Thoughts on Language Politics

In my latest piece for RT (which you can read here), I discuss the trend in some circles to transliterate the names of Belarusians in the Belarusian rather than the Russian style, despite the fact that Russian is more commonly spoken in Belarus than is Belarusian. In general, I confess that I am not a fan of linguistic nationalism, wherever it is practiced – be it Ukraine, Belarus, or the province of my birth, Quebec (which is in the process of passing a new bill further limiting the rights of English speakers). Outsiders shouldn’t pander to this sort of stuff, in my opinion. Unfortunately, some like to. I consider it a form of virtue signalling, with toxic consequences. Anyway, read the article to get my full thoughts.

40 thoughts on “Thoughts on Language Politics”

  1. I remember watching a lecture on east-Slavic origins. In the preamble, the guy states, ‘for our purposes, it’s Prague not Praha, Warsaw not Warszawa, Moscow not Moskva, and Kiev not Kyiv’. A dozen canadian-ukrainian nationalists immediately walk out. Are we not allowed to cling to comprehensible vowel combinations in our own language?

    I went to UofT/Munk intending to study central asian national identity, which, while applying, they implied would be a lot more possible there than it was. I ended up not problematizing national identity with its historical fluidity on the steppes, but surrounded by diaspora ukrainian nationalists which, despite practically turning red and bouncing off the ceiling at every mention of ukraine, mostly had gaelic names like patrick, griffon and siobhan. Simply bizzare.

    I’d feel sorry for them, it’s odd to have been transfered, bred and cultivated like cattle by the anglo-american elites just to hate and somehow undermine Russia, the natural centre of eurasian power, traditional enemy of the periferal, anomolously once-powerful tiny britain and, ergo, its rhodes-milner co-elites in america. I would feel sorry for them, if they had been even marginally sufferable in sharing a lecture hall with them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. In Latvia, surnames get an s put at the end – Petrov to Petrovs, etc.

      Tikhanovskaya spokeseman Franak Viacorka had a different spelling to his name. Wikipedia and Tikhanovskatya’s website are using the PC transliteration.

      I spell Lviv as such in recognition of the svido preference there. On the other hand, I spell Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa as such.


  2. You know how they say that ‘a language is a dialect with an army and navy’?

    Fair enough, but not quite, I feel. First, a body of literature has to emerge. Those Ukrainian and Belorussian dialects are rural spoken dialects. There isn’t enough pages written in those dialects, and what is written is mostly folksy poetry. And that, I feel, even with an army and a navy, is not enough for a language. Which explains why people who speak Ukrainian all their lives often find Russian texts easier to read.


    1. Which explains why people who speak Ukrainian all their lives often find Russian texts easier to read.
      Visually, those Belarusian transcriptions indeed look a bit strange, recognizably similar but a lot more complicated. Spelling reforms needed? Spelled as pronounced?


      With Paul’s hint in mind that close to tree-quarters of the population speak Russian, why not cite a little Shakespeare? Costard’s snark of schoolmaster Holofernes, who insists that pronunciation should follow spelling and not the other way round, and Sir Nathaniel his friend.

      O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.
      I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word;
      for thou art not so long by the head as
      honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier
      swallowed than a flap-dragon.'s_Labour's_Lost


  3. If the western MSM were to be consistent in transliterating his name, they would have to use Polish as that seems to be where his allegiance lies.


  4. I have a bit, but only a bit, of sympathy for the Quebec law given what French speakers in Canada have and do face. I have often been astonished at the appalling level of French Anglo-Canadians speak. That said, the new law is not helpful and trying to further advance the ’cause’ of one language over another helps no one and only divides. In one of the reports you linked I was pleasantly surprised to see, while reviling its content, that one half of the report was in English and the other in French. As it should be.

    I might also add all this emphasis on the need to ‘rub out the Russian’ is more than a little creepy and unfortunate implications abound. We can also see from the flag the protest movement in Belarus uses, the language laws in the Baltic States and their national heroes, and the events in Ukraine that all this promotion of these sorts of people by liberals does it promote the darkest parts of the European right, and it eventually rebounds on the countries those same liberals live in. If they want to know why liberalism is dying in Hungary and Poland they need only look in a mirror. They demanded that the Communist legacy be expunged and denounced, destroyed as All Evil. The result was everything, and I mean everything, that Communism repressed came flooding back.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Professor, shame on you. If you were born in Quebec, then it is your duty to speak and write in French! The language of culture and civilization. “C’est magnifique!”


