Monday, May 22, 2006

Russian Word Order, II

One thing I noticed about your sentence "здесь нельзя говорят громко" was that you had the adverb after the verb it modified. That struck me as a little odd, but I wasn't sure if it's actual good Russian to put the adverb first, or if that's just how my own, personal, non-native Russian idolect works.

So I checked in my big, fat Russian grammar book (which I love with a love that should probably be saved for another human being) and I was right. It's more common to put the adverb before the verb it modifies. If you don't, you're putting a lot of emphasis on the adverb as a new piece of information, since Russian word order defaults to given + new.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Russian word order

Russian is a highly inflected language. You can pick a verb at random, pull it out of its logical context, and still know its person, tense and aspect. The same goes for nouns and number, gender or case. (Oddly, a lot of the case endings overlap, such that if you know the gender, you can be pretty sure of the case and if you know the case, you can be pretty sure of the gender, but if you don't know either, then you're left with more than one possibility. But I digress.)

As is often the case in highly inflected languages, the word order is very flexible because you don't have to rely on word order to indicate sentence structure. (Chinese is at the opposite end of the spectrum, with virtually no word inflection and a very strict word order.) You'd think that a flexible word order would make Russian really easy -- anything goes, right?

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. In practice, a highly flexible word order means that there are multiple ways of communicating the same syntactic structure, but each variation tends to carry its own semantic nuance. (Of course, a native speaker would probably still understand a non-native speaker who used the "wrong" word order.)

The basic rule for Russian word order is: old information first, new information second. The two sentences "the vase is on the table" and "on the table is the vase" are structurally the same. However, in Russian, the first sentence implies that the fact that it's on the table is the unexpected bit of information. (Perhaps this is a response to "Where is the vase?") The second implies that the existence of the vase itself is the new information (perhaps as a response to "What is on the table?").

So "здесь" might come first or last in a sentence, depending on the context. As a response to a question starting with "где," you would expect it to come last. Otherwise, I think it would often come first, since the existence of "here" isn't generally new information.

I'll get back to you on your other questions.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Word order

Katya, you're wonderful for posting all of this stuff. Sorry I haven't commented on it or anything. I've been busy, a phrase which here means "playing sudoku and reading books."

I'm confused about Russian word order. I'm cool with conjugating verbs and gender of nouns and all that (finally), but I'm never quite sure where to put words in a sentence. For instance, in the phrase "they write Russian correctly," it would be written "они пишут по-русски правильно," right? The translation is just straight across, isn't it? But what about a sentence like "here one is not permitted to speak loudly"? The best I can come up with is "здесь нельзя говорят громко." Is that right? I never know where to stick the
здесь. Does it just go at the beginning? Can I stick it at the end and change the meaning to "it is not permitted to speak loudly here?" And what of the particle (?) не? I'm really confused as to where that goes in sentences.

Sorry to ask a million questions at once. This is what I get for not posting on here for so long.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Russian Alphabet

I'm only decent at alphabetizing in English (sometimes I still have to sing the alphabet song), so alphabetizing in Russian is even harder, because a lot of the letters come in unexpected places. (Actually, I don't have to alphabetize so much in Russian as I do look up words in the dictionary -- which activity still requires knowing the order of the Russian alphabet.)

I even went so far as to put the Russian letters to the English alphabet song (though I've no idea if Russian children use the same song):

Ah, Bay, Vay, Gay, Day, Yeh, Yo (oops! -- it turns out that Ë isn't considered a separate letter from E),/
Zheh, Ze, Ee, Ee Karatkoyeh (which is a separate letter, even if it doesn't so much scan in the alphabet song), Kah, Ell, Em, En, Oh (Of course, keeping the Ë in earlier makes it rhyme at this point, so I'm loath to take it out),/
Pay, Ar, Ess, Tay, Ooh, Eff, Kheh, Tseh, . . . and at this point I forget all of the rest except I know that You is second to last and Yah is last of all. And the Znaki go on either side of the Ooey. The letters at the end of the alphabet are pretty uncommon, so by the time I get to that point, I can usually just hunt around in the dictionary for the one I want, regardless of the actual order. I'm always surprised at how early З comes in the alphabet, and how late С is. (Of course, if you think of the latter as being more analogous to the English S, it makes more sense. But, still . . .)

Today's word:
небоскрёб - skyscraper

"Небоскрёб" is an example of what linguists call a calque, or a literal translation of a foreign word. "Небо" means "heaven" or "sky" and "скрёб" is the past participle (?) of "скрести" - "to scrape, scratch."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Reflexive verbs and the passive voice

Today's word:
предлагатъ/предложить - to offer (a p. Д/В)

This word isn't so remarkable in itself, but the grammatical construct in which I encountered it is fairly interesting. The sentence (somewhat paraphrased) is: "Ему предлогался дом." "предлогал" is the masculine past tense of "предлогать." (Russian past participles are pretty easy to form. In most cases, you just take the "-ть" off of the infinitive and add "-л/-ла/-ло/-ли" (for masculine/feminine/neuter/plural subjects). The "-ся" on the end of "предлогался" is a reflexive particle. The reflexive particle gets attached to any form of any verb (where it makes sense). It can appear either as "-ся" or as "-сь." (There's a rule, but I don't want to get into that right now.)

Normally, a reflexive verb indicates that the subject is also the object of an action. (I.e. "I dress myself.") In the above sentence, that doesn't really make sense. "Ему" is the dative form of "он" (meaning "he"), so it can't be the subject of the sentence. But "дом" (meaning "house") doesn't really make sense as the subject of the sentence, either. ("*To him offered itself the house"?) Actually, "дом" is in the accusative case, although you can't tell that from the word form alone. (Masculine inanimate nouns are identical in form in the nominative and accusative cases.) So . . . a better translation is "*[as yet unidentified subject] offered itself him the house." Better, but it still doesn't quite work. It turns out that the reflexive form of transitive verbs can also be used to express the passive voice (which is why the subject is missing). So, "Ему предлогался дом" becomes "To him was offered [by an unnamed entity] a house," or "He was offered a house."