The Language We Speak...

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408

Robert Swetz, a blogger and photographer, posted What is the best version of The Holy Bible? He was asking the advice of the members so that he could deal with as "pure" and as "original" source as possible.

Ancient timesI never opened a Bible, so to me the topic was purely academic, but somehow it made me think and got stuck in my head like a popular tune. Not about the Bible, but about the change that time brings to life and the language.

In essence, the language is like the river Ganga - remember: you can't enter it twice? Every time the river is different. In a rushing stressful contemporary living we tend to forget that time is not the wrist watch, it is much bigger than that, and we can't just roll forward the hands of the watch and get into the future. What we fail to understand is that we can't roll the hands back and get into the past.  We are living in a particular time, and me today most probably would not agree to shake hands with me of 40 years ago. Me today and me then are different people.

We came to US in 1991. In spring of 1992 we bought a car, which, surprisingly, was moving pretty well. That's when we started exploring America. We felt like Columbus. Our trips were to the neighboring Westchester County (NY), and up to south Connecticut. We were poor like church rats, and yard sales replaced the fanciest Shopping Malls.

In one of those tours of the beautiful suburbs, we ran into a Russian guy, whose family was in the US since shortly after the revolution of 1917. He was in his 40s, he was born in the US and he has never been in Russia, but he was still unmistakably Russian. The family taught him Russian very well. He was fluent and his Russian was beautiful for the ear, but it was different from the Russian we spoke. I remembered that "old" Russian immigration of the beginning of the 20th century (so called first wave) and their descendants considered the way we speak vulgar. Of course, we did not see it this way. We are speaking intelligent and somewhat refined Russian, but, I think, we sounded vulgar to this guy.

It's been 17-18 years ago. We do not have Russian radio or Russian television at home (even though it is really easy now), so we are sort of isolated from the Russian media, which is healthy for our souls. Time from time I grab a Russian newspaper when I stop at a Russian deli, but it is a rare occasion. When we go back to New York to visit old friends, they have Russian TV, and we are surprised how vulgar the anchors sound. We were listening to a national news program, and I could not believe my ears. It was like as if this was a newscaster from the jail. Word choices, simple mistakes, intonation...

In 1995 we went back to Russia to visit the graves. I remember talking to friends, and I wanted to find the Russian version of the word "traffic", and I couldn't as when I left Russia this was not yet the problem. So, I started explaining to them what that was, and then they said "Ah, yes, That's traffic".They said traffic the way we say it here. I did not know that this is now a Russian word. It is in the dictionary.

At one time I had great ideas to have the Russians invest in US, and I was preparing an article about real estate in Florida, and I remember how difficult it was to find the Russian definitions of "Development", "Touwnhouse" and many others. Yes, you could explain, but there were no terms like that in Russian. At least that's what I thought until, after writing the article, I ran into a Russian Real Estate site, where I learned that "development" and "Townhouse" and many other words are now Russian words. And it did not take long, less than 2 decades.

Our American friends invited us to their home. They showed us a Russian Samovar (copper tea pot), which he bought while working in Tehran, and asked us to tell him what was inscribed on the copper. We looked at it, but could not understand. I could say that it was in old Russian, but I did  not understand it. There was a date stamped on it: 1895. It was made just 50+ years before I was born, and I could not read it? It was humiliating.

Yes, there was a reform of Russian language after the revolution. They simplified the syntax, eliminated some letters. I knew that. But I could not imagine that I would not be able to understand the phrase written not thousand years ago, but just 50-60 years before I was born.

In July 1985 I went to the oldest Russian village in the North. 100 kilometers under the Arctic Circle on Pechora river, this was not that far from Vorkuta, a coal-mining place in the Arctic where we lived at that time. Ust Tsilma (my best shot to convert the name of the village into English) is the place of a famous folk festival. Not something that people, drunk and sober, get to celebrate all over the country, but a very formal and traditional celebration going back to 17th-18th century.

It is a fascinating festival. The dresses, that villagers keep for literally hundreds of years. They gather on that special place called Gorka (hill), form a geometric figure and then start signing and dancing. It is very ritual, very strict, amazing with all those dresses and head pieces. but my problem was that I could not understand a single word. Did they sing in Russian? Oh, yes. So how come I did not understand a single word, not even a hint, not even an idea what they were singing about?

I can watch a movie in Chinese and I would understand something if not a lot (depends not on my sophistication, but rather on the level of primitiveness if the movie LOL). But here they were singing in Russian, and I, a University graduate with some graduate studies, could not understand a word. The only consolation was that every other guest did not understand a word either.

The village started in 1542 and by 17th-18th century it started getting the influx of people running from religious persecution when the orthodox church branched and one branch was official and the other was annihilated. Far North was not easily reachable, and people lived simple lives and did not mingle with the rest of the world, until fairly recently. And if they picked modern language when the were no longer isolated, and they are speaking the same language every other Russian speaks (with some dialectal flavor), the songs of the Gorka stayed the way it was in the 17th century. This was the Russian language of the 17th century, and we did not understand it.

I am not sure whether English had changed as dramatically, but can we really understand the language people were speaking 300 years ago? Would we be able to enjoy Shakespeare of 1590?

It is mind boggling how fast we are changing, how fast life is changing.


