Russian Cases. Myth Busting!
09 December, 2016
Once you decide to start learning Russian everyone begins intimidating you.
Mom says: Russian is sooo rough and confusing…by the way, what sounds better – дружба (DRUHZHBA) or гниль (GNIEL)? Judged exclusively by the way it sounds GNIEL must be something pleasant and tender, while DRUHZHBA, on the contrary, must be something brutal and vicious. Now check the dictionary!
Grandfather says: this language is so rich, emphatic, and expressive; you’ll never plow through it. Do you know the difference between бумажка, бумажонка, and бумаженция? In English all of these are simply “small piece of paper”, but in Russian the suffixes form sometimes polar meanings.
Sister, a high school nerd, says the Cyrillic alphabet is worse than Japanese hieroglyphs – look at this Ж alone, and Ю is none the better.
But everyone agrees on one thing: the cases are an absolute nightmare!
Let’s start our myth busting right here!
1. Russian is not the worst. Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian are overtaking in the number of the cases – there are 20 in Finnish and 25 in Hungarian!
2. The number of the cases tends to decrease – we now have 6, and until recently we had more. The remains of the defunct Vocative we use every day in “Oh my God!” – Боже! (BOZHE!) or Господи! (GOSPOHDEE!)
3. The case system might seem alien in the beginning but you simply have to memorize the forms by rote and soon (in a year)))) you start to understand how to apply it and it will start to feel natural.
4. Our cases are easily organized by using the right questions – Where? is always Prepositional while Where to? is always Accusative, and there are other helpful questions that point clearly to a specific case.
5. The cases are helpful: they dictate the meaning of the sentence and even if you scramble the words the key meaning remains the same.
6. Some students testify that they can guess a meaning of a verb or the whole context by simply analyzing the form of the noun (so called verbal government).
7. And other way round: most of the expats are very skilled in swallowing or mumbling the endings of the nouns but native speakers understand them perfectly thanks to the verbal government.
8. The cases make you creative. Our students make their own cases cheat sheets and invent the memorizing methods. By the way, the cases can be depicted graphically!
9. Bad news: we decline 3 genders, plurals, 3 genders + plural of adjectives, numerals, and all of the pronouns.
10. Good news: unlike a lot of things you’ll encounter during your stay in Russia, the case system has logic! It is the skeleton that you build on – so you’d better make friends with it!
Nadezhda Lyubich, Director of Studies at Liden & Denz St. Petersburg.