by Don  

A small restaurant where they sell кофе is called кофейня, and its genitive plural is кофеен. Doubtless the most well known coffee trademark is Starbucks, and sure enough you can even find their shops in Russia nowadays. Here's a sign from one of their outlets:

The sign reads: “The espresso you find in each Starbucks latte and cappucino is 100% responsibly grown and fairly traded.”

If you are up for a challenge, here are two linguistic tasks for you:

  1. You will notice the English translation does not match word for word with the Russian original. See if you can come up with a translation that matches the original more closely word for word and yet still sounds good in English.
  2. You will notice that the word еспрессо ends in an -о but shows masculine adjectival agreement. Present a hypothesis as to why that is.

Post your translations and hypotheses to the blog using the comment links.


Comment from: Don [Member]

When a noun is borrowed from a foreign language into Russian as an indeclinable noun, it almost always is assigned neuter gender unless the noun is animate. If it is animate and refers to a male human or male animal, or to a human or animal whose gender is not contextually significant, then it receives masculine gender. If it is animate and refers to a female human or female animal, then it receives feminine gender. That’s the generality.

The word эспрессо is interesting because it doesn’t fit within that generality: it’s a noun that has been assigned masculine gender. This occasionally happens when the indeclinable noun is strongly associated with another noun whose gender is well known. In the case of эспрессо, it is strongly associated with the noun кофе, which has masculine gender. Something similar happened with the indeclinable word иваси, which is feminine because it is strongly associated with the word сельдь “herring,” which has feminine gender.

One last thought: since the word кофе is often reinterpreted as a neuter noun, and since эспрессо is most likely a relatively recent borrowing, I would guess that people often commonly treat it as neuter in speech. If you searched on Google for the phrase «итальянское эспрессо», I’m sure you would have dozens of hits.

05/06/09 @ 09:06
Comment from: Kris [Visitor]  

1. All starbucks coffee shops henceforth offer only 100% responsibly grown and fairly traded espresso, which you can find in every latte and cappucino.

2. I don’t really know the answer to this one, but it could perhaps stem from the linguistic development of the word in Russian. Maybe a similar word was used in old Russian, before “espresso” became a foreign loan word in nearly every language, and it simply kept its masculine gender. I don’t know, this is just speculation. Maybe starbucks сделал ошибку!

04/30/09 @ 21:36
Comment from: Megan [Visitor]

I think that foreign nouns like еспрессо that end in o,e, and и are always masculine and indeclinable.

04/30/09 @ 21:14
Comment from: Randy Hunt [Visitor]

1. All Starbucks locations now offer fairly grown and traded espresso, which you will find in every latte and capuccino.

2. Because еспрессо is not a noun, but rather a type of кофе, which is implied and masculine.

04/29/09 @ 07:14

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