Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Их нравы

First published 29 January 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

In Russian, possessive pronouns (притяжательные местоимения) agree with the noun of the possessed, or possessee, in case, gender, and number. To be more precise, this is the case for the first person, мой (my), наш (our), твой (thy) and ваш (your). In the third person singular, we don’t care about case, gender, and number of the possessee anymore, however the distinction is made between masculine and neuter его (his, its) and feminine её (her). Finally, for the third person plural possessor, the unique form их (their) is used. You can’t go wrong with их. Well, almost.

Number → Singular Plural Self
Person → 1 2 3 1 2 3
m n f
Nominative m мой твой его его её наш ваш их свой
n моё твоё его его её наше ваше их своё
f моя твоя его его её наша ваша их своя
pl мои твои его его её наши ваши их свои
Genitive m моего твоего его его её нашего вашего их своего
n моего твоего его его её нашего вашего их своего
f моей твоей его его её нашей вашей их своей
pl моих твоих его его её наших ваших их своих
Dative m моему твоему его его её нашему вашему их своему
n моему твоему его его её нашему вашему их своему
f моей твоей его его её нашей вашей их своей
pl моим твоим его его её нашим вашим их своим
Accusative m animate моего твоего его его её нашего вашего их своего
m inanimate мой твой его его её наш ваш их свой
n моё твоё его его её наше ваше их своё
f мою твою его его её нашу вашу их свою
pl animate моих твоих его его её наших ваших их своих
pl inanimate мои твои его его её наши ваши их свои
Instrumental m моим твоим его его её нашим вашим их своим
n моим твоим его его её нашим вашим их своим
f моей твоей его его её нашей вашей их своей
pl моими твоими его его её нашими вашими их своими
Prepositional m моём твоём его его её нашем вашем их своём
n моём твоём его его её нашем вашем их своём
f моей твоей его его её нашей вашей их своей
pl моих твоих его его её наших ваших их своих

The word Ваш (capitalised in written Russian) is the polite form of second-person singular or plural possessive pronoun. Grammatically, it behaves exactly like ваш, even if you address just one person, for example «Ваше величество» (Your Majesty). When we talk about the single royal, say the Queen, in the third person, we should utilise the third person singular, i.e. «её величество» (Her Majesty), not «их величество», if we don’t want to sound illiterate. Note that Russian styles such as величество (Majesty), высочество (Highness), сиятельство, светлость, превосходительство (Excellency), преосвященство (Holiness) etc. are invariably neuter.

The reflexive-possessive pronoun свой does not have analogue in English. It always points to the subject of the sentence irrespectively of the person, gender, and number of that subject. It could be roughly translated as “one’s own”... except that “own” has its own exact analogue, собственный. This latter is used to amplify the sense of possession, so свой собственный stands for “one’s very own”.

With свой, we avoid possible tautology. For example, «у тебя есть своя машина» is better than somewhat repetitive «у тебя есть твоя машина». Another reason to use свой is to sound a bit less personal. In the sayings like «своя рубашка ближе к телу», the subject (the owner of this proverbial shirt) is not identified, probably because «моя рубашка ближе к телу» would sound too mean. It sounds mean enough as it is.

Russian possessive pronouns can be nominalised as to refer to (a group of) people. For example, the word наши also means “our people” and in times of war was often used as an antonym of враги “enemy”. The idiom «и нашим и вашим» (literally, “both to ours and to yours”) is a (shorter!) Russian equivalent of “hold with the hare and run with the hounds”. Likewise, свой or свои could mean “one’s kin” or “friend” as in «Свой среди чужих, чужой среди своих», “At home among strangers, a stranger among his own”.

Моей душе покоя нет My heart is sair
Сын или Бог, я твой Son or God, I’m thine
Первая его работа вызвала большой шум. His first work caused quite a stir.
Но, к великому её сожалению, банка оказалась пустой. But to her great disappointment it was empty.
Отче наш Our Father
Их нравы Their morals
Свои люди — сочтёмся It’s a Family Affair — We’ll Settle It Ourselves

The Soviet-era posters used a lot of наш while reserving их for the enemy.

