Last time on Linguistics and SFF: Stormdancer and the Japanese Language
In today’s post, I’m going to analyze the linguistics involved in Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone. This post is going to be a little different than the last few posts, because the differences between Ravka and Russia are more exaggerated. However, it’s ingenuous to suggest that this separation is an excuse for ignorance of the Russian language and culture, or linguistics itself. Bardugo uses actual Russian in the book alongside her faux-Russian, and that leaves us an opening to analyze not only the linguistics of the book itself, but the linguistic appropriation present here, and the stereotypes that exemplify it.
(Disclaimer: I am not a fluent speaker of Russian or any Slavic language, nor am I an expert in Russian linguistics.)
First, I would like to direct you to a previous post on the topic by another blogger:
1. Rose Lemberg posts on the historical linguistics of Indo-European and its relevance to the Ravka discussion. This takes a slightly different approach to mine, but the linguistics is spot-on, and it’s a great perspective on the issue.
2. About Friday posts on some of the mis-use of Russian in the book.
I’ll be addressing some things that overlap with these posts, because they make note of some of the most egregious issues. I hope that for those overlaps, I will have something useful to add. I am also writing this post with the book right on my lap, going through page by page looking for non-English language to analyze.
Now, let us begin:
We begin on the two pages containing the map:
The first non-English word/name we see is “Djerholm.” Now, I don’t know the origin of “djer”, and I can’t find any references to it as a word or name. However, the word “holm” is of Old Norse extraction from “holmr”, meaning a small island or flood area near a river. Now, Djerholm is on the sea, and we are given little information about it. It appears to be the capital of a large nation of Swedish inspiration to the north of Ravka. It’s hard to say whether the author was aware of the meaning, or chose the word for its Swedish/Norse “flavor”. Djerholm is on the coast of “Fjerda”. It just so happens that “Fjerda” is a Norwegian word meaning “fourth”. Hard to say if this was intentional, although there’s nothing in the book to say it is.
Another word that stands out is “Novokribirsk”. That looks a bit familiar… Could it be that it sounds a lot like Novosibirsk, Russia’s third most popular city? And not only that, but across the Unsea, we have Kribirsk, making it clear that the “novo-” is the Russian morpheme meaning “new”. This lends quite a bit of credence to the claim that the language spoken in Ravka is in fact Russian.
We also have the country of Shu Han in the south. It’s hard to be more obvious about a pseudo-China than to call it “Han”, the name for one of China’s major ethnic groups and also a historical dynasty.
Now we arrive at the first page, and already some Russian, or whatever.
“malenchki” is said to mean “little ghost”. Well, the word “malen(j)kij” in Russian does mean “small”, but I’m wondering where the “ghost” fits in here. Perhaps my Russian just isn’t good enough? I’d love for someone to help me out with this one.
The next word is “troika”, which means a triplet. I don’t have the grasp of idiomatic Russian that Lemberg and Friday do, so I’ll have to assume that the issues they mention with the use of the word are correct.
Then we have “kvas”, which is a drink made from fermented grain. It is weakly alcoholic, but not liquor as Bardugo apparently thinks.
Next we come across a “kefta”, which is apparently a robe of some kind. According to Bardugo herself, it’s based off the Russian kaftan. A bit of a linguistic digression: the term “kaftan” comes from Persian and described a form of robe. Either way, I would classify this as actually the right way to use inspiration. The word is similar but not the same because the garment s not the same.
Finallly, we have the word “Grisha”, which is appropriately Russian sounding, but a rather odd thing to call a group of soldiers or mages. As Friday mentions, it’s the diminutive of Grigori, the Russian form of Gregory.
That’s from the first three pages of the novel. Since we’ve mentioned, Grisha, I’m going to go over the name issues present in the book in the next post. And then hopefully after that, we’ll move through a few more pages of the novel.
Next time on Linguistics and SFF: Connotations and the Failures of the Dictionary Definitions