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Karen Anne Stone
New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County - Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Real Estate

Jon:  I think this question that Robert posed... is, in my opinion, one of the main problems with the Bible.  Every copy there is... is somebody's "version."  Throughout history the bible has been edited, changed, added to, deleted, re-written, and combined so many times, and mis-copied almost every time the monks of old did their hand-copies of it... that I seriously doubt that there is anything close to an original version.  For example... even going "way back..." none of the four gospels was actually, truly written by the man whose name appears on it.  That has been proven by historians and archeologists.  I will have to go and take a peek at Robert's post.  Thanks for the tip.

Jul 25, 2009 06:07 PM #1
Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408 - Daytona Beach, FL
Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices

Karen Anne - I bounced off Robert's post. I think that the idea of being able to go back in time and read in the same sense as we read a newspaper today is unrealistic. If we are going any distance into the history, there is no reading per se, but deciphering and interpreting. And that's why there is not a canon book that's the authority. It can't be.

If we are talking about Hebrew or Aramaic, they (at least Hebrew) do not have vowels in the written form. You add them when you read. This in itself creates a lot of opportunities of interpretations, which may be close, but maybe worlds apart.

There is the oldest written poem in Russian dated at the end of the 12th century. At that time they didnot have spaces between the words. When it was found, scientists worked on decipering it and did a great job. There are gray areas there, as there is not agreement on many parts, as you can put the spaces anywhere, and it creates multiple contexts, and I am not even talking about the difficulty to understand the realities of life at the end of the 12th century.

But there is not such thing as to go to the source and read, even if you are an extraordinary knowledgeable person. It years fo deciphering and interpreting and not only from the point of linguistics, but also from the religious, historical, cultural, economical, anthropological, archaeological...

What I was saying is that just 20 years bring serious changes, 50 years make the language very different, and when we are talking about thousands of years, then we are definitely not reading


Jul 25, 2009 07:14 PM #2
William J. Archambault, Jr.
The Real Estate Investment Institute - Houston, TX


Very interesting. 

Where to start. My first though was if you want to see history change you don't need to go to the Bible just watch the history channel! They write their scripts after researching comic books if they research at all.

Then you mention "a Russian guy" I wish my maternal Grand Father had taught my Mother and Uncle French, he was a "cold-foot" he walked across the ice at Sault Saint Marie on winter met my Grand Mother and never went back. On the other hand, America has always been a melting pot! Until recently emigrants came here to assimilate and we all benefitted from gaining the best of each culture and blending it into one! Multi-culturalism is social suicide!

You can be glad you don't watch Russian TV and listen to Russian radio, you're in America and you're very much a part of it. The ease of life with out learning English has condemmed many to a future as cheap labor, to our disgrace those that promote this are no different than those that promoted slavery!

I'm envois of your trip into the past, other cultures are fascinating, but I'd rather travel to see them than have them imposed on me here. But, the real problem is that if you bring up children here but educate them as if they were else where they won't function well any where!

I'm not surprised at the interchangeable words. English is a little of every thing. We started with emigrants and expended when sputnik shrank the world!

Great post.


Jul 26, 2009 01:56 PM #3
Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408 - Daytona Beach, FL
Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices

Thank you, Bill,

When we came, we decided to avoid welfare, and also decided to avoid so called Russian community, if  we could. Not because of the anymosity to Russians like us, but because we understand that plunging into another language and another culture is a job of brain, heart and soul.

I remember once a rabbi asked me why I am not trying to become Jewish, as my mom and dad were Jews (stated in the passport). I told him that my priority was to become American, and this was a full time job in itself.

I am so jealous of your phrase "...when sputnik shrank the world!". So short and with huge philosophical context.

Thank you for you terrific comment


Jul 26, 2009 05:50 PM #4
Andrea Swiedler
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties - New Milford, CT
Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT

Privet Jon! Very interesting reading, and a bit of it is very familiar. Let me just say that I do not speak Russian. I can understand a few things, a very few things. But I hear the difference. Both in the spoken Russian and Russians who speak English. As with the US, the accents vary widely, and even though I have NO idea what people might be saying, I know they speak differently than my husband.

He has a set of books that are near and dear to his heart, they were given to him by a very special person. They are history books that are written in the old Russian. He has read and re-read them, they are beautiful. I remember how he put off reading them for quite a while, explaining to me that the Russian in the books was different than the Russian he spoke and read. I know these books were written in the 1800's, I was so surprised when he said that to me. Patterns of speech may be different, words may fall in and out of favor, but to take letters out of the alphabet was very odd indeed!

Russian is a beautiful language, and the culture is so diverse and interesting. I also understand avoiding that while here, unless his mother his here, or there is a ballet competition or something special going on, my husband does not speak Russian, have Russian friends, etc. But he does get online and reads the Russian newspaper. He should avoid that one first and foremost in my humble opinion. I think he just enjoys reading in Russian to be honest with you.

And by the way, the concept of nationality on a passport is so foreign to us here, took me time but I realized that they were not speaking so much of Jewish as a religion but Jewish as a nationality. Just like German, Swiss, Irish Very odd idea to me indeed that if you had a family member who came to Russia from Germany years and years before, your passport would say "German". Still scratch my head on that one.

Great post! Poka!

Jul 26, 2009 11:40 PM #5
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