laupäev, november 08, 2008

maria ivanova

If Americans could elect a black man president, ponders Rein Sikk in the Nov. 7 issue of Eesti Päevaleht, it can't be long before "Maria Ivanova," a fictional embodiment of an Estonian Russian, makes it to Kadriorg.

With her boisterous Slavic style and perfect Estonian language, the talented Maria Ivanova could claim to speak for all Estonians, just as the gifted Mr. Obama speaks for his gay friends in the red states and little league coaching pals in the blue states, Sikk writes.

I stood on line thinking about Maria Ivanova at Selver yesterday night, when I noticed that two "Estonians" on the front pages of different newspapers could be Maria Ivanova, too. One was Robert Antropov, the CEO of Paldiski Northern Port, and the other was Luule Komissarov, an actress. Then I glanced down at my receipt and noticed that the clerk also had an pithy Estonian first name [Triin] and a longer Russian last name [Aleksejev]. "Where did all these Estonians get Russian surnames?" I wondered.

Next to me in line were three Estonian Russian teenagers. It was Friday night and Selver was busy with young people buying up booze. These kids were no different. There were two young women and one guy, and all of them looked just old enough to legally purchase alcohol. The young man was in especially good mood (two dates for the evening?) and he was speaking loudly. He then got into a conversation with a guy on line, and switched into Estonian, even hitting the dreaded letter Õ in stride. Then back to Russian, with his friends, and back into Estonian again with the cashier. I was really impressed.

When I walk into a store and I am not feeling up to it, I can get in a lot of trouble with the troublesome letter "õ." Today I went to buy a basket -- korv -- and may have asked the clerk at the mööblimaja for an ear -- kõrv. The nature with which the young man at Selver was able to slip between languages is something that will always remain foreign to me. He's from here and has heard korv and kõrv side by side for his entire life. Even if his mother spoke another language to him, he is still, in some way, a native speaker of Estonian.

Sikk's article prompted 535 comments, some of them insightful [did you know that Konstantin Päts was half Russian?] and the others your typical outburst of "tibla välja" [tibla, get out!] The Estonian word "tibla" is a derogatory, yet not wholly malevolent term for Russians. It comes from the Russian "ti bliad," which means "you whore." Occasionally, the Russian Federation is referred to as "Tibladistan." I suppose some Estonian soldiers heard "ti bliad" on the front lines during the War of Independence and made it their own -- the term allegedly dates back to the First World War.

That being said, I have never actually heard an Estonian person use this term to curse any single person or group of people. However, it always manages to surface in the online comments of article's like Sikk's. There are some real armchair rullnokad in Estonia who spend their time giving all Estonians a bad name by writing offensive things about eestivenelased in the comments of Postimees or Eesti Päevaleht.

To me, though, Sikk's proposition wasn't so outlandish. Estonians are quite comfortable with the Maria Ivanovas of their country -- indeed many "aboriginal" Estonians have names like hers. And because of the cultural fluency of Estonia's youth, I don't think it will be too long before Sikk's hypothetical scenario comes to pass.

49 kommentaari:

Kristopher ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Kristopher ütles ...

Does the Estonian Office of Vital Statistics add feminine endings to ethnically Russian names? Luule Komissarov is of course not Luule Komissarova... A minor detail, or a telling one? I actually don't know. The very name Maria Ivanova sounds very provocative, which is undoubtedly what was intended by Sikk. And here's another question, not just for linguistic nerds: if "Mihhail Tšaštšin" is elected president, would he go by Mikhail Chashchin to the outside world? If yes, I would say we have a problem.

Manawald ütles ...

Hmmm... I'm not so sure about all this. Sikk seems to believe slavic temperament would be an asset. At least the older voters might not think so at all. And it will also take some time before the Russians of Estonia get so much involved in Estonian politics that they come up with a plausible candidate...

Unknown ütles ...

I'd be very surprised to meet a Russian who had trouble with 'Õ' - after all, Russian has this strange vowel as well;)

Re: Komissarov/Komissarova - I've noticed it to be common among naturalized Russians here in Estonia. Women going by male surnames, that is, dropping the -a.

Kalle Kniivilä ütles ...

Good post, I'll have to take a look at the original newspaper article.