Разгильдяев с производства гони: наши машины портят они
Kick the slobs out of the production line, they damage our machinery

Трудовой народ, строй свой Воздухофлот
Workers, build your own Air Fleet

Ребята! Ваша шалость с огнём приводит к пожару
Children! Your messing around with fire leads to conflagration

Добьём немецко-фашистских захватчиков в их берлоге!
Let’s finish off the Nazi invaders in their lair!

Printable table of Russian possessive pronouns

Friday, 25 January 2019

Epigrams and Epitaphs

by Robert Burns and Samuil Marshak

Rabbie Burns, I fancy, was not exactly the nicest person in the world. Maybe that’s why I just love his epigrams and epitaphs. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which is which. I guess he really wished for some of his epigrams to become epitaphs. In the end, his wish was granted.

Marshak certainly took a lot of liberties with Burns’ epigrams. I think that did them a lot of good. By doing away with proper names, Marshak put these short poems beyond time and place. For example, Epigram On Miss Davies has a subtitle: “On being asked why she had been formed so little, and Mrs. A — so big”. Marshak just called it «Девушке маленького роста» (“To a girl of short stature”). Likewise, On Andrew Turner became «О происхождении одной особы» (“On origin of a certain person”), and so forth.

Happy 260th birthday, Mr Burns.

