by Don  

The other day I was talking with my buddy Юрий when my brain rаn up against a linguistic wall: I didn't know how to say “I lost my voice” in Russian. Of course, a good language student never lets the lack of vocabulary stop him. He just improvises with words he does know. So I said “у меня исчез голос”, literally “at me the voice disappeared.” That made the communicative point and the conversation continued, but I was irked that I didn't really know the way a Russian would normally say it. So I started asking about that concept and here's what I came up with.

First of all, there is the verb хрипнуть/охрипнуть, which covers two concepts in English: “to have/get a hoarse voice” and “to lose one's voice.” The verb is conjugated like this:

Imperfective Perfective
Infinitive хрипнуть охрипнуть
Past хрип
Present хрипну
No such thing as
perfective present
in Russian.
Future буду хрипнуть
будешь хрипнуть
будет хрипнуть
будем хрипнуть
будете хрипнуть
будут хрипнуть
Imperative хрипни(те) охрипни(те)

Since this verb covers the meaning of two different phrases, sometimes it has two possible translations:

Весной она всегда хрипнет. In springtime her voice always gets hoarse. or
In springtime she always loses her voice.

That means that if you are translating something from Russian to English, you might have to pay close attention to context to see whether completely losing the voice or becoming hoarse is the point. Of course, there can't be that many contexts where it's important to distinguish between simply becoming hoarse (partially losing one's voice) and completely losing one's voice, so maybe the issue is mostly moot.

Here's another example:

Вчера моя жена так долго ругала меня, что совсем охрипла, и сегодня в доме господствует блаженная тишина. Yesterday my wife chewed me out for so long that she completely lost her voice, and today blessed silence reigns in our home.

There are a couple other phrases that mean the same thing. We can use the verb оседать/осесть “to sink” or терять/потерять “to lose.” For instance:

На прошлой неделе Витя так упорно болел за Спартак, что у него осел голос. Last week Victor cheered for Spartak so intensely that he lost his voice.
— В начале учебного года я всегда теряю голос. Школьники — это пакостные гады, которые заражают всех окружающих. “At the beginning of the school year I always lose my voice. Schoolchildren are nasty vermin that infect everybody around them.”
— Погоди! Я думал, что ты любишь работать учительницей. “Wait a minute! I thought you loved working as a school teacher.”
— Люблю, но это не значит, что дети не пакостные гады. “I do. But that doesn't mean that children aren't nasty vermin.”
Бабушка всегда хрипнет при влажной погоде. Grandma always gets hoarse/loses her voice in humid weather.


Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

I guess different verbs may be used. For example, I sometimes say that my voice “проседает на пару полутонов” ~ “settles a few semi-tones down". It’s just my own expression. As I am not a singer, I only read about the voice in articles. The expression itself is a metaphorical extension of “sitting down” to the concept of voice being lost. Such things are hard to describe as right or worng, because in the end the only criterion is how the combination sounds. If it sounds natural and rolls of the tongue, it works. Again, I read articles about singing, pronunciation, about how the voice works, so this use immediately struck me as a deviation. On the other hand, noone really uses “голос просел", but I made it up to desribe exactly that I had been talking loud for too long, so that my voice became significantly lower by the end of the day.

By the way, I missed one more strange usage:

“На прошлой неделе Витя так упорно болел за Спартака, что у него осел голос.”
–> Here “Spartak” is a team, not a person (unless the sentence is about the Ancient Rome), so it is inanimate. You can easily spot how the Accusative changes for some words that can have different meanings.

Don responds: Thanks for the note about «за спартак». I’ve updated the text. I suspect you are right that sometimes people might say за спартака. I’ve also noticed sometimes people treat белый карлик as animate when talking about the class of stars.

For example лицо-face (inanimate) vs. лицо-person (animate). Or карлик-dwarf (animate) vs. белый карлик- white dwarf (inanimate, because it is a star):

Я увидел лица знакомых. (I saw the faces of my pals)
Милиция задержала лиц в чёрной одежде. (The police detained the black-clothed persons)

Я представил карлика. (I introduced the midget/ I imagined the midget )
Недалеко от этой звезды обнаружили белый карлик. ([They] found a white dwarf near that star)

Probably “Болеть за Спартака” may be used in colloquial speech, but a quick search in Google showed that such use is rare (maybe because it is a famous team, so there are many articles on the net written by professionals).
Unfortunately, I have no interest in football, so I’ve never heard the expression in real life.

05/20/10 @ 12:23
Comment from: Shady_arc [Visitor]

Are you sure that оседать/осесть are used? I have never used them applied to the voice. We rather use сесть/садиться ("Было очень шумно, и к вечеру у меня сел голос” ~ “It was really noisy, so I lost my voice by the evening").

Оседать/осесть is “to settle” or “to accumulate (at the bottom)” (for example, when there are some particles in the water that slowly settle to the bottm)

Don responds: It was a native speaker of Russian that gave me the example with оседать/осесть, so I’m confident that this is used in the speech of at least one native speaker. Yours is the first objection in the 6+ months since this entry was posted, so I’m guessing that many native speakers are okay with it. You are correct, though, that the use of садиться/сесть in this context is much more common.

Your comment, though, brings to mind what I call “the native speaker conundrum”: native speakers of a language sometimes disagree whether a particular example is normal for their language. I’ll have to blog about that sometime.

05/19/10 @ 06:41

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