Other blogs: languagehat on languages in 19th century Russia

One more favorite blog of mine is Languagehat. Today, he writes about the use of the French language in the early 19th century in Russia, about the decline of Russian language among the aristocrats and what happened that reversed the situation. He quotes Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes:

Princess Dashkova, a vocal advocate of Russian culture and the only female president ever of the Russian Academy of Sciences, had the finest European education. 'We were instructed in four different languages, and spoke French fluently,' she wrote in her memoirs, 'but my Russian was extremely poor.' Count Karl Nesselrode, a Baltic German and Russia's foreign minister from 1815 to 1856, could not write or even speak the language of the country he was meant to represent. French was the language of high society, and in high-born families the language of all personal relationships as well. The Volkonskys, for example, a family whose fortunes we shall follow in this book, spoke mainly French among themselves. Mademoiselle Callame, a French governess in the Volkonsky household, recalled that in nearly fifty years of service she never heard the Volkonskys speak a word of Russian, except to give orders to the domestic staff. This was true even of Maria (née Raevskaya), the wife of Prince Sergei Volkonsky, Tsar Alexander's favourite aide-de-camp in 1812. Despite the fact that she had been brought up in the Ukrainian provinces, where noble families were more inclined to speak their native Russian tongue, Maria could not write in Russian properly. Her letters to her husband were in French. Her spoken Russian, which she had picked up from the servants, was very primitive and full of peasant slang. It was a common paradox that the most refined and cultured Russians could speak only the peasant form of Russian which they had learnt from the servants as children...

This neglect of the Russian language was most pronounced and persistent in the highest echelons of the aristocracy, which had always been the most Europeanized (and in more than a few cases of foreign origin). In some families children were forbidden to speak Russian except on Sundays and religious holidays. During her entire education Princess Ekaterina Golitsyn had only seven lessons in her native tongue. Her mother was contemptuous of Russian literature and thought Gogol was 'for the coachmen'. The Golitsyn children had a French governess and, if she ever caught them speaking Russian, she would punish them by tying a red cloth in the shape of a devil's tongue around their necks. Anna Lelong had a similar experience at the Girls' Gymnasium, the best school for noble daughters in Moscow. Those girls caught speaking Russian were made to wear a red tin bell all day and stand like dunces, stripped of their white aprons, in the corner of the class; they were forced to remain standing even during meals, and received their food last. Other children were even more severely punished if they spoke Russian—sometimes even locked in a room. The attitude seems to have been that Russian, like the Devil, should be beaten out of noble children from an early age, and that even the most childish feelings had to be expressed in a foreign tongue.

See more quotations from Figes at Languagehat.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm gonna make my own post about it