by Gunter Schaarschmidt
Over the last 110 years, the use of the Doukhobor Russian dialect has been gradually displaced by English among Doukhobors living in Canada. The following article by Gunter Schaarschmidt of the Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Victoria, examines this trend in the context of “special” or “ritual” language used by the Doukhobors in their religious ceremony. This article is reproduced with the editor’s permission from Nadezhda L. Grejdina (ed.), “Aktual’nye problemy kommunikacii i kul’tury”, Vol. 10. “Sbornik nauchnyx trudov rossijskix i zarubezhnyx uchenyx” (Moskva/Pyatigorsk: Pyatigorsk State Linguistic University, 2009), pp. 30-43. The author observes that, to the extent Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained in Canada, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or English. If it is the latter, can these cultural and spiritual traditions still be considered “genuine”?
The present paper will deal with a small subtopic in the discipline of sociolinguistics, i.e., the disappearance of “special” language, such as the “ritual” language as used by the Doukhobors in Canada, and its replacement by English special language. Much of what will be said about the former, also applies to the disappearance of the dialect, which is a living testimony of the various contacts the Doukhobors had in their migrations (see, for example, the many lexical items that stem from contact with non-Slavic peoples in Transcaucasia as described in Tarasoff 1963). The Doukhobors emigrated to Canada from Russia beginning in 1899 and settled first in an area near the border between Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In the years 1908 to 1913, a little more than half of them moved to the Kootenay district of British Columbia (Tarasoff 2002:8-14). Figure (1) shows the original Doukhobor settlements in the Province of Saskatchewan and the migration path from there to the Province of British Columbia. (Note: Permission to reproduce the map in Figure 1 from Tarasoff (1982: 100) is herewith gratefully acknowledged.). At the present time, the number of Doukhobors is estimated to be 30,000 with 13,000 residing in British Columbia. Their rate of language maintenance is about 60% (Schaarschmidt 1998:466).
Figure (1) Map of Community Doukhobors’ Move from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, 1908-1913.
2. Ritual Language
In essence, the Doukhobor psalms and prayers contain the main elements of a tradition that is not otherwise fixed in a written form. These oral works are composed in a very ancient, Russian Church Slavonic form of language that is often no longer comprehensible even to educated members of the community. In the last 40 years, since the inception of compulsory schooling, many of the psalms and prayers have been recorded in written form. Until that time, most of them were learnt by heart and enriched with regional elements, e.g., Ukrainianisms (see Schaarschmidt 1995). The psalms embody a large part of the Doukhobor belief system, somewhat like a basic communal “constitution” (Mealing 1975:51), as, e.g., in the set of ten psalms entitled “From the Common Views of the Christian Community of Universal Brotherhood”, one of which (No. 5) is given below with an interlinear and a free translation (some of the words have been corrected; it is not clear whether these words were typing errors in Mealing’s work, or whether they were handed down orally in this way and lost some of their grammar). (Note: The transliteration used in this paper is a hybrid of the Library of Congress (LC) system and of IPA. Thus, sh zh ch are retained from LC but c x j from IPA. This will allow a diacritic-free transliteration of Cyrillic.).
Mir sostoit iz dvizhenija; vsë stremitsja k
World consists from movement; all strives to
sovershenstvu i cherez ètot process staraetsja
perfection and through this process it strives
soedinit’sja so svoim nachalom, kak by
to unite with its beginning as if
vozvratit’ sozrevshij plod semeni.
to return having ripened fruit to seed
“The world is based upon going forward; all things strive for perfection, and through this process seek to rejoin their source, as ripe fruit yields seeds [probably incorrectly in Mealing 1975:53: “as seeds yield ripe fruit”]”.
3. English For Doukhobors
The following constitutes a kind of mini-history of Russian-English contact since the arrival of the Doukhobors in Canada. The historical outline is not exhaustive and ignores many sociolinguistic variables, such as federal and provincial politics with regard to forced schooling, attitudes to Russian language use, and generational differences.
