Archive for the 'Russian' Category

The Nose


One of the strangest, perhaps, of the Russian classical writers was Nikolai Gogol (image above [borrowed from Wikipedia]). For my Russian study this week, I read a short story of his called The Nose. The story is as nonsensical as it gets. At the same time, The Nose is a curiously interesting read. The main character, Major Kovalyov, somehow looses his nose (yes, the real one on his face), and meanwhile the nose takes on a life of its own, and even masquerades as a civil servant. But why give away the rest of the plot here? You can order it (or find the text online) in English and read the story for yourself. It is better in Russian, though, complete with obsolete words and archaic spellings (e.g., середа for среда). For the Russian-language enthusiast, I recommend this excellent dual-language book found here, which has this story and many others, and lots of language helps to boot.


The Seven (Not Six) Cases of the Russian Noun

Last Friday, I passively observed a conversation about Russian grammar between two native Russian speakers. They were counting the cases of the Russian noun. Enjoying native fluency, they do not really need to know the cases. They are unconsciously competent in the language. Other than writers, language enthusiasts, teachers and very astute students, most native speakers cannot explain, in detail, the grammatical features of their language. This is true of most native English speakers too. For example, most English speakers (educated and otherwise) cannot name the many English tenses. Those who assume that English has three tenses are case in point.

Back to the story, the two Russians recited an acronymic sentence that they learned in school and agreed on six cases. I could be silent no more. How could they forget the beloved vocative case? No one really agrees with me here, but I stand my ground. Wikipedia explains the vocative case here (though even in that article they deny the existence of a vocative Russian case). The vocative identifies the addressee. For example, in the sentence, “You’re being stubborn, Mike, about this grammar thing.” – ‘Mike’ has a vocative meaning (though in modern Russian it would still be nominative).

I concede that the vocative is not what is used to be. In fact, as Wikipedia correctly points out, in Russian you will find this case still in use only in some old proverbs and poetry, and when personally addressing God. I only make issue of this case because of the last point.

'God' in Russian is ‘Бог’. To call out to God, the Russian vernacular calls for the vocative phrase ‘Боже мой’, which means ‘My God!’ In modern speech it is often used irreverently (as it often is in English). However, the phrase occurs in the Russian Bible 250 times; as in Psalms 8:1 (and verse 9):

Господи, Боже наш! Как величественно имя Твое по всей земле!

Which I translate like this:

Lord, our God! How awesome (majestic, wonderful) is Your name in all the earth!

For me, that settles the case for the Russian vocative. Okay, maybe not in general use, but important remnants of past grammatical richness remain.

I pray everyday that more Russians would begin to use the vocative case as exampled above. That is, that more would reverently and with repentant hearts call unto the God of all creation! And that is why I contend that Russian has seven cases, and not six. The seventh case merely needs revival.

Бесструнная балалайка

Maya's back is still hurting. As you think of it, please pr for her.

You can see from Mark’s site that the coffee club went great tonight. The originals almost all showed and, as they were about to leave, four new people arrived. The atmosphere, games and fellowship were all perfect, and we are very thankful. Too bad, I did not get my camera out.


Tomorrow, besides my Altai lesson, I have to find Maya the perfect gift. I have to do that for David too, but buying for him does not leave me banging my head trying to be original (hmm…, a new fire truck, or one of those miniture motorized front-end loaders?). For Maya it is not so simple, but I will find something.



Folks from UU are on their way here to spend New Years with us and the team. We are looking forward to their visit. They will be here until next year sometime (until January 6, to be precise).




About the heading, ‘besstrunnaya balalaika’. In Russian it means, ‘string-less balalaika (a Russian ukulele-like instrument). It is supposed to be an idiom that means, ‘one who rambles’. The idea is like this: a person plays the balalaika and the strings all break. He has nothing really further to add, but he plays on without the strings for the sake of playing; he rambles on. I found it in a popular dictionary that has 501 Russian Idioms (but I will not name the dictionary here). I have yet to encounter a single Russian who has heard of this idiom. However, since this post is typical of my ramblings, the title fits.

Russian Thanks-giving

I slated a few hours this morning for Russian language study and, to try something different, I decided to use the time to translate a Russian document (7 pages of technical language that a friend asked us to translate). That should get the brain working.

The Russian language is a rich language with peculiar roots: some of which can be quite surprising. Today, Russia is predominately an atheistic society, but it was not always that way, and the language roots prove it.

Take, for example, the word in Russian that expresses thankfulness: спасибо (spasibo). It comes from two words: спаси and Бог. ‘Spasi’ is the imperative form of the verb ‘to save’ and “Bog” is the Russian word for ‘God’, though in speech they soften the ‘g’ sound quite a bit. Thus, спасибо comes from the combined phrase that means God save’. That is pretty rich!


Folks at the capital are trying to pass two interesting laws. One you might have read about at CNN or at the New York Times last Monday. The other you can catch a glimpse of at Phyllis and Will’s blog. Both are reminders of the importance to keep fervent in our rope-holding endeavors.

Coffee Club и Дружба

Just a quick post to request pr for tonight’s Coffee Club (college student group). We expect almost twice as many people as usual.

This part might be interesting to those who speak Russian: We will use this story to get the discussion going.

Два друга шли через пустыню. Их звали Вася и Женя. Один раз они поспорили и Вася ударил своего друга по лицу. Женя обиделся, но спокойно написал на песке, "Сегодня мой лучший друг Вася ударил меня по лицу».

Они продолжали идти, пока не нашли оазис. Там они решили поплавать. Женя начал тонуть, но Вася спас его. После того, как Женя пришёл в себя, он написал на камне, "Сегодня мой лучший друг спас мне жизнь».

Вася удивился и спросил его, "Когда я ударил тебя, ты написал на песке, а теперь ты пишешь на камне, почему?"

Женя ответил, "Когда кто-то обижает нас, мы должны записать это на песке, где ветры времени и прощения могут стереть эту надпись, а когда кто-то делает что-нибудь доброе для нас, мы должны выгравировать это на камне, где никакой ветер не сможет никогда это стереть».