speaking about Russia !) is
not one atom less characteristic of it than its
magnificence. And, gladly accepting the graphic
comparison of the two Bishops' robes, I only want
to add the comparison of the above-described
scene in a Russian church to the one of an English
congregation. However great and deep the re-
ligious mood of the latter may be, there is no visible
medium for individual self-expression about it:
everyone is doing exactly what everyone else does,
beginning and ending at the same time whether
it is kneeling, sitting, singing or saying a prayer.
' When is the time for them to say their own
prayers ?' seriously asked me once a simple,
religious Russian woman, obviously finding that
there was no chance to pray ' in freedom, inwardly,'
as her own heart was longing to. A religious
Russian needs the atmosphere of the church, but
he prays in it independently.
Well, in my picture of comparison (not so far-
fetched as it may seem at the first glance) the
individual self-expression with a Russian crowd
at prayer stands for the freedom with which thou-
sands of Russian words adopt various forms
according to the speaker's mood at the given
moment; while the thousands of little lights
glowing everywhere in the hands of that crowd
correspond to those innumerable words of appre-
196 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
elation, encouragement, sympathy, forgiveness,
spiritual caress, love and tenderness with which
the Kussian language is lit up so warmly, so
beautifully . . . and so untranslatably !
When English people say in a tone of modest
dignity that they ' do not wear their hearts on
their sleeves,' it always strikes us for a second
that we are horrid people who do so ! ... But
another moment and the real point reveals itself
to our mind: a conscientious effort of self -analysis
brings with it the revelation that we don't wear
our hearts on our sleeves either ! But, that some
power, without asking our permission, has concealed
little X-ray cameras just against our hearts. . . .
NO senti- This reminds me of a review of Mr. Stephen
-either in Graham's book The Way of Martha and the Way
or love, of Mary. The critic * finds that ' Mr. Stephen
Graham in recent years has taken himself over-
seriously as an interpreter of Eussia to Western
Europe ' ; and says that ' the Eussians we find in
Mr. Stephen Graham's book are absolutely unlike
the Eussians that we find in Chehov, Turgenev,
Tolstoy and Dostoyevski. . . . They are senti-
mentalized out of all life-likeness.'
I can only back up the critic. He sees the Eus-
sians better than Mr. Stephen Graham does
because the latter hardly allows us any sense of
1 Daily News, January 3.
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 197
humour. It would be a quaint revelation to him
if he realized some day that the Russians ... do
not seem to appreciate his love for them. Even
his call ( Love Russia !' makes them smile. Both
in private correspondence and in the best liberal
Press coming from Russia I can see this ungrate-
fulness leaking out. 1 The overwhelming majority
of Russians are unable to appreciate Mr. Graham's
somewhat strange though sincere manner of
burning incense to their goodness. After all we
are but ordinary mortals ! However different
national characters may be, we have not grown
more than other nationalities out of the natural
human habit of being human just human; and
being ' sentimentalized out of all life-likeness '
calls forth our sense of humour. If we are per-
mitted to know ourselves a little better than the
most ardent foreign admirer of Russia does, I
would like to point out that the ' warmth ' taking
such a large part in Russian life and speech does
not kill the sense of humour at all ! I would like
to speak up just for that sense of humour rather
innate in the Russians, in the place of senti-
mentality with which Mr. Graham perhaps un-
consciously endows us.
However much warmth there is in a Russian and
in his speech, this warmth is ever so far from the
superficial, shallow nature of sentimentality. The
1 See The Times Literary Supplement, March 16, 1916.
198 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
absence of the latter ought to be clear from that
word bat'ushka alone, which, perhaps, Mr. Graham
also understands as * little father ' (at least I never
heard of an explanation of this common mis-
understanding from his pen). I tried my best to
show in due place how detestably-sickly this
manner of translating the fine Old Eussian grave
and serious manner of addressing sounds to us.
Only those Eussians who have no * sense of lan-
guages ' at all and don't trouble about the exact
meaning of words (there are some Eussians of this
kind too !) can light-heartedly consent to this
interpretation so unfortunately established.
One cannot even imagine the two Eussian
words for ' little father ' ever pronounced in our
land at all ! They would be ' mal'en'ki ot'etz ' or
' mal'enki bat'ushka ' and would sound absurd !
The combining of this particular noun with this
particular adjective is absolutely unthinkable; it
could not be borne by a Eussian mind.
What is more, shoulder to shoulder with
* bat'ushka ' stands its variety ' bat'ka ' and
everyone who has lived in Eussia ought to know
what a delightful couple these two make ! In
order to be short and clear I will invite my reader
for a moment back again to the little village church .