3.1. Anna Tchertkoff’s “English Grammar”
3.1.1. Anna Tchertkoff
More than 100 years ago, Anna Tchertkoff (1859-1927) received a request from the Doukhobors who had emigrated to Canada to write a textbook that would help them and other Russian immigrants learn the English language. She went to work and published such a textbook in her own publishing house in 1900. Anna Tchertkoff was the wife of Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), an outspoken defender of Doukhobor rights in the Caucasus who after publicizing their plight was exiled from Russia and settled in England in 1897. Together with his wife Anna, he translated, edited, and published Leo Tolstoy’s works. Anna and Vladimir collaborated in founding and running the Free Age Press in English and the Svobodnoe Slovo (“Free Word”) in Russian.
In her preface, Anna Tchertkoff states that the selection of lexical items and phraseological units is based on the needs that the Doukhobors in Canada will have in communicating with their Anglophone hosts. She cautions, however, that the scope and
length of the work (101 pages plus 17 pages of phonetic, orthographic, and grammatical preliminaries) cannot provide an exhaustive listing of words and sentences that a Russian immigrant might require either in Canada or the US. She is also asking readers to send her comments and suggestions that she would like to include in a planned second edition. To our knowledge, such a second edition was never published.
3.1.2. The Pedagogical Variable
Ignoring for the moment the first 17 pages (see 3.1.3. below), the main body of the text has the form of a dictionary or vocabulary lists as well as lists of phrases with the directionality Russian – English. Interspersed in this set of lists are continuous Russian language text segments with interlinear translation and phonetic transcription. The texts illustrate aspects of Canadian geography and culture. As Tarasoff puts it: “they contained propaganda, designed to assist them [the Doukhobors] against the Canadian authorities” (2002:400).
3.1.3. The Linguistic Variable
In what is possibly one of the first contrastive Russian-English analyses, Tchertkoff presents the main differences in the phonology of the two languages. She warns the reader that with her phonetic transcription using the Cyrillic alphabet, it is not always possible to automatically induce the correct pronunciation. Thus the grapheme th has two pronunciations in English, neither of which can be adequately rendered using Russian graphemes. For voiced [δ] she uses the digraph tz, admonishing the reader, however, that “it must not be pronounced as the two separate Russian letters but as one continuant sound, through the teeth, lisping…” (Tchertkoff 1900:v). For the voiceless counterpart [θ], she recommends the Cyrillic letter θ that was in use before the October Revolution. This letter is of Greek origin and originally had the sound value [θ]. However, when Russian adopted the letter, its pronunciation in Modern Greek had already changed into [f], but Russian continued to use it until 1913 primarily in names of Greek origin, such as Theodore (θedorь), even though it was pronounced as an [f].
In the remarks on the English vowel system, Tchertkoff stresses the fact that there can be both long (diphthongized) and short vowels in stressed syllables, which contrasts with the Russian phonological system where vowels under stress are always lengthened (and diphthongized). One problem in her analysis is that she takes the British English pronunciation as a basis, e.g., in words like consume and duty where in most Canadian dialects the u is pronounced [uw], not [yuw].
Standard (Moscow) Russian does not have phonemically relevant [h], so Tchertkoff renders this high-frequency English phoneme with Russian [x]. She points out, however, that “our Little Russians [i.e., Ukrainians] pronounce the letter g as [h]”
(Tchertkoff 1900:ix), forgetting, apparently, that the Doukhobor dialect does exactly the same, i.e., it has phonemic /h/. The problem here is, of course, that the Cyrillic alphabet never had a grapheme for the sound [h], and that written g is used in Ukrainian and Doukhobor Russian to denote both [h] and [g], the latter occurring mainly in borrowings (Canadian Ukrainian developed a special grapheme for phonetic [g]). In any case, a contrastive analysis of the phonological systems of Doukhobor Russian and English would predict that Doukhobor speakers should have no problem with English /h/.
In the last section of her preliminaries, Anna Tchertkoff tackles the definite/indefinite article in English. Russian does not have an article, using mainly word order to fulfill the function of the and a(n). She explains the use of the definite/indefinite article in English in terms of the known/unknown variables, postponing a more detailed analysis of this grammatical problem, and of many others, to the preparation of a second part of the grammar.