Robert BurnsРоберт Бёрнс, перевод С.Я. Маршака
Epigram On Rough RoadsО плохих дорогах
I’m now arrived — thanks to the gods! —
Thro’ pathways rough and muddy,
A certain sign that makin roads
Is no this people’s study:
Altho’ I’ m not wi’ Scripture cram’d,
I’m sure the Bible says
That heedless sinners shall be damn’d,
Unless they mend their ways.
Я ехал к вам то вплавь, то вброд.
Меня хранили боги.
Не любит местный ваш народ
Чинить свои дороги.
Строку из Библии прочти,
О город многогрешный:
Коль ты не выпрямишь пути,
Пойдёшь ты в ад кромешный!
Epigram On The Laird Of LagganНадпись на могиле честолюбца
When Morine, deceas’d, to the Devil went down,
’Twas nothing would serve him but Satan’s own crown;
“Thy fool’s head,” quoth Satan, “that crown shall wear never,
I grant thou’rt as wicked, but not quite so clever.”
Покойник был дурак и так любил чины,
Что требует в аду короны сатаны.
— Нет, — молвил сатана. — Ты зол, и даже слишком,
Но надо обладать каким-нибудь умишком!
On Andrew TurnerО происхождении одной особы
In se’enteen hunder’n forty-nine,
The deil gat stuff to mak a swine,
An’ coost it in a corner;
But wilily he chang’d his plan,
An’ shap’d it something like a man,
An’ ca’d it Andrew Turner.
В году семьсот сорок девятом
(Точнее я не помню даты)
Лепить свинью задумал чёрт.
Но вдруг в последнее мгновенье
Он изменил свое решенье,
И вас он вылепил, милорд!
On Commissary Goldie’s BrainsО черепе тупицы
Lord, to account who dares thee call,
Or e’er dispute thy pleasure?
Else why, within so thick a wall,
Enclose so poor a treasure?
Господь во всем, конечно, прав.
Но кажется непостижимым,
Зачем он создал прочный шкаф
С таким убогим содержимым!
Epitaph On “Wee JohnieЭпитафия бездушному дельцу
Whoe’er thou art, O reader, know
That Death has murder’d Johnie;
An’ here his body lies fu’ low;
For saul he ne’er had ony.
Здесь Джон покоится в тиши.
Конечно, только тело...
Но, говорят, оно души
И прежде не имело!
On Wm. Graham, Esq., Of MossknoweЭпитафия Вильяму Грэхему, эсквайру
“Stop thief!” dame Nature call’d to Death,
As Willy drew his latest breath;
How shall I make a fool again?
My choicest model thou hast ta’en.
Склонясь у гробового входа,
— О смерть! — воскликнула природа,
Когда удастся мне опять
Такого олуха создать!..
On John Bushby, Esq., Tinwald DownsНадгробная надпись
Here lies John Bushby — honest man,
Cheat him, Devil — if you can!
Прошел Джон Бушби честный путь.
Он жил с моралью в дружбе...
Попробуй, дьявол, обмануть
Такого Джона Бушби!
On Elphinstone’s Translation Of Martial’s EpigramsПереводчику Марциала
O Thou whom Poetry abhors,
Whom Prose has turned out of doors,
Heard’st thou yon groan? — proceed no further,
’Twas laurel’d Martial calling murther.
О ты, кого поэзия изгнала,
Кто в нашей прозе места не нашёл, —
Ты слышишь крик поэта Марциала:
“Разбой! Грабёж! Меня он перевёл!..”
Epitaph On Wm. Hood, Senr., In TarboltonЭпитафия церковному старосте, сапожнику Гуду
Here Souter Hood in death does sleep;
To hell if he’s gane thither,
Satan, gie him thy gear to keep;
He’ll haud it weel thegither.
Пусть по приказу сатаны
Покойника назначат
В аду хранителем казны, —
Он ловко деньги прячет.
On James Grieve, Laird Of Boghead, TarboltonЭпитафия владельцу усадьбы
Here lies Boghead amang the dead
In hopes to get salvation;
But if such as he in Heav’n may be,
Then welcome, hail! damnation.
Джемс Грив Богхед
Был мой сосед,
И, если в рай пошёл он,
Хочу я в ад,
Коль райский сад
Таких соседей полон.
Epitaph For James SmithНадпись на могиле сельского волокиты
Lament him, Mauchline husbands a’,
He aften did assist ye;
For had ye staid hale weeks awa,
Your wives they ne’er had miss’d ye.
Ye Mauchline bairns, as on ye press
To school in bands thegither,
O tread ye lightly on his grass, —
Perhaps he was your father!
Рыдайте, добрые мужья,
На этой скорбной тризне.
Сосед покойный, слышал я,
Вам помогал при жизни.
Пусть школьников шумливый рой
Могилы не тревожит...
Тот, кто лежит в земле сырой,
Был им отцом, быть может!
Epigram On Miss DaviesДевушке маленького роста
Ask why God made the gem so small?
And why so huge the granite? —
Because God meant mankind should set
That higher value on it.
На то и меньше мой алмаз
Гранитной тёмной глыбы,
Чтобы дороже во сто раз
Его ценить могли бы!
Epigram At Roslin InnТрактирщице из Рослина
My blessings on ye, honest wife!
I ne’er was here before;
Ye’ve wealth o’ gear for spoon and knife —
Heart could not wish for more.
Heav’n keep you clear o’ sturt and strife,
Till far ayont fourscore,
And while I toddle on thro’ life,
I’ll ne’er gae by your door!
Достойна всякого почёта
Владений этих госпожа.
В её таверне есть работа
Для кружки, ложки и ножа.
Пускай она, судьбой хранима,
Ещё полвека проживет.
И — верьте! — не промчусь я мимо
Её распахнутых ворот!
Epigram To Miss Jean ScottМисс Джинни Скотт
O had each Scot of ancient times
Been, Jeanie Scott, as thou art;
The bravest heart on English ground
Had yielded like a coward.
О, будь у скоттов каждый клан
Таким, как Джинни Скотт, —
Мы покорили б англичан,
А не наоборот.
Lines Written Under The Picture Of The Celebrated Miss BurnsК портрету известной мисс Бёрнс
Cease, ye prudes, your envious railing,
Lovely Burns has charms — confess:
True it is, she had one failing,
Had a woman ever less?
Полно вам шипеть, как змеи!
Всех затмит она собой.
Был один грешок за нею...
Меньше ль было у любой?

