From the Tashkent Poetry Scene

by Nathan Hamm on 9/17/2004 · 10 comments

I only casually enjoy poetry and have a hard time with poetry in other languages (I’m not fluent enough in any to really appreciate it) . However, if you are into poetry, you might find this interview with Alexander Fainberg, new People’s Poet of Uzbekistan, interesting.

His assertion that Russian culture and language is “cleaner” (if you’re not a Russian speaker, that is likely a literal translation and needn’t be taken with English connotations) and more classical in Tashkent than in many Russian cities is, umm, interesting.

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– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Laurence September 17, 2004 at 12:36 pm

Nathan, Fainberg is saying something like our Russian teacher told us when we were in Tashkent. And when we took Russian here in DC from a Muscovite, there were some different words and expressions, more slang, etc. It may be like American English being closer to Shakespeare’s than what is spoken in London today…I’m not a philologist, but maybe some readers are, and might comment?

Nathan September 17, 2004 at 1:43 pm

I was wondering if it might have been something like that.

I asked my friends and coworkers about some of the peculiarities of Russian in Uzbekistan. For example:

“cho” for “chto”
“nicho” for “nichevo”
and the changing of the vowel in past tense, such as changing “ponyal” to “ponyil”

They just laughed and said that they liked being different.

One thing I remember, and correct me if I’m wrong, was the differences in use of loaner words by Russians in different regions.

I don’t remember Tashkent Russians doing too much of that at all, but Navoi Russians sure threw in a lot of little Tajik words.

upyernoz September 17, 2004 at 2:59 pm

when i visited uzbekistan i thought it was amusing how so many ethnic russians denied knowing any central asian languages, but then later let it slip that, in fact, they actually understood uzbek pretty well.

i think some central asian russians are in a little bit of denial. maybe that’s why they use super-proper russian in tashkent.

Nathan September 17, 2004 at 4:00 pm

I knew very few Russians who knew any Uzbek except for the ladies at the post office (and that was a job security issue). I did occasionally meet others, but they were very, very rare.

Oddly enough, I think I met more than a few Uzbeks who were in denial in the same way!

Tatyana September 17, 2004 at 4:24 pm

Well-documented everywhere post-colonial syndrome. As far as I remember from Kipling, british in India were very proud of their proper English

PF September 18, 2004 at 12:57 am

Nathan, it’s my impression – but Tatyana should correct me on this if I’m wrong – that all over Russia, people in informal contexts say “cho” for “chto”, “nicho” for “nichevo”, and “ponyil” for “ponyal”. The Buryats I lived with in Aginsk were quite proud of their “proper” Russian and contrasted it with the language of the modern, urban youth, which they called “violent” and “low”, though I didn’t hear a strong difference (again, Tatyana and other readers know better than I do).

Also, perhaps “pure” would be a better translation than “clean”?

Nathan Hamm September 18, 2004 at 1:06 am

Hmmm… hadn’t heard about that before.

I remember that in Yakutsk, Western Russians sounded like, well, in the words of one girl, “retarded children” to the Far Eastern speaker. They said that Muscovites spoke way too slowly.

That may be, but I can certainly tell you that the pace I’m used to with Central Asian Russian makes Muscovites seem very fast. I’m liking the Meskhetians I’m hanging around with every now and then. Nice and slow.

“Pure” probably is better, but I get a kick out of “clean for some reason.

Tatyana September 18, 2004 at 12:54 pm

Nathan, I think what Yakutian Russians meant about Muscovites (now here’s a funny word) that they drag their vowels, making them “slow” (long).
Also, “ch” instead of “sh” has dual significance – it either identifies illiterate speech (“prostonarodnoe proiznoshenie”) or dialectical quirk (in this case the dialect of ethnic Russians living in Southern regions, close to Eastern Ukranians)

When Muscovites say “Cho?” but “bulo[sh]naya” and [dz]ver’ (instead of literary normative buloCHnaya and [D]ver’)other Russians assume they mockingly imitate “illiterate peasants”, while poor Muscovites think it’s just their local dialectical differences.
Provincial intelligencia (and, alas, Piter is now in this cathegory) was always very particular about their proper Russian.

Tim Newman September 19, 2004 at 1:40 am

They said that Muscovites spoke way too slowly.

Does any Russian speak too slowly? I found everyone spoke at 100mph in Moscow.

My ex girlfriend told me that when Uzbeks speak Russian, they mangle the genders, specifically they don’t change the endings of the adjectives properly to match the noun. Is this true?

Nathan Hamm September 19, 2004 at 11:15 am

I think that Muscovites speak too fast. I’m certainly most comfortable with the Central Asian pace. I am much better able to understand the Meskhetian refugees I’m working with than other Russian speaking immigrants in Philadelphia.

As for the way Uzbeks speak Russian, that is sometimes true. I found that most city-dwelling Uzbeks to speak excellent Russian. Children and rural Uzbeks were the ones who made those kinds of mistakes. I had a host brother who learned all of his Russian from his mother and referred to himself with the feminine.

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