... It is not unlikely that the wretched old
priest had a little too much just before the service.
Well, in that case more than one amongst his
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 199
congregation will smile to himself and say : ' Olio !
Bat'ka is a bit tovo (a bit of that) F Not for a
second would the usual manner of addressing a
priest (bat'ushka) come into a Kussian's mind on
such an occasion: it would be bat'ka unless it is
merely pop !
I think, that bat'ushka and bat'ka, coming from
one root, are excellent in depicting the contrasting
proximity of seriousness and humour. But both
of them are miles away from sentimentality. A
little peasant fellow who had just had a spanking
from his father (which is not common amongst
the peasantry and quite absent with the educated
classes) will explain the richness of his complexion
to a sympathetically-inquisitive comrade in two
words: ' Bat'ka pr'ib'il.' 1 Calling his father by
this word bat'ka instead of ot'etz, or bat'ushka,
or t'at'ka (all standing for ' father ' in a nice way),
he will thus express his attitude at the given
moment: namely, one of criticism, but at the
same time one which it is not worth while dwelling
upon. The peasant's criticism passed on his
spiritual father's weakness is of the same nature:
the next moment he will be deep in his mood of
devotional worship far from being formal or
perfunctory, but in free accord with what he feels
moved to do and not thinking of the priest's
lack of dignity at all. There is no decorum in
1 has beaten me.
200 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
the attitude of our peasantry towards their priest-
hood: if there were any, the funny everyday word
pop (for priest) would never have come into being.
Both in pop and in bat'ka there is a world of
humour. What is more, a demure, funny little
priest would be called popik, which is the quint-
essence of fun !
That is just the case : we laugh on many occasions
where Mr. Graham probably does not want to see
us laughing; consequently he ignores certain
points of Eussian life. The comic element when
observed in the sphere of orthodoxy and ' holiness '
is with us a perfectly natural target for fun.
If you only could read in original the untrans-
latable Sobor'an'e (The Cathedral-ians) by L'eskov
what a wealth of that very Eussian humour which
goes hand in hand with good-natured forgiveness !
Again, Chehov's tenderness for the failures of
mankind: isn't it interwoven with humour now
subtle, now farcically -naked which means a fear-
less openness of good heart ? Is it anywhere near
Why, even the vague English definition ' lovers '
could be sooner related to sentimentality than
our most decisive denomination (I'ubovniki) which
draws a circle round the word for lovers (see
pp. 15, 16) leaving no room for the question
what sort of lovers they may be. Passion is
certainly understood by this term; but no senti-
mental parading. If there is any ' display ' about
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 201
it say, in a man's going with his secret lover to
the stalls of the Opera House pretending to be her
ordinary acquaintance or a stranger then there
is challenge and humour in it, but no desire to
be sweetly called ' lovers ' by grannies and school-
girls. His friends who know about his uvlecheniye
(see p. 124) will express their understanding with-
out words and will enjoy the situation as one of
buoyant humour, feeling themselves a kind of con-
spirators. This touch is not comparable with the
atmosphere of the English morals, visible or con-
cealed, just as ' popik ' and ' bat'ka ' are not com-
parable with ' our vicar ' and as the two languages
are not really comparable in their whole. The lack
of common denominator in each of these spheres is
So it is with regard to cases of profound emotions.
The times, when Yronski's appearance in a theatre
box with Anna Kar'enina whom he regarded as his
wife was taken as impudence, are gone now. Russia
has been developing since then in every way A little
but one. . . . Only the sphere of home politics sion.
in Russian life is rather unlike the others, and the
road along it is somewhat barricaded in spite of the
progress on its right and left. But we, true to our
cherished dreams, still hope that the war will
automatically overthrow this striking inconsis-
But this one particular sphere of our dreams can
hardly be called sentimental: there is an element
202 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
of tragedy in it; and the absence of humour in this
case is rather pardonable.
Elsewhere, deepest emotions don't exclude a
smile with the Russians. An old, essentially
Russian exclamation in the form of an address is
a typical illustration: ' Eh, thou, gor'e-bogatyr' !'
. . . Bogatyr is a folk-lore definition for a hero
richly endowed with victorious spiritual and
physical power; while gore means grief, disaster;
combining the two seemingly incommensurable
conceptions and throwing them at a fellow without
any further comment carries with it a world of
sympathy (for some reckless, fruitless effort)
combined with a smile. Don Quixote was a real
Russia would not have produced the genius
of Gogol' and of Ostrovski if this laughter through
tears were not innate in her very blood.
