Chechen-Swedish parallels

At Evrodiaspora  – the unofficial website of Chechens living in Europe – a poster has compiled a list of some words that the Chechen and Swedish languages have in common. Examples:

 Töntig – awkward, clumsy – Тентаг

Ute – outside – Уьт1е (yard)

Barn – child – Бер

Kasta – to throw – Кхосса

Padda – toad – Пхьид – frog

Tall – pine tree – Талл 

Sinne – чувство – Са 

Damm – dust – Дам – flour

Darra – to tremble – Дарр аьлла вегош

Adel – aristocracy, nobility – Ад(ам)-эла

Adjö – farewell, goodbye – 1адика-йойла ( adika jöjla!)

Bår – stretcher – Барм

Tyda – to interpret – Тида 

Gå – to go, walk – Г1о

Var – was – Вар

Vagga – cradle, to lull – Ага

Usel – wretched – Осала

Kyla – chill, cold – Шело

Ort – place, locality, village – Юрт

Stjälk – stalk, stem – Шелкх

Sin – one’s (own) – Шен

Dekis – seedy-looking person – Декъаз

Dag, Dan – day – Де

Folk – people, nation – Халкъ

Låg – low – Лог1а

Sirlig – graceful, elegant – Сирла

Kol – coal – К1ор

Rask – quick, speedy, rapid – Расха

Mark – ground, land, territory – Мохк

Modd – mud, slush – Мода – mud

Land – land, country – Латта 

The article also contains an interesting discussion of the origins of the words “Valhalla” and “Valkyrie”.  

The Poetic CIA

RFE/RL has an interesting feature about how the CIA may have performed the inestimable service of arranging in 1958 for the first Russian-language publication of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago . In the same year, Albert Camus had nominated Pasternak for the Nobel Prize, but the award could not be made unless the novel had been published in the original language – no Soviet publisher would do this, and the risks for the author of having the book published in a Western country were great.

According to RFE/RL’s Ivan Tolstoi, it was the CIA which ultimately managed to get the book put out in the West – and this may not only have secured the Nobel Prize for the poet and author, but also saved his life:

“Thanks to the fact that Pasternak won the Nobel Prize, Pasternak wasn’t arrested,” says Tolstoi. “This deed by the CIA served to ennoble and save Pasternak. The actions of American intelligence saved a great Russian poet.”


But, in a December 14 presentation in Moscow, Tolstoi said “Pasternak had absolutely nothing to do with” the operation. “The American intelligence community did and financed everything itself, in order that a famous novel from an ingenious writer and poet might receive recognition.”

Pasternak was forced to decline the award under pressure from Soviet authorities. But when he died two years later, in 1960, it was in his home in Peredelkino — not in prison or exile abroad. It was a better fate than those of many Russian writers of the time.

Tolstoi said America’s use of culture as a weapon in its ideological battle with the Soviet Union typifies what he calls “the drama of the Cold War.”

“American intelligence, American policy, in this story, battled Kremlin ideology and communism not with poison, or kidnappings, or some other unseemly actions, but with the help of Russian culture,” Tolstoi said. “They used Russian culture to fight against the Soviet state.”

(via M.L.)

Myaskovsky and Prokofiev

As Dmitri Gorbatov has pointed out in the guest book at, the correspondence between Sergei Prokofiev and Nikolai Myaskovsky was published in Russian in 1977 as a volume of some 700 pages, under the editorship of Dmitry Kabalevsky. Although a selected correspondence of Prokofiev appeared in 1998, edited and translated by Harlow Robinson, it contains only a few of Prokofiev’s letters to Myaskovsky, and none by Myaskovsky himself.

It would indeed be useful to have the 1977 volume in English translation. But as Mr Gorbatov suggests, such a project is unlikely to awaken the interest of English and American publishers any time soon. While the music and biography of Shostakovich appear to be enjoying something of a publicity “boom”, if such a word can be used in such a context, other 20th century Russian composers are suffering from an undeserved neglect.

Incidentally, the Russian text of the Myaskovsky-Prokofiev correspondence has been scanned and uploaded to this URL.

Found in Translation

I’m pleased to see that FILI – Finland’s literature information centre – has published a presentation on the translator Hildi Hawkins, who won this year’s Finnish Government Translation Prize. Many of Hawkins’ translations have been published in the literary journal Books from Finland:

Now in its 40th year of publication, Books has published translations of more than 300 literary authors and an untold number of prose and non-fiction writers. Over the years, Hildi Hawkins has translated thousands of pages for the magazine. Many Finnish writers were presented in English for the first time through Hawkins’ work for Books from Finland. Her English translations include works by Umayya Abu-Hanna, Kristina Carlson, Ranya Paasonen, Pirjo Hassinen, Olli Jalonen, Väinö Kirstinä, Leena Krohn, Rakel Liehu, Markus Nummi, Markku Paasonen, Irja Rane, Pirkko Saisio, Asko Sahlberg, Raija Siekkinen, Anja Snellman, Katri Tapola, Jari Tervo, Eeva Tikka, Maarit Verronen, and Hannu Väisänen.

The Exiled Muse

Just as in the years of the Cold War, many Russian authors, poets and writers continue to make their home in the West – whether in Europe or in North America. The fall of the Communist system does not seem to have had much effect in this regard. An essay in Haaretz by Shiri Lev-Ari examines the new wave of Russian literary talent, and notes how in many cases Russian authors choose to abandon their own language in favour of the language of the country or countries they have moved to. Examples include the Berlin-based Vladimir Kaminer, the slightly older André Makine, who writes in French and has been awarded the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, and U.S. and Canada-resident authors such as Lara Vapnyar and the Russian-Latvian David Bezmozgis. In addition to the writers mentioned in the essay, one could also list the Finland-based Zinaida Lindén, who writes in Swedish (though she also continues to publish work in Russian). As the essay makes clear, the Russian literary scene in Israel constitutes something of an exception to the rule, as there most Russian-speaking authors still choose to write and publish their work more or less exclusively in Russian.

A Russian-Israeli literary critic quoted in the essay notes that both the “exiles” and those authors who still remain in Russia share a preoccupation with fantasy and post-modern styles of writing, perhaps, she suggests, because “in Russia, the reality is so fantastical…that realist literature can’t quite capture it anymore.”

“…Russian writers are absolutely up to date on what’s happening in the world. They’re not nostalgic at all. The fondness for science fiction that always existed in the Soviet era has only grown since then. Back then, it was the only way to do satire, and it still exists today, because satires about the Soviet government are still successful. This happens because Russia has not been truly freed from dictatorial government. Vladimir Putin is still thought of today as a dictator in disguise.”