Monday, 14 September 2009

Passing for a native...

So it does look like if I just keep my mouth shut I can pass for a Russian. I barely had time to nod in agreement to the cashier - returning to the 'The State Museum of Political History of Russia' for todays practice lesson - as she asked my tutor and I if we were students, by which of course she meant Russian students, when she offered up the tickets for entry. I wasn't going to correct her and lose the free admission.

I've described my experience of this museum in a previous installment so I won't expand much further on its earlier glowing review. This trip was both an excuse to practice my Russian on the subject of the country's history and politics and a chance to finish my tour of the museums exhibitions. I'd yet to see the extensive range of artifacts on the Civil War (unfortunately lacking in the generally commendable provision of English translations found here) or Lenin's study and temporary housing of the party in the interim between the February revolution and 'July Days' of 1917 when Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks could enjoy temporary respite from persecution. Both on the second floor they were also joined by what appeared to be a temporary exhibition on the opening month of the Second World War and the division (and destruction) of Poland by German and Soviet forces.

Returning to the theme proposed by the title of todays post, I was also introduced to an important insight into the culture of the Russian language during the mornings class. The prevalance of the 'passive construction' in every day speech - terminology that was unfortunately lost on me initially in English never mind the Russian equivalent...damn state schooling! - derives from a Russian mentality that seeks to avoid "responsibility" at every opportunity.

On a practical level this has allowed me to understand the significance of constructions such as 'можно' ("It is possible") that dominate my early experiences of the language. This extends much further though and offers the opportunity to essentially remove the subject (you or I) from the action, i.e. 'who' is responsible for 'what'. Suddenly "I want" becomes something closer to "It is desirable to me". The significance isn't immediately visible until you begin (one begins to?) to think about making demands of another Russian. "Can you close the door?" becomes "Could the door be closed, by you?" reminiscant of the convaluted ways of speech possible in the interest of English politeness.

Anyway I Googled the phenomenom after class and came up with this telling article on the logical conclusion it can reach. Revealing stuff! Unfortunately it does mean I face the prospect of an infinitely larger workload if I'm to speak like a Russian and not just look like one!

No comments:

Post a comment