The A ' snap- jack ' is to a sunlit room what humour
of a snap- is to Russian tenderness. (I vainly asked a number
Russian f m y friends what is the English word for the
little patch of brilliant light which one sends
fluttering about the room in one's childhood by
means of reflecting sun-rays on a piece of broken
looking-glass; no one could tell me. At last I got
the ' snap-jack,' without a moment's hesitation,
from a dear village landlady who commands an
extraordinary vocabulary. It sounds most appro-
priate !) That is why we do not quite recognize
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 203
ourselves in the paintings by Mr. Stephen Graham :
there is much colour in them, but the room is too
hot and there is no ' snap-jack ' in it !
Therefore I am very anxious that the reader of
this book educated on such representations should
not draw a final vision of the Eussians exclusively
with the help of their lovable and caressive terms
discussed in its pages. They are not ' pretty '
these terms ! You must not call them so. For
one thing, we have no word for ' prettiness.'
The adjective ' pretty ' we have (horoshen'ki), and
we apply it to pretty women's faces, their frocks
and hats, to knick-knacks, to jewellery, to small
gardens, small houses, small animals. But we have
no word for prettiness. And it would never occur
to us to call the words bogatyr', chutki, laskovost',
rodnoy, prostor, razdolye, prost'lt'e, bat'ushka,
etc. 1 ' pretty ' words. They are beautiful, because
their meaning is deep. Nor are pop, or bat'ka,
or baba, or sapojlshche, or mozgl'aven'ki 2 pretty,
either ! If I add just one more word to the
last set, my idea can be conveyed in a charac-
teristic saying: this word is popadyd, and means
the pop's wife 3 ; and the saying (applied when
one is talking about the variety of tastes in
this world) runs: ' Some like the pop, some
1 See pp. 18, 23, 25, 50, 168, 179.
2 See pp. 126, 141, 149, 199.
3 I expect my reader knows that a man cannot take holy
orders in Russia without being married.
204 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
popadya, and some the tail of piggy !' Or, here
is a variety: ' Some like a melon, some water-
melon, and some the pop's daughter !' 1
Those Kussian hearts can also be bursting with
' naughty ' fun; we have no word for ' naughty,'
but I think we understand its English shades of
meaning; we find it too much rubbed into the
astonishingly well-trained babies of this country,
while the facial expression usually accompanying
this blame when it is addressed to ' grown-ups '-
makes us smile ! They can be very furious, those
Russian hearts ; very indignant, burning with
hatred, wicked, wilful, nonchalant; even cruel
on the one cumbered road. . . . But the X-rays
go on doing their work on all these occasions just
the same ! And this is the most characteristic
feature about the Russians.
Final dig I would not like my reader to run away with
' the idea that I am unaware of all the scientific
arguments which philologists can hurl at me.
I think I know most of them, and I would like
my reader to know what I think of them.
The main argument will be, that all this flexi-
bility of words which we enjoy so much is merely
an evidence of the primitive stage in the develop-
ment of our language ; that other languages had it
1 KTO non, KTO nonaflbio, a KTO CBHHOH XBOCTHKT. !
KTO jHoSurt fltiHio, KTO ap6y3i>, a KTO nonoBy
THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 205
once upon a time all these eloquent terminations
and twists to the words but have dropped
them as an unnecessary ballast. Then they will
say that it is easier to learn the English, freed
from that ballast, than any other language; and
that this is, after all, the all-important advantage-
making the English speech attractive to a number
of nations on this globe.
Well, I quite agree that the purely grammatical
terminations can be called a ballast; and perhaps
we would not notice or mind if they withered
gradually and fell of? one by one leaving four out
of the thirty-two terminations to a verb's stem.
But when my English critics tell me that a selec-
tion of precise adjective epithets works just as
well as a special twist given to the noun itself in
order to illustrate the speaker's attitude, I find
it a little inconsequent: it is not in accord with
the general English power through brevity. When
people complain ' I have no time !' and a wonder-
ful friend of mine answers simply and inspiringly
'Make time, make time!' as if this were as easy
as making crumbs out of bread and does so him-
self this fills me with admiration. But, stringing
a row of adjectives, as in ' dirty, nasty, objec-
tionable, wretched, little old man,' instead of our
simple way of merely adding two certain syllables
to the noun meaning old man, does not look like
making time to me ! The other alternative in
206 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
English for such cases (as I equally gather from
my friends) is to make faces ! Instead of saying
something like ' Wipe your }>oot-ishche !' as would
be the ominous twist to the Russian word for
clumsy big boots heavy with mud the English
people are supposed to convey their attitude of
disapproval by a facial expression and tone of
voice accompanying ' those boots !' This would
be all right if they did; but they don't. Such
things are always asked in the politest and kindest
manner imaginable (if they are asked at all !) and
we never see ' faces ' on our English friends' faces.