3.1.4. The Sociolinguistic Variable
The selection of the lexical items, phrases, and texts in the book is determined by two factors: 1) unlike many other grammars, Tchertkoff’s grammar is not aimed at the educated Russian reader, the leisure traveller, or the business traveller, but at the needs of the 7,500 Doukhobor immigrants in Canada; thus, the language presented is Canadian English; and 2) apart from terminology used in the Doukhobors’ daily work, the grammar concentrates on certain abstract concepts required for them to communicate their belief system and rituals to their hosts. This second factor seems to be at variance with the Doukhobors’ attitude to English. After all, they had come to Canada “to preserve the cultural identity of which their language is an intimate part” (Harshenin 1964:39). Thus, they borrowed from English what was absolutely essential to their work environment, i.e., terms relating to the railroad, the sawmills, gadgets, units of measure, money (see the list compiled by Harshenin 1967:216-30). Furthermore, until the 1930’s the Doukhobors resisted any pressure by the Canadian authorities to send their children to schools and thus expose them to daily English instruction. Perhaps this is the reason why there was never any need for a second edition, or why the planned second part never appeared: the grammar was simply not used by the Doukhobors. However, another reason may be that the Tchertkoffs returned to Russia and settled there in 1909, a move that would have cut their ties with the Doukhobor immigrants in Canada.
3.2. Interference Phenomena
In the late 1930s, a Canadian writer was able to make fun in her diary of the heavily accented English spoken by the Doukhobors, as illustrated in the following passage from her book (O’Neail 1962:104):
Eh-h-h-h, how moch monya! … And now every mawnt’
Eh, how much money and now every month
we’re gonna gyet like dot moch monya!
we’re going to get like that much money
And today mawder-my weell go Nyelson
and today mother-my we’ll go to Nelson
and buy la-awtsa t’eengs! E-h-h, how lawtsa
and buy lots of things Eh, how lots of
“Eh, how much money [we received], and now every month we are going to receive just as much money! And today my mother and I, we will go to Nelson and buy a lot of things! Eh, what a lot of [things] we will buy.”
The above passage shows typical Russian phonetic interference phenomena, such as palatalization before front vowels (monya, gyet, Nyelson); rendering short vowels in a stressed syllable as long vowels (mawnt’, t’eengs, mawder); t’ (aspirated) for voiceless th (teengs), and d for voiced th (dot, mawder). Syntactically, we note 1) the postpositioning of the possessive, an archaism in Russian but typical of Doukhobor speech (mawder-my); 2) the frequent use of and at the beginning of utterances; and 3) the absence of a preposition in go Nyelson, possibly as a transference from mute Russian bilabial [w] for v before consonants.
When Hazel O’Neail returned to the area in 1962, i.e., 24 years later, she was able to note that “the old accent lingers in some cases, though not nearly as pronounced, and in many I caught not a trace at all. Furthermore, the offensive ‘and’ which used to preface every remark…seems to have disappeared altogether” (O’Neail 1962:141). Today, more than one generation later, only Doukhobors in their eighties and nineties show traces of an accent in English. All others speak a Canadian English of the Western variety, and for most of them English is their first language.
4. Lost Categories
4.1. Language and Culture
The loss of languages is often compared to the decimation and eventual extinction of animal and plant species. For language, changes in environment would mean that, to quote Wurm (1991:3):
the cultural and social settings in which a given language had been functioning,
usually for a very long time, have been replaced by new and quite different ones as
a result of irresistible culture contact and clash, with the traditional language
unsuited for readily functioning as a vehicle of expression of the new culture.
And to continue with Wurm (1991:17): “With the death of a language…, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view has been lost forever.”
One word of caution that must be heeded by the investigator is whether the loss of linguistic categories follows the loss of the underlying cultural categories, or to put it the other way around, whether linguistic categories are retained in a language long after the underlying cultural categories have been lost. In a language revival process this interrelationship would imply that the revival of linguistic categories entails the revival of the underlying cultural categories.