But is õ really that difficult for Russians? For me it sounds not too different from the genuinely Russian ы.

Kristopher ütles ...

I've always wondered how Jõhvi is written in Russian. Isn't the soft "j" followed by the hard "õ" an impossibility. In any case, it would look like hell to me.

ИЫXBИ, or ИЫФИ. Languages are neat, but some things are not meant to be transliterated?

Wahur ütles ...

Russian names among Estonian people are often the heritage of the russification in the end of 19th century. It involved active religious change from Lutheran to orthodox church (especially popular in South-East and Saaremaa) and with that often change of names.
Such names being non-native, Estonians have not followed the same -ov/-ova rule for masculine and feminine names as Russian does.
Also Russian name might suggest Setu or Karelian heritage - many of these people have migrated to Estonia in post-war years. Or such people might be "Eastern Estonians" from Siberia or Ukraine who returned to Estonia after the war. They mingled much more with locals and probability of Russian names is much higher.
Luule and Kalju Komissarov use so Estonian first names that their Russian connection must be fairly distant.

Wahur ütles ...

I suppose, Russian can become president if he/she was born in Estonia after 1991. That means 1) this person does not have Soviet baggage and 2) most of the electorate would not have Soviet time baggage by then. I do not know a single Russian politician in Estonia that I would like to see even as a minister, not to mention as a prime minister or president - they just do not seem trustworthy. Sorry. Maybe I still am biased.
Anyway, someone somewhere wrote and I agree - our national problems disappear when last participants of the last armed conflict between us are dead. Fire a shot and the count starts from zero again.

LPR ütles ...

"Ty bljat" is very direct and kinda personal, translating literally "YOU, whore!" meaning, that it is unlikely one would have heard it over the gunsight. I imagine this was heard more by the civilians whom russian soldiers came to rob, rape and kill. For many estonians these were the first and last words in Russian that they ever heard.

So it is all hard core, alright.

Meelis ütles ...

"Luule Komissarov, an actress"
Luuke Komissarov is not at all ethnic Russian. She was married with Kalju Komissarov and so she got her present surname. Originally her surname was Laanet. Also Kalju Komissarov is not at all ethnic Russian. His father was an ethnic Estonian from Russia. His surname Kommusaar was changed into Komissarov in Russia.
"One was Robert Antropov"
Also Robert Antropov is not at all Russian. His father is an ethnic Finn from Russia. But they changed their Finnish surname into Russian, in order to avoid repressions.

Giustino ütles ...

So Antropov is half Finnish with a Russian surname. Welcome to the Estonian melting pot.

Mart J ütles ...

Who gives a shit about the president of estonia? It's not like it's a real job. Now a Russian female prime minister - that will never ever happen. And comparing race to nationality is stupid.

plasma-jack ütles ...

They should amend the law to let Marina Kaljurand (née Rajevskaja) run for president... Then you'd had your Maria Ivanova whom even the rightwingers could tolerate.

Martasmimi ütles ...

I think that the similarity between the election of Obama and the possibility of a Russian/Estonian president in Estonia is a bit of a reach...

Barack's interracial background has little or nothing to do with the enslavement of blacks in America
His father was an Economist not a slave brought here from Africa.

Didn't the Russians assume ownership of Estonia and weren't the Russians living in Estonia free to return to Russia after Estonia became a sovereign nation again.
They chose to stay and and with that decision had to understand that there would be a great many repercussions attached to that choice.
Why then is it Estonian's place to make them feel all warm, comfy and welcome?
The Russian's did terrible things to the Estonians I am so surprised that they didn't all pack and run
when they had the chance.

Perhaps as a New Yorker I just don't get it?

notsu ütles ...

How about Aleksei or Mihhail Lotman?

Wahur ütles ...

Ty bljad translates into english as "you bitch". Both meaning and usage are pretty much exact.

So if you really do not like Giustino, you may call him "juubits" :P

Doris ütles ...

ehm... Ilves is 1/4 Russian...

also, I know a Mari Oja who is half-russian and fluently trilingual (Estonian, Russian, English).

I had a similar experience in Tallinn this summer when the cashier was explaining about the products to a Russian customer, very fluently although with a faint "baltic accent" in Russian and then turned to me and seamlessly went on in accentless Estonian. I'm sometimes jealous of these eestivenelased because for me, even though I've had to learn it for 9 years of my life, the Russian language just does not make sense.

