Pleasures and Pitfalls Of Russian Baby Talk

Having children changes your life in many ways -- anyone who has lived through sleepless nights and changing diapers knows this. If you were ever a calm, sane adult, that little of bundle of joy can turn you very quickly into a blithering idiot.


And that can happen in more ways than one. For among the changes that parenthood brings, one is that you will never speak Russian the same way again.


I cannot call a dog a sobaka, for example; I say sobachka instead, even if that canine is a mighty Great Dane. A bird is not a ptitsa but a ptitchka.


Bringing up a baby in Russia shows you just how rich the language is -- where English might let you down, Russian has a parlance of diminutives for its little people.


My own little solnyshko, (little sunshine), my dyevchushka (little girl) wakes me up every morning by jumping up and down and singing in her krovatka (little bed). We get up, drink a little molochko (milk), then have some kashka (kasha). Sometimes I'll give her a yablochko (little apple) or some khlebushek (little bread) to pick up with her palchiki (little fingers).


Then we get dressed. I take her out of her pizhamki (pajamas) and pull a rubashechka (little shirt) on over her head. Then I help her put on a little pair of shtanishki (pants), or, if it's a nice day or special occasion, we'll put on a platitse (little dress). I find her nosochki (little socks) and put on her botinochki (little shoes).


Then it's time to play with her igrushechki (little toys). She loves her little stuffed slonik (elephant) and her medvezhonok (bear). For Christmas she got a cute wooden puzzle that has an utochka (duck), a lvyonok (lion), a zaichik (rabbit), a loshadka (horse), and a cherepashka (turtle), to name a few.


She also loves to read knizhechki (little books), play with her new kukolka (doll), or keep busy on her new Fischer Price activity stolik (table).


Of course it's not all fun and games. You still do have to deal with changing diapers.


Even here your skills can be tested. As a new mother, I memorized the dictionary translation for diaper, which was pelyonka. But it turns out that wasn't quite enough.


With actual diapers scarce, pelyonka often refers to the receiving blankets in which Russians swaddle their newborns. The Pampers for sale these days, on the other hand, are called podguzniki.


It didn't take me long to learn this. When my infant's new nanny was leaving one night, she warned me, "Watch out. She's only got a pelyonka on."


I thought all was safe. But two minutes later, as my hand grew warm and wet, I learned a quick linguistic lesson.