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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Garbled Grunts Mangle The Tongue of Pushkin

Among our countless other failings in the world, Americans are often accused of speaking in a monotone. This unfortunately is fairly true, but I'm sure it springs from something inherently democratic and noble -- dependability or perhaps simply efficiency of movement. Russian instructors invariably take enormous delight in crushing this habit into bits. "Get ready for this," they intone, pointing an especially sharp finger at the females, as the crowd shivers with trepidation. "You are all going to have to learn new octaves." A significant pause. "It will be good for you."


Several semesters later, and everyone has achieved the range of Maria Callas and can twitter and twirp their way around all the peaks and valleys of the Russian interrogative, declarative, and abusive lingual cases. It doesn't affect their native tongue, which remains stolidly chained to its three-note span, but the better they get at Russian, the more musical it becomes. (I just want to clarify at this point that I really like American English a lot, and not just because it's the only language I speak without agony.) Grammar and vocabulary can fall by the wayside, but if a person can hit just the right squeak at the beginning of a question, half the battle is already won.


Now. All this would seem to be yet another in an endless series of rhapsodic tributes to the beauty of the Russian tongue, which it isn't, because in fact we've had quite enough of that already. Yes, yes, the language of Pushkin and all that. Russian is a beautiful language, there's no question, and we're all very lucky to have crossed its path. But in the wrong hands, Russian can go terribly awry. Pushkin seems to have had his own healthy taste for the vernacular, but he probably didn't count on the 1990s young Russian male.


Take a standard phrase, stick it in their mouth, and you'll hardly recognize what emerges. It's of course impossible to recreate on paper, but the ultimate effect is sort of a regrettable cross between Count Dracula and rap star Bogdan Titomir, with a special bonus accent on any vowel that can possibly be repronounced as "ugh." If customary Russian sings and soars, and occasionally shatters glass, then this dialect is the antidote; kind of a blunt, marble-mouthed reworking that will glaze your eyes and stunt your opinion span.


Try to stay alert, though; you can learn a lot of mannerisms from these guys. First and foremost is their copious use of the word blin, the harmless space filler that lends that mischievous bl satisfaction while still paying homage to Russia's tremendous culinary history. Then there's that attractive Slavic pout and the compulsive lolling of the head, as though their young necks hardly have the strength to support the weight of their brains. Finally there's that wonderful attitude. They want to talk a lot, they just don't want you to enjoy it.