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Mi experiencia lesbiana con la soledad

by Kabi Nagata

Nagata, a lonely, depressed 28-year-old girl with a bald patch (a consequence of trichotillomania) and arms covered with self-harm scars hires an escort in order to lose her virginity in a love hotel. What could possibly go wrong?

Too many things. Much to her disappointment, Nagata’s adventure turned out to be nothing like in the erotic dōjinshi (apparently, her main source of sex education). And a good thing too, otherwise I doubt that she would create, let alone publish, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness. But now that she did, the readers around the globe can enjoy her amazing comic. (I, for example, found the Spanish version in the library.) It is funny, heart-warming and honest. I think everybody can relate to it, no matter what is their gender, sexual orientation or level of self-esteem. Nagata does not talk much about her self-harm experience and suicidal thoughts, but they are all there. Last but not least: the author treats sex workers as well as their profession with utmost respect and gratitude.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Послушай, Зин

First published 22 January 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

The first time I read the word зин I almost fell off the chair. (I was sitting on the sofa though.) Of course, зин is nothing but a Russian spelling of zine, itself a short of fanzine (фэнзин), which is a blend of fan and magazine. However, the meaning of the Russian word магазин (shop, store) is very different from that of magazine. My first association of зин was with the name Зин as in Vysotsky’s song:

“Ну, и меня, конечно, Зин,
Всё время тянет в магазин,
А там — друзья... Ведь я же, Зин,
Не пью один!”
Владимир Высоцкий, «Диалог у телевизора»
“And, of course, Zin,
I always long for the <liquor> store,
There are my friends, because, Zin,
I never drink alone!”
Vladimir Vysotsky, Dialogue by the TV set

By the way, I already mentioned this song when discussing Russian terms for in-laws. But why Зин instead of Зина?

You might remember that Russian has six cases. Or at least this is what we were taught in school. Well, that is not exactly true. There are remnants of up to ten additional cases! One of them is vocative. According to Russian Wikipedia, the historic Slavic vocative started to die out (by getting mixed with nominative) as early as XI century. By XIV—XV its use was restricted to addressing the higher social ranks and by mid-XVI century it disappeared from vernacular altogether, the only remaining forms being those to address the clergy. Nevertheless, until 1918, the vocative case was formally listed as the seventh case of the Russian language.

Nominative Vocative Meaning
Бог Боже God (in monotheistic religions)
Господь Господи Lord
Иисус Иисусе Jesus
Христос Христе Christ
владыка владыко lord; bishop
отец отче father
старец старче (literary) old man; elder
царь царю tsar, king
князь княже prince
человек человече human being, person

The handful of surviving vocative forms are still very common in both literary and spoken Russian.

Врачу, исцелися сам!
Physician, heal thyself
Отче наш, иже еси на небесе́х! Да святится имя Твое...
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Не лепо ли ны бяшет, братие, начяти старыми словесы трудных повестий о полку Игореве, Игоря Святославлича?
Might it not become us, brothers, to begin in the diction of yore the stern tale of the campaign of Igor, Igor son of Svyatoslav?
«Чего тебе надобно, старче
А. С. Пушкин, «Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке»
“What do you need, old man?”
Alexander Pushkin, The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
Ой, как худо жить Марусе
В городе Тарусе!
Петухи одни да гуси.
Господи Исусе!
Oh what trial is Tarusa
For the girl Marusya —
Nothing but the hens and geese,
What a living, Holy Geez!
Он говорит в ответ:
— Мёртвый или живой,
Pазницы, жено, нет.
Сын или Бог, я твой.
Иосиф Бродский, «Натюрморт»
He, in turn, explained:
— Dead or alive, this time,
Woman, it’s all the same.
Son or God, I’m thine.
Joseph Brodsky, Nature morte

In Ukrainian, vocative (кличний відмінок) is alive and kicking. In Russian literature, it is widely used to give a Ukrainian feel to dialogue (while leaving the rest 100% Russian):