Thus, in the case of Doukhobor culture, having been removed from Russian society for more than 100 years, many of the set patterns of this society were also removed and supplanted by Anglo-Canadian patterns. The Doukhobors have of course always been a society within a society but through the interaction with the dominant society, have assimilated and/or retained patterns of the latter.
The loss of the dialect reflects the general levelling of dialectal differences in the world’s languages and is therefore as general a process as the loss of lesser used languages. Revival of dialects does occur but in the case of Doukhobor Russian would be made more difficult due to the competition of the dialect with Standard Russian. This entire question must be left to a different investigation (see also below, Section 5).
The loss of a special language, such as Doukhobor ritual language, can only be compared to the loss of other special languages in the world, viz., the loss of Latin in Christian churches, the loss of the scientific functional style in many of the world’s smaller languages (and even some of the major languages), and perhaps the loss of writing systems, such as cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Mayan. An anthropologist like Mark Mealing rhetorically deplores the rendering of Doukhobor psalms in English: “can the psalms convey their true meanings if they are not heard or read in Russian?” (Mealing 1995:41); he concedes, however, that one can expect to “find something deeply present in such potent texts, even through the mask of translation” (Mealing 1995:41). This view is apparently shared by the younger generation of Doukhobors, i.e., 29 years or younger, who do not support the concept of language being a carrier of culture and belief (Friesen and Verigin 1996: 147).
There is also regional variation in this respect; thus, the 2004 festivities connected with Peter’s Day were conducted primarily in English in Saskatchewan (Note: Private communication by Larry Ewashen, Director of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC.), while the same festivities in British Columbia were conducted in Russian. (The author of this paper was present during part of the Sunday festivities (June 27, 2004) on the grounds of the Doukhobor Museum in Castlegar, BC, and can thus vouch for this fact. It must be pointed out, however, that the choice of language in both Saskatchewan and British Columbia is apparently also audience-conditioned, i.e., with a predominantly English-speaking audience, English translations will be used at least in part of the ceremonies in the West Kootenay area as well. It may be worth noting here that the Doukhobor community in the Republic of Georgia has apparently been successful in maintaining both the dialect and the ritual style although the number of persons able to recite the psalms is decreasing there as well (for a recent analysis, see Bezhenceva 2007: 123–139).)
On the basis of translations of Doukhobor ritual texts, we can arrive at a tentative list of lost categories or untranslatable (“cultural substance”) features.
4.2. Psalm No. 166
It will be worthwhile here contrasting an excerpt from psalm No. 166 with its English translation to ascertain just what may have been lost in the translation (the annotation DP stands for discourse particle).
Mladye moi junoshi, vy projdëte lesy tëmnye,
Young my youth you will pass forests dark
vzyjdite na gory krutye, pristupite k morju
climb on mountains steep step up to sea
chërnomu, stan’te zhe vy na Noev korabl’. bujny
black board DP you onto Noah’s ark boisterous
chërno more vskolyxalos’. slëzno vosplakalis’
black sea heaved tearfully cried out
mladye junoshi pered Gospodom: Gospodi, Gospodi! pochto
young youth before Lord Lord Lord why
dopustil bujnye vetry bushevat’, morskie volny volnovat’
(you) let boisterous winds rage ocean waves surge
chërno more kolyxat’, chto nel’zja projti v Tvoj
black sea heave that impossible to-pass into Your
Erusalim-grad, posmotret’ tam velik stolb ognennyj, on zhe
Jerusalem-city to-view there great pillar fiery it DP
vozsijaet ot zemli i do neba.
shines from earth and to sky
Notes: Vzyjdite: An archaic form, cf. Standard Russian vzojdëte. The suffix –ite is an imperative suffix not expected in this context. Stan’te: This is an imperative form instead of the expected stanete. Vozsijaet: Standard Russian orthography has vossijaet.
