|A Book from Strahov Monastery Library Collection in Prague|
written in old Czech, far more complex than its modern dialect
I had noticed how words travel when I was ten. From a family trip to Ukraine, I had brought home a long-coveted book I couldn’t find anywhere but a second-hand bookstore in the small town of Evpatoria: The Holy Bible. It wasn’t exactly the original text, but rather a collection of Biblical stories with a social commentary a la the Soviets. In the belligerently atheistic USSR it was the best shot at religious studies I could get. The only problem was the damn book was in Ukrainian.
I wanted to know why the Romans crucified that preaching Jew, so I read it anyway.
Luckily, Ukrainian is as phonetic as Russian, and even though there were some differences in the alphabet, many words had a familiar ring to them. Once I stopped laughing at how funny some of them looked in the Ukrainian spelling, I began to notice grammar trends and guess the meaning of sentences I didn’t understand. By the time I turned the funny Bible’s last page, I not only learn a gamut of rather odd and extraordinary story tales, but, unbeknownst to moi, I taught myself a new tongue. More so, I laid the linguistic foundation for my understanding of all Slavic-based languages.
|Another treasure from the Strahov Monastery where |
thousands of old books are carefully preserved
Three years ago, when a Turkish ferry deposited my husband and me on what looked like a god-forsaken piece of land somewhere southwest of Istanbul, we were at a bit of a loss. Somewhere nearby was a train station, but the signs were in Turkish. In the distance I saw the word gar, picked up my bag and headed in that direction. “How do you know it’s there?” my husband asked. “I think gare means Station in French,” I said. “I bet you the Turks adopted the term.”
Years ago, in Paris, we were looking for an Air Tram to go up from base of the hill at Place St-Pierre to gleaming white Sacre Coeur Basilica on Montmartre (mont means mountain in French, by the way.) No plaque said Tram, even remotely. However, there was a big arrow that read Funicular, a word that is not necessarily part of an everyday English vocabulary, but long ago had travelled its way into the Russian language. While in Petra, I discovered that khazna, the archaic Russian term for treasury, came from Al-Khazne, which made me wonder if my fellow Russkis adapted their title of a tsar from the Persian shah.
|A Hungarian street poster. The only word I can understand here|
is "festival" which must be now universal in every language
Three days ago in Hungary I stumbled into another amazing discovery: their word konyha (kitchen) sounded similar to the Russian kuhnia – and meanwhile Hungarian is not a Slavic-based language, but rather has its roots in the Ugro-Finn linguistical family. Yet, the culmination of my Eastern European linguistic exploration came when our Budapest guide unveiled the mystery of his city’s name. I knew this beautiful European capital divided by the Danube river consisted of two cities, Buda and Pest, but why did they sounded like the Hindu god and an English term for an annoying person was beyond me. “It’s simple,” my guide explained. “Buda means water like Russian voda, and Pest means oven like Russian pech. Water and a place to make bread was good enough to call it home.”
Have you noticed how far from home words travel?