— Не смейся, не смейся, батьку!
— Не слушай, сынку, матери: она баба, она ничего не знает.
Н. В. Гоголь, «Тарас Бульба»
“Don’t laugh, don’t laugh, father!”
“Don’t listen to your mother, my son; she’s a woman, she doesn’t know anything.”
Nikolai Gogol, Taras Bulba
— Вы не медик, панычу? Медики, те привыкают сразу.
М. А. Булгаков, «Белая гвардия»
“Not a medical man, are you, sir? Medical gentlemen soon get used to it.”
Mikhail Bulgakov, The White Guard

In modern Russian, a number of nouns of the first declension and some (typically, diminutive forms of) given names which end with or could drop the ending to form a “neo-vocative” («современный звательный» or even «новозвательный падеж»). For instance, (nominative) Зинаида → (diminutive nominative) Зина → (diminutive neo-vocative) Зин.

Full NominativeDiminutive NominativeDiminutive Neo-vocative
Александр (m), Александра (f)СаняСань
Анна (f)АняАнь
Алла (f)АлкаАлк
Андрей (m)АндрюшаАндрюш
Владимир (m)ВоваВов
Елена (f)ЛенаЛен
Зинаида (f)ЗинаЗин
Иван (m)ВаняВань
Мария (f)МаняМань
Михаил (m)МишаМиш
Надежда (f)НадяНадь
Николай (m)КоляКоль
Ольга (f)ОляОль
Тамара (f)ТомаТом
Татьяна (f)ТаняТань

These short forms can make for almost untranslatable wordplay:

Как-то раз в коридорах Центрального телевидения встретились диктор ЦТ Ангелина Вовк и канцлер ФРГ Хельмут Коль. Произошёл любопытный разговор:
— Как дела, Вовк?
— Да ничего, Коль!
Андрей Кнышев, «Тоже книга»

Normally full Russian names do not form neo-vocative, so we don’t say “Алл”, “Анн”, “Елен”, “Надежд”, “Ольг” etc. Of course, there are exceptions, for example Вера → Вер, Зоя → Зой and Тамара → Тамар. A small number of “family” nouns, viz. мама (mum), папа (dad), тётя (auntie), дядя (uncle), баба (granny), wonderfully combine with proper names to form binary constructions which take neo-vocative as in “дядя Ваня” → “дядь Вань” or “баба Шура” → “баб Шур”.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Fifteen short films

The great thing about short films is that they are, well, short. So even if you watch a not-so-good one, you don’t feel robbed of two hours of your life as it often happens with feature films. And occasionally you watch a masterpiece, which really makes your day (week, month, year).

The XIV festival of short films San Rafael en Corto (SREC) took place from 3 to 9 November 2018 in Teatro Municipal Víctor Jara, Vecindario. Most of the films presented on the festival are made by young Canarian film makers. The winners are determined by public vote. Yesterday, I went to Teatro Guiniguada where the 15 winning films were screened. They ranged from amateurish social dramas to sweet but still amateurish social dramas to comedies to a few very professionally made comedies. My favourites were REM (as in “rapid eye movement”) by Tomás Alejo Wilhelm and absolutely brilliant ( ) (i.e. parentheses; not the best title for a movie, I am afraid, to look it up on internet) by Andrea Zoghbi.

