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Russian Idioms: “Говорить на разных языках”

While watching a heated argument between two young guys, a foreign student suddenly heard “Мы говорим с тобой на разных языках и нигогда не поймём друг друга” (We speak a different language, and we never understand each-other). The student thought he didn't heard properly because both men were speaking in Russian.

In fact, this student didn't misunderstand these men, but he didn't understand the use of an idiom in this comment.

The emergence of this expression is associated with the language situation in Russia in 19th century, when it was common among the Russian nobility to learn and use French language on many occasions, and it wasn't uncommon that Russian, their mother tongue, would be worse that their French.

Pushkin described this situation in his novel “Евгений Онегин” (Eugene Onegin): his heroine Tatyana Larina, “Татьяна русская душою” (Tatyana the Russian soul), as Pushkin nicknamed her, writes a letter of confession about her feelings, not in Russian but in French:

XXVI

Ещё предвижу затрудн&llt;span style="color: #ff0000;">енья: Родной земли спасая честь, Я должен буду без сомненья, Письмо Татьяны перевесть. Она по-русски плохо знала, Журналов наших не читала, И выражалася с трудом На языке своём родном, Итак, писала по-французски... Что делать! Повторяю вновь: Доныне дамская любовь Не изъясняется по-русски, Доныне гордый наш язык К почтовой прозе не привык.

I even foresee difficulties: To save the honor of our land There are no doubts about that, I must translate Tatyana's letter: Her Russian was very poor, She never read a Russian paper, And she was always uneasy With her native tongue, And so, she wrote in French... What can one do? As said above, Until this day, a lady's love Couldn't be expressed in Russian, Until this day, our proud language Has hardly mastered postal prose.

XXVII

Не все ли, русским языкоgt;м Владея слабо и с трудом, Его так мило искажали, И в их устах язык чужой Не обратился ли в родной?

It is not true that Russian Is superficially used by all, And is sweetly mutilated by all, And from their lips a foreign phrase Trips like native idiom.

This situation has led to the fact that the ordinary Russian people and the nobility often do not understand each other as if they spoke different languages. For the same reason, there was another idiom: when a person is trying to express to another any complex idea, and can't be understand, he can say in despair, "Но я же тебе русским языком говорю!" (But I'm talking to you in Russian!).

Тамара Мелентьева

While watching a heated argument between two young guys…

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