LPR ütles ...

Wahur, that word would be "suka" not "bljat". They are close, but not the same.

Trust me, I am a linquist of sorts in this regard, having done Soviet Army from bell to bell in my glorious younger days.

I could curse so hard in Russian that they would beg me to stop.


Kristopher ütles ...

I think you could write a love song with the string "you bitch". Kind of Flight of the Concordes meets Barry White. FWIW, you couldn't do that with ty blyad. Isn't "ty blyad" a quote from Bill the Cat?

Wahur ütles ...

Sure you could, just listen to some Sektor Gaza. And no, that would be VERY different experience to Barry White :P

Sharon ütles ...

Oh, am I having trouble with "ы". I'm not having much luck with "õ" either. I always thought I had a fairly athletic tongue (I could manage pretty much every pronunciation for the letter "r" that was out there) but I just can't seem to make my mouth hit that position and hold it except by sheer accident.

And, of course, being the most difficult sounds for someone who spent their formative years studying RP English pronunciation (well, the Australian subset of RP at any rate) to pick up, they seem to be in every other word within their respective languages. Hell, you can't even say "me" or "you" in Russian without it.

Learning Russian and Estonian at the same time is proving to be a bit of a challange. I figured the fact that they were right next to each other for a few centuries (let alone the whole "occupation thing") would lead to a fair number of borrowed words and similarities. Not so much.

I'm finding it easier to compare Russian with my half-remembered French from high school. Nothing is making Estonian easier at all.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - you don't need 14 cases. It's just going out of your way to be difficult.

Kristopher ütles ...

Objection! Õ is a common sound in English, found in words like cushion, hook, and Cook (at least as Americans pronounce it).

It's identical in all respects to õ.

The only Estonian vowels that don't have a corresponding sound in standard varieties of English are ü and e. Both of those involve muscles that have atrophied in English speakers.

notsu ütles ...

Oh, come on, 14 cases (or 18, in case of Hungarian) is definitely easier to manage than 6 or 4 (and Hungarian IS easier than Estonian, to prove my point). It is like playing a keyboard instrument as opposed to violin.
The only solution easier than having a lot of cases is having none. Like in English or French. But hey, you have the crazy ortography/pronounciation ratio.

Giustino ütles ...

I'm finding it easier to compare Russian with my half-remembered French from high school. Nothing is making Estonian easier at all.

I took Danish for a semester and it has helped me a bit with Estonian. Consider that the Danish word for "beer" is "øl", which isn't too far removed from "õlut." I think the emphasis on vowels carries over.

When I was doing interviews with Swedes who moved to Estonia for an article I was shocked (seriously) that so many of them had acquired Estonian. One, who moved here in 1990, refused to do the interview with me in English; she preferred to do it in Estonian. That was my first Estonian-only interview with a non-Estonian.

LPR ütles ...


Yes you do. All 14 of them. You need them. Here's why, according to Douglas Wells:

I just celebrated my fifth year in Estonia and my fifth fruitless year trying to figure out how to correctly speak Estonian. I mean really, it wouldn't be so bad if Estonians weren't so smug about it. Oh, they will congratulate you on your good Estonian even if you can speak a few words, but deep inside they really don't want you to learn it!

They are so happy with their secret code and you can see it every time someone asks you "Oh, are you learning to speak Estonian?". Then comes the sly grin, the "You've got a snowball's chance in hell of learning OUR language" grin. This is quickly replaced by a faked look of concern as they say "Oh, its a very difficult language isn't it?". I think after this, they go off and laugh uncontrollably and give high-fives to other Estonians, but I haven't actually seen it happen.

I have decided to write an expose on the Estonian language. One time I sent my brother a tape of Estonian language and he asked me if Estonians have an obsession with sex. There is terviseks and ostmiseks and kasutamiseks, teadmiseks, parandamiseks and armastamiseks. All kinds of "seks". That, plus the fact that after five years, little kids still laugh when I speak Estonian has made me decide to tell all.