The perfectly justifiable tend of their real thoughts
on such occasions remains deep below.
It is like an enchanted circle of mutual influence :
innate reticence does not allow the English people
sufficient colouring in their speech for fear of
making it ' flowery ' and ' ridiculous ' (reasons which
equally account for the lack of expression in the
general English manner of reading aloud or re-
citing) while their speech thus having been pruned
close to its stem in its turn does no more send
out shoots of tender green filled with springly 1 sap.
1 I know that there is in English no adjective ' springly '
deriving of the soun spring (the season of the year, and
not a spring in the mattress), but I am unable to manage
without it. In Russian we have it in two forms, ancient and
modern: v'eshn'i, v'es'enn'i. While the mattress-spring has
nothing to do with it: it is npy>KHHa, with its own adjective
prujinny ; and the third English spring for leap is with us
different again :
THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE 207
So we could not possibly accept this argument
as carrying the point in favour of the English
language for its being freed of ' unnecessary ballast.'
To our mind, this part of the ' ballast ' is the very
sun-colour of our speech.
The last argument, about English being ever so
much easier than Eussian, is beyond debating, of
course. But if the Kussians had the choice
offered to them either to have their language
preserved as it is and have it spoken only by a
limited number of foreigners, or to have it pruned
like the Modern English and to hear it spoken
by other peoples all round the world they would
prefer the first, the unpractical alternative ! They
wouldn't be Russians if they didn't.
INDEX OF MARGIN HEADINGS
English conceptions not existing in Russian - 4
An open question - - 9
A side-light - 10
A clash in a definition - 1 4
The attitude of the Russian mind in general - 16
and regarding fools and cleverness - 17
and responsiveness - 18
Quality causing responsiveness - 20
illustrated by an instance at an English school - - 20
Too much of it 22
The beloved Russian conception: Prostor - - 25
Foreign words in the Russian language - 28
The all-powerful syllables or nuances - 29
The characteristics and flexibility of the verb ' to be ' - 34
Further transformations of words - - 37
The power of terminations - - 40
A new word for the Germans - 43
A new reading of an old word - 44
The Russian method of address - 45
An ordinary term of sociability - 49
Misunderstood terms of affinity - 50
Indispensable Russian form of address - 53
Another side-light - - 54
N'ichev6 - 57
A very Russian word for affection - - - ^59
The order of words - 60
A reminiscence - 63
G6gol' the nationalist - - - - - 67
A term of endearment for Russia - - - 67
INDEX OF MARGIN HEADINGS 209
G6gol' on prost6r - - 68
Conceptions without which a Russian could not live - - 69
An important digression - 72
Tr6yka - 75
The possibility of G6gol's vision - 79
The new idea of nationalism - 81
No danger for England - 81
A typical Russian word for quick wit - 82
' Man,' ' woman,' and ' marriage ' - 85
* Chin,' ' chin6vnik,' and Peter the Great - - 87
An example of transference of ideas - - 90
A very Russian conception - 91
The ' sadness that gives joy ' -93
The oneness with Nature - - 95
Looking backward - -97
A mainspring of Russian character - - 97
Difference between the English and the Russian conceptions
of belief - - 98
Two words for ' Truth ' - 99
' Behind-the-soul-ness ' - 99
Some Russian sayings - 102
No * slang ' in Russian - 103
Untranslatable names - 106
Creating new words - - 108
A characteristic poem - m
The part played by Old Slavonic - - in
A query . n 5
The keys to the fairy-tale, child-young nature of the Russian
Language n 7
An explanation via other channels - - 118
Some simple derivations . n 9
Subconscious will reflected in verbs - - 121
No compromise - 122
An everyday capacity . 124
Baba a very Russian conception - - 126
An historical anecdote - 128
Two historical definitions wrongly translated - 131
A special twist to the nouns - 133
210 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Tenderness and Love winding their way throughout the
language - 138
Various terminations conveying the exact attitude of the
speaker - - 142
Poignancy of expressions - - - 145
Some Russian curses - 147
A unique term to depict a dismerit - -149
' Nadryv' - - 150
Another word without which the Russian language would cease
to be Russian - 157
A new pearl of Russian literature - - 159
The favourite Russian tense - - 161
Another very Russian aspect of love - - 162
Granny and her God - - 164
Praise for the Russian baba - - 169
The people's speech as presented by Gor'ki - - 171
The evolution of Dostoyevski's outlook - 172
A dreary conception - - 175
Dostoyevski's influence on latest Russian literature - - 175
Feodor Sollogub the admirer of death - 178
A typical sacrament - - 179
The true meaning of good-bye - 179
A praise for one's foes - 181
The mystic woman-poet - 185
An extraordinary poem - 186
Snow-the-Wonderful - - 187
' What is lacking in the moonlight ?' - 188
Abundance of conjunctions - - 188
A Russian's longing - - 191
Some hopeful thoughts - 192
A suggestive parallel - 192
No sentimentality either in religion or love - 196
A little digression - - 201
The presence of a ' snap- jack ' in Russian life - 202
Final dig at English - - 204
RUSSIAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS USED
AND EXPLAINED IN THE TEXT
(IN ORDER OF THEIR APPEARANCE)
Baryn'a, baryshn'a -
L'ubovnik (-ki, plur.)