Proyección del palmares de la XIV edición de SREC

Teatro Guiniguada, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Wednesday, 16 January 2019, 20:00
  • Harta del silencio by Agustín Domínguez (social drama)
  • Too, the Moon by Moisés D. García (social/feminism)
  • Para siempre by Marta Fuenar, Raquel Castelló and Elena García (comedy)
  • Hasta aquí by Anatael Pérez Hernández (comedy)
  • Salto al vacío by María Soto (drama)
  • X by Galadriel Alonso and Alejandro Rodríguez (drama)
  • ( ) by Andrea Zoghbi (comedy/mockumentary)
  • Tecnoamor by Verónica Vargas López and Escuela Infantil y Juvenil de Cine “Secuencia 27” (comedy)
  • Felices los 4 by Carlos Alberto Mejías Alonso (comedy)
  • Zona de exclusión by Rito José Vega Guillén (drama)
  • How Much? by Jessica Marrero Díaz, Carlos Alberto Mejías Alonso and Raquel Besteiro Ruiz (social drama)
  • REM by Tomás Alejo Wilhelm (comedy)
  • Planazo by Emilio González (comedy)
  • Nouvelle Cuisine by Manuel Reyes Halaby (animation/comedy)
  • Lo que no se ve by Lamberto Guerra (social drama)

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Planet Earth II

a film by Justin Anderson, Ed Charles, Fredi Devas, Chadden Hunter, Emma Napper and Elizabeth White
presented and narrated by David Attenborough

We first saw a bit of this documentary two years ago while staying in Belgium. I think it was sort of Planet Earth II “greatest hits” for we’ve seen sloth a-swimming, widowbirds a-jumping, bears a-dancing, and, of course, a fox snow-diving. Now, during these Christmas/New Year/Reyes Magos holidays, Timur expressed a wish to watch it. And so we watched all six episodes.

I would not call it “a sequel” but rather “an update” to the fantastic Planet Earth. A stunning update, though. We’ve got a DVD, not a Blu-Ray, and we don’t have a 4K TV, but still, the quality of the picture is astounding.

In this series, we’ve noticed, BBC gets too soft on prey animals (at least, where there is a chance of a viewer developing emotional attachment to them) which, naturally, results in predators staying permanently hungry. And, bar the aforementioned dancing scene, not nearly enough bears — or so our teddies thought.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Чихать никому не возбраняется

First published 10 January 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

So you are not afraid of Russian nouns anymore. Even less should you be scared of Russian verbs. There are only three tenses: past, present, and future. None of this imperfect or pluperfect nonsense. Easy!

Nevertheless, there are complications. To quote Wikipedia,

Most verbs come in pairs, one with imperfective (несоверше́нный вид) or continuous, the other with perfective (соверше́нный вид) or completed aspect, usually formed with a (prepositional) prefix, but occasionally using a different root.
But why “pairs”? I wrote before about Russian verb formation using prefixes. In that post, I used three imperfective verbs: бежать (“to run”), делать “to do, to make” and резать “to cut”, and their numerous (prefixed) perfective derivatives. That means, one imperfective verb gives rise to many perfective verbs, so we should really talk about a tree or a graph rather than a pair.

Another way of “perfecting” is a root modification. Cf. чихать (imperfective) and чихнуть (perfective). Both verbs mean “to sneeze”, but чихать refers to the process in general and чихнуть to the completed action (to sneeze once or a definite number of times):

Апчхи!!! Чихнул, как видите. Чихать никому и нигде не возбраняется. Чихают и мужики, и полицеймейстеры, и иногда даже и тайные советники. Все чихают.
“Aptchee!!” he sneezed as you perceive. It is not reprehensible for anyone to sneeze anywhere. Peasants sneeze and so do police superintendents, and sometimes even privy councillors. All men sneeze.

Likewise, махать and махнуть (to wave, flap, swing, brandish), толкать and толкнуть (to push), кидать and кинуть (to throw), бросать and бросить (to throw, to abandon, to give up), шагать and шагнуть (to step) and so on — here we can indeed say that imperfective and perfective verbs come in pairs.

Quite often, both ways of verb formation combine, as could be seen with aforementioned махать and махнуть.

imperfective perfective
махать махнуть
махаться махнуться
взмахивать взмахнуть
вымахивать вымахать
замахиваться замахнуться
отмахивать отмахать
отмахиваться отмахнуться
перемахивать перемахнуть
помахивать помахать
промахиваться промахнуться
размахиваться размахнуться
смахивать смахнуть

Back to my old example of резать and its perfective children. Well, it turns out that many of these perfective verbs could be changed to imperfective just by shifting the stress to the last syllable: вре́затьвреза́ть, вы́резатьвыреза́ть, наре́затьнареза́ть, отре́затьотреза́ть, перере́затьперереза́ть and so on. Many, but not all: one can say заре́зать but not зареза́ть, поре́зать but not пореза́ть.

