August 12, 2009 | Russian

Jumbles of Mumbles

Verb charts, arms dealers, and philosophical musings.

My grammar book has been presenting me with Russian verbs at an alarming rate. I couldn’t keep track of them all, so over the past few days, to help me remember them, I spent quite a bit of time making myself an alphabetical verb list with translations. Along the way I noticed a weird pattern: a huge percentage of Russian verbs seem to begin with p. Either that or the author of my grammar book has a weird preference for p verbs.

I have barely read a newspaper in weeks. I am obsessed with this project. I often watch the news in Russian, but since I don’t understand it, I can’t really say I am up on world events. I am, however, getting much more familiar with the appearance of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. I also know that there is a scary 50-something-year-old-looking guy under arrest in Thailand. I haven’t yet been able to make out what he did, but since he has been on TV multiple times in recent days, I assume he did something horrible.

Okay, I just figured out who he is by looking it up on Google news. He is a Russian arms dealer named Viktor Bout, and a Thai court has just denied a U.S. request to extradite him. According to Wikipedia, he is supposed to be fluent in six languages.

On another subject: I have noticed lately that native speakers are often embarrassed to speak slowly enough for non-native speakers. They want to be helpful, but speaking more slowly and clearly than they normally do makes them feel silly. I am accustomed to teaching non-native speakers, but I suppose I have observed some version of this tendency in myself, particularly in non-classroom settings. It’s too bad, because it would be a lot easier for people studying a language if native speakers didn’t rush and mumble.

Final thought for the day: it is amazing that there are all of these systems globally of subtle, swallowed, mumbled sounds that can sometimes barely be heard, and often can’t be heard at all, that are nonetheless so expressive and complex.

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