And here is the translation as taken from Mealing (1995:43-44):
“My young men, you will go on through shadowy forests, you will go up into lofty mountains, you will come to the gloomy sea, you will embark in Noah’s ship. The wild winds were uproarious, the dark sea was stirred up. The young men wept bitter tears
before the Lord: Lord, Lord! Why allow the wild winds to rage, the waves of the sea to billow up, the dark sea to heave? It is impossible for us to come to your Jerusalem-town, there to look at the great fiery pillar, it shines from earth to heaven.”
4.3. What Is Lost
The linguistic features examined in this subsection are 1) those which represent Church Slavonic elements that serve as mnemonic devices in the oral transmission of the psalms; and 2) those which due to their phonetic structure have an alliterative-parallel function and thus do not possess any semantic value.
4.3.1. The Postnominal Position of Adjectives
The postnominal position of adjectives is a normal syntactic rule for French, and yet no one would want to claim that all French translations into English are inadequate. The reason is that a normal syntactic phenomenon in French is translated into a normal syntactic phenomenon in English, i.e., the prenominal position of modifiers. In Russian, however, the postnominal position of adjectives is highly marked, whereas in the Doukhobor ritual style this position is a stylistic possibility for incorporating invariant mnemonic aids. In [the above psalm] text the postnominal position of long-form adjectives is almost the norm, while the short forms are always prenominal, cf. the opposition prenominal vs. postnominal in chërno more : k morju chërnomu and, in one and the same noun phrase, velik stolb ognennyj. (Note: The short-form adjectives are no longer used in an attributive position in Standard Russian, except in fixed idioms, such as sred’ bela dnja “in broad daylight.”). This parallelism is not always symmetric due to grammatical restrictions (mladye junoshi) or onomatopoeic preference (Tvoj Erusalim-grad).
4.3.2. Church Slavonicisms
In the [psalm] text passage above, we find this mixture of styles, on the one hand, in the adjective mladye “young” nom pl vs. Russian molodye; and, on the other hand, in the preposition pered “before, in front of” vs. Church Slavonic pred. This functional interplay of Church Slavonic and Russian forms characterizes not only the Doukhobor ritual style but also Russian poetic style. It may be argued that mladye is a phonetic spelling of molodye with the loss of the vowel in the first syllable, a phenomenon that is common in colloquial speech. The only argument against this is the fact that we are dealing here with the recital of a psalm, i.e., a formal style, in which vowel elision would seem to be prohibited. However, this question merits further study with a wider corpus.
4.3.3. Alliteration and Parallelism
The alliterative parallelism of the verb phrases with the perfective reflexives sbushevalis’, vskolyxalos’, slëzno vosplakalis’ and the verb phrases with the imperfective infinitives bushevat’, volnovat’, kolyxat’ is less concerned with the cognitive meaning of the passage in question than its contextual meaning, a feature typical of folklore genres in Russian. That the threefold matchup is not quite symmetric semantically (vosplakalis’ vs. volnovat’) is no doubt due to the conventions of oral transmission of these psalms where for the sake of memorization semantics was sacrificed to phonetics.
4.3.4. Short Form Adjectives Used Attributively
The examples in question in [the above psalm text] are bujny vetry, chërno more, and velik stolb ognennyj “large, fiery pillar.” This usage of short form adjectives in an attributive function, as opposed to their restriction to a predicative function in Standard Russian, was a regular feature in Old Church Slavonic and was retained as a marked stylistic feature in poetry and Russian Church Slavonic as well as in the Doukhobor ritual style. The noun phrase velik stolb ognennyj above is semantically equivalent to Standard Russian bol’shoj ognennyj stolb but the rhythm and archaic connotation of the given construction are lost in the Standard Russian phrase and of course in the English translation as well.