The real story behind why Estonian is the way it is.
A long time ago, about 1000 or 1100 A.D. there three Estonian guys sitting around the campfire. Their names were Billy, Ray and Duke (bet you didn't know that these are real ancient Estonian names). It was winter time and they were bored. Billy spoke first. "Ya know Ray, what we need is a new language".
"Damn stright!" said Ray, "Talkin' this way is gettin' boring and besides everybody almost understands us. We need a language that's sooo crazy, soooooo complicated that nobody will ever understands what's going on!".
As the idea picked up steam, Duke piped up. "Lets do it this way, that you can't say he or she. That way you won't know if your talkin' about a man or woman. Also, we gotta think up names for people that give no clue to foreigners about their gender, names that change with the grammar so you never know what to call somebody".
Ray nodded in approval "Yeah," he said thoughtfully "that's it. Then we can eliminate the future tense. Think of trying to ask someone out on date when you can't say the right name, whether it's a boy or girl or when it is going to happen!"
Billy, the smart one, was thinking in more technical terms already. "OK, let's make it this way, that when you learn a noun, you don't have to learn just one word but FOURTEEN.
Yeah and instead of just saying that you are going to or from something, you have to change the noun in some weird way".
Now Ray was excited and spilled his beer. "Yeah Yeah! And ... and ... the nouns can't change the same way, let's make like, a hundred different spelling groups that all change in different ways!".
This appealed to Duke who added slyly, "Ya wanna make it real hard, a real nut-buster? Let's make it so all adjectives change, too. In boring old English, you say 'five small, red houses', 'small, red houses' and 'many small, red houses'. Small and red always stay the same but in our new language? Whoaaaa Nellie!".
They exchange high fives all around and cracked a few beers. After that they started practicing how to say 'Oh, you're learning Estonian' without busting up laughing.
That's how Estonian came to be, honest!

LPR ütles ...

Which makes me wonder, if our language is so hard that it requires constant quad speed multithreaded neural processing to say I "need to pee" - why are there so many stupid estonians? I mean like really actually stupid estonians. Like bona fide, certified doofuses.

This can't be, right? But it be.

Cat Power ütles ...

I have never met a foreigner that would be able to effortlessly pronounce "õ", with the possible exception of Russians.
As regards Danes, they are no different - although, looking at their own language, they should be the last people to complain that one thing or another sounds REALLY weird.
Fairly often I get asked the question: "But what does "terviseks" actually mean?" Taking into consideration the Estonians' obsession with sex as mentioned above, it has become kind of my hobby to translate it as "healthy sex". After all, what better toast would there be...

LPR ütles ...

The "õ" sound can be taught easily by asking the subject to hold his/her breath and then try to vocalize the passing a really hard stool.

That's the first step. Once they get the sound alrigth, then you simply ask them to do the same with the relaxed schpinster.

That's all there is to it.

martintg ütles ...

The common misconseption is that tiblad derives from "ty blad" commonly used russian vulgar phrase basically meaning "you whore". At the same time estonian linguists have found the etymology unfeasible because estonians would never transliterate "Ты" to "Ty" or "Ti" like english language speakers to. So the most probable estonian transliteration would be "tõbla" or "tõblas".

More probable etymology is offered by estonian veterans who have claimed that the word came from word "debiil" (imbecile) from independence war era when soldiers used that word to describe red army soldiers, who used (for the lack of better word) idiotic battle strategies: Running with masses into machine gun fire etc.

martintg ütles ...

PS, my understanding of "tibla" is that it is similar in meaning to the term "sovok", i.e. Homo Sovieticus, rather than being an anti-russian term per se.

LPR ütles ...

We need something positive to discuss. This is so tiring,

Kristopher ütles ...

How about those damn +iblas?

notsu ütles ...

I have met a Spanish guy who got "õ" sound right at first attempt, tra-la-la! "Mõõk", "rõõm" - no problem
But he's a Spanish who grew up in Catalan environment in France and went to French school, so this might explain his linguistic proficiency. He was already fluent in Hungarian at the time I asked him to do the õ-trick.

It is easier for people who have learned phonetics: just tell them to prononuce an "e"-sound (as in English "head" or "bread") and then pull the tongue slightly back. Basically, "õ" is an "e", only more at the back of the mouth.
That's why the "õ" letter is so confusing: the actual sound has nothing to do with "o".

Inga ütles ...