T'ajela na podyom -
Chtitkoat, chutki -
IlpHB r BTJIHBLltt
BpecTH, HaSpecTH, BaGpecxH,
- /-) ^
- 2 3
, BaopsaTb -
BHTbCH, BSBHTbCH -
Mope, BsMopbe -
212 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Da vat' -
Sy&zd, razy^zd, pody6zd,
vydzd, priyezd, vyiezd,
obyezd, proy&zd, nay&-
U m&n'a yest' vr&m'a
GxaTb, nacTaxb, BCiaTb, ycxaTb,
nepecTaxb, npHCTarb, aacTaxb
npo'fea.n'b, H-BT-b npo-
, npo6biTb, c6biTb,
y6biTb, BbiCbiTb, npuSbiTb, aa-
6biTb - -
y MGHH ecTb BpeMH
BbiJioe, CbiJib -
RUSSIAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS 213
214 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
- CTapuKaiima -
- CTapHqiiuiKa -
- Orapbe -
- MajibHHUina -
- Majib i iyraH-b -
- MajibqoHKa, MajibHyraiiJKa,
MajibHyraH t iHK'B, Ma:ib4HHbKa
- ^'BBHOHKa -
- 3'BBKa -
- ^OHKa -
- ^oqeHbKa -
Byl' molodzu n'e ukor
- BbiJib MOJio^uy ne yKopT> -
- H-feMI^bl -
- HfiMOfi -
Slav' an' e
- GjiaBHHe - .
- FepMaHHyK-L -
RUSSIAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
Hey, vy, goltibchiki !
Bat 1 ushka
Gosudar' - bat' ushka
D'et'l, d'dtki, d'et'lshki,
Rodnoy, rodnaya, rodnyie
Sapogi gannon'ikoy -
Sapogi butylkam'i -
N'ichev6 mn'e n'e nado -
T0 1 IKH,
216 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
N6gi tvoyi tzeluyu
Eh ! Ek !
Muj, muj china
On& vyhodit zamuj
On j enitsa
N'e v'Mat' -
Poccifl, Pycb -
Bxt ! 9KT, !
RUSSIAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
Da bros't'e vy nyt' !
,ZJa SpocbTe Bbi HbiTb !
Eh, toska zayela ! -
BXT>, Tocna aa-fejia ! -
Tom' it' -
HcTHHHan npaBfla -
Dusha moya -
N'e po dushe -
He no j^yui'h -
S'eb'e na um'd
CeS'fe na ywfe -
N'e mytyom tak katanyem
He MbrrbCM-b TaKi> KaTaHbeivn> -
Na vs'akago mudretza
Ha BCHKaro MyApei^a ^OBOJibno
3a nasyxott -
Bo jest venn o ! -
218 THE KUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Glub'ina - TjiySima
Puchina - nyqiraa
Gor'e - - Tope
Skorb' - - Cnopl
Eto - BTO
S'iye - - Cie
Guby - - Fy6bi
Usta - - y CT a
Lobzaniye - - JIoGaame
Iskusheniye - - IIcKyuieme
Mysl' - - Mbicjib
T'eio - - T-BJIO -
Plot' - - HjIOTb -
S-hodstvo - CxoflCTBO
Rab, rabota, rabstvo
Volna, voln'eniye volno-
Ne hochetsa rabotat'
Hdchetsa otdohnut' -
Spat' hochetsa !
