In 1975, when foreign language lessons appeared in textbooks and on vinyl, I decided to learn Russian as a complement to the German that I had just learned with some fluency. The Cyrillic alphabet provided interesting and confusing sets of letters — enough to keep a learner engaged in sounds and texts that looked familiar to the under-aided eye. It appeared to resemble Gellarese in many ways, cobbled together in a manner that seemed intuitive to the 1970s Cold War setting, an interesting series of words that deliberately resembled a code and a language history that included the drama of Tolstoy and a presence that made it seem like background music in a Soviet department store.
Intrigue comes across between German and Russian as it is cast against a background that the geography of post-war Europe provided. However, German and Slavic speakers would not yield to translation with any degree of ease. Russian uses neither the definite nor the indefinite article, whereas German conveys the meaning and usage of every noun and pronoun. The German language spoken by a five-year-old in Berlin provide all the parts of speech, every inflection, and every nuance of meaning. Stack Russian next to German and you arrive at that enigma wrapped within a mystery that Russia represented to Churchill. The Slavic and German ways seem to play out like a spy thriller, where the similarities may lie somewhere between the butler and the wrestler. God help the translator maintain any measure of surety and sanity in such a world.
My German and Russian proceeded along these avenues of restriction. Of course, the tools available on the internet were yet decades away. It is difficult to imagine how any new language can be approached without Google and YouTube: an assuring set of mouse clicks away. Hence the heightened curiosity that is aroused upon employing YouTube and Google to assist the learner who arrives to answer the question posed for this post — what gives?
Somehow, languages once learned to any extent seem to stick onto various brain cells and cortexes. I still remember much of the Russian that I heard on those 1975 records, language segments that blended together like a fermenting beverage. Somewhere between beer and vodka, I believe.
Thanks for reading.