Learning Russian via Latin in the 17th century

Title: Learning Russian via Latin in the 17th century
Author: Roth, Kevin
Source document: Graeco-Latina Brunensia. 2013, vol. 18, iss. 1, pp. [171]-183
  • ISSN
    1803-7402 (print)
    2336-4424 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license
The linguistic status quo of 17th century Russia was marked by diglossia between the spoken vernacular (Russian) and the learned medium of writing (Slavonic). Consequently, very little was written in Russian and nothing at all about Russian per se until a foreigner composed a short treatise in Latin on the spoken language. Heinrich Ludolf's Grammatica Russica of 1696 is a useful source of information not only concerning the language about which it was written, but also the language in which it was written. The textbook is surprisingly reminiscent of modern learning resources, especially in its inclusion of sample conversations, which presents a little-seen facet of Latin: the colloquial side of a pre-eminently literary language. The model conversations, written in parallel Latin and Russian columns (with a German translation at the bottom of each page), especially when compared to the rest of the work, reveal a stylistic dichotomy that reflects the special features of colloquial Latin, in particular: 1) Colloquial Latin utilizes both methods of indirect discourse, but the use of quod as a conjunction was heavily favored over the accusative-infinitive construction. In literary Latin only the latter construction is found. 2) In colloquial Latin some pronouns (ipse, ille, is) were functionally merged as 3rd person pronouns, and others largely fell from usage (hic, iste). In contrast, literary Latin makes more distinctive use of all varieties. 3) Words to describe facets of the contemporary world unknown to the Romans were either created by Latinization (mostly the case with proper nouns) or the application of an ancient word to a new sense. The Latinization can be inconsistent, since differing versions of the same word do appear. Ludolf's work demonstrates how writers used and modified an ancient language to describe the modern world around them in a way that could reach the educated reading public of nearly all Europe.
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