Saturday, October 23, 2010

10 Weird Facts About the Russian Language

1. The Russian alphabet is weird itself. Some characters are exactly like in the Latin alphabet, while others look the same, but sound different, and the two characters "ъ" and "ь" represent no sound, who needs them?

2. One character E may represent two different sounds [ye] and [yo].Actually, there is a special character for "yo" in Russian. It is Ё, but in order to make handwriting faster, people omit the two dots on top the Ё, so Ё turns into E. This is confusing.

3. Since "tovarisch" is no longer in use in Russia, there are no special words to address another person or many people. You may hear "дамы и господа" (ladies and gentlemen), but this is considered somewhat unnatural. People may use "мужчина"/"женщина" (man/woman), but that sounds a bit rude. Over the last two decades, Russians have not been able to decide what words would be best for addressing and select the ones each time according to the exact circumstances.

4. No "am/are/is". In Russian, the verb "to be" should be omitted in the present tense, however, in the past and future it should be used.

5. Russian word order is flexible, but it doesn't mean that you may put words in any order you like. The meaning of the sentence may change cardinally because of the word order. I.e. "Я иду домой" means "I'm going home", while "Я домой иду" means "It is home where I'm going to (not anywhere else)", and "Домой иду я" means "It is I, who is going home" (not you, not anyone else. The others are staying at the office and working!) So the word order in Russian depends on what exactly you want to say to others.

6. To change a sentence into a general question, one doesn't have to change anything, but intonation, i.e. "Ты дома." (you are at home) vs "Ты дома?" (Are you at home?)

7. The numbers 1 and 2 have genders while the rest numbers don't, i.e. "один мальчик" (one boy), "одна девочка" (one girl), but "три мальчика/девочки" (three boys/girls).

8. The number 1 (один) have a plural ("одни" = soli)

9. Verbs in the past tense have genders, while verbs in present and future tenses don't, i.e. "он играл" (he played), but "она играла" (she played), and "он играет" (he plays), "она играет" (she plays).

10. Russian nouns have animacy, that means that animate nouns are considered more alive than inanimate ones. So in Russian, a dead man (мертвец) is more alive than a corpse (труп), because a dead man (мертвец) is animate and a corpse is not.

What do you find most weird in the Russian language?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Time speaks, different accents

Eternal clock
Eternal clock by Robbert van der Steeg

Have you noticed that people from different countries manage time differently? Germans are known for their accuracy with time and for their desire to schedule everything in. My friend from Germany told me that in any business, Germans try to foresee everything in order to avoid errors and accidents. Perhaps this is why German highways are so good. People from North America (I didn't see any difference between Americans and Canadians while I was there) are into time management too. “Getting things done” is one of their most popular mantras. Another friend in Canada explained to me that 'this culture prefers to pretend that (almost) everything can be controlled or manipulated. We like to think that we are in charge, not the weather or circumstances. It helps people feel more secure, even though it's an illusion.' The Russian attitude to time management is the opposite: Russians value spontaneous decisions over scheduling and prefer staying flexible and open to the ever-changing circumstances rather then standing firm in our plans.

When preparing market reports, I often ask various companies for the outlook for the next six months or the next year. My sources sometimes fail to provide me with such information because the visibility of the Russian market and Russian society on the whole is very low. During the last few decades, life in Russia has been extremely volatile, so nobody is crazy enough to make any kind of forecasts. Our experience teaches us that any plans can be smashed by uncontrollable forces – political intrigues, economic disasters, sudden bankruptcies, and so on.

When my husband and I were in Canada, we went crazy because of the ubiquitous scheduling. Once, our friends invited us to a BBQ party about one month in advance. Another of our friends asked us if we could meet them for dinner on May 22, when it was only April 28... It seemed so weird for us. We just arrived in the country and had no idea what would happen to us for the next three days. How could we plan for one month down the line? We are used to living spontaneous lives and do not build long-term plans. Moreover, we felt this rather annoying when people around expected us to have long-term plans and long-term schedules. Well, Mr. Edward T. Hall stated that culture roots deeply in unconsciousness, and irrational irritation is the true signal of the culture clash.

If you are doing business in Russia, it could be useful to bear in mind the Russian attitude to time management. In business, Russians do not consider deadlines sacred and normally do not expect colleagues to meet deadlines. Well, not really. Of course, like everywhere in the world, we have plans and schedules, but when it comes to a teamwork, every team leader knows that meeting deadlines is almost impossible to achieve. When I lead a project, I prefer to shift the deadline for 2-3 days ahead. I know that some team members will fail to meet the deadline and need these 2-3 days badly in order to complete their work. I'm not the only one who uses this trick to hack the Russian habit of not meeting deadlines.