  6. On a more serious note, I think the Professor is exactly correct, that this silly spelling thing is just “virtue signalling”. As in, reporters and editors signalling to the Establishment and to Belorussian Opps that they take the side of the Belorussian Nationalists against Lukashenko.

    This Belorussian orthography, by the way, was a Bolshevik project. After the October Revolution, the new government (1918) engaged academics to reform the Russian alphabet and also develop better alphabets to encode Ukrainian and Belorussian dialects. Part of the Bolshevik policy of bending over backwards to accommodate the rights of ethnic, national and linguistic minorities.

    It seems these academics didn’t do such a good job with the Belorussian orthography. I am guessing the Bolsheviks hired incompetent Philologists rather than Scientific Linguists. An easy mistake to make, when you have grifting Philologists pulling the wool over everybody’s eyes and running their various nationalities cons.

    Instead of the scientific method of encoding just phonemes (not phonetic variants), these guys went with a more phonetic approach, according to wiki .
    Sorry, I had to read the wiki, because I am definitely not an expert on Belorussian. But if wiki is correct, their dialect should have a phonemic (or mophophonemic) alphabet, consisting of 6 vowels and somewhere around 40 consonants. Instead they developed what wiki calls a somewhat “phonetic” orthography, with 32 letters. It’s more “phonetic” than “phonemic” because they literally spell out the pronounced “akanje” and so on, which the Russian alphabet is too smart to do. Because a phoneme is known for its true self when stress falls upon it, that’s the rule in East Slavic languages.

    Again, not an expert, but seems to me these Belorussian alphabet creators did a lousy job, and created a sort of amateur alphabet, which both looks and sounds silly.


  7. Meanwhile, I found this interview on youtube, from just yesterday. It’s a talk show called “Markov – Nothing Personal”.

    This reporter Markov is interviewing our Raman Nazi-Noodle Boy, who was apparently let out on furlough from jail, to do this gig. The segment is 16 minutes long, and in Russian, so more or less accessible.


    1. Raman Nazi-Noodle Boy

      What are the deeper layers on your mind that triggered that coinage? To clarify based on an earlier exchange, this isn’t a “Woke” question. Simply curious.

      Notice, my knowledge of the Tripartite Pact and the diverse Axis powers isn’t that good. They can be labeled via an allusionary reference to Raman/Ramen noodles as collectively Nazis and Japan? Ramen Noodles, a Japanese loanword from Chines for both the noodle, it seems to be an originally Chinese recipe too. Russia’s “core Nazis” or Russian enemies East and West?

      Concerning the Azov Battalion allegations, they may well be true, and it surely is ok to mention them. But were members of the international brigades in the Spanish Civil War prosecuted on their home ground after they returned. To the extent they survived, of course. And where? Prosecution in that area must have started really late in Europe and mainly, guessing here, concerned supporters of ISIS. …


      1. Dear moon, you would seek in vain to find “deeper layers” of my mind. Especially when comes to cracking bad jokes. Anyhow, it wasn’t me, you should blame the Professor for starting that bad pun about “Raman Noodles”. And, to be honest, I wasn’t even thinking Japanese in that regard, I always assumed those noodles were Chinese (sort of). Just liked the alliteration “Nazi-Noodle” !


      2. Anyhow, it wasn’t me, you should blame the Professor

        Ok, I realize he might have triggered it. LOL: with unforeseen consequences.

        Not that I want him to get more polite …

        Yes, the vowels … I surely never followed up on a larger look into the Tudor Vowel Shift, as it was called once upon a time in Freiburg. I had ‘the pleasure’ to spent one term with the then Freiburg Shakespearean, his wife and doctoral student in his office and small room next to it. Really curious experience.


  8. Still on topic of Raman Nazi-Noodle boy, I just saw this piece in the Komsomolka, the reporters are Nikita Makarenkov and Pavel Khanarin. The writers claim, quoting sources in the Luhansk Peoples Republic (LPR) militia (Ivan Filiponenko, LPR spokesperson), that Raman was a sniper in Azov Battalion. Raman claims he was just a journalist, but LPR people say he was a sniper who liked to practice his shooting skills against peaceful civilians, and also against the medical first responders who would come rushing to help the other people he had just shot.

    There’s more. Same source for this claim, Filiponenko: Besides being a sniper, Raman earned extra cash as a sort of excursion guide for wannabe mercenaries. Usually mercenaries get paid, but in this case, the mercenaries themselves PAID for the privilege of gettiing out to the front lines in Donbass. For $5000 Raman would guide each wannabe mercenary from Minsk to the Donbass front line. This very reasonable price included: a 7-day room and board, and 3 excursions to the front line, where they could practice shooting from various types of weaponry, with an unlimited supply of ammo. Safari tourism, in other words, but instead of shooting at lions or zebras, they were shooting at actual people!


