I often hear that Russian is a bizarre language, and I can’t disagree. So, why is it so strange and unusual, and why does it so often blow student’s minds?
You suddenly realize that in Russian, your name has tons of variations!
The Russian language grants you with dozens of new versions of your name. It’s not just Tom and Tommy. The Russian language has so many diminutive suffixes, and each of them has it’s special meaning: Tomik, Tomochek, Tomushka, Tomka, Tomusik… I can keep going on forever! The weird thing about this is that every version has its own shadow of meaning. You will soon notice that your colleagues prefer one version, your best friends prefer others.
Some letters don’t have their sound at all: Ь and Ъ.
They have their “names”: a soft sign and a hard sign, but the weird thing is that you can not pronounce the sound they represent. These letters make sense only when they “merge” with other letters in a word; otherwise, they are “soundless.”
Russian words have an insane amount of forms, especially verbs. The more frightening thing is that all words agree in a sentence, this means that nouns, verbs, adjectives, numerals, and others will have their endings depending on the situation.
Let’s take the verb “to read.” I made a list of possible forms and 94 variations. Though, in the picture, I didn’t manage to place eight more future forms of the verb.
At first sight, you might think: “Who in his mind can ever learn this?”
But in fact, the endings are very repetitive and obey strict logic. So, yes, there are many forms, but if you learn the rules consistently with no rush, you will soon understand how they do work.
Two dots have never been more annoying!
The letter “Е” and “Ё” sound completely different: like [je] and [jo]. However, locals almost always omit these two dots above the letter, even in books and newspapers. For instance, you see the name “Алеша” (Aljesha). Surprise! It’s not “Алеша” (Aljesha), but “Алёша” (Aljosha). To a language learner, it’s like trying to write “a pAn,” but meaning that it’s actually “a pEn.” Native speakers just recognize the word with a proper letter and read it correctly and don’t bother themselves with putting any extra signs.
Russian word order is flexible. The meaning of the sentence may change cardinally because of the word order. I.e. “Я иду домой” means “I’m going home”, while “Я домой иду” means “It is home where I’m going to (not anywhere else)”, and “Домой иду я” means “It is I, who is going home”. The last option can imply that a person is irritated. So the word order in Russian depends on what exactly you want to say to others or what mood you want to convey.
Say good-bye to articles! Russian doesn’t use articles at all, and it seems very unusual for English speakers. They feel a lack of important information in a sentence: are we talking about a random thing or a specific one? You will never know it from a Russian sentence.
Russian has four words for one simple “to go,” because, by some weird reason, it’s significant for the language exactly how you go: do you use a vehicle or go by foot, do you go to a single point or you go somewhere from time to time? To “go to the shop (now),” “to go shopping,” “to go to the shop by car (now),” and finally, “to go to the shop on Sundays” are four different types of “to go.”
Russian has a special word for light-blue (голубой / goluboi), for the number 1,5 (полтора / poltora), working days (будни / budni), and many others. Another one – “авось” (avos’), is tough to explain as it means an irrational belief in a positive outcome when you don’t put efforts to reach it. On the other hand, it’s really hard to translate into Russian a very common Western term, “privacy.” If you ask for some privacy, your Russian interlocutor will be confused. What do you want: to stay alone, confidentiality, or to stop discussing the problem? You’ll need to give more explanations.
You’ll never meet more weird logic about things that stand and lie. A knife lies on a table, but if we stick it into a surface, it stands. Ok, there’s some logic. Maybe horizontal objects lie and vertical stand? Let’s take a flat object: a pan. Surprise! A pan stands on a table! But if we put it upside down, it lies.
In the Russian language, a clock can go when they hang and stand when they lie. And it’s grammatically correct to say: “I’ve sat on the bus. I’m standing.”
Don’t stress too much
Similar to many East Asian languages, the stress patterns of Russian words can radically change their meaning. The word “я плачу” places stress on the second syllable and means “I am paying“, whereas the word “я плáчу” stresses the first syllable and means “I am crying”.
Don’t be so tense
Unusually, the verb “to be” is generally not used in the present tense when speaking Russian. Instead, it’s typically used to specify the past or future. You will also not hear the words “is” or “am” in a Russian phrase; instead, an adjective, verb, or noun follows the subject. The English sentence “I am a student” literally becomes “I student” in Russian.