Today I hope to break down this polemic of Zubov vs. Tretiakov and propose my own solidly-based opinions of who is right, and who is wrong, and about what. Recall that the debate centers around a comparison of the Ukrainian vs. the Russian language. A topic that should be, ideally, left to the world of pure, theoretical Linguistics, but acquires dark overtones in a world where the Ukrainian government is oppressing national minorities and attempting to cram the Ukrainian language down everybody’s throat, on that swath of territory that they control.
Tretiakov, who is a Dean of Moscow University (he heads the Department of Television Arts) and a former kreakle but now a Russian patriot, apparently started the fight when he allegedly declared [this is all third-hand hear-say, by the way] in a radio interview that the Ukrainian language is “linguistically, of a lower level” (“лингвистически ниже уровнем“) than standard Russian. This is an ignorant statement, of course, and factually incorrect. Which is why I stated that Tretiakov needs to go back to school for more education. Preferably with a basic course in General Linguistics.
But Zubov, a Russian historian and political Oppositionist who takes the side of the Banderite Ukrainian government over Russia, over-reacted to this error. He stated that “Nazism and racism” shine through in Tretiakov’s remark. Which is over the top and, as I remarked earlier, is highly ironic, given that the current Ukrainian government derives its pedigree from Stepan Bandera, a Nazi collaborator, genocidal murderer, and Ukrainian racist through and through. Which only shows that words like “fascist” and “Nazi” are thrown about self-indulgently and without any logic, nowadays. “First though,” Zubov back-tracked somewhat, in his interview with the Ukrainian reporter, Tatyana Gayzhevskaha, “I need to remark, that Vitaly Tretiakov is a respectable person, in fact he used to be the chief editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta [a Russian kreakle/Opp newspaper]. I was well acquainted with him, and I was shaken to the core, that he would make such mindless utterances.”
Zubov goes on to explain to Tanya how Scientific Linguistics works: “From a completely scientific point of view, the Ukrainian language has preserved many more grammatical and linguistic Slavic [morphological] forms than has the Russian language. Yes, of course the Russian language possesses many beautiful verbal expressions, since very good writers have written in it, but the Ukrainian language also has [beautiful forms] and some remarkable writers have also written in Ukrainian.”
[yalensis Rebuttal: Yes, there were some good writers who wrote in Ukrainian, but not that many. Most Ukrainian writers, such as Gogol, for example, chose to write in Russian, partly because this gave them access to a larger audience.]
Zubov continues, with a correctly made point: “Nonetheless, in terms of what Linguistics evaluates — and ordinary people simply don’t understand this — Ukrainian has a richer grammar. It [the Old Slavic grammar] is better preserved in Ukrainian. For example, Sanskrit or Ancient Greek are much richer [grammatically] than contemporary European languages, such as English or German. This is an objective scientific fact. In this sense, Ukrainian is much richer than the Russian language, which has lost, for example, the Vocative Case.”
[yalensis Rebuttal: This is all true, the loss of grammatical forms, and so on in the later Indo-European languages. That is all factual, and it is also factual that Ukrainian has a “richer” grammatical component than Russian when it comes to this particular metric of case endings and declensions. However, Zubov is making the same error of which he accuses Tretiakov when he judges that a richer declensional grammar makes Language X “superior” to the simpler morphology of more analytical languages such as English.]
Zubov continues: “As for value judgements, this is just chauvinism. Such things are simply impermissible in a cultured society.” Discussions about “primitive peoples” and “primitive languages” belong to the era of colonialism and racism.
[yalensis Rebuttal: Half correct, and half incorrect. There is such a concept of “primitive peoples”, i.e., people with low technology living as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. There are still a few tribes out there in the world, I reckon, living like that. And it is not racist or colonialist to notice such people, or even study them as anthropologists, nor even try to help them if they want to be helped. The only thing that is racist or colonialist is to try to exploit or enslave them.
As for “primitive languages”, Zubov is correct about that. There is no such thing as a “primitive” human language. I have remarked before the Linguistic Paradox, that even the most economically primitive tribes speak complex and fully-formed languages. In fact, as Comparative Linguists have noted, the rule usually is that, the more economically primitive and isolated the people, the more complex their language is. This has to do with concepts of “ornamentation” and “Creolization”, which I don’t have time to go into here. But, bottom line, Zubov is correct about this point.]
Although he then, in typical kreakle fashion, takes the point too far, and generalizes from Language to other human artifacts: “In today’s world, we cannot say there are more primitive and less primitive peoples…” [yalensis: actually, we can, it is an objective fact that some peoples are not as technologically advanced…]
But Zubov continues, in somewhat confused style, mixing metaphors but showing that he is still talking about Language: “…more primitive or less primitive modes of thought determined by a more primitive or less primitive language…”
[yalensis: Yelp! invoking the Sapir-Whorf heresy, whereby thought is determined by language — Sapir was wrong, thoughts may be influenced by language, but thoughts exist without language, ask your dog if you don’t believe me… no time to go into this controversial theory which Zubov just tosses out there like a piece of cheese…]
“Even the most simple peoples, like Australian aborigines [yalensis: Hey! what happened to There is no such thing as primitive peoples…] possess a complex and rich language, and not just language, but also folklore.”
Yup, folklore is very important. And again, we touch on that glorious paradox of human language: That Language, which is both a biological behavior and an artifact, not to mention a semantic coding system, is different from all the rest of material culture. In terms of material culture, I really do believe that it is possible to place “value” judgements such as “primitive”. Like, when humans first started making pots, the pots were very crude and primitive looking. Then, as people practiced and invented, say the pottery wheel, the pots started getting really good. Or, if you’re not into pots, then compare the lives of hunter-gatherers with those of people who drive cars and use iPhones. But that’s technology, what about the arts? Well, even in terms of the arts (music, painting, etc.) I believe it is possible to place value judgements, for example, I believe it possible to state that “European music of the 19th century is SUPERIOR to contemporary music.” Superior by every metric: complexity of melodies, harmonies, ornaments, the number of notes packed into a measure, etc. And yet Human Language, as separate from technology and the arts, stands alone, unjudgeable, because there truly is no such thing as “Inferior” vs. “Superior”.
Finally, after having made a few good points (along with a few bloopers), Zubov ruins it all by indulging in typical Useful Idiot type kreaklism and grovelling before his Ukrainian interlocutor:
“As a Russian person, I wish to apologize for this declaration made in the name of my people. I believe that Vitaly [Tretiakov] is, how should I put it, completely incorrect!”
[yalensis Rebuttal: Firstly, even kreakles don’t have the right to apologize on behalf of other people, let alone apologize on behalf of an entire nation. Secondly, Zubov also needs to go back to school to study the history of Ukrainian Banderism and the awful things they did to other people; and Thirdly …. oh never mind, this type of grovelling Russian dates back further than Turgenev’s day and is simply uncorrectable!]