  9. And what happened to the definite article in “The Ukraine”?

    Svidomites, however, never go into a hissy fit whenever Germans write or say “die Ukraine”.

    German grammatical rules: countries of feminine grammatical gender are preceded by a definite article, e.g. die Schweiz, die Türkei and die Ukraine, but woe betide anyone who writes or says in English “the Ukraine”, because Svidomites maintain that using the article with “Ukraine” implies that “independent Ukraine” is part of Russia.

    Funny that! I have never had a Dutchman accuse me of maintaining that the Netherlands is still part of the Spanish Habsburg domains when I say “the Netherlands”.


    1. but woe betide anyone who writes or says in English “the Ukraine”, because Svidomites

      me, I guess, I should know by now: Svidomites??? Aging brain, you see. 😉

      We do have our own inner struggles around language (and/as dictates? Legal norms?)*

      Thus, pray tell, why should we join others or whatever other language speakers in whatever fight of their parties?

      * Full discovery, I once worked in PR, I found the approach of one firm interesting, although I was never a fan of mutilating the German language to satisfy feminists desires. But as our main left newspaper, they didn’t use dictates on matters. Meaning: Rules to be followed.

      That’s not quite a problem you would have in English?

      Not really time or interest to look into this, but I don’t seem to recall parts of Wikipedia marked in Red? Is this a new norm asking people stumbling across it to help?


      1. Svidomite: a neologism of the Russian language, from the Polish word świadomy – “conscious” and thence into from artificial Ukrainian language created in the k. und k . Kronland of Galicia, namely Polish-Ruthenian (aka Ukrainian) Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire.

        A Svidomite is a Ukrainian or person (usually a Canadian citizen) with Ukrainian forbears who is imbued with the idea that he is a descendant of the the ancient Ukry and has undergone significant brainwashing whilst acquiring this belief — in other words, a Svidomite is a Zombie-like creature.

        A Svidomite believes that the ancient Ukry are the descendants of the Atlantans, though other Svidomites believe that the Ukry are the ancestors of the Atlantans, which latter are immigrants from Venus.

        A Svidomite believes that there was a state known as Kievan Rus and Ukrainian was spoken there. He believes that the English language came from Ukrainian (and the rest of the languages ​​too), and that the ancient Ukry taught the Egyptians how to build pyramids.

        A Svidomite believes that the ancient Ukry were the first to tame the horse, invent the wheel and the plough and and the first who began to process metals.

        A Svidomite believes that the state of Israel was founded by the descendants of the Trypillian Ukries, who had been expelled by their fellow tribesmen for laziness and theft “from paradise”, which was located in the region between the Danube and Dnieper.

        A Svidomite believes that all great discoveries were made by Ukrainians.



      2. Svidomite: a neologism of the Russian language, from the Polish word świadomy – “conscious” and thence into from artificial Ukrainian language created in the k. und k . Kronland of Galicia, namely Polish-Ruthenian (aka Ukrainian) Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire.

        thanks, moscowexile, that’s helpful concerning basic etymology.

        But considering Polish history, or the larger region’s complex dynastic history over the centuries, Polish loanwords in Galicia may not be that unusual, even before the K und K or the (late) Double-headed Eagle Dynasty???

        Concerning e.g. a Canadian Svidomites, love the humor, but yes nations still seem to need foundation myths, as some type of unifying factor. Maybe?

        Versus yalensis, to the extent I had to deal with it, I admittedly was highly skeptical of branches of 19th century linguistics and its contemporary descendants. For obvious reasons from the German perspective?

        To cite from one of yalensis articles on matters:
        Svidomite Etymology: Today’s Cheap Shot, February 12, 2017,
        but Indo-European Historical Linguistics is a reputable field of study with a long and factual-based foundation, called the Comparative Method.

        He links to the Wikipedia article that cites one critic only, but actually a quite interesting one. I wasn’t aware of. Interesting field and thus approach. But from what I can see thanks to a little help from Google books looks it’s really fascinating. At least for me:
        Stefan Arvidsson, Aryan Idols, Indo-European Mythology as Ideology and Science, 2006.

