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News

A Word from the Depth of the People

24.05.2013

Today, on the 24th of May, it is the 108th anniversary of M.A.Sholokhov, the great Russian classic writer of the XX century, the Nobel Prize winner, twice Hero of Socialist Labour.

 The museum workers, representatives of the Sholokhov District enterprises and organizations, guests and residents of the stanitsa, students and children bring fresh flowers to the tomb of the writer in his estate and to his bust at the Don embankment. Ordinary people, whose ancestors’ lives were brilliantly and sincerely described by the writer, also come to pay a tribute to the memory of their great countryman.

In this April and May, it is the 85th anniversary of the complete publication of “The Quiet Don” first book and the beginning of the second book publication in the journal “Oktyabr”.

The novel made a big hit not only at home, but also abroad. The immediate critics noted an epic grandeur, a realism of the wide canvas of the life, precise characteristics of the collision of the world history and the lives of ordinary people. There came publications of readers’ responses including those in different editions of the Cossack emigration. In particular, it should be noted, the former participants in the Don events from both sides marked the language of the work. S.Balykov, the secretary of the journal “Volnoye Kazachestvo” (Free Cossacks) noted: “The Cossack language is well presented in the novel, and for the young emigrant Cossacks it can be a valuable textbook for learning about their native language, the past life tenor and the events of those days…” In the journal “Kazachy Spolokh” (Cossack Lights”), issue 18, 1929, K.Chkheidze said: “Melodiousness and vividness of Sholokhov’s language is marked with such a peculiarity that the author… introduces exactly the word-formation of the Don people into the normal Russian language thus enriching it”.

Besides, literary critics spoke about “the richness of the language, diversity of the vocabulary, grammar and phonetic means”, and other elements of the language.

Foreign literary critics wrote much less, including the articles full of admiration, about the language of the novel. It was quite understandable: in translations, even the best ones, it was difficult to convey the peculiarities of the unique Don Cossack language, about which A.S. Serafimovich said: “It is an imaginative language, the language which the Cossacks speak. It is concise, and this conciseness is full of life, tension and truth”.

We feel sorry for foreign readers, but what can be done if the best translation is never able to convey the true flavour of the meaning of such words as “lyubo”, “zhalyushka”, “lazorik”, “sotnya”,”nizy” and others, let alone the translation of Cossack songs. This task was and is still impossible!

Nevertheless, the novel as a multifaceted work was a great success in many foreign countries. No wonder it was translated into 90 languages of the world.

Translation difficulties seemed not to touch upon a Russian reader, particularly, the Don reader. But the time flies, and many words of the imaginative tissue of the novel become rare, “narrow” dialect, not understandable for a contemporary reader. However this problem had been perceived even earlier: already in the prewar editions M.A.Sholokhov agreed to make footnotes explaining some local words. This “vocabulary” numbered about 200 words.

Certainly, reading the footnotes slows down the rate of reading, but, apparently, it was impossible to do without it, as a reader, not connected with the Don, could lose the very meaning of this or that sentence.

Surely, some critics suggested to the author to reduce the number of dialect words in the novel. But what would have come out of it? There is an association suggested by the monologue of Ivan Arzhanov from Sholokhov’s novel “Virgin Soil Upturned”: “I came and cut a branch to make a whip-handle…she, my sweetheart, grew up with a character of her own, too, with knots, leaves, in all her glory, but I peeled this branch and… there is nothing to look at!” Well, it would have been quite a different novel.

So, it would be more reasonable to take the side of those who, getting to know the language of Sholokhov’s personages, realize, that we deal with such a great language richness, which is and will be envied by generations at home and  abroad. And those who come across some difficulties in understanding a Cossack dialect, should consult with the dictionaries and textbooks which are widely available.

You are sure to read and reread “The Quiet Don” enjoying its plot through the unforgettable speech of the bright, unique personages!

Alexey Kochetov