Am I splitting hairs here? Is it important to know the difference? Imperfective verbs have three tenses: past, present and compound future. This latter is formed with simple future form of the verb быть (to be) and the infinitive of the imperfective verb. Perfective verbs have only two tenses: past and simple future, but no present [2]! Let’s see how it works with sneezing — for simplicity (and hygiene), only in first-person singular:

imperfective perfective
infinitive чихать чихнуть to sneeze
past я чихал я чихнул I sneezed
present (я) чихаю I sneeze
future (я) буду чихать (я) чихну I will sneeze

Do I hear you telling me “Будь здоров”?

  1. In the 1886 version of this story, instead of чихать, Chekhov used its more colourful demotic form чхать:
    Чхнулъ, какъ видите. Чхать никому и нигдѣ не возбраняется. Чхаютъ и мужики, и полицеймейстеры, и иногда даже и тайные совѣтники. Всѣ чхаютъ.
  2. Tamara drew my attention to the fact that the simple future forms of prefixed perfective verbs (which do not have present) look exactly like the corresponding present forms of their “parent” imperfective verbs, minus the prefix of course. Cf. imperfective бегу “I am running” (present) and perfective побегу “I will run” (future), делаешь “you are making” vs perfective сделаешь “you will make” and so on. I don’t remember my Russian teachers ever mentioning this.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

So long, Harold

I lost my friend.

Because Harold the hedgehog is more than a cuddly toy. Sure, he is a cuddly toy. He came to our house almost twenty years ago. Yuri and Timur played with him when he was young. He moved with us from England to Fuerteventura and then to Gran Canaria. With time, his formerly straight hair (which supposed to represent needles) became afro-textured, probably because we live so close to Africa. During the last two years, he was my travelling buddy. He lived in Valencia and Santander, accompanied me to Finland and to the USA and to countless walks and concerts (he’s been to Chick Corea, Canteca de Macao, Chambao and Amparanoia, among others). And now he’s gone.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Я так люблю крабы

First published 2 January 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

И потом, ты же салат уже приготовила из крабов, а я так люблю крабы!
And then, you already made a crab salad, and I so love crabs!

To the Russian ear, this well-known quote from the The Irony of Fate always sounded funny. But why? What is wrong here? Why “Я люблю грибы” (I like mushrooms) is fine but “Я люблю крабы” (I like crabs) is not?

To understand what’s going on here, we need to look at a certain feature called animacy (одушевлённость). All nouns in Russian could be divided into animate (одушевлённые), for example, humans and animals, or inanimate (неодушевлённые), such as plants and minerals. Also, as was mentioned before, modern Russian has six grammatical cases. So the nouns change their endings not only according to number and case but also depending on their animacy. That’s why the Russian declension tables always have two questions, corresponding to animate and inanimate nouns.

Let’s have a look at two nouns, the inanimate гриб (mushroom) and animate лесоруб (lumberjack)*. Just like краб, they are masculine nouns of the second declension. This is how they change in all six cases:

animate inanimate
case singular plural singular plural
Nominative (кто? что?) лесоруб лесорубы гриб грибы
Genitive (кого? чего?) лесоруба лесорубов гриба грибов
Dative (кому? чему?) лесорубу лесорубам грибу грибам
Accusative (кого? что?) лесоруба лесорубов гриб грибы
Instrumental (кем? чем?) лесорубом лесорубами грибом грибами
Prepositional (о ком? о чём?) лесорубе лесорубах грибе грибах

If you study this table carefully, you’ll notice that the accusative forms of лесоруб are the same as its genitive, while for гриб the accusative forms are the same as its nominative. Otherwise they follow the same declension pattern. It is as if Russian accusative did not have its own forms and borrowed them from either genitive (for animate nouns) or nominative (for inanimate nouns). Thus, grammatical differences between animate and inanimate nouns only show up in accusative. Moreover, apart from the masculine nouns of the second declension, these differences are only seen in plural accusative. Cf. the neuter nouns of the second declension существо (creature, being) and вещество (substance, matter):

animate inanimate
case singular plural singular plural
Nominative (кто? что?) существо существа вещество вещества
Genitive (кого? чего?) существа существ вещества веществ
Dative (кому? чему?) существу существам веществу веществам
Accusative (кого? что?) существо существ вещество вещества
Instrumental (кем? чем?) существом существами веществом веществами
Prepositional (о ком? о чём?) существе существах веществе веществах

The same story with feminine nouns of the third declension such as дочь (daughter) and ночь (night):

animate inanimate
case singular plural singular plural
Nominative (кто? что?) дочь дочери ночь ночи
Genitive (кого? чего?) дочери дочерей ночи ночей
Dative (кому? чему?) дочери дочерям ночи ночам
Accusative (кого? что?) дочь дочерей ночь ночи
Instrumental (кем? чем?) дочерью дочерями ночью ночами
Prepositional (о ком? о чём?) дочери дочерях ночи ночах

Same with nouns of the first declension, e.g. утка (duck) and шутка (joke), except that here the singular accusative has got its own form:

animate inanimate
case singular plural singular plural
Nominative (кто? что?) утка утки шутка шутки
Genitive (кого? чего?) утки уток шутки шуток
Dative (кому? чему?) утке уткам шутке шуткам
Accusative (кого? что?) утку уток шутку шутки
Instrumental (кем? чем?) уткой утками шуткой шутками
Prepositional (о ком? о чём?) утке утках шутке шутках

The phrase “я люблю”, meaning “I love” or “I like”, requires to put its direct object in accusative. One can love or like many things, for example a person or a pet (clearly animate), jewellery (definitely inanimate) or food. In this latter case, as you have guessed by now, things get complicated.

On top of that, it is not always clear whether one should use singular or plural for foodstuff(s). “Я люблю кроликов” (I like rabbits) — here, most likely, I talk about bunnies in general; “я люблю кролика” (I like rabbit) — here, I may mean that I like rabbit either as food or as a pet. On the contrary, “я люблю мидий” (I love mussels) means that I like to eat them, while if I said “я люблю мидию” (I love a mussel), you’d think I were mad. In the case of true fish (not shellfish), only singular is used, thus “я люблю осетра” (I like sturgeon) but never “я люблю осетров” (I like sturgeons).

According to Russian Wikipedia, the animacy of edible invertebrates could vary:

устрицы/устриц, мидии/мидий, креветки/креветок, крабы/крабов, трепанги/трепангов, омары/омаров, кальмары/кальмаров, улитки/улиток.

Всем попробовать пора бы, как вкусны и нежны крабы
It’s time for everyone to try tasty and tender crabs

However, one can only say “я люблю раков” (I love crayfish) but not “я люблю раки”, placing crayfish firmly in the animate camp. I’ll do the same with the rest of the above list, as did the Strugatsky brothers:

Я стал размышлять, почему я до сих пор ни разу не пробовал омаров. Или, скажем, устриц. У Диккенса все едят устриц, орудуют складными ножами, отрезают толстые ломти хлеба, намазывают маслом… Я стал нервно разглаживать скатерть. На скатерти виднелись неотмытые пятна. На ней много и вкусно ели. Ели омаров и мозги с горошком. Ели маленькие бифштексы с соусом пикан. Большие и средние бифштексы тоже ели.
Аркадий и Борис Стругацкие, Понедельник начинается в субботу


* Alternative animate nouns I was considering for this example include прораб (acronym of производитель работ, foreman), хлебороб (grain grower), or even шкраб (acronym of школьный работник, i.e. teacher). All of them were parts of Soviet lexicon and sound dated now.