Slavic grammar: more pain is more pleasure!?

I was having a bookshelf tidy-up the other day (it does happen very occasionally!) and I came across some much under-appreciated Polish language resources. There is the 1980s vintage of Assimil Polnisch one Mühe, a copy of the now long discontinued Linguaphone Polish course, an older copy of Teach Yourself - and one to two other pieces I’ve picked up along the way. So I got to checking out the Polish declension patterns and comparing them to the Russian, which is kind of similar to Polish but maybe slightly easier?

From an adult learner’s point of view this stuff is totally crazy! I think one would pretty much have to be mad to attempt to master it in one lifetime. And yet…

I don’t know if I’m the only one who reacts this way to Slavic languages, but the complexity does exert a strange gravitational pull! It’s almost as if the sheer badass difficulty can give you a kinky charge!

Of course it’s one thing to take a quick walk on the wild side now and again, but I imagine learning it seriously and comprehensively would require an unusual an extreme form of commitment?

So you’ve crossed that line, you’re strapped to frame and there’s no backing out: Noun declensions - thwack! Adjectival declensions - thwack! Verbal aspect - thwack! Verbs of motion - ther-wack!!

Each stoke of the pedagogical cane would crank things up a little higher.

Is this how the hardcore language junkie achieves his satisfaction? Do we have to keep on pushing the boundaries towards new thresholds? Or can we ever be satisfied by returning to the smooth vanilla of an analytical grammar?

For me at least, I do wonder whether grammatical pain is a necessary prerequisite of pleasure?


Yes, I do feel attracted to the declension patterns of languages such as those in the Slavic family or Latin, old Greek, etc.
However, I don’t think that mastering the declension is so difficult. In the case of Russian, I don’t consider it to be the most difficult part of studying the language and I don’t feel a lot of “pain” learning them. I just think they’re fun. You just need the correct approach, which, of course, is not just cramming your head off!
In Russian, I find getting the stress right much more frustrating and I tend to make many more mistakes in this area than in declension. Polish is so much simpler in that respect!

I agree with all of this. There are indeed fun ways too learn (the references to pain are a little tongue in cheek! :-D)

I hadn’t thought about stress - I guess Russian is especially frustrating in this respect because stress isn’t indicated in writing?

Yes, I would appreciate written indication of stress. I also think it would be a great idea even for native speakers!
Плачу can mean either “I cry” or “I pay” depending on stress and there are many more examples. This difference is completely lost in writing. In contrast, my native Spanish spelling system makes it completely unambiguous where the stress goes in every word (Italian leaves some doubts, which I also found sometimes annoying when learning the language, although to a far smaller extent than in the case of Russian, of course).

However, the main problem is not spelling but how unpredictable stress can be. A pet example:
you say давнО (long ago) but недАвно (not long ago, recently). Besides, vowels tend to be pronounced very differently when unstressed, which makes stress all the more important to get right.

The big monster for me in Russian is word formation. Russian has all these different systems of creating new words influenced by Greek, German, Sami langagues, Turkic languages. A plethora of prefixes, post fixes, and stem changes. If I think too much about it I find myself reaching for a bottle of samagon.

Да, я знал песню. Хахахаха! Очень смешно
Плачу и плачу!

The pleasure comes from reading beautiful prose.
The pain comes from having to create the prose one’s self.

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Beeing inside of the Russian, we don’t think about the difficulty of our language.
But the same with other nations and other languages:
The British and the Americans don’t think about the horrible difficulty of their pronunciation, about the superflous, excessive number of the verbal tences, abiut the unnecessary dubling of many phrasal verbs and normal verbs etc.
I mean that every language in difficult, but in its own way.

That’s very true, Evgueny. I have heard that English pronunciation can be pretty tough for foreign learners due to unpredictable stress. And, just to make life even more fun, there are some words where the stress falls differently in North America than in other parts of the English speaking world! (The word “metallurgist” being one that comes to mind.)

But, as you rightly say, native speakers just don’t even think about this stuff!

Btw, Jay, you speak German and are fond of grammar, I really think you should have a look at Franz Josef Mehr’s page. He has courses about several languages. I really enjoyed his ancient Greek course, which was the first he published and which I followed quite thoroughly a few years back, but he also has courses on Russian, Czech, Spanish, Portuguese, even Tupi!
You can use them as an overview of some interesting languages, without having to delve too deeply into them (although they also allow you to do so) plus it doubles up as some nice reading in German.

Oh! and Sanskrit, if you fancy going all the way into the land of inflectional pain/pleasure! )

That’s a very interesting site - thanks :wink:

I think the fact that Polish and Czech are written in a form of the Roman script does make them considerably easier and more transparent than Russian. That is not to say that Russian script is all that hard to learn - but it is another “layer” somehow. There are quite a lot of signs in Polish on an industrial complex near to where I live (there are many thousands of Polish immigrants around here!) I do find that one can read things from a car window while driving past in a way that would be quite impossible in the case of Russian!

(I believe this is a point that Steve once made in one of his videos?)

That may be true for some time, when you’re beginning to learn and you can kind of “interpret” cyrillic script but you have to remind yourself that the “kind of ps are really rs”, etc. After a few thousands words’ worth of reading you mostly forget about the alphabet being different. Practising writing helps, too.

Ha! I wouldn’t have gotten the joke if I hadn’t read this thread.