Hochetsa molodost'i !
Ya hochu jenltsa
Mn'e hochetsa jenltsa
Zamuj h6chetsa !
Hot'elos' - - - Xorfcjiocb
., paSoTa, paSciBO
MH-B xo i ieTCH
He XOHGTCH paGoTaTb
XoqexcH MOJIO,O;OCTH !
H XO^y JKGHHTbCH -
RUSSIAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
Vy m'en'a uvlekayet'e
Molod'dtz baba !
Boy baba !
Duraki, durachyo -
Gremuchaya rtut' -
Kaz'onnaya, kaz'onnoye -
Kaz'onnaya dusha -
Jidy, jidki, jidishki,
Yevrey, yevreyi (plur.)
Top tat' -
BM MGHH yBJienaexe
Mojiofle^, 6a6a !
Bott 6a6a ! -
- Fposa -
- 12 7
BbiTpw cano>KHinH-To, iiuib na
220 THE EUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
Ranovato, ran'ohon'ko -
Golubdye, golfcben'koye -
Hud6y, hud'en'ki, hud
Poros'ata, poros'atki, po-
Pojaluyt e, gospoda !
Chort vos'mi !
Chort znayet !
Or' eh baba ! -
PM'a baba ! -
Ogon' baba ! -
Bogatyr' baba !
FIopocHTa, nopocHTKH, nopoce
, rocnoaa ! - -
Hoprb snaerb !
Optx-b 6a6a !
IlyjiH 6a6a ! -
OroHb 6a6a ! -
BoraTbipb 6a6a !
- 14 5
- is 1
- 1 5 l
- is 1
- 1 5 l
- 1 54
- 1 54
- J 57
- i/ 1
KUSSIAN WORDS AND EXPRESSIONS
Prost'i, prost'it'e -
Proshchay, proshchayt'e -
Prost'it'e, baryn'a -
Prost'i, bat'ushka barin -
N'e pominayt'e 1'ihom
Do sv'idanya -
Bog prost'it -
Lih6y kazak -
Lihdye d'elo -
Tut komar n6sa n'e podt6-
Liho skachet trdyka
Shapka liho na b'ekr'en' -
Bat'ka prib'll -
Eh, ty, g6r'e-bogat^r' ! -
Kto popa, kto popadyu,
a kto svin6y hvost'ik ! -
Kto 1'ub'it dyn'u, kto
arbuz, a kto pop6vu
V'eshni, v'es'enn'i - - BeuiHitt,
IlpOCTH, npOCTHTG -
IlpOCTH, 6aTK)UIKa 6apHHT> -
He noMHHattTe JIHXOMT> - -
J\0 CBHj;aHbH -
Bon> npocTHTt - -
JlHXOtt, JIHXO - -
JlHXoft Bpan> -
Jliixott KaaaKt -
Jlnxan cya6a -
Jlwxoe fl-fejio - -
Ty-FL KOMapt Hoca ne noflTOHH-n,
JInxo cKaueTt TpottKa
IIIanKa JIHXO Ha 6eKpem>
3xi>, TLI, rope-Goraxbipb !
KTO nona, KTO nona^bio, a KTO
CBHHOtt XBOCTHKT. ! -
KTO JiioSHTb AbiHio, KTO ap6y3T>,
a KTO nonoBy AOHKy ! - -
1 8 1
FROM THE INTRODUCTION
Mjflo - - MLIJIO
Pyl' - HbiJib -
Myl'ny puzyr' - - MbiJibHtift nyatipb -
Dal'ni put' - - JJajibHift nyTb
Byt' v ssylke - - BbiTb BT> CCMJIK-B
Vys' - - - Bbicb
222 THE RUSSIANS AND THEIR LANGUAGE
- Pu6itt ttttipT.
- vsbuib -
- B'fejiLitt Jio6i>
- Mnjibiti -
- 3bi6b -
- VHUJiaH >KH3Hb
- 3jIOCTb -
- Tenepb -
- fl-BTH -
- 3ejienb -
- TeMGHb -
- B3HTb -
- Helium -
- 3,n; r BCb -
- Grenb -
- JlroflH -
- TeHb -
- UenbrH -
- JJeCHTb -
- JJpHHb -
- Bpan> -
- Bpaxb -
- BOHT> ! -
- KpOBT, -
- KpOBb -
Pyl' - -
The rest of the Russian words occurring in the Introduction
given in Russian type wherever they come in.
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