Solzhenitsyn’s accent

Stephen Kotkin, the author of two biographical books on Stalin, wrote in this week’s issue of the Times Literary Supplement:

Solzhenitsyn wrote it [The Gulag Archpelago] conspiratorially, in fragments, hiding his completed sections in the homes of trusted allies… In September 1973, after he had the full manuscript smuggled out to the West on microfilm… the KGB obtained a copy of the whole from his clandestine secretary… The police operatives prepared an excellent summary for high officials, capturing most of the author’s central points: the mass arrests and vast prisons camps were the system’s essence, not an aberration; the Gulag gave birth to a distinctive “nation” of prisoners with their own psychological traits, mentality and language; the secret police… too, constituted a recognizable social type.

“The system’s essence, not an aberration” – starting from 1917, and not, as some claimed, from 1937.

But I’d like to focus on an entirely different matter. Kotkin writes that Solzhenitsyn “spoke Russian with a Ukrainian accent.” Solzhenitsyn was born in Kislovodsk, in the present-day Stavropol district, and grew up in Rostov-on-Don. In other words, he spent his early, formative years in the south of European Russia. To natives of central and northern Russia, the Rostov accent may sound “Ukrainian” because it shares certain phonetic features with Ukrainian but not with northern and central accents of Russian. The southern Russian accent with its fricative g’s and a singsong intonation is generally considered plebeian and socially undesirable in Moscow, to say nothing of Saint Petersburg. I’ve heard that even in Rostov, schools prefer to hire teachers who can speak without a strong local accent.

Discover more from Winterings in Trans-Scythia

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading