In recent months, I have received three Russian books as gifts: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s преступление и наказание (Crime and Punishment) from my former student, Vitaliy; The Stories of Anton Chekhov from my father-in-law’s college library collection ; and Мане (Manet) a souvenir from my daughter Lorin and son-in-law’s recent trip to Russia. This was an obvious sign that I needed to learn the Russian language in order to understand and enjoy my incredible treasures! So, I checked out a Russian Dictionary from the Howard Payne University library (thank you Lorin), bought a Russian grammar book, and set out on my new Quest of learning Russian!
Surprisingly, the Russian alphabet (Cyrillic script) is very similar to the Greek alphabet (script), which I have been studying for several years now, so it hasn’t been as hard to learn as I expected. The Greek and Russian alphabet were both derived from Egyptian Hieroglyphs and are like transcribing a series of codes; much different then our Romantic English language from the Germanic tribes. (Peter the Great introduced the civil script in 1708 to distinguish Russian from the Slavic languages)
The morphology of the Greek and Russian languages is like putting a puzzle together; both use declensions which must also be distinguished as one of the following: nominative (subject), accusative (d/o), dative (ind/o), instrumental (2nd d/o, who is carrying the action) or prepositional. So cool, so cool. Unlike the English verb system which shows action, the Russian system shows aspect by appending affixes to the root verb. Once these affixes are learned, it’s much easier to pick out the parts of speech before translating. (I still prefer the German way of capitalizing ALL Nouns!)
The nouns, pronouns, adjectives, demonstratives, most numerals and other particles are declined to show singular and plural and six grammatical cases; some of these parts of speech in the singular are also declined to show masculine, feminine and neuter. The ending of nouns and adjectives will always change depending on their function and position in the sentence. (Of course there are different declensions with numerous irregular forms which will come much later!)
For example, when translating a passage from MAHE, the man described in the painting has a серъезным лицом (a serious face). The endings “ым” and “ом” agree as singular, instrumental adjective and noun.
Another example is describing a ribbon that the man is wearing from the Legion of Honor, we find in Russian: ленточкой почетного легиона. The endings “ой” shows the genitive, feminine (possessive) singular adjective (no need for an article); the ending “ого” is the masculine singular genitive and “a” for the nominative (subject) singular noun which it modifies! So fun.
This morning I just completed translating page 1 of 378 in MAHE after a month of trying to learn this really cool language. I will now take my transcription notes and try to make sense of who Manet has painted in this story. I have concluded that he is walking down the rue de Rivoli on the left bank of the Seine! I love that personal pronouns are similar in any language!
I actually used this same system when I learned French 15 years ago, by first setting a foundation of traditional grammar, learning word by word with my Collins-Robert French dictionary in hand, and then translating a book about Monet’s Nympheas (Waterlilies) that I bought at the Musée L’Orangerie.
The Russian phonology will have to come later as I sound like I am angry when I try to pronounce it and I don’t currently know any native Russian speakers in order to practice. Where is Yuri Zhivago when I need him?
Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)