        Now look at this:

        Ok, I’ll try to keep this as some type of mental shortcut in mind.
        A Svidomite is a romantic lover of the Ukraine’s profound historical and especially mythical richness, or as yalensis notes in his above-mentioned article simply a Ukrainian nationalist. …


      3. Some establishment preferred Jews of former Soviet origin have been prone to exhibiting svido traits:


      4. Typo in my description of Svidoshites Svidomites. I should have written:

        Svidomite: a neologism of the Russian language, from the Polish word świadomy – “conscious”, and thence into the artificial Ukrainian language created in the k. und k . Kronland of Galicia, namely the Polish-Ruthenian (Ukrainian) province of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire.


    2. Oh, here’s an even better thing: in Russian, it’s “in Germany, in Russia, on Cuba, on Ukraine, in Latvia, in Belorussia”. Svidomites fight to the froth at the mouth that Russians, speaking Russian language, *must* use “in Ukraine”. No, it’s not enough that it’s “in Ukraine” in Ukrainian, Russian must also use that.

      However! Here are the Polish equivalents: “w Niemczech, w Rosji, na Kubie, na Ukrainie, na Łotwie, na Białorusi”. Basically, “na” (meaning “on”) is used for island countries, just as in Russian, plus for everything that used to be a part of Poland at one point of history or another. And nobody has ever demanded from Poles to “correct” that, nope. A total mistery, isn’t it?


      1. Moon:

        “But considering Polish history, or the larger region’s complex dynastic history over the centuries, Polish loanwords in Galicia may not be that unusual, even before the K und K or the (late) Double-headed Eagle Dynasty???”

        Right! And the Poles in their turn often took loan words from their Prussian overlords as well, which words entered that dialect known as “Ukrainian”,

        Classic example “Hetman”, the term used for a Cossack leader, from “Hauptmann”.

        And that area that the Poles call “Kres”, their “lost territories” as it were, lost to what is now Belorus and the Ukraine, stems from “Kreis”, which is good German, ain’t that so, Moon?


      2. before the K und K or the (late) Double-headed Eagle Dynasty???”

        Not my quotation marks. But once upon a very, very long time ago I wondered about that symbolism. It’s obvious on first sight. Austria Hungary. But that is equally obvious some space wasn’t represented.


        I surely sympathize to some extent, at least to the extent I understand, with your and/or a Russian focus on Poland, but from a rather limited German historical nitwit perspective. From John Paul II onwards? To bring in religion. Into our present?


  10. Svido lobbying clout:


    1. Mao, I thought you were joking, but 30 seconds of intense online research indicate it might be true. According to Huff (well, if one can believe anything they say), racists in the American South started using the word “Canadian” as code replacement for the N-word:

      “Earlier this week a columnist with the Houston Chronicle uncovered an email from Harris County assistant district attorney Mike Trent who, in a congratulatory note to a junior prosecutor, used the word “Canadians” to describe blacks on a jury.”

      The association makes no sense, what could be the connection, other than random?
      In order for people to agree on a random code, there would have to be some kind of social networking effort among racists to agree on that term (?) Meanwhile, how would these racists describe an actual Canadian without semantic ambiguity? They would have to use an escape word, I reckon…


  11. In response to Moscow Exile comment above, derivation of “svidomite” from Polish word świadomy – “conscious”.

    Etymology: From Proto-Slavic word *světъ (“light; world”). Going back further to Balto-Slavic word *śwaitas, from Proto-Indo-European *ḱwoytos / *ḱweytos (“bright; shine”), from *ḱwey-.

    Indo-European cognates include Sanskrit श्वेत (śveta, “white, bright”), Avestan 𐬯𐬞𐬀𐬉𐬙𐬀‎ (spaēta, “white”), Proto-Germanic *hwītaz (“white”), Sanskrit श्वित्र (śvitra, “white”), Old Persian *𐎿𐎱𐎡𐎰𐎼 (*s-p-i-θ-r /*spiθra/, “white”). Cognate with English white.

    So, basic semantic extension from “bright” or “shiny” or “white” to “enlightened”, “conscious”, “woke”, etc.


  12. Professor, when you wake up and have your Canadian coffee and scone, could you have a look in your “Awaiting moderation” queue, please? I have a rather awesome comment explaining the Indo-European etymology of “svidomite”, which is cognate to Russian “svet” (“light”).

    I am guessing WordPress robots were shocked by so many Unicode characters which they had never seen before. Or maybe it was my use of the word “white” as a possible semantic meaning of the proto-word in Indo-European (better not say “Indo-Aryan” or WordPress will freak out again) which would have been pronounced something like k’iwi for the word “bright” or “white”. (Also cognate with English “white”, but nothing to do with New Zealand kiwi fruit, that we know of.)


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