In Russia, arriving late 5-15 minutes for a business meeting is completely acceptable. A person who is late 5 minutes may skip pardoning altogether. Some tops of the tops may be late for one hour, and the others would excuse this.

Russians tend to split business and personal life. In personal life, time management is considered as lacking emotion and unnatural behavior. This is pretty normal to give a call to a friend and ask to meet them or spontaneously visit a friend. We are expected to place a higher priority for family and friends, so parents may feel abused if a grown-up kid says “Sorry, I'm busy today and tomorrow, let's meet next week at 6 PM.”

How does your culture manage time? Do you prefer planning or acting spontaneously? Is being on time important in your culture? I appreciate your comments!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grammatical Gender, Part II

Though most nouns in the Russian language have only one of the three possible genders (masculine, feminine or neutral), some words are not so simple. Sometimes, nouns can be both masculine and feminine:

сирота – an orphan
умница – a smart person.
зануда – a sickener, a PITA, a very boring and annoying person.
ханжа – a hypocrite
ябеда – a sneak
подлиза – a flunkey, suck-up

All words mentioned above and many more like them are masculine, when applied to a man, and feminine, when applied to a woman. So if you want to add an adjective before one of these nouns, consider the gender is the person you are talking about and choose your adjective ending accordingly:

Мой друг – бедный сирота. (My friend is a poor orphan)
Моя подруга – бедная сирота. (My girlfriend is a poor orphan).

Sometimes, a noun's gender is the opposite of a person's sex. In particular, this applies to occupations and professions, which are normally masculine and ignore the sex of individuals. You may say Он – хороший программист/ Она – хороший программист. (He/She is a good programmer). In both cases the word "программист" is masculine. For some occupations, there are variants for male and female, but even then masculine is preferable and stylistically neutral, while feminine sounds more informal and sometimes rude.

Учитель/ учительница (a teacher, male/female),
программист/ программистка (programmer, male/female),
переводчик/ переводчица (translator male/female)

These words are stylistically neutral, can be used in both formal and informal speech. You wouldn't offend anyone choosing the masculine even if you are talking about a woman, but feminine nouns would sound Ok also.

Врач (a doctor, masculine, may refer to both male and female doctor) is neutral, but врачиха (feminine, female doctor) is very informal and may be offensive.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Russian Handwriting

Are you wondering how Russian handwriting looks like? Here you go.

Russian Handwriting

Dear readers,
I'm glad to welcome you on my website.
Here you will find information about the culture of Russia and about the Russian language.
Good luck with learning Russian!

With best regards,
Eugenia Vlasova

P.S.: Uff, I'm much better in typing than in handwriting!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Grammatical Gender, Part I

Each noun in the Russian language has a gender – masculine, feminine or neuter. Grammatical genders have nothing to do with sex. The word стол ( a table) is of masculine gender, the word лампа (a lamp) is of feminine gender, but a table and a lamp have no masculine or feminine features at all.

Scientists suppose that in ancient times, people believed that any thing was alive and had an anima, sort of soul or conciseness, and that anima could be either feminine or masculine. Things that had no anima were neutral. Of course, today nobody would tell you that a table has something that makes it masculine or a lamp has specific feminine features. A grammatical gender is nothing more than what remains ancient beliefs.

How to determine what gender a noun is? The only way is to check a dictionary. A noun has no obvious indications of its gender. For example, мама (mom) is feminine, while папа (dad) is masculine. Both words look alike and have the same endings in all cases. Another example: моль (moth) is feminine, but рояль (piano) is masculine. So just check your dictionary and try to memorize the gender by writing and talking as much as possible.

The good news is that usually, Russian masculine nouns end with a consonant (компьютер, телефон, дом, банк). Russian feminine nouns often end with a vowel -а (клавиатура, машина, квартира, купюра). Many neuter nouns end with -о or -е (поле, море, окно, мыло). This is not a rule, but just a trend that is true for the majority of nouns, but not for all.

Why care about the gender? Because the gender of a noun determines the ending of the following adjective, and the ending of verbs in the past tense. Also you should know the gender of the noun in order to choose the right pronoun – you should always use он (he) for masculine nouns and она (she) for feminine, despite the fact that it is actually “it”. Here are some examples:
M.: Большой, красивый дом. Он мой. (This is a large, beautiful house. It is mine)
F.: Большая, красивая машина. Она моя. (This is a large, beautiful car. It is mine)
N.: Большое, красивое окно. Оно моё. (This is a large beautiful window. It is mine)

Sometimes, Russians argue about a gender furiously. There are some words in Russian that came from other languages and gained a gender by “it looks like”. One of such words is the word кофе (coffee). It looks like a neuter noun (ends with -e), but its gender is masculine, and only poorly educated people say “черное кофе” (black coffee) instead of “черный кофе”.

Which part of Russian grammar do you find the most difficult to learn and understand?