Category Archives: Language

Yes No Maybe.

It was a typical rainy morning in St. Petersburg, and Tanya was complaining about how cold it was and how she hated having wet shoes. As she was staring out the window and cursing Peter the Great for having built this city on a bog and bones, I asked her if she wanted my rain boots. She muttered a reply: Da net naverno (да нет наверно). Yes no maybe. I paused. So what was her answer, does she want my rain boots or not?

Russians have this way of answering Da Net, which from my understanding, is a soft no — a мягкая нет, in the words of my host mom. The person wants to say yes, or wouldn’t be against saying yes, but, unfortunately, has to say no. At least that’s what my host mom said. And usually, I can tell the answer from the way the person says da net. But Da net naverno threw me off. Which one is it, no or maybe? Is it a maybe leaning towards a no? Or is it a no leaning towards uncertainty? Or is it just an unsure no? Or is it one of those answers where the no means yes but they just say no to be polite? I asked my host mom to clarify and she laughed at me. “It all depends on how the person says it. Everything also depends on the situation, koneshno. Of course.” Nothing in this damn language is straight forward.

One of the reasons I took Russian is because my high school Russian teacher told me it was the easiest language to learn, because it doesn’t have all those annoying perfective, imperfective, plus-que-parfait, etc aspects of Romance languages. My high school Russian teacher was also lying out of his ass. He’s Polish, and I have a conspiracy theory that he secretly wanted all of his students to hate Russian by telling them it was an easy language and then having them painfully find out that it wasn’t so. And I have painfully found out that Russian isn’t easy. Too late to turn back now and switch back to French. I threw 14 years of French away for probably 14 more years of toiling and confusion in Russian.

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At leasting pointing and grunting is still internationally understood

Trying to read Nabokov in his native tongue is comparable to a masochist gouging his eye out. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, and in this case, it’s a sad realization of how difficult this language is, and how long it’s going to take for me to be able to somewhat master it. Russia is full of debauchery and fun and all, but the language is still a hellish, intricate nightmare. I have since put away Nabokov for another day and have moved onto Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. While it’s easier than Nabokov’s short stories, it’s still no walk through the park – more like a struggle through a patch of thorny rose bushes.

The man.

Case in point, we’re currently learning pre-fixed verbs of motion for the final time. For native speakers, all of this is intuitive. For foreigners, it’s one long, dull headache. For example, I’ve always learned that the prefix “вы-” means leaving (in the sense of leaving a room, or a house, but not to a far away destination or for a long time – that’s what the prefix у- is for), and I never paired it with the preposition “в,” which is for going into places. But we just learned that you can use “вы” with “в” in the sense of “let’s go out into something,” and that it depends on context and what you want to emphasize. But context is difficult to understand, especially Russian context. If this last paragraph didn’t make any sense, it’s because I don’t understand prefixed verbs of motion and it seems like I never will.

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