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04 February 2007



Well, with all due respect to the beauty of Russian as a language, I think it's kinda dubious to consider it a language useful for philosophy.

Russia has not had much of a philosophical tradition compared to England that has produced some of the most famous philosophers. Anyhow, most of the philosophy that Russians have come up with was mostly a re-working of German and English thought traditions. Marxism-Leninism is the most famous example of that. Most Marxist theory originated in German-speaking lands and was adopted by Russia in the late 19-th century, early 20th century.

It's arguable that Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Turgenev wrote "philosophical" literature. However, a handful of writers who have discussed philosophical issues in their work does not make a language particularly philosophical. Because most major European languages, English included, have just as much if not more of such philosophical literature, it is fair to say that Russian doesn't qualify for the prize of "most philosophical language".


Maybe you're problem with Russian is that you had an awful teacher who insisted on pushing ridiculous myths about language. Obviously Russian is quite adaptable to conveying specific information - witness the millions of engineering, scientific and mathematical texts that have been written in Russian in the past 200 years.


Maybe my problem with Russian is its over-reliance on the passive tense. It completely strips everyone of any personal responsibility for anything. Which pretty much sums up, um, Russia. Russian, I think, is designed to convey obsfucation.


Russian actually uses passive far less than English. Are you referring to impersonal constructions?(i.e. "mne stalo plokho" or "Menya skrjučilo ot boli" - "I twisted from pain"). English works perfectly well for obfuscation and denial of responsibility as well - "mistakes were made", "the plate broke" (said by my 6 year old after dropping a plate off the table). It sounds to me like your teacher(s?) got you hung up on various myths about Russian that Russians themselves like to believe to feel special or to explain away social problems that are not in fact caused by the structure of the language. I know a lot of native English speakers who have learned to speak Russian quite well, Russian is not really that alien. I also know a number of Russians who are very good at taking responsibility for their own actions, despite the fact that they only speak Russian.


Good writing in English strongly discourages the use of the passive. When it's used, it's usually -- as you point out -- an effort to obscure responsibility. Most of the editing I did on translations of Russian and Ukrainian (and Polish too, back in the day) was taking sentences out of the passive.

I would never dispute that people can -- and do -- learn to speak Russian fluently. Just people who are not me.

Brad Brock

Harlan County, Kentucky say kiss our collective asses!


Hmm, since you have "inability to understand any conversation," somehow I doubt you're familiar with even a fraction of that "cracker Turkish" vocabulary as you call it. Also, I'm amused by the Appalachia comparison...especially since half of Turkey is just as impoverished and backward (if not worse in some places) as anything else in the South Caucuses. Anyway, best of luck in learning the new language.


Vanya, I am sure that Russian has enough vocabulary for various realms of specialized knowledge. But I think Yelena is ridiculous for thinking Russian is more of a philosophical language than English. ;-) Of course, we are all entitled to believing that our native languages are more beautiful than the others, but it's still nice to retain an aura of objectivity and not utter statements like "Russian is the language of philosophy and English is suited only for conveying information."


Turkish is so easy. Try Georgian! It will force you to use your tongue and epiglottis in ways you never dreamed. Turkish and azeri don't have nothin on Georgian. Russian will be a breeze when I finish here. Good job trying to learn a language though. I give you alot of credit. Some NGO workers could care less. Nice job!


Its me again. The FSU has a dirty little secret. ARROGANCE AND ZENOPHOBIA. GET OVER YOURSELVES!!


Hi there,

As a Turkish person with some knowledge of Latin, I can say that Latin and Turkish have many similarities, especially the grammar, like the use of nominativus, dativus, genitivus etc.
However, Dutch and English are very different than both Latin and Turkish, cause they do not have these.


I started learning Turkish a couple of weeks back and stumble upon this post. apt, is it not? I know English, hindi and (functional) French and Turkish is very, very different. The structure of the language is unlike any other I have studied and takes a bit of getting used to. It think is very beautiful and it flows wonderfully.
Btw, I do agree with you Russian teacher (not so much about Russian and philosophy as I know zilch Russian) but English is a very utilitarian language isnt it?


Well, after living in Turkey this time for eight years, I think I can finally help people learn Turkish easier and faster because of the way I have learned, although I am in no way fluent. But, what gave me a big leap forward was one tiny book that gutted through my challenges. It's a little book by Peter Pikkert, "A Basic Course in Modern Turkish." It will cost all of 7YTL and make no mistake, it does not resemble any language book you've seen before. And, I applaud anyone who can learn even one language well other than their native tongue. If you have learned Georgian, you are a genius.



Don't be too hard on yourself for giving up on Russian. I teach English in Azerbaijan and have had the opportunity to observe many local teachers instructing expats at my school. From a Western teaching perspective, local teachers have terrible error correction skills. They teach language the way they were taught as children, Soviet-style. They criticize students too early, too harshly and overemphasize rote Soviet-style learning. This teaching style often results in a burnt-out Westerner weighed down with the delusion that learning Russian is a step beyond his or her mental capacity.

I can tell from reading your blog that you are the type who learns languages easily. People who are masterful of their native language are often enchanted with foreign languages and learn quickly (provided their teachers don't correct mistakes with a sledgehammer). And, of course fucktards are fucktards.

You aren't a fucktard.
Thank you?
You're welcome.


Damn, Kate. If only I had not just finished the redesign of my blog banner! "Carpetblogger: Not a Fucktard" sounds so much better than "caustic commentary from Constantinople" and would result in such lively debate.

I do agree with you about the Russian style of teaching. In fact, it's an excuse I've used many times (along with "once you're over 30 the part of your brain responsible for language learning calcifies." I saw that on BBC once and I'm not letting it go) However, I can hardly blame Soviet pedagogy for my inability to learn French, Spanish or Arabic. your kind words notwithstanding there is some evidence to suggest that carpetblogger is, indeed, a fucktard.

And good lord, no Georgian! Georgian is what we will see on the UFO's when earth is invaded by aliens.

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