notes from the field

No. 26 - Russian Accents

The woman who collects our acoustic data asked me if I had noticed the different Russian accents. Interesting question; I had never been aware of any. I find it easy to distinguish Spanish accents, even though I can barely communicate, hacking my way through the most offensive spanglish ever heard. But a Russian accent was beyond the pale of my imagination. We are surrounded by Russian words and phrases: conversations between the deck and the bridge and the winch operators and the navigator are broadcast throughout the ship -- loud and with a little feedback thrown in for good measure; conversations with people are often held in Russian and English with someone in the group who speaks both. The drama and rhythm that infuse spoken Russian can take on a variety of forms, implying all kinds of meaning, but -- except for a word or two -- I simply can't figure out what they're saying. How could I get something as subtle as an accent?

But the more I thought about it the more I realized that I was hearing accents. I could tell who was talking on the loud speaker and who was trying to interrupt by the sharpness and melody of their voices. Maybe someone listening to English without a clue as to what's being said would recognize different accents, or maybe it's unique to the Russian language. Maybe it's the names of familiar places on the chart in strange Cyrillic characters that gives Russian an added sense of remoteness to me, but I don't imagine myself ever being able to communicate in that language. Yet I can recognize a Ukrainian from a Georgian.

In the meantime, the latest weather fax shows a tightly wound low heading our way. If all goes well this will be our last day of fishing -- just in time.


next episode