Coming back to last names - somehow I think that the newspapers are speaking of Maria InavnovNa, not Maria Ivanova. Forgive me if I am wrong, have been away from Eesti Meedia for a while.
Ivanovna means "Ivan's daughter" and is added to a first name for politeness and respect.
The city Jõhvi was spelled as: ЙЫХВИ, with a so-called "short И" but many russians said it as IIhvi anyway.

Kristopher ütles ...

why the "õ" letter is so confusing: the actual sound has nothing to do with "o"

I think that's it exactly. That's what Estonians always tried to explain to the Latvian editors at the Baltic Times who refused to use diacriticals... Õ is a different letter, not a kind of o. Latvian is more like Spanish in that sense -- the diacriticals (for the vowels that is) don't change the sound, just the emphasis and length.

The funniest issue arose with Sääst (savings) and Saast (filth) -- there was a company, AS Saast something.

TK ütles ...

the "õ" has nothing to do with o? and "õ" is an "e", only more at the back of the mouth???

We must live in parallel universes. Over here the Estonian "õ" sounds exactly like the "o" in "Estonia" or in "stone" or "home" etc.

martintg ütles ...

Have to agree with tk. Maybe Notsu speaks a southern dialect?

One wouldn't pronounce the lovely name Õie as "E-ya", for example.

Bäckman ütles ...

I think you mean o sounds like the "o" in Estonia. If it was an Estonian word, it would be spelled "estounia", and stone would be spelled "stoun".

If you take a lõkk at a bõkk or go to the kitchen to kõkk, then õ.

LPR ütles ...

This is where you'd need an application extender that would allow people to post sound clips and videos.

How about linking this discussion with YouTube where we can show how these sounds are being made?

notsu ütles ...

Well, must be the matter of diacritics here. The "õ" letter, as it looks in blogspot, really looks like a Latvian letter for a long "o" (a labial vowel, i.e, you have to round your lips to pronounce it)
What I meant was an Estonian variety, with a nice curly ~ on the top of an "o" letter.
That letter represents a sound that was formed thanks to vowel harmony (at the time we still had it), as a back-variety of "e". South Estonians were even more systematic, they also created a back-variety for "i" - and they still have it, the complete paradigm.

Just pronounce an Estonian "Õ" - the lipwork is quite the same as for "e", only the tongue action is different.

From the sexy quality of the description, you can get a hint of what a hot discipline phonetics actually is. Go, linguists!

Kristopher ütles ...

There once was a linguist named Õie --
She always brought me great joie.
I showed her my o-face
but it turned into an õ-face
when she’d drop the ~ for the boys.

notsu ütles ...

Actually, I can imagine that in certain circumstances and conveniently positioned, a lady with an o-face would give the gentelman an õ-face, like this:

Giustino ütles ...

The funniest issue arose with Sääst (savings) and Saast (filth) -- there was a company, AS Saast something.

It was "Säästumarket", which was always rendered "Saastumarket" -- where they sell filth.

notsu ütles ...

"Saastamarket", to be precise.
Can you guess how "Citymarket" was pronounced - specially when together with Saastamarket?

Unknown ütles ...

Back to the topic. I know many Russians, "genuine" Russians and Estonian citizens, who would probably do really well in Estonian government, and why not as our president. After all, there are no obstacles for it - as you reed our constitution and other laws, there is not a single word about what nationality the president or the government members should be (Sorry, Notshnoi Dozor, you've been barking the wrong tree - there is no genocide or apartheid in Estonia). I have a controversial example - Maria Klenskaja (Klenskaya) is one of the most beloved Estonian actresses, she's a Russian, but is an Estonian actress , who speaks fluent Estonian (you could never guess she's a Russian). Her brother, Dmitri Klenski, is something different - a man with a strong hate in his heart for Estonians who never speaks Estonian (at least not in public), one of the main figures in provoking the April Riots in Tallinn and openly and shamelessly lying about the situation in Estonia in Russian TV channels and magazines afterwards. Two different sides of the same coin.

LPR ütles ...

"... a labial vowel, i.e, you have to round your lips to pronounce it..."

I am getting naughty thoughts thinking about it. Stop talking like that!

notsu ütles ...

Dear Inner Monologue,
there are no naughty vowels. It is just your dirty mind.

LPR ütles ...


LPR ütles ...

Linquists do it better!