To the extent that Doukhobor cultural and spiritual traditions will be maintained, the question is whether these will be carried out using the vehicle of Russian or of English. If low language maintenance levels in Russian make it necessary to carry out most, if not all culture-related activities in English, there is the question whether what is being practiced is still “genuine” Doukhobor culture, i.e., can one really speak of maintaining one’s cultural heritage while giving up the language in which it was cultivated for centuries? And, concerning the oral literature, if Russian Church Slavonic is replaced by Canadian English, and if all of hymnody is made available in a written form, certainly the style of singing will change, viz., the creative aspect; the correcting in mid-song; and the duration of ritual speech acts. This will certainly amount not only to a loss of cultural substance but also to an assimilation to the dominant Anglo-Canadian culture. There are many additional questions that need to be addressed in future research. Two of them will be mentioned here but cannot be discussed in detail at this point in time. Doukhobor Russian in Canada generally shares many features with other forms of émigré Russian in North America that are due to “incomplete acquisition” (Polinsky 2006). In addition, structural developments in Doukhobor Russian can serve to “redefine” the notion “Standard Russian” (Andrews 2006). However, Doukhobor Russian in Canada also shows important differences that are due to 1) its largely oral tradition; 2) its relative geographic isolation; 3) its deliberate resistance to the influence of Canadian English; and, last but not least, 4) the influence of Ukrainian during the first generation of settlement in Saskatchewan.
At the present time, English among the Doukhobors must still compete with Modern Standard Russian both in the replacement of the dialect and in the maintenance of ritual language. The dialect is clearly losing the battle against Modern Standard Russian but then the levelling of dialect differences in the world’s languages is widespread. Modernizing the psalms, however, may delay the complete switch to English versions. Recent efforts in this respect have resulted in a modern psalm book (USSC 1978) as well as the ongoing efforts in the Doukhobor monthly Iskra to present many psalms in a Standard Russian form. We hope to address the above questions in more detail in a future study.
A final word needs to be said about the threat of language loss. If, as Ter-Minasova put it, languages are the guardians of a people’s identity (Ter-Minasova 2007:121), then language loss should lead to the loss of identity. It is impossible to conduct a crucial experiment in that respect, that is, to subject half of a linguistic community to language loss, leaving the other half as a control group and then compare the degree of the loss of identity. What we do know, however, is that there is a family of languages, i.e., the First Nations communities in Canada, such as Cree in the Province of Alberta or Salish in British Columbia, that are engaged in an active endeavour of reversing language shift partly as a necessary healing process and a desire to regain their lost identity. It seems that their efforts serve at least as partial support for maintaining the Doukhobor ritual style, perhaps in a “reconfigured” form allowing codeswitching between cognitive structures in English and contextual-mnemonic devices in Russian/Church Slavonic (see also Rak 2004; and Schaarschmidt 2008). There is no agreement to what extent globalization is contributing to the loss of languages. On the one hand, the process of globalization is considered to be the “main despoiler of languages and cultures” (Ter-Minasova 2007:254). On the other hand, the globalization of English has directly led to the disappearance of languages only in those countries where “English has itself come to be the dominant language, such as in North America, Australia and the Celtic parts of the British Isles” (Crystal 1998:18). Crystal’s statement certainly seems to apply to the Doukhobor language which is threatened far more by the local and regional economic situation in British Columbia, Canada, than by the status of English as a global language.
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For More Information
For additional research about the Doukhobor dialect spoken in Canada, see Gunter Schaarschmidt’s articles Four Norms – One Culture: Doukhobor Russian in Canada as well as The Maintenance and Revitalization of Doukhobor Russian in British Columbia: Prospects and Problems. Read also about his Day-trip to Piers Island: Reminiscing About the Penitentiary, 1932-1935. Finally, for Gunter Schaarschmidt’s exclusive translations of 19th century German articles about the Doukhobors, see The Dukhobortsy, 1822-1828 by Daniel Schlatter; Passage Across the Caucasus, 1843 by Kuzma F. Spassky-Avtonomov; The Dukhobortsy in Transcaucasia, 1854-1856 by Heinrich Johann von Paucker; Notes from the Molochnaya, 1855 by Alexander Petzholdt; Doukhobors in the Caucasus, 1863-1864 by Alexander Petzholdt; Report from the Caucasus, 1875 by Hans Leder; and Travels in the Caucasus and the Armenian Highlands, 1875 by Gustav I. Sievers and Gustav I. Radde.