Читать (часть первая)

July 2nd, 2012 — posted by Don

I have just realized that I have never blogged before about the word читать. Hm. Seems pretty basic, eh? Still, we can probably come up with something. Let's start with the basic imperfective verb.

Infinitive читать
Past читал
Present читаю
Future буду читать
будешь читать
будет читать
будем читать
будете читать
будут читать
Imperative читай(те)

The verb has several meanings, one of which is ‘to know how to read.’ In this sense it only has an imperfective, no perfective.

Ксюша такая умница! В пять лет она уже читала. Ksyusha is such a smart girl! At five years of age she could already read.
— Почему твой сын не читает?
— Потому что ему всего три года.
“Why can't your son read?”
“Because he's only three years old.”

If you want to specify the ability to read a language, then add the language in the по- adverbial form.

— Ты читаешь по-английски?
— Читаю.
“Can you read English?”
“I can.”
Я читаю по-английски, по-русски и чуточку по-татарски. I can read English, Russian, and a bit of Tatar.
— Ты читаешь по-китайски? Где ты научился?
— Нигде. Я маг третьего уровня. Читаю на всех языках.
“You know how to read Chinese? Where did you learn that?”
“Nowhere. I'm a third-level magician. I can read every language.”

Ah, that last little dialog is a cultural puzzle for the reader. In what well known series of novels can supernaturally gifted beings understand foreign languages without training? You may show off your knowledge in the comments.

Корова (часть вторая)

March 8th, 2012 — posted by Don

The word for cow in Russian is корова. It declines like this:


Here are a few sentences...

Корова больше собаки. A cow is bigger than a dog.
—Сколько у вас коров на даче?
— У нас три коровы. Продаём их молоко.
“How many cows do you have at your dacha?”
“We have three cows. We sell their milk.”
Я не люблю коров. Они не слушаются, как собаки. I don't like cows. They aren't as obedient as dogs.
В Европе коров едят, а в Индии их почитают. In Europe they eat cows, and in India they revere them.*

* Okay, I admit to some plagiarism here. I was having a flashback to Herodotus, who wrote, “How crocodiles are worshipped by some, killed and eaten by by others.”

Ночь (часть третья)

March 7th, 2012 — posted by Don

The Russian word for night is ночь, but it doesn't mean quite the same thing as English night. In English, once the sky is dark, you can say that it is night. In Russian night usually doesn't start until midnight. The word crossed my mind today because of a wonderful poem by Александр Блок, which goes like this:

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи ещё хоть четверть века -
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрёшь - начнёшь опять сначала,
И повторится всё, как встарь,
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

Heaven knows why, but I found myself wanting to do a new translation. Whenever I do such a thing, I start off with a fairly word-for-word equivalent. Here's that version:

Night, a street, a street lamp, a drugstore,
A dull and meaningless light.
And if you live another quarter century,
Everything will be exactly the same. There is no escape.

You will die; you will start over from the beginning.
And everything will be repeated as before:
The night, the icy ripples on the canal,
The drugstore, the street and the streetlight.

Here's my fast and dirty new translation. I've spent only 30 minutes on it, so any criticism is probably justified.

Night, a street, a drugstore... a street lamp’s
Depressing and meaningless light.
And even if you live much longer,
You won't escape your worthless plight.

You’ll die; you’ll start back from the beginning,
And everything will be repeated just like before:
The night, the icy ripples on the canal,
The streetlight and the dull drugstore.

Разница (часть первая)

March 6th, 2012 — posted by Don

The word for difference in Russian is разница. It declines like this:


The first joke I ever heard in Russia was in 1986, and it involved the word разница. It went like this.

Какая разница между коммунизмом и капитализмом? What's the difference between communism and capitalism?
При капитализме человек эксплуатирует человека, а при коммунизме — наоборот. Under capitalism man exploits man, and under communism it's the other way around.

It's not the most sophisticated joke, but being in Russia at the end of the Soviet period, it amused me quite a bit.

During the Soviet period the government did not permit much humor or mockery on public television because they were simply afraid of it, like most dictatorial regimes that lack the wisdom and strength to endure public criticism. Generally, on the individual human-to-human level, I think that mockery is a sign of a weak self-image on the part of the mocker, and I don't have much respect for it. But when it comes to dealing with governments and public institutions, we should always allow both criticism and mockery. When a government forbids either one, it is trying to prevent its citizens from inducing change. A healthy democracy will survive both criticism and mockery as the free market of ideas slowly brings humanity to better things.

Beat the Snow Maiden!

March 5th, 2012 — posted by Don

I was in an office supply store last summer to buy some paper for my printer. I looked over the various types and told the salesclerk that I wanted a packet of paper. She responded by asking how much I wanted. It took me by surprise. A packet is a packet, right? It turns out that this office supply store was right next to the architectural university, and its most constant clients are students who generally can't afford to buy an entire package of paper, so they buy a hundred or two hundred grams of paper. Heck, the paper had to last me all summer, so I told the clerk I wanted an entire ream, and she shouted to the cashier:

Танечка, выбей Снегурочку! Tanya, beat the Snow Maiden!

I was much amused. If you doubt the accuracy of my initial interpretation, take a look at what I got when I ran the same phrase through Google Translate:

Now this was summer time in Russia, so there was no snow on the ground, thus the thoughtful reader might expect that despite the omniscience of Google, the translation might somehow be lacking. The thoughtful reader would be correct. The brand of paper I was purchasing was named Снегурочка. The verb выбивать/выбить in addition to meaning ‘to beat’ also means ‘to print symbols on a cashier’s recipt.’ In other words, the clerk was saying, “Tanya, print out a receipt with one packet of Snegurochka paper on it.”

The cashier did so. I carried the receipt the two meters from the cashier to the clerk. The clerk took the receipt, made a small tear in it to show that it should not be used again, and then she gave me an